What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made starting your business?
I believe when you start your own business or brand- everything is a sacrifice. Of course, the obvious: financial stability, a ‘social life’ (outside of your business), sleep, what you consider to be an acceptable amount of stress.
Though, as a result you also sacrifice and purge negative attributes: your ego, most of all. Something yogis and spiritual leaders have been telling us to eliminate for centuries. When you create your own brand, you have no choice but to put your ego aside. To listen and learn from mentors, to trust your gut and not necessarily always take the easiest way to resolve things.
As a result this eliminates bad social habits or just bad habits overall- could be something as simple as being someone who ‘runs late’ for things. Suddenly, you have no option but to be on time. You use the ‘free time’ that you have in a healthy, productive way because you never realized how easy it is to waste ‘free time’ when you had it.
If you want to start a business, yeah- the first year or two will probably be the most stressful time of your life but it will simultaneously be the most rewarding. Outside of probably having a baby (which I myself, have not done yet, so cannot speak on) it is the first time in your life, you will do everything intentionally and selflessly. Just this little shift in thinking makes all of the difference and everything else just seems to fall into place. So, yeah- everything will be sacrificed. Starting a business is a bit of a personal renaissance within itself.
I was a freshman at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, NY. I was taking a class on Art Criticism lead by Professor Greenberg. It was one of the first weeks of this class and I was in awe. Awe Of New York, of finding like-minded individuals, of professors allowing and encouraging me to question reality and everything in and around it.
There was one specific class, a three hour class where Greenberg went on about the psychology of an artist and their need to create; this perception of artists needing to hold a mirror to society and hang onto personal experience. He made brilliant points and then came to a pause where he said, ‘You’re art- it is a visual representation of The Life and Times of an Aesthete”. Majority of us had never heard this word, me included- though the phrase was so alluring to me that I scribbled it in my new Moleskin notebook with my Micron pen (proper art student, I was). He explained that an Aesthete was a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art, nature and beauty. I later discovered that this phrase had been used in many adaptations, written and visual and became a bit obsessed with it.
At the age of 18, in a studio room in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, I promised myself that whatever I created in my future- I would call it that. Aesthete. Aesthete Tea was created just under 10 years later.
It starts with nonsense. I wish I was joking and could tell you I had some beautifully whitty creation process that paralleled a Wes Anderson film but it's quite the opposite. Whether it is my branding, a blend, or collaboration idea. It starts with nonsense in a notebook: drawings, quotes from books, names of 60’s songs, screenshot visuals from old 90’s films. From there it moves into photoshop, indesign, countless emails, instagram DM’s crossing my fingers that someone will respond and want to work with me or a conversation with my Mother, Mag (Aesthete Teas, Principal Tea Blender).
It’s hard to describe my creative process- though it really just stems from my background and interest. I am Irish, Native American and African American. I was raised in a household that would find it ‘rude’ if you were not offered tea almost every hour. My mother was a hippie, raised me vegan and had me eating moss from trees by age four. I went on to attend university for the study of art where I became obsessed with Minimalism, Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese Tea Ceremonies. After university I lived at a traditional Indian Ashram where I studied Vendantic Philosophy, yoga, permaculture and ayurvedic diet. The ideas of ‘collaboration’ are ingrained in me from my work with artist and galleries. I feel working with like minded individuals and sharing thoughts, ideas, and showcasing each others products and business is the most resourceful. I always found it strange when people felt working with others somehow hindered their own work- by working with others, we allow each other to thrive. In my world, there is no competition. I mean this honestly. I do not recognize or give that word any value because I know that regardless of product, branding, customer base- there is only one me and that is my power. When there is no competition you just have a bunch of friends or acquaintances that happen to be into the same stuff. Who doesn’t want that? Neat people around you that are into the same neat things.
