INSIDE THE LOVE BOX: BRIANA THORNTON

Briana Thornton

What is the name of your company? 

Aesthete Tea

When was the company founded? 

April, 2017

Tell us the story of how you brought your company to life.

My background is actually in Fine and Contemporary Art. I have a degree in Fine Art and Museum Archives and collections. Funnily enough, I worked in art for 6 years in New York City before moving to Portland, Oregon, and switching careers (slightly) to branding.

I worked in a few creative agencies, and (as many people who work in that industry will attest to) I was burnt out by 26.

My mother is an herbalist and folk healer and while I was extremely stressed with work she was sending me teas and remedies to ease my anxieties. This got me thinking, and, as a side project and a way to release my creative energy while still creating art of some sort (that wasn't so corporate-based) I launched Aesthete Tea.

My mother created the blends and I did the branding, and… well, really everything else. I'd love to say the first year was a learning lesson, but we are almost 5 years in and I still feel as though I’m “baby deering” my way through everything: business logistics, licenses, laws, employees, etc...but it has been the most amazing journey.

We started originally out of my kitchen in a small townhouse and then moved into a 200 sq. ft location (designed much like a tiny house) and now today we have a 3,000 sq. ft Production House with our own commercial kitchen, a sister company to aesthete just starting off, as well as our own 2,000 sq. ft Teahouse.

The Teahouse is located in SW Portland and our sister company (called Thornton's Supply) is a small retail shop connected to our production space, which is just a 5-minute walk from the Teahouse.

If I'm being completely honest it feels like I blinked and everything was just there. The speed at which things have fallen into place has truly been incredible, if not a bit overwhelming. But I’ve been able to meet such amazing people - customers and employees alike -  and I feel that that's the real success story behind my weird little vision that started back in 2017.

How did you feel after it launched? 

I felt hopeful, but also nervous. To start Aesthete my mother and I maxed out our credit cards… I do not necessarily recommend that, but we took the jump off the cliff and it worked.

Where do you draw your design inspiration from? 

Oh gosh, everywhere. Of course my background in Fine Art and branding help, but I love minimalism and simplicity, natural elements...wood, stone, water. I think our branding reflects all of those aspects and interests in my life. 

Why was it important to you to create an “out and proud” LGBTQ+ company? 

There wasn't any other option. I always have just been who I am. I am Black, Native American, and Irish, and was raised by a single mother who was a bit of a wack-a-do. She was (and is) very hippie. I grew up backpacking and rolling around naked in the dirt. She raised me to be a vegetarian and to understand my impact on this world as well. She’s always been extremely accepting, loving people for who they are and how they show up in life, so me being queer was never an issue and I choose to live my life that way too. There is no part of me that would ever hide something, what you see is what you get and I wanted other individuals to know that you can be successful and also be fully, 100% yourself.
 

Was there a defining moment in your company’s history (so far) when you knew you created something special?

There are honestly so many. I think the biggest though was at the beginning of 2020 when we were contacted by British Vogue for a feature. Beyonce was on the cover of that magazine and when I was in college, I used to have this quote written in my notebook that said "You have as many hours in the day as Beyonce" and somehow...that all just felt so full circle.

What has been the reaction of customers to your brand?

Those that tell me, appreciate us. We are not here to make people buy our tea for the rest of their lives, just so we can profit. We want to be a door into the world of plant medicine. We hope that our customers will be inspired to start creating their own blends and remedies and to share amongst themselves all the knowledge of our ancestors.


Any special customer stories that you want to share? 

This woman is my dear friend now, so I hope she doesn't mind me including her in this but for privacy purposes, we’ll call her Laura.

Laura and I met at a farmers market when I was first starting. We had a brief conversation, she purchased some tea and then was on her way. The next day I received a beautiful email from her. She too was mixed raced and although I won't go into full detail, she mentioned that it was encouraging for her to see someone who looked like her running a business.

Long story short, we became good friends and I even ended up babysitting her daughter many times. We still talk to this day.

It's just amazing how my business has ultimately created my community and connected me with all of my friends. 

At FRUITLOOTS, we call all of the amazing products that we find our “loot”. What's a favorite piece of “loot” you have created?

I love that! Definitely Witches Brew! That's my favorite. It's a detox blend with burdock, dandelion, and chicory.

Tell us about the FRUITLOOTS products that we have chosen.

La Vie En Rose was created in collaboration with my dear friends Melissa and Greg who own Suzor Wines here in Oregon. They were opening a tasting room at the time and wanted to end the evening with a well-paired herbal tea. They’re still my dear friends to this day and we often do collaborative events with them as well.

Love Potion is actually taken from an old Irish love spell. (don't worry, there’s a whole incantation and ritual that has to be done, so just drinking it won't make you fall madly in love) but it's a nice nod to my mother's ancestry and family.

Sexual Healing. Well… it is what it sounds like! A libido tea for everyone and all.

Where do you see your company in 10 years?

Oh gosh, I don't even know what I'm eating for dinner. Some people have these incredible business plans and me...I just want to be happy. I created Aesthete to do something I loved and create a life that was comfortable for me. I've done that.

If I'm being completely honest, in 10 years I would really love to have some land with some pet cows (haha) and for Aesthete to grow more into an educational service on ancestral knowledge, plant medicine, and folk healing.

If you could do a special collaboration with any person in the world, who would it be and why?

SO MANY PEOPLE!

Gosh, I don't even know where I'd start… but two names pop into my mind. Tabitha Brown (@iamtabithabrown) and Sophia Rose (@sophia_rose)

Both of these women are so inspiring to me!

Also...Kate McKinnon...I have no other reason than I have the biggest celebrity crush on her. 

Any advice to queer entrepreneurs? 

Be who you are. Use everything that makes you unique, to make your business unique. The people who’ll find value in your work and support it will find you. 

If you could throw a party, with an unlimited budget and you could invite anyone, tell us about the party and who would be there! 

1920s themed, that's a given. I'd open it to everyone. I'm not one for exclusive lists. All-inclusive, all people, just enter with respect and love for everyone.

Last question - If you could be any fruit, what would it be and why?

Mango. I f*ucking love mangoes.

For more information on Aesthete Tea and to check out the rest of their collection, click here

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Photos courtesy of Briana Thornton & Aesthete Tea

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