The three winners of Starbucks Partner Cup Contest drew inspiration from their childhoods to create stunning designs that will be produced on Starbucks reusable cups and available for purchase later this year.
The winners are: Ben Cowley, a barista in Texas who’s been with Starbucks for almost a year; Brynn James, a 10-month partner and barista in Washington; Brandon Fragua, a shift supervisor in New Mexico and partner for four years.
“I’m amazed by the talent and creativity shown by our store partners (employees),” said Dan Jensen, a manger on the Partner Communications and Engagement team and a former store manager in Baltimore. “With over 1,800 entries, this is another example of what makes me proud to be a partner.”
Inspired by the success of Starbucks White Cup Contest for customers, the PC&E team launched its first cup design contest for partners in February. After narrowing down the entries to seven finalists, a committee comprised of judges throughout the company picked the winning designs expressing a range of styles.
"This is a uniquely Starbucks opportunity for partners to show their creativity. The results speak to our partners’ passion and diverse talents," said Cliff Burrows, Starbucks group president, U.S., Americas, and Teavana.
Meet the baristas who will each have their artistry translated to Starbucks 16 fluid ounce reusable cups.
Drawing, space and science fiction are three things Ben Cowley has been interested in from an early age. Growing up in England, he spent hours drawing space ships, the solar system and galaxies with his brother.
“I’m super interested in everything NASA does and often spend time looking through images from the Hubble Space Telescope,” said Cowley, who has a degree in photography. “I’ve always loved the night sky as well.”
Cowley has also always loved coffee, which he admits defies the cliché of “an Englishman who needs his tea.” He met his wife, who’s from Texas, while studying in England. They moved to the U.S. years ago and he “jumped at the chance” to work for Starbucks in Austin.
“It combines my love of talking with people and being a part of the coffee experience. I couldn’t be happier to be with Starbucks.”
When Cowley first heard about the Starbucks Partner Cup Contest, he checked out some of the submissions through social media and was inspired by his fellow partners’ talent. Then he decided to “try my hand at it,” utilizing his favorite themes of the night sky and space.
Pen in hand, he covered an iconic Starbucks cup with a dark sky, allowing a comet, tree, plant and moon to appear in white. He hopes anyone who purchases his design will think about the environment when they use the reusable cup.
“We are obligated to take care of the resources we have around us, and I think we have a responsibility to keep the beauty of our planet intact,” Cowley said. “Maybe the cup will inspire someone to just take a look upwards the next time it’s a beautiful, clear night. That would be nice.”
Scandinavian immigrants brought their Nordic traditions with them when they arrived in Poulsbo, Washington in the late 1800s. Those included a style of art that Brynn James learned as a child and incorporated into her winning Partner Cup Contest design.
Rosemaling is a decorative form of folk painting that began in eastern Norway around the 1700s. People who rosemaled for their livelihoods back then were generally poor. They traveled from county to county to paint for the wealthy, and much of their work was done in churches.
“The art is a big part of my life and heritage,” said James. “The style is reflective of Nordic folklore and fairytales, and more than anything it’s whimsical. There are a lot of dark, gloomy days back there, so the art is a reminder that it’s not going to be winter forever.”
On the cup James designed, spring flowers and delicate sprigs of greenery surround the Starbucks logo.
James said her husband encouraged her to enter the cup design contest. She’s generally introverted, noting that “being a barista is the most outgoing thing I do.” James has only been a barista for about nine months, joining the company after her daughter was born because she needed health care benefits. Today, her reason for being a partner goes beyond benefits.
“I love being at Starbucks and being a part of this community. Our customers are amazing. It’s like having a second family.”
James is excited to see her cup design in her Starbucks store and she plans to put a few away for her daughter – in a treasure box for the time being because the 10-month-old would just chew on them now. And one day, James will tell her little girl about how she “stepped out of her comfort zone” to create a design that won a nationwide contest.
“My husband was very encouraging, and my takeaway from this experience is to make sure that I’m as supportive of my daughter and the things that she wants to try when she gets older.”
Staring at a white Starbucks cup with its green Siren logo in the center, Brandon Fragua didn’t have much doubt about what he’d draw.
“Butterfly” was the Native American name given to his grandmother on her wedding day when she married Brandon’s grandfather, a member of the Jemez Pueblo Tribe. A symbol of transformation, his grandfather had a butterfly tattoo and Fragua has a similar one on his forearm. Inspired by its meaning, Fragua drew monarch butterflies around the cup, fluttering from the bottom to the top.
The recognizable orange and black wing pattern of the monarch is “both simple and complex,” said Fragua. “It’s beautiful. I’m inspired by nature.”
After the Starbucks dress code changed allowing visible tattoos, Fragua began receiving compliments on his butterfly tattoo. He expects his customers will be thrilled to see the pattern on reusable cups when they become available. Fragua’s said his family is excited for him and they realize Grandfather Paul, who passed away a few years ago, would be proud.
“He was a big part of my life,” said Fragua. “I grew up close to my grandparents and felt lucky to have them be such a strong influence on my childhood. He would be proud of me today no matter what, but I know that he’d be more than happy with me that I designed a cup that was so personal for our family.”
Fragua also grew up surrounded by artistic talent. Many in his family are well known for their Native American art. His cousin Jaque Fragua is an acclaimed multi-media artist from New Mexico. Another distant relative, Cliff Fragua is the only Native American sculptor to have work installed in Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol.
“A lot of who I am today comes from having a good upbringing,” he said.
“Our partners are remarkable. From the handcrafted beverages they created every day to this handcrafted art, which is an extension of their personalities,” added Amy Alcala, Starbucks vice president of PC&E. “We are excited to see these cups on our store shelves.”