All of these factors and ways of seeing are incorporated into my creative process: Create something that is healthy, beautiful and minimalist that appropriately represents tradition, allows for a community to be a part of it (it really does take a village) and believe that no matter what the brand, you have a social responsibility to put something positive into the world.
What is your greatest success in your business you can share so far?
My greatest success would be just having this business. I’m a new business so maybe this answer would be different 5 years from now. Being able to do ‘tea’ full-time is really my greatest success.
I don’t measure success in the number of wholesale accounts i’ve acquired or the monetary value of my sales (if I did I’d be probably on the unsuccessful portion of the graph in comparison). I measure in happiness and genuinely feeling proud of what I am doing.
My greatest success is that I can wake up every morning and share tea with individuals, learn from those who know more than me and teach those who are interested in knowing more.
Sure, some months it’s getting the few last dollars in at the last moment to make my bills but I always just believe entirely with all of my being that it will work out. That hasn’t failed me yet. I’ve forever kind of lived part in this imaginary land of ‘butterflies and unicorns’, where life just works out. I’ve had my share of mistakes, regrets and terrible experiences- but that magical land always holds strong and keeps my spirits high. It’s what I use as fuel for most of my insane endeavours because if I ever at all, for one moment thought logically about things I would never have accomplished half of what I have in my life.
I had plenty of friends tell me that I was nuts for opening a business. One in particular who told me if I did not have $100,000 in the bank, I was very plainly an idiot. A lot of banks and people would feel the same. Problem was, I have never had anywhere near $100,000 in the bank and really don’t know if I ever will and I’m not very patient when I get excited about things. All I knew was that if I didn’t go for it now, I never was going to. So with opening a business and all of the fears and unforeseen territories ahead, my biggest fear was always being that person that said ‘what if?’. That ‘what if?’ was more scary than anything else- even a failed business. So I went for it.
Name a challenge that you’ve been able to overcome?
There are many challenges when it comes to owning your own business. I face challenges everyday: financial - you honestly never know how little or much you will bring in a month when you first start. Personal- I had a situation, where someone ‘advised’ another, not to work with me because I was gay and this [the fact that I was gay] would somehow affect their professional status. Amongst other superficial gossip, misjudgements or misinformation, so on and so forth.
With all of this, I think the biggest challenge was ‘letting go’. This is something I’ve learned how to do throughout my whole life, we all have based on our personal experiences and hardships.
I am a bit of a control freak and like many business owners, my business is like my child. I’ve had to learn how to accept that people do things in different ways, explain things differently, look at your brand differently than you may have originally intended, and their is nothing wrong with that. Everyone will have their ways of interpreting you, your brand and your products. If you are as closely affiliated with your brand as I am, people being to judge your products as an extension of you as an individual and visa versa. Everyone has different tastes, interests, and needs that they are trying to fulfill with a product whether that be health wise or just social.
That is precisely what makes brands unique and interesting. These different ways of thinking, seeing and explaining are all part of a collective that allows for diversity. Even the negative- regardless of what type of company or product you have there will be people who do not like it and what better way to show that we are humans of free thought. Every opinion and way of seeing is entirely valid. I accept every interpretation and expectation from my customers with open arms. I listen to their opinions and input, negative or positive, because it means they really care. They are taking the time to look into me, my business, my product; to taste and examine the packaging- precious time of their own life, to form an opinion and share it with me or others, that ultimately helps me grow in the right direction regardless of their initial intent.
So to ‘let go’: to not force a perception on someone allows them to form their own. Once you let go, the negative feedback is just as valuable as the positive, it’s just about changing the way you look at things.
‘When you change the way you look at things, things begin to change.’
‘Reality is wrong. Dreams are real.’ -- Tupac Shakur
(he gets far too little credit for his intellect and insights.)
