Shanae Jones founded Ivy’s Tea Co. in Nov. 2016 with the mission of making tea inclusive of all cultures. She uses a connection with hip-hop music as one way to make tea feel more relatable for millennials. Her Laurel, Maryland-based business proves daily that tea can be a vehicle that both unites and helps people.
Jones, whose mother’s side of the family is British Jamaican, has been drinking tea her entire life. After earning her master’s degree in multi-ethnic literature from Bowie State University and working for a non-profit, she was ready to embark on an entrepreneurial endeavor that built upon her upbringing and brought communities together.
Jones, who is a first generation American in her maternal lineage, grew up in a worldly, eclectic neighborhood where she had neighbors from several foreign countries, including El Salvador and Guyana. Her exposure to American culture was mostly limited to television. Initially, she felt like an outcast in school until hip hop music helped her to form relationships with American students.
As with Jones’ experience with hip hop, tea also has the power to bridge social gaps. She realized tea and hip hop made a great combination.
“I realized the power of hip hop as a driving force in media and in marketing,” said Jones. “It is something that is used pretty much to sell just about everything in this country, and I would argue, a lot of the world. I didn’t see any reason why herbal tea would be any different.” Many of her customers are first-time tea drinkers, so their introduction to herbal tea comes by way of her company and the hip hop connection makes tea and herbalism more relatable and less intimidating, said Jones.
Though she grew up drinking bagged black tea, her appreciation for herbal teas motivated her to take an herbal apprenticeship at Sky House Herb School in Silver Spring, Maryland where she learned about the medicinal properties of plants.
At the inception of Jones’ business idea, she teamed up with The Black Upstart, a Washington, D.C.-based accelerated boot camp for black aspiring entrepreneurs. The program helped her take her idea from its nascency to launching a website and a viable product. She also worked with 1863 Ventures, a cohort that teaches new business owners on how to allocate capital, create content, and brand and market a product.
Hip hop references are made in some of her teas’ names, such as “OG Chai,” which is a blend of black tea, cardamom, cloves and fennel, that is meant to energize and uplift.
Jones says she uses her message and her branding to speak to the interests of her consumers.
“What I’ve found it is that we need a lot of safe spaces for people who have been labeled ‘other,’” said Jones. “But I think that when we get more connected and we actually have conversations with one another, what we realize is that we’re more alike than we are different.”
“I hope my company will actually show how much more alike we are and help us to build relationships that strengthen humanity,” said Jones.
Jones believes businesses have a social responsibility to invest in the communities from which they profit and that businesses can enact social change. She founded Philanthropy Fridays to encourage people to give back to others. On the last Friday of every month, she donates a portion of the day’s sales to charity. Recipients have included: Adeso Africa, The Musicianship, and Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts, among other good causes.
The company’s motto is “Drink tea like an adult,” which to Jones means drinking high quality organic, fair trade loose leaf tea from farmers and companies that care about their consumers’ health. She sources her herbs from farms in Virginia and the West Coast, and Camellia sinensis from organic tea farms in China. She encourages people to avoid bagged tea from large commercial brands because of the tea bag’s questionable composition and the tea’s lower quality.
She also custom blends traditional African herbal holistic treatments to introduce these mixtures to the market, and feels herbalism helps people connect with the Earth.
Currently, Jones sells her tea online and at festivals. The next step in her entrepreneurial endeavors is opening a teahouse in Washington, D.C., which she plans to do within three years. Jones and her teas will be at the OkayAfrica Fresh & Festive Pop Up Shop, Saturday, Dec. 15 from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Okay Space Gallery, at 281 N 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211.