Brittany Wight, co-founder and owner of Wight Tea Company, spoke with us on a spring afternoon about being a wom*n in the business world. Started as a small business in Baltimore with her brother two years ago, Wight Tea Co. has become a recognizable brand. Brittany not only speaks to us about her business, but about an organization started with friends called Society of Excellent Women, dedicated to forging new friendships. Brittany’s drive to connect with people is evident in her work as tea business owner and host of events throughout Baltimore.
Tell us about your earlier life. Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Baltimore?
Earlier life, I lived for six years in Hamilton/Lauraville then we moved to Towson for schools. So I grew up in Loch Raven Village and I’ve always been in Baltimore. In growing up, a lot of people wanted to leave but I always felt like this was home. I haven’t done too much traveling but I’ve been to a fair amount of cities where I feel like I just prefer residing here. I love the people and the support of this community gives so that’s why Baltimore.
What was your first job?
My first ever job was for a salon and spa in Perry Hall and I was the spa maid so I was the one to refill the water and make the tea and make sure the guests were comfortable. It gave me my first experience with customer service and making sure that everyone is comfortable in a high end setting. I’ve always focused on a higher end customer service experience since then.
We know you started Wight Tea Co with your brother when you two were younger. Why tea?
Me and my brother are seven years apart which means when he was 14 I was 21, so you can imagine that all the way down the line we never really had anything in common but my family drinks tea at my grandmother’s house. When my brother was over he would sit with my grandmother and my mother and the other women and drink tea while the guys were watching sports. He had his own love for tea and I didn’t really care about it. When I graduated college it was 2008 and the recession hit, there were no jobs. There were no [entry level] jobs in my field which was graphic design. I had to get started with paying bills and health insurance and everything, so my brother suggested working for a tea shop, I applied and I quickly realized within the first couple days that this was what I love doing and I didn’t love what I had done in college.
We [my brother and I] started connecting on it so I was working there and learning and sharing with my brother, Joey. He started working there when he was old enough and we would share blends that we would make on our own from the teas we had available to us. That’s how we kind of got started…I would come to my parents house on the weekends and we’d sit around the table and talk over a pot of tea which is something we had never done before so it really started our friendship and ever since then we’ve loved sharing tea with each other.
Where do you acquire your teas?
We get our teas from all over the world. It’s really hard to find tea grown in America that isn’t crappy. It’s almost impossible and it’s also really hard to find any local herbs and spices that come in large enough quantities to make a batch of tea with, so we source those from California and Europe, where they do mass growing. Our tea leaves come from China, India, Japan, etc. which are older tea gardens that have the right altitudes and the right atmosphere and they also have the processing down. Processes change per tea garden, so it’s different everywhere you go and that’s part of what makes teas so special and different.
Where do you blend?
We blend here in Baltimore. We make the blends by brainstorming ideas and then we get those ingredients and we try to make the blend and we tweak from the first blend and tweak it back-and-forth and then decide if it’s something we like. We hand blend in small batches which guarantees freshness.
What is the biggest challenge starting and running your own business?
My biggest challenge was taking the first step. I am one of those [people] who needs the big picture to move forward. I need to know everything and the thing with being in business is that you won’t ever know everything and you have to figure it out as you go. I haven’t met a single person in business who knew everything before they took the first step. It was really hard for me to do. I am still two years in and learning something every single week about owning and operating a business.
Two years into your business, what is the most difficult thing right now?
The most difficult thing right now is not being stagnant. I want to grow and I’m ready to grow but growth costs money and so not being stagnant with the money that we have is tough. Keeping it fresh and staying present and in sight is a challenge, especially with working for someone else for money while taking care of my own business at the same time.
What is the best thing about being in business for yourself?
The best thing to come from [business] is the relationships that I’ve made with so many people that I feel lucky to know and to be inspired by. I’ve met so many other business owners that are so supportive and we all support each other and I think that community is like a whole new family to me. I’m just really grateful for those people. When I think about New York or DC or LA, it’s way more cutthroat than I am. I’m not that kind of person. I want to do well but I also want to support others.
Perfect intro to Society of Excellent Women! Why did you start this group and where do you see it going?