Everything I’ve been able to accomplish comes from my dreams. I was raised in a house my mother inherited from my grandparents. She cleaned houses until she opened her pet sitting business when I was about 9 years old. It was only the two of us so a little went a long way. I received a scholarship for the School of Visual Arts and landed an internship at a New York Gallery when I was 18 with an amazing mentor who allowed me to pursue my dreams in art and gave me a platform. Years later, I lived at an Ashram to remove myself from the overwhelming anxieties New York began to push on me. At the Ashram I met, shared and learnd with beautiful people who were and are far more intellectually and spiritually evolved than I will ever be. I moved to Oregon in pursuit of creating something I believed in that allowed me to share and collaborate with like minded individuals. None of this was from some big 5 year plan, savings or any real understanding of what I was getting myself into.
People always laugh and me because they think I sound ridiculous but I honestly just believe things will happen and they do. It’s easier said than done, I know. To believe in yourself, truly and completely, regardless of the worlds negative influences and distractions is extremely difficult. They get the best of me quite often but I accept them as a part of my growth rather than a misfortune or something to worry about. Additionally, My wife is a huge support system and a bit of my cheerleader when I have one of those ‘days.’
My mother made it extremely clear when I was a child that fear was irrelevant and a waste of time. Whether it was fear of how people viewed me because of who and what I was, fear of how people would interpret or talk about the art and products I was creating or fear of failing. It was just not allowed in our household. Other kids couldn’t bring marijuana into their home- I couldn’t bring fear. Weed was fine, as long as it was smoked on the porch. Fear, absolutely not. lol.
So my motto is by my wife's favorite artist:
‘Reality is wrong. Dreams are real.’ -- Tupac Shakur
My favorite thing to do is my business. I recently posted on instagram a photo of me on my ‘day off’ (lets be real, when you own a business you never actually have a day off) and I was at a teahouse and a museum.
I made my business based off of my personal interests. So on my ‘days off’ I am generally exploring teahouses, museums, hiking or camping. Additionally, I am visiting farms that grow my herbs, just to hang out on a farm with the plants and amazing people that grow them. Sometimes I just like to talk to the plants, you know? Tell them what a good job they are doing. lol.
I would say its been beautiful. There is a lot of push and encouragement for women business owners here. I feel like we are all a part of the same mission. We’ve all banded together as a sisterhood in a way. Even if its as simple as a quick instagram comment or a proper formed business group that meets once a month- we are all together in this. Regardless of background, industry, ‘competition’ (I really hate using that term) we just celebrate and encourage each other.
It’s really an amazing time to be a woman business owner. You feel like your a part of something- like a family. Regardless of what is said, who does what, where your business is at, at the end of the day we’ve got eachothers backs and I think (or would like to think) that we all really believe this. I know I do. We have the privilege of existing now, in a time that we can openly support each other, speak out of what we believe in and make real change.
It’s been a really beautiful journey. Though, I don’t believe one can describe it accurately in words. Or perhaps I just lack the level of articulation. For me, it’s something I feel in that gut space. The same space that has all the right answers and holds the ability to help you shape your own reality and help change it for future generations of females.What tool could you not live without in your business?
My Mom. Maybe you meant physical tool or object but shes the best tool I have. Sure, everyone knows that you need a computer, cell phone, ‘square’ reader, etc. But I’m talking a real tool -she’s like the silent good luck crystal or secret weapon of my business. Her insights, encouragement and background- well, I simply wouldn't have any of this without her.
For others, whether this is a parent, friend, dog- whatever or whoever it is, it’s the secret ingredient that you need. Someone who is a mentor, a motivator for your success, a reason for you to keep going.
My mother gave up everything and sacrificed so much for me to have the life and education I did. For me, to not give that back to her would be a sin and entirely unacceptable in my eyes.
She not only is logistically behind a lot of the business, she is that unseen magnetic energy that keeps this thing moving upward.
In my opinion, if your tool is material, of monetary value, or replaceable- you’ve got to switch your values to a higher plane if you want to be successful in the real sense of the word.
