As my team and I looked at building a space for women to come together to share their stories and co-create new collective ideals of just urban living, it occurred to us that profiling women at various stages of their journey (building a business, starting a campaign, choosing a healthy living practice) fulfilled a social emotional need as much of a leadership development opportunity. It’s one thing to know what folks do as a means of leveling the playing fields of urban standards and systems, but it’s another to understand why, particularly in spite of all the challenges and obstacles before them. In this issue, we introduce you to Shanae, the founder of Ivy’s Tea, Co. She epitomizes the Homesteadista profile - a creative, savvy, woman of color who successfully marries her cultural heritage, hip hop, and commitment to social impact within her community with a fresh approach to ancient tradition of tea drinking.
I have two distinct memories of tea drinking - sitting at the kitchen table with my mom drinking Lipton tea with sugar and lemon (this concoction always put order back into the world) and my first entry into the posh world of loose tea in NYC's Takashimaya Tea Room. Similarly, Shanae’s first tea experiences were centered on social communing around the kitchen table. For Shanae, a whip-smart Black American woman with British and Jamaican roots, tea was commonplace in her home and the diverse immigrant community she grew up in. Their tea was more on the level of Takashimaya’s - earthy, herbalist and loose, but without the posh Japanese vibe and of course with a spot of condensed milk. As a self-described grounded, funny, risky teacher, creating Ivy’s Tea, Co was a bold and natural jump into entrepreneurship. Based in DC and armed with a degree in African-American studies, Shanae’s product and business model of Ivy’s Tea needed to be reflective of place and her community members as much as selling good tea.
The tea collection is a significant and welcome departure from what Shanae coins, “wellness porn” - wellness products that look good but are not real. From tea names like "Green Bae" (hippest green tea ever) to “Sister Sister”, a soothing de-stress blend that most urban women could use a nickle bag worth (yes, the term refers to the street slang for sample size), Shanae owns her urbanity and wields it like a social superpower to connect with folks who can benefit from the tea as individual and social drinkers. Accessibility and affordability are essential components to successful marketing within marginalized communities and she manages this with integrity and respect through a variety of non-tea everyday products including honey (my fave “Side Piece” a cinnamon clove honey infused blend), herbal soap, and a monthly subscription box that invites users to step into her hip hop tea world.
Unlike her out-of community counterparts, Shanae is not appropriating language and culture to gain customers and colonialise markets. Her tagline, “Drink tea like an adult” aims to educate folks about the benefits of locally sourced and blended teas and offer holistic alternatives to traditional medicines and wellness treatments and to take tea drinking our of the exclusive tea salon culture and into a neo-social setting. She hits the mark when it comes to bringing folks on board, with hand-written notes in her exquisite tea boxes, a virtual tea house scene via a blog that includes a playlist, her honey line inspired recipes, tea-spirited remedies and layperson tutorials on designing one’s own apothecary. In the process, she’s building relationships through thoughtful conversations prompting self-care and green living, investing in her community, and contributing to it’s health and economic wellness and vitality. Takashimays’s got nothing on her!
Here’s a deeper look at our conversation…
Q: At The Homesteadista, we represent and celebrate marginalized women and girls who are transforming their cities into inclusive, healthy, green and safe spaces. Identifying with being marginalized/disenfranchized is like being in love, you either are or are not and your experience in it can be temporary or permanent. Nonetheless, it's deeply personal. How do you see yourself as a marginalized woman?
A: While I recognize that I am marginalized, I am aware that the very attributes that put me in that position in this country (my hair, my skin, my family history, etc.) are the very things that I can use to empower myself and others. I'm very attuned to the fact that I have the power to participate in community in a way that strengthens me and others who look like me.
Q: When you began Ivy's Tea Co., what were some of the hurdles you had to overcome (or are still jumping over) that may not have been present for your non-marginalized counterparts?
A: It’s very difficult to run a business on your own. I'm quite disciplined. When it comes to everything I do, I have this ability to sit down and plug through it no matter what. As a result, I get tunnel vision and fail to nurture myself in some ways that I should. I've had to be very diligent when it comes to making time for myself. When I fail to follow through on self-care, it shows up in my physical appearance and it shows up in my work. I am certainly driven by the grind culture and have fallen victim to "Team No Sleep" mantras. It's all dangerous and unhealthy and unproven. Not sleeping doesn't make you any more successful than people who get 7 hours of sleep. I had to break away from that and learn: productivity over busyness, not working is just as important as working, and prioritize the self.
Q: Environmental justice as we approach it at The Homesteadista, is intersectional (connected to racial, socio-economic, and gender biases) and interconnected to all aspects of life, including health and wellbeing, work and economic development, food and medical access, safety, and community building. How does tea and tea culture contribute to creating environmentally just cities?
A: For me, there's a direct connection between herbalism and environmentally just cities and this can be related to an herbal tea company like Ivy's Tea Co. Much of my work with Ivy's Tea Co. includes teaching people about living off the land and using herbs for healing - physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Q:There are so many social enterprises out there making money off under-resourced communities, how does Ivy's Tea Co. differ? What's your mission and vision with regard to building and investing in those communities?
A: Ivy’s Tea Co. is a company that invests in the community. That's what makes us really different. I have always wanted Ivy's Tea Co. to be a social enterprise and I did it with the Philanthropy Fridays program, where a portion of our sales on the third Friday of the month go to a charity that supports marginalized communities. In February 2019, I launched Ivy Cares , a philanthropic effort that scales the work of Philanthropy Fridays to specifically support underrepresented individuals. I believe I have an obligation to employ Black people, represent Black people authentically without pandering, and I believe I have an obligation to reach back to help the next generation of Black herbalists.