May 8, 2022
Eve After Eden: The Perfect Blend
By Jemi Lassiter
April Rashad was a breath of fresh air when we met. Her smile came easy as she asked me to excuse her while she moved from one room to the next and settled her baby so we could start our interview. A mother of four, I completely understood and as she settled her little one, I got a quick tour of the former graphic designer’s home.
In a word: Lovely.
Rashad is the founder and sole owner of Dwell Tea Co., a modern, eco-friendly tea and lifestyle brand, created to merge Rashad’s passions for tea, community, holistic living, and empowering women. She is just one of the few African-American tea artisans in the growing U.S. tea market who focuses on custom blends with health and wellness in mind.
According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., Inc., tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world next to water.
April Rashad, founder of Dwell Tea Co. (@DwellTeaCo), learned to fail fast early in her career as a graphic designer. With the support of a close friend, she learned to trust herself enough to launch a business in a new industry.
Tea sales in the U.S. for 2021 were estimated to be well above $13 billion. Industry experts indicated the global tea market is expected to rise over $318 billion by 2025.
As her company approached its three year anniversary, Rashad sat down with “Eve After Eden” to discuss the creation of Dwell Tea Co. and the art of failing fast.
Rashad’s interest in tea began as a child; not over tea parties with her dolls or partaking at tea houses but with a mother who had a tea for just about anything.
“My mom, she’s into natural remedies and she would give my brother ginger root when he had bronchitis and things like that. I think maybe that started it,” she explained.
As she got older and started having friends over after school, her mother would take note of who had a cough or seemed a little under the weather. She would offer a freshly steeped cup of tea to her daughter’s friends and pretty soon everyone knew what they could expect with a visit to Rashad’s house.
“She would force my friends to drink tea and it became this fun joke: ‘There’s a tea for that’,” laughed Rashad.
But, there was truth to her mother’s approach to addressing a cough or cold with a cup of tea. After Rashad married and welcomed a son, she made frequent trips to doctor’s appointments for colds and runny noses, fevers, and other ailments that pop up in the first year of using a new daycare. It required her to take time off from her job as a graphic designer at unexpected moments throughout the week.
“Daycare,” said Rashad. “I feel like I was taking off every other day to get him for having a cold. [I just thought] there has to be a way to prevent them from getting sick and not just treat it. I call myself like a hippie. I’m just drawn to natural remedies. I’ve always been interested in understanding how we can heal the body, how plants can heal the body and help the body. I’ve just always been intrigued by it.
With that, she began researching herbs and dabbling in tea blends. She came across a blog on the benefits of elderberries.
The fruit and its flowers are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that are believed to help boost the immune system. Elderberry can be found in wine, jam, used as food coloring and a host of other edibles but their perceived medicinal properties are what Rashad was searching for. Elderberries have been used for centuries to reduce inflammation, ease stress, and lessen cold and flu symptoms.
The blog suggested using elderberry syrup but she did not like the taste. Instead, she began experimenting with loose herbs.
“I started out with MOM’s Organic Market. They have the bulk herbs section. That’s exactly where I started. I just grabbed a bunch of stuff, I went with my list and researched what it does. I just went from there,” explained Rashad.
Y’all, she made this sound so easy . My appreciation for tea blenders is on another level after meeting with The April Rashad!
“When I’m blending, I have to be touching the materials. I’ll have a blend in my head and I’ll write it down but I have to play around and mix things. That’s really fun. I will destroy the whole kitchen. My husband’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. The artist is here. She’s out’,” laughed Rashad.
She began her tea making process focused on the medicinal properties of the herbs. Taste and how the flavors interact came second on her list for blending the perfect cup. Then, Rashad turned her attention to adding boosting herbs that enhance medicinal properties or taste like rose hips and hibiscus.
“I had several versions of what we now call Dwellness Tea. At one point I had 10 ingredients in it. I’ve since scaled down but I’d make it in a crockpot and it would be gone by the end of the day because [my family] liked it so much”, she said.
That was the beginning of Dwell Tea Co., Rashad just didn’t know it at the time.
With her family loving the custom blended tea, she started gifting teas to friends who were under the weather. Steeped and ready to drink, her teas were a welcomed gift and a helpful remedy. Friends would tell her how much better they felt after a couple of days drinking her blend.
While the teas were bringing Rashad a sense of joy, her job as a graphic designer was not. She began to feel burned out. She also knew she was not a good fit for the company’s culture and she was soon out of a job. Rashad was disappointed but she was not surprised.
