The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The Eco Cafe Located in a Most Unexpected and Magical Place: Ningaloo, Australia

Flying into Exmouth looks like a Mars landing, as the red clay landscape gives way to a turquoise blue I’ve only seen in magazine ads. Exmouth, population approximately 2,500, is located on the beautiful Ningaloo Coast in the most northwest corner of Western Australia.

Ningaloo is home to some of the most vibrant, colorful fish on the continent, drawing in tourists for a glimpse of the shy and majestic whale shark.

It’s also about as polar opposite of NYC, my friends and my home base, as we could get. Locals wanted to know, “Why are you vacationing here?” But the opportunity to swim with a whale shark, and the very fact that it is the complete opposite of NYC, was enticing to us.

We stepped off the plane into the single-terminal airport, and were greeted by a 15-foot tall whale tail made of plastic representing the local “plastic bag free” initiative.

A whale tail made of plastic in the Exmouth airport

This area is different than Australia’s other, more widely known reef, the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a fringing reef, meaning it grows near the coastline. You can snorkel right off the edges of the beach and hover over blue starfish for minutes at a time as I did, a much more satisfying experience than staring at an iPhone screen.

When I travel and witness the fragility of nature, I regain the energy and conviction to do what I can to mitigate this man-made problem of plastic consumption and pollution in our oceans and waterways. These places may cease to exist if we don’t take action now.

After thinking these sobering and inspiring thoughts, stumbling upon the gem that is The Social Society was a highlight of our trip. A café-meets-think-tank-meets-shop-meets-nighttime-yoga-studio, this space drew me in every morning for a smoothie, a sense of community, and a feeling that in my own small way, I was helping this wondrous ecosystem to continue to thrive.

During our first visit to the shop, the German owner, Anne Roe, was patiently explaining a recipe for a smoothie to a new barista. She is one of those people that exudes a combination of humility and hard work, genuinely sounding excited when she tasted the smoothie and exclaimed “Yeh!” I could tell this was a well thought-out shop, and any owner who is willing to be visible to customers and get their hands dirty with new staff was worth my kinship.

I started talking to her, and found out that Anne moved to Exmouth with her boyfriend, Kai, in 2011, drawn by their love of snorkeling and diving. I was impressed with her and her decision to open an eco-hub in such a remote little town, that I decided it needed to be shared with EcoCult readers.

Julie (Ecocult): What was the genesis for you opening a space like this?

Anne: I have always been “green” and it really kicked in when we went to Bali for the first time and we went diving and there was rubbish everywhere. We were swimming with plastic bags. I come from a hospitality background, my family owns a restaurant, and I wanted to open a café and shop where I could educate customers on how to be sustainable and live a sustainable lifestyle.

Where did the name “Social Society” come from?

In German, it means the “happy society” and that’s what I wanted this space to be when we opened about a year ago. It’s a space for people to come and have shared workspace, shared ideas, and a name that brings people together.

I’ve had the same, delicious smoothie every morning here. Do you source a lot from Western Australia?

Oh, definitely. We are vegetarian with vegan options and we have two local farms, one organic and the other biodynamic that we work with in Carnarvon, which is 350 km (217 miles) away. Our coffee is also roasted in a small shop in Perth. The local, ethical, and fair trade aspect of our food here is very important to me. What I’ve learned is just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it was ethically sourced and the workers on that farm are paid adequately.

How is your shop leading by example?

Well, we are actually still on our first roll of cling wrap. Since we opened a year ago we aim to keep everything in containers instead of plastic wrap. We will keep reusing those containers over and over again. We use beeswax cloth a lot too, there is a local girl in town who makes them. All of the furniture in here is second hand, some from the first hotel in Exmouth and we even went to the local dump and dug through some furniture that we’ve re-worked and given a second life.

What have been some challenges for you?

It’s expensive to have a shop here and we only get shipments twice a week by truck. The difficult thing starting out was that in Australia and W.A. (Western Australia) in particular, meat is a staple in the diet, so a vegetarian/vegan store was different and took some time to gain traction. I think now word of mouth has been the best thing because the other industries, take for example the whale shark tour workers, they all come here to eat, hang out, and they help spread the word about us. I think the necessity of sustainability is catching on.

What has been the response from locals and tourists to The Social Society?

It has been really great! From a local standpoint, it helped that we had lived here for several years and worked in hospitality in Exmouth and had established a supportive network. Being from Germany, we both craved going out and getting a really good cup of coffee and we are able to give that to the people here. Tourists have had nothing but positive things to say. One of the best things I can recall is a guy coming in and he ordered our avocado toast on sourdough and he said, “I’m normally a meat eater, but this was incredibly satisfying.”

It’s interesting that you sell clothing in here as well. This place seems to be a little of everything.

Yeah! I used to work in clothing retail and I’ve always wanted to sell vintage and second-hand items because I think that’s the most fashionable way of being sustainable. Just because I don’t like a piece of clothing anymore doesn’t mean you don’t either. I’m also slowly researching brands that use sustainable fabrics and bringing them to the shop.

Where do you see The Social Society going in the future?

I would love to open more shops and continue to educate customers and people who come through our door about sustainability and how they can make a difference. We just hit 1,000 followers on Instagram and it’s been really cool to see the power of social media and social influence take off in a place like Exmouth.

Follow The Social Society on Facebook, Instagram, and TripAdvisor


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