Don’t try to grow too fast or be too big: I have no interest in owning more than one teahouse. Or having wholesale accounts with massive box supermarkets. Small allows me to work with family tea farms, local herb growers, friends, to really be a part of the community. I’ve seen too many businesses fail because they want it all, the biggest, the brightest, the most popular right away. It’s just unrealistic and does not align with the proper flow of things. Everything comes in cycles, you just have to wait your turn.
Stop using the word ‘competition’: The older generation will tell me my ‘millenial’ is showing. But honestly, just stop. If you see others success, as your own- everything changes.
Nothing is new. We are now in a world full of replications, reinterpretations and rebranding. If you have been living under a rock- Fila is now a popular brand again, Notorious BIG shirts are sold to 14 year olds at Forever 21, and jumanji is CURRENTLY the number one selling movie in the world. Everyone needs to stop acting like they came up with things first. No one did at this point. You’re allowed to do similar things as others, just have a clear sense of what makes you different like your company's core values, morals, community mission and stay in line with them throughout the growth of your company. In my case, Tea has been around for centuries in almost every culture known to man. Who am I to act like I just came up with some brilliant idea to pour hot water on leaves and facilitate a space for people to sit and drink it. If you believe you have ‘competition’ than you will hyper focus on those companies, what they are doing, how, why- it is really just a waste of time when you could be making your own path. If your starting a company, you don’t have to know everything, but one would assume you have adequate knowledge to be in that position. So trust yourself, stop looking behind your shoulder to see what the next person is up to. Just focus all of your energy on your own brand. Why waste time worrying and giving all that energy to something that you ultimately have no affect or control over. No one is your competition, they are just like minded individuals, doing similar things that have been done for centuries, you are both just interpreting a historically traditional, act or product and showcasing it in a modern display.
Collaborate: I’m all about this and perhaps this is the New York in me. Upon entering school and the workforce in New York no one did anything without a collaboration. Share with friends, work on projects together, cross promote each other. There is literally no negative to it if you work with positive brands that you believe in. When I moved to the West Coast it seemed like the ideas of ‘collaboration’ were not as common as they are on the East Coast. Some people like to keep their business personal and unassociated with anyone, which is totally fine. But hell, I learned and have seen first hand how beneficial collaborations are so that’s how I still work and run my business. You’ve got a cool idea for a photoshoot, branding promotion, tea blend with your herbs- I’m all for it. It takes nothing away from either of us to work together and only strengthens the sense of community and encouragement. I have no issues admitting I’m not good at some things, or that everything I am good at, someone is better. So- I bring those ‘better’ in on a project that showcases both our strengths and the result is twice as good as it would have been if I did it alone.
The moment it stops being fun, you’re doing it wrong: Even in the stressful moments, I get a rush of adrenaline. It’s the feeling of things happening, forward motion. It can be nerve wracking but it’s always thrilling. I’ve talked to fellow business owners who speak of their company as if it is a burden or unwanted relationship they can’t seem to find a way out of. It should never feel like that and if it does, it’s probably time to move on
I’m not really a planner when it comes to the long term. If you were my realtor working on my business proposal with me for my brick & mortar- you too would want to be ripping your hair out because a proposal is all about the ‘5 year plan’ that I so openly loathe.
But since you asked so nicely, my five year plan:
I will have a tea house. Just one, in the town I live in.
I will continue to do farmers markets and events because I genuinely love them and get most of my groceries by trading tea- so if I stopped doing them I fear we’d starve.
I will continue to collaborate, share and work with all people who are genuine and doing neat stuff.
I would like to always have enough to pay my bills and a little extra would be nice so we can frequent visits to our tea farmers.
Aesthete Tea is simple in branding, mission, sourcing. Our 5 year plan is the same. Keep doing what we are doing, just keep learning from those who know more and grow.
So in closing, as the great Notorious BIG once said:
“Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart's in it, and live the phrase ‘Sky's The Limit’ ”
(in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have been listening to so much 90’s rap while writing this. lol)