28-year-old Skyler Mapes, the co-founder of EXAU, was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2020. Why? Because she is one of only TWO Black women olive oil producers in the world, and is currently taking the stodgy olive oil industry by storm and revolutionizing it, bringing focus to an oft-forgotten area of Italy, Calabria, which actually makes 60% of the world’s olive oil. Skyler and Giuseppe are hands-on and take care of every part of the process of creating EXAU Olive Oil, from harvest to sale.
EXAU Olive Oil has been named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things for 2020, and has fans in Kerry Washington, Chrissy Teigen and former NYT’s columnist Alison Roman. This luxury olive oil is perfect for the foodie who wants to cook delicious, sumptuous meals that will make your taste buds melt.
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Skyler is a native of Oakland, CA. She worked in the design industry then the wine industry before, co-founding EXAU Olive Oil in 2017. After working in the wine industry Skyler became interested in olive oil after meeting her husband and learning about olive trees. In 2017 she moved to Calabria, south Italy with her husband to learn the olive oil industry. She harvested, pressed, bottled, designed packaging, then imported the products to the U.S. to sell directly to customers. EXAU has been recognized for producing ‘One of the World’s Best Olive Oils’ (NYIOOC) and recently started an olive oil membership. Skyler is dedicated to educating the public about high-quality olive oil and fair representation for women of color in the olive oil industry. To this day she’s only met one other black female olive oil producer. The company is based in Austin, TX and Calabria, Italy.
In 2014, shortly after Giuseppe (my now husband) and I met he took me on a road trip down to his hometown of Le Castella, Calabria. In addition to introducing me to his parents, he introduced me to their olive trees. I’m from northern California so I was no stranger to agriculture and winemaking, but olive trees were completely foreign.
In 2016 Giuseppe and I were living in the U.S. We went to a large grocery store and bought some olive oil. We went home and started cooking with it and Giuseppe was so disappointed in the quality. He asked ‘why can’t I find good Italian olive oil here? Where’s the olive oil that’s similar to the one we make in Calabria?’. The idea for EXAU was born and we started planning.
Later that year I took a job during fall harvest in the cellar of Rock Wall Wine Company. My lifelong friend, Shauna, was the winemaker and I knew she would help me understand the world of agriculture and what it takes to create a high-quality product. I told her our idea and she said ‘do it, we will have you guys here at events. I’ll help you with whatever you need’. Having that support from another woman in a similar industry gave me so much confidence.
At first, Giuseppe and I had this giant project planned for the company with lots of funding but quickly learned if we wanted to control quality, educate consumers about olive oil, and bring attention to the beautiful region of Calabria we needed to start small and be extremely hands-on.
In September 2017 we moved to Giuseppe’s town of 1,400 people to start the business. We harvested all the olives with a tiny team of 4 people. Then we started a relationship with a local press and chemist, who we still work with. I have a background in architecture and design, so I did all the branding and marketing which is something I still manage. We were able to get our oils to one of the best olive oil sommeliers in the world which he shared with his private panel.
EXAU is unique because we produce our own oils and sell directly to customers in the U.S. We aren’t going through large distributors or resellers. It allows us to truly connect with consumers and help them understand our industry and products better. For example, our olive trees were planted 80 years ago by Giuseppe’s grandfather, 30 years ago by Giuseppe’s father, and 2 years ago by us. Knowing exactly how the olives trees have been cared for over the past almost 100 years is incredible.
With all that said, our business didn’t start ‘overnight’ and we couldn’t have started our business without Giuseppe’s family or our supportive network in the U.S. Importing to the U.S. was still a challenge and we mostly worked events the first 1 1/2 years to get our name out there.
EXAU brings me joy because I get to work with so many different kinds of people on a regular basis. From chemists to warehouse managers, I learn from others daily. This is especially wonderful for a person as curious as me. For women looking to start their own businesses, don’t be afraid to ask those around you questions. Do your best (and trust your gut) to find vendors and/or partners to work with. Then be sure to understand their work and communicate well in order to create more synchronicity for you both.
– Skyler Mapes, co-founder, EXAU Olive Oil www.exauoliveoil.com
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