Hello everybody, today I’m with Charlene of Tranquil Tuesdays. How are you?
Great! Last night we just had our big Spring Harvest Tea Tasting party to debut our freshest teas from this year’s Spring Harvest at one of the most beautiful traditional Chinese courtyards in Beijing: our retail partner Wuhao Curated Shop’s space (you can see photos here)—so I feel really energized from that.
Eheh, sounds good! Can you introduce you and your brand?
Sure, very happy to. My name is Charlene, the things I enjoy talking about for hours are: fonts/typography, food/eating, traveling to new places, complexities in international development, women’s’ issues, and fresh beverages (seriously I can have an hour long discussion each on lemonades or ginger ales or sasprilla). One beverage in particular I’ve spent a lot of time drinking and seeking out around the world is tea.
When I first moved to Beijing five years ago (I’m from California) I discovered that China is really THE place to nerd out on tea. So that’s what I did: really nerd out on tea which eventually led to the natural point of all obsessive passions: starting my own tea social enterprise, Tranquil Tuesdays. I didn’t feel anyone was really revealing and showcasing China’s most distinctive and best teas to new audiences in a uniquely authentic way so I thought I would try to do that with Tranquil Tuesdays.
When we started defining Tranquil Tuesdays’ design aesthetic we realized what an interesting challenge it was to create a design that authentically reflected our identity as a Chinese social enterprise based in Beijing, our connection and dialogue with contemporary China and ancient Chinese traditions but that wasn’t the stereotype kitschy design that has come to be visual short hand for China (red, gold, dragons, pandas, etc etc). So we realized that redefining a vision of a “Chinese aesthetic” and what “being Chinese” means visually and in design terms was a really important element of our brand and what we were doing. Also cause I’m really nitpicky about design and care a lot about it.
But to fully introduce Tranquil Tuesdays we should probably back it up a bit and talk about why I started a social enterprise for womens’ empowerment, in the first place which sort of leads to your next question…
Eheh, yes. I’ve read you worked in US State Department human rights office. Do you think that background has somehow influenced your decision to create Tranquil Tuesdays?
Yes, my background in human rights and international relations work definitely influenced how I approached creating Tranquil Tuesdays as a platform for womens’ empowerment. First of all I’m really grateful for the State Department giving me the opportunity to live, work, and travel in many places around the world with so much responsibility at such a young age (I started as a human rights officer when I was 23) which exposed me to a lot of issues and ideas.
When I did a lot of reporting and work on Trafficking in Persons for the State Department I had the chance to meet and work with a lot of different NGO’s and international organizations and visit shelters and observe first hand the challenges women waiting in shelters to go back to their homes are facing. One of the main insights I gained from that experience is that unless women have the chance to gain new skills and the opportunity to apply in these skills in a constructive environment, being repatriated or “rescued” to go home won’t change much because the factors and conditions that led to an exploitative situation in the first place still remain.
As I learned more and more about global womens’ issues and the challenges women face in China in particular I concluded that the most important factors for women to be empowered to live the life they want for themselves are: the skills, training, and support network to gain confidence, economic independence, and a constructive community. I was really inspired by social enterprises I encountered in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Los Angeles and really admired the efficiency and sustainability of the social enterprise model.
So I carried around this dream that I could start my own social enterprise to offer women a platform for skills training and long-term employment that would challenge women to develop their full potential and gain the confidence, economic independence, and supportive community I identified as so important. And then right before I was scheduled to leave Beijing (where I was working at the US Embassy) and join the State Department’s United Nations Security Council Policy Office in DC I met my husband who really inspired me to stay in Beijing and pursue my dream.
When I found a way to join my passion for womens’ issues and tea with the social enterprise model in Beijing it was hard not to pursue this dream by creating Tranquil Tuesdays!
Eheh, nice! I’m really curious about your working method. Can you tell us anything about it?
Hmm well our work values are:
China has a rich history of fine, high-quality, artisan traditions dating back thousands of years. Historically, different regions have specialized in and been associated with particular crafts, whether they be silk and paper making, or porcelain and tea. We are committed to honoring these traditions from a contemporary perspective.
Provenance matters. We are committed to sourcing from localities where these traditions originated and have continuously flourished.
