International travel inspires Stephanie Synclair’s luxury loose leaf tea business.
Want to sip tea in the same regal style as the duke and duchess in the Netflix drama “Bridgerton?” Look no further than La Rue 1680, the organic and sustainably harvested luxury loose leaf tea by entrepreneur Stephanie Synclair.
When some businesses were shutting their doors during the early months of the pandemic, Synclair set up her business in October of last year. It was her love for travel that exposed her to the benefits of the beverage. Sharing her passion for tea, a beverage she admittedly wasn’t a fan of as a youngster, seemed a good pursuit to indulge in.
Focus on Luxury
Why is it called La Rue 1680 though? Synclair says there is no big backstory here. Given her love for travel, she has been taking French lessons over the past year, and one of the first words she learned was la rue, which means “the street.”
She hopes her tea transports consumers to a place and time they associate with the blend they are drinking. “I am also extremely intuitive and spiritual and follow my dreams. After I came up with La Rue, I had a dream, and it literally said La Rue 1680, so it does not have any other meaning other than the dream,” says the entrepreneur who also has a marketing consulting firm now in its 12th year in business.
Prior to that, she worked in marketing in the corporate world, but wanting flexibility as a single parent to her son took precedence. Now she works alternate weeks of the month with clients and devotes the rest of her time to La Rue 1680.
In fact, it was those off weeks between that gave birth to the tea business. Where previously she would use that time to travel, the pandemic saw Synclair simply sitting at home, fair enough reason to start a new business, one where she hasn’t met many Black female owners of luxury tea brands. “People try to start a company, start smaller and never grow, whereas I came in wanting to dominate a very whitewashed industry.”
From the looks of it, Synclair is well on her way. Don’t take our word for it. La Rue 1680 has received rave reviews from American TV personality Carson Kressley and actress Drew Barrymore (as she sipped it on her TV show), as well as media mentions from Vogue, The Today Show and CNN, among others.
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Of course, the launch timing couldn’t be better as shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown” made the rounds, making drinking tea a regal and adult experience, one many reveled in as they worked from home or sheltered in place. But the focus on luxury loose leaf tea and accessories wasn’t by happenstance.
Travel and Tea
“I am all about luxury everything and one of the people that takes pride in nice things. There is nothing wrong in that…As women, we have the right to luxury today, and we don’t have to downplay ourselves to anyone. That has been my core message throughout my time in business,” says Synclair. “Coming into tea, I knew it was going to be something luxury.”
Strangely enough, this Southern girl raised in Alabama and now residing in Georgia never liked the sweet iced tea the South is notorious for. That love for tea blossomed later when she decided to take her consulting business and life overall—including her then 7-year-old son— on the road in 2012.
Synclair traces her love for travel to a very young age, when she’d skip classes in high school to head to the library, making a beeline for the travel and business sections to plot her future. That naivete was quickly laid to rest with the 9-5 of adult life taking over. And when she became an entrepreneur as a single parent, she had her fair share of naysayers.
Realizing she’d never have the perfect moment to plan her travels, she purchased one-way tickets to Italy. Synclair had plans to figure things out during that first month in a vacation rental. But her business ended up doing well and funded the rest of her travels.
“We spent a year traveling, and during that time is when I was really exposed to tea and tea culture. In Europe, yes. In Asia, definitely,” she shares. A glass of Champagne typically accompanies luxury spa treatments in the United States, but she found that in Bali, Thailand and Singapore, there would be tea.
Though she’d initially refuse, she quickly realized, “My idea of tea was not their idea of tea. I would watch ladies in the village dice up ginger and honey and turmeric and make these wonderful blends. I decided let me quit saying no, that’s very rude to the culture and I tasted it.”
That was the beginning of her tea-exploring adventure and realizing a whole other world of tea she didn’t know anything about. Today La Rue 1680 tea is sourced from Hawaii, Africa and Asia, specifically Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
About 16 varieties are available for sale online and a whole new range of lifestyle products— beautiful plates, teacups and saucers, kettles with gold trims, cute coasters, and stickers—are now available for pre-order. Clients range from across the U.S. and Canada. Flavors such as India Street Vanilla Chai, Moroccan Mint, Casablanca Street, and Italian Cream Earl Grey have done well.
While that growth is welcome, it has brought its unique set of challenges. “When you snowball, people don’t understand you are still a small business,” says Synclair. With the flurry of media mentions, orders skyrocketed. “It created a lot of stress because I had not built out my team. Initially, it was me and my two friends, and then I had to hire five people.”
With COVID restrictions in place, there couldn’t be that many people in one space. The space here being Synclair’s home office and garage, which is where the company was operating from up until this April.
Issues with storing inventory, order fulfillment and shipping products were par for the course. “It will shock you how automatically many people assume that you are stealing from them,” she shares, having had to deal with a few not-so-nice customer service situations.
Synclair takes to social media often to address these issues and share her thoughts on business. Now she is hiring more people for her team and, as a single mom to her now 14-year-old son, has decided to give priority to single parents for work-from-home positions in social media and customer service so they can enjoy flexible schedules to care for family as she plans for the future of her business.
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“What I see is this new wave, thanks to the pandemic, of people who will appreciate time to slow down during tea,” Synclair shares. Tea is also healthier, providing a steady caffeine flow to the body rather than the coffee crash, and loose leaf tea gives three to four infusions compared to the one-time use of teabags.
“The more I am in this, the more I realize people crave experiences, so the goal is to start opening La Rue experience stores by summer 2022, so when you come in, you feel like you have walked into an English garden, not a sit-down café, smell different blends, have tasting stations, purchase your tea and enjoy a full experience.”