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The pandemic delayed the launch of Stephanie Synclair’s tea company, but soon after introducing LaRue 1680 online late last year, the native of Birmingham, Alabama, knew it would all work out.
The premiere of the Netflix series, “Bridgerton,” just weeks after Synclair’s tea brand debuted has lured fans to LaRue 1680, apparently in hopes of indulging their Regency-era and tea-sipping fantasies.
“The idea to start a business in the middle of a pandemic is absolutely ridiculous,” said Synclair, who as a Black woman also faced systemic challenges to launching a new company.
“And then I realized, you know, that’s one of the things you love about tea – it’s slower, you take your time, it’s not rushed, everything in due time – and I knew that everything will work out.”
Indeed, LaRue 1680’s sales of loose leaf teas and pastel-colored tea sets began to quintuple in January thanks to “Bridgerton,” Synclair said. The top two search terms that drove business to her site at the start of that month were “Bridgerton tea” and “Bridgerton tea sets,” she said.
Costumers also gave LaRue 1680 merchandise to friends as gifts, she said, attaching notes like this one: “I know how much you love Bridgerton so I thought Bridgerton inspired tea sets would be appropriate. Happy Birthday.”
Encountering tea in Indonesia
The idea of LaRue 1680 didn’t brew overnight but steeped slowly after Synclair, a single mother, embarked in 2012 on a year of global travel with her son, Caden, then 7.
As a young child, Synclair would spend hours in the travel section at the library, dreaming of seeing the world one day, though she didn’t think it was possible because she’d never seen many Black women like herself traveling, she said.
“Being exposed to travel is really important,” Synclair said. “I would have started this venture sooner, but not even just this venture; I would have been exposed to the possibilities in life.”
She knew, “deep down, that I wasn’t supposed to be in Birmingham. … I wanted to build something big, I just didn’t know what it was. And so, I wanted to go on this little sabbatical to get to know myself more.”
Synclair packed their bags, bought two one-way tickets from Alabama to Sicily, Italy, and set off on what she called her “eat, pray, love” journey.
She didn’t have an itinerary and planned out destinations shortly before leaving each country.
“About two weeks before it was time for me to go to my next location, I would decide, OK, what’s next? And I would just kind of sit with it for a moment and then just go buy a ticket.” Synclair said. “I learned to be secure with Stephanie’s decisions. I learned to not overplan because plans change all the time.”
While abroad, Caden learned online while Synclair continued her work as a business and marketing coach.
The pair traveled through Europe to Asia, where Synclair fell in love with the tea rituals of Bali.
“My love for tea actually originated in Asia,” Synclair said. “I spent the most time at once in Indonesia, in Bali, where tea was just a thing. It was a regular part of society, just like water is here for us or coffee.”
When Synclair returned to the United States in 2013, she wanted to continue the tea rituals she had practiced in Bali but said it was hard to find quality tea.
“I started looking for the best teas,” she said. “All you really could find was mass-produced cheaper teas in a bag that had been produced down.”
That’s when Synclair decided to start her own tea company.
Capitalizing on a Regency-era blockbuster
She then spent about eight months in and out of France, conducting industry research and calling manufacturers. She spent another three months sampling teas, and eventually, LaRue 1680 became an online tea shop.
LaRue translates to “the streets.” Sinclair chose the name because “it’s tea that transports you,” she said, adding she picked the year reference after seeing “LaRue 1680” in a dream.
Synclair in part attributes her success to being a Black woman at a time when support for Black-owned businesses is on the rise.
“I remember just a few years ago, you know, I may have said, OK, well, I don’t want to be the face of this; this was just the reality of the world we have lived in,” Synclair said. “I have met other Black people and other people who aren’t Black, but they’re just interested in Black business.”
Following the hype of “Bridgerton,” LaRue 1680 released a “Bridgerton”-themed collection, which included a pink tea set, a pink tea cup and a variety pack of teas. LaRue 1680’s Instagram site features “Bridgerton”-themed reels that probe the type of tea Daphne Bridgerton or the Duke of Hastings might sip.
Synclair, who binge-watched all eight episodes of “Bridgerton” in one night, said she’s ecstatic with the customers “Bridgerton” has earned her.
And considering a new season of “Bridgerton” is in the works, Synclair aims to “keep them coming,” with pop-up shops for the tea company and merch.
“We have grown so much, now we have to go find a warehouse.” Synclair said. “For our one-year anniversary, I want to do amazing pop-ups across the country and pop-ups where you sort of walked into an English garden.”
“The goal, within the next five years,” Synclair said, “is to start building stores across the country.”