We believe China has the worlds’ finest teas with the most exciting depth and breadth in worldwide tea selection and histories. We are committed to sharing the depth and breadth of this culture/selection with new audiences.
We believe every women has unlimited potential once she is committed to uncovering it and provided with the adequate amount of support and resources. Tranquil Tuesdays was founded to create employment for Chinese women with limited opportunities. We are committed to exclusively hiring these women who have lacked the support and resources to realize their full potential.
We believe you can find high-quality well-designed products from China—and we are committed to creating and producing them.
We believe there are multiple visions of China and what a “Chinese design aesthetic” means and we are committed to embodying and showcasing that.
Tranquility and rest are just as important as productivity and Making It Happen.
You can’t rush good tea.
So that’s pretty much how we make our decisions in how to work on something or with someone. For instance, someone told me about a bone china teaware making factory a few hours outside of Beijing that many famous international brands use to manufacture their teaware. Using that factory would obviously be easier and cheaper for us than traveling to Jingdezhen—China’scenter of handmade porcelain craft for the last 1000 years—which is where we work with three teaware artists to handcraft our collection of teaware in really small batches.
I started thinking, though, if we were just going to go to a factory because it was easier and cheaper than what would be the point? The world has enough factory made things (especially from China). We’re trying to do something special with our product collections to honor and carry on the legacy of these ancient crafts and traditions and uniquely reflect a sense of China where we live and work. So that’s when we decided nope, we are not going to work with large factories even if it is cheaper and easier, we are committed to something more than cheaper and easier.
We have these values that we are really committed to and at the same time we are a really small boot-strapped operation (2 fulltime staff including myself, 3 part time, and lots of generous help from friends and husbands). So pretty much we just do as much as we can as best as we can with our limited resources (that’s an easy way to describe our work process).
There are many companies like yours, in China?
Social enterprises are a fairly new concept in China so it is a small and growing community which we are exited to be part of. Chinese design companies seeking to redefine a “Chinese aesthetic” and what “Chinese-ness” means visually are also rather a small and growing bunch. Tea companies? China has tons—probably more tea companies here than anywhere else in the world! But tea companies with the same sourcing philosophy and overall mission as we do? Not so many.
Other companies that blend these three elements together like Tranquil Tuesdays? I haven’t met another one yet, but would love to because then we could really understand and help each other out!
Has the Internet an important role for Tranquil Tuesdays? Do you think your company could be successful even if there were no Internet?
That’s a tough question. Well, for sure there’s no way we (Today I Conversed With and Tranquil Tuesdays) would have met without the Internet—so that’s one really cool thing about the internet. I think for tiny companies with very limited resources the internet is an amazing game changer. Since many small companies managed to be successful in the pre-internet era I’m sure there is a way to find success pre or sans internet. I can’t imagine, however, us reaching the audience we have with the amazing support from all over the world we have been honored to receive without the internet at this stage in our growth. So thank you worldwideweb!
Eheh, yes, thank you! What are your plans for the future?
Our dream is to work with as many women as possible and offer comprehensive growth and support services for all our employees. We’ve started partnering with more and more womens’ organizations, social enterprises, and projects here in China to reach more women and offer more services—so we want to continue developing and growing these partnerships.
And we hope to support this mission by establishing Tranquil Tuesdays’ collection of personally sourced teas and handcrafted teaware as synonymous with quality Chinese tea and teaware products and regarded as the premiere authentic source for these goods and Chinese tea culture. Hopefully by establishing this reputation we will be able broaden our customer base and eventually be available worldwide in stores that cater to shoppers looking for distinctive and unique gifts that reflect a sense of place.
So that’s the big picture and our plans for the short term is to do the daily work you need to do to get there. In the short term, we are improving our packaging a bit, re-vamping our teaware lines, beefing up our website, and creating some new very original and exciting gift sets (stay tuned for more details on that) all based on feedback from our customers.
Thank you Charlene, it has been a pleasure. I wish you good luck and good job, is there anything else you want to say to our readers?
If you have any ideas or feedback to contribute and help us carry out short-term plans or reach our long-term goals please let us know. And, remember that life is too short to drink bad tea!