Society started really innocently. I have some friends that own a bar in Mount Vernon and they were trying to bring in new people and they just asked me to throw a happy hour for my friends. It was supposed to be simple and instead of doing that I decided to team up with other friends to make it into a little more. In hopes of bringing in a couple more people, not even thinking we would get 50 people, we were like “oh let’s make it into this little club” and we’ll call it Society of Excellent Women. It will just be about making new friends and that was all that it was. We advertised for it and the event was within two weeks so it was a really fast turnaround but 200 people showed up with mild advertising, no boosting posts…it was wild. Everyone loved the idea. Some people that came to that first event have shown up at subsequent events with people that they had met there. I’ve gotten messages from people saying “thank you for introducing me to my new best friend” or “I was new to the area and I didn’t know anyone and I have a group of friends because of [Society of Excellent Women]” so it was obviously bigger than we ever expected it to become. We encourage people to say hi to somebody new every time they attend because everyone’s there for the same reason. While making friends can be daunting, the whole reason that we’re there is to make a new friend. For the most part, it’s really worked and I’m trying to expand on it. I’m trying to make benefit organizations in the community and trying to make it more fun for different types of wom*n. I think that it’s overwhelmingly been white women that attend the events but I’m trying to come up with new ways where other people can take the lead and it can be for other communities in Baltimore for other women to feel welcome as well.
How would you define success in your life?
Having people that I don’t know, telling me that they follow me or having somebody tell me someone discovered them through me. I’m connecting with people that I don’t even know. I think that’s my biggest feeling of success. Reaching people even though I don’t know that I’m reaching them and finding out about it which is really cool.
How would you define success in your future?
I want to be a nationally recognized brand. I want to connect with people nationally on individual levels with making tea and making friends. I like connecting with people on an individual level and I’d like to do that nationally and have people feel like they’re part of a community in tea and in a community with women.
What advice would you give someone who wants to walk in your shoes; own a small business and cultivate that business?
Don’t be scared to start before you’re ready. Just do it. It was the best piece of advice I was ever given and I think it’s the most important advice to pass along. Even if you don’t think you’re ready, if you’ve got the idea get started now and figure it out as you go, as opposed to figuring it out before you go.
Has been a woman affected your success in any way?
I think it has. I think that it’s helped me succeed and I think it’s also hindered success. In helping to succeed, I think that the community of women is way more supportive than the community of men, but I’m not a man so I don’t actually know that. I just know that when I speak to women, they’re supportive and when I speak to men, they try to give me advice on how to run my business without knowing anything about my business. Happens at every event, some man will give me a suggestion on how to run my business and I’m like “I’m already doing that thank you so much”. It’s been helpful in that women want to work with other women and want to support each other and we tell others about other events where I rarely have had a man tell me about about any event or suggest anything to me other than telling me what they think I need to be doing.
I don’t feel like people take me seriously as a woman when it comes to larger business. Locally, I think people recognize me as a business owner, but when it’s larger business people always send emails addressing only my brother and not to me which immediately sends a red flag up in my head.
What is the most important lesson you have learned thus far, either in your life or in your business?
Everyone is weird and everyone has something weird about them. I’ve been told I’m weird but when I realized everyone has some weird quirk about them, it’s just a matter of figuring out what it is or knowing that they don’t have all of their stuff together either, I was less bothered by it. Being weird means you aren’t boring and no one has it all the way together. Everyone’s vulnerable in some way. Someone might seem invincible from the front but it’s not like that in the back and I’ve had people tell me that I’m doing a great job or that I seem like I have it all together and it makes me actually laugh because it’s the opposite.
Any other advice you want to share with us?
Be open about your vulnerabilities and that’s how you connect with people because being vulnerable gives others the permission to be vulnerable and through that, you can connect with people and you can help each other. Be open to constructive criticism. Don’t listen to people being hateful but if you don’t listen to criticism in a positive way and turn it into a positive thing, then you won’t get better. Don’t be scared to ask for help.
Visit Wight Tea Co. at www.wighttea.com and stay connected on Instagram @wightteaco.
If you’re in the Baltimore area and looking to make new friends, follow along @societyofexcellentwomen and www.societyofexcellentwomen.org.
All images © Rachel King, 2018