This was an opportunity to fail fast. The then 30-year-old opened her own graphic design firm, continued creating digital art for an income and blending tea for fun.
Custom-blended tea at home and for friends grew into tea parties with small groups and then it became tea parties to build community. Nationally recognized brands sponsored the events and provided in-kind donations.
The response was overwhelmingly positive and when Rashad shared her custom-blend with women out of her circle of friends and family, party-goers loved it!
Rashad’s long-time friend who was an event planner saw an opportunity.
“She saw this [tea party experience and my tea] and thought we could make this into something. [I] have the teas. [She could] do the events and that’s what we did. Her partnering with me helped me do it”, explained Rashad.
Dwell Tea Co. launched in 2019 with Rashad and her business partner as co-founders. This was Rashad’s second opportunity to fail fast and this time she had a partner to do it with her.
“In 2019, we started and we had no idea what we were doing,” said Rashad.
“We didn’t know if we were going to sell tea. I think, originally we wanted a space in a storefront, an incubator space for Black women to run their business, share their business, in a space that was affordable. Building community was really our big thing.”
The partners hosted events with one at the helm of event management and planning and the other leading the charge on content creation and product development. Together, they hosted three events between July 2019 and February 2020. Then, COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks.
Dwell Tea Co. events stopped but sales skyrocketed as people spent more time at home, wanted alternatives to alcoholic beverages, and a growing tide of Americans became socially conscious consumers who sought out Black-owned businesses.
In addition to the boom of new customers in 2020, the business partners both welcomed babies in 2021 and chose to split ways as business partners. They still remain close friends. Rashad became sole owner of Dwell Tea Co.
“Mom Life is unpredictable,” said Rashad of the split. “It’s always nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and split the work but, at the same time, I feel like I’ve been able to transition smoothly. I’m okay with doing it on my own.”
Today, Rashad can see the signs that she was meant to be an entrepreneur all along.
As a child, she would come up with business ideas and share them with her family. They are not surprised by her success or her future career endeavors.
“They’re not surprised,” said Rashad as she talked about her friends and family’s response to her business. “They know this is who I am, especially with my family. I had my own graphic design business. As a kid I was always like, ‘I’m going to have this business and this business’. So I don’t think it was a surprise to my mom or my brothers. They’re just like that’s pretty normal for you. That’s what you do. I think with my husband, it’s the same.”
Taking the first leap to fail fast or to steadily progress were her only options with her graphic design firm and they are her only options with Dwell Tea Co. Working for someone else the way she had as a newly minted college graduate was only an incentive to never look back; simply to bet on herself and, if she must fail, fail fast.
“I always had this itch to kind of do it. I had this vision for my own business in some form,” said Rashad. “I think I just love it. It was really hard. I didn’t know what I was doing. There’s no one book for entrepreneurs. You have to learn by doing and making mistakes. Knowing when to pay taxes and how to pay taxes. Making the money mistakes, that part is not fun for me. I’ve made myself dig into the numbers. Digging into spreadsheets and finding the tools that I need. The benefits of failing fast is that I discover things along the way and then I can share those resources with other people.”
Beyond tea and building community, Rashad has taken time to learn about herself. With the roles of entrepreneur, wife, mother, friend, sister, content creator and so many more, it would be easy for anyone to lose themselves in the lives of the people around them.
“I am all the things. I am the photographer, the graphic designer, the web designer, the content creator, all that,” she said of being the sole owner of Dwell Tea Co.
Rashad is committed to maintaining who she is amid the frenzy of others’ expectations, needs and wants.
“I just went through this really healing experience,” she said as she described having to stand firm on her boundaries and honoring her truest self.
“Being your truest self means you have to set boundaries. You have to tell people, ‘I’m not that person anymore. You can’t treat me like that. You can’t say these things to me. I’m speaking up for myself now. I’m not suppressing what I truly feel anymore. This is the real me. And there are some people who don’t want that. They want the version of you that they had in mind that they may be created. Your kindness or that version of you benefited them. This new version doesn’t and they are trying to push you back. It causes a lot of friction.”
For Rashad, setting and maintaining boundaries is another opportunity to fail fast. The self-proclaimed free-spirit cannot be herself without the space to explore new avenues for creating or the uninhibited confidence to try until she succeeds.
“When I’m inspired, I get this tunnel vision and I have to do it!”
Let’s just say, don’t get in her way. April Rashad fails fast, learns faster, and always has a new blend in the works.