Hyemi from South Korea

Hyemi Lee used skills from her Australian education to start a wine distribution business with fellow international students.

Hyemi, a female international student from South Korea and two fellow male international student alumni - LT (Hu Lui) from China, and Henri from Brazil, are pouring a bottle of wine into glasses..

An idea was born

After finishing my studies in Adelaide, Australia, I decided to start my own business with two fellow international student alumni - LT (Hu Lui) from China, and Henri from Brazil.

With all our different skill sets, forming a team together was the best way to mesh ideas and compliment each other’s abilities and passions.

During our years studying, we worked part-time in Adelaide’s thriving hospitality scene. Upon completing our studies, we decided to take a different path from what we were seeing many other students doing. 

I didn’t want to get a regular job. The hospitality industry had become my family and my life. I wanted to still be involved but progress my career in some way, too.

With our well-established love for unique Australian wines, the three of us set out to create a small distribution outfit that would supply Adelaide’s restaurant and bars with creative wines from producers all around Australia. We wanted a way to share the products made by winemakers that we admired.

Our thriving business 

Within a year, we were representing some of Australia’s most beloved small-batch products, with a portfolio encompassing every corner of Australia’s geography, and stocking some of Adelaide’s most renowned restaurants and small bars. Our business, now known as et cetera, etc was thriving.

We were getting approached weekly by new wineries looking for representation and doing many wine tastings! 

It was incredible - these great winemakers from all around Australia wanted to jump on board with us and give us a shot. I was very excited and proud to show the world our wines.

Rethinking and restructuring  

When the pandemic began, the hospitality industry came to a standstill as isolation regulations started to kick in in response to COVID-19. As restaurants closed their doors, orders came to a complete halt.

It seemed like, in a flash, the world became a different place. We all had part-time jobs at cafés and wine bars at the same time as running the business and over a weekend this all changed. 

So, we became creative. With a warehouse full of bottles, bills to pay and stockists closing their doors, as well as future government support uncertain, there were significant challenges to overcome.

Online sales with delivery directly to people’s living rooms seemed like the only option. We knew people still wanted wine, so the challenge was getting wine to our customers. So we created a website with some slick new photos. We were able to hand-deliver our products and organise shipments to go nation-wide as we had more spare time without our part-time jobs. 

We were able to keep et cetera etc going through the pandemic by delivering packs all around Australia. I am very proud of what we were able to do in the tough situation.   

My message for international students

If you are thinking of starting your own business, think of what you can offer to people and start taking the steps towards making that happen. It might not happen overnight, but with perseverance it will. Us internationals are a pretty tough bunch!