Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career background?
I had a rewarding career in the financial services but always dreamt of owning my own tea house. In 2014 I retrained as a pastry chef at Le Corden Bleu and started baking and selling free-from and vegan cakes in London farmers’ markets. Then I worked for the UK Tea Academy, where I learnt about teas from around the world. Out of sheer love and enjoyment I started concocting my own Sri Lankan blends, using herbs, spices and flowers. And even though I make a mean vegan chocolate cake, it was my tea blends that people bought the most at the markets. I founded Miss TeaSmith in 2017, creating blends that are different, fresh and quirky but still respectful of tradition. I love the creativity of bringing flavours together, talking about tea and coming up with the best food pairing options.
What makes your business sustainable?
I have three criteria that must be adhered to: that the workers in the factory are paid a fair wage; the girls and young women are encouraged to continue with their education; and the workers are truly heard and acted upon. Plus the tins the tea is sold in are reusable and the ‘plastic’ the tea comes in is biodegradable, as are the tea bags and tags.
How did you start incorporating sustainability more into your business practices? When did you first realise this was necessary?
Sustainability was one of the corner stones of my business, long before its inception, and it’s one that determines the future of the business too. When I looked at the packaging for the tea, my top consideration was which material I would use: where the material was sourced, how it was brought to the UK and how customers could reuse or recycle it.
Was there a stat or figure that made you take stock and realise that you need to play a part in sustainability?
For me, this is something I grew up with and is very much a part of my day-to-day.
What’s the biggest challenge to having a sustainability-focused business?
The biggest challenges are around cost – it’s very expensive, especially for a small business. There is also the issue of what’s available to use. For example, when I first sold my tea blends at farmers’ markets, I had to use plastic bags, but since then biodegradable bags have come onto the market. They cost a lot more, but since the philosophy of the company is sustainability, reusability and being able to recycle, I have invested in them.
What are your biggest learnings?
To ask for help, advice and support – I am always touched by how this is offered with such generosity and kindness. I have also learnt that when you fail, you just have to accept it, because there are many more failures to come. And I have learnt to gather a really supportive group of people around me; it takes care of so much.
Which businesses do you admire in this space?
What’s one thing you believe everybody should be doing to lead a more sustainable life?
Increase their awareness and then put it into practice.
What would you like to see in the future with sustainability at its core?
Accountability, practice and the impact it has on us all.
Do you follow anybody on Instagram that’s great at getting the message out there?
What are your top tips for living more sustainably at home?
Do not waste food, water or clothes. Reuse everything as much as possible and only travel on a plane every two to three years.
If you could invent anything, what would it be?
After I have invented a printer that prints money (my own version of quantitative easing!) I would invent a machine that would continually use and reuse energy, so we never need new forms of energy.