By Chandler Luhowskyj
Aureal Ojeda is a heavy-machine operator in Milwaukee, WI who’s worked on a variety of different projects ranging from buildings, infrastructure, demolition, as well as the newly opened Hop streetcar.
Over the years, she’s witnessed many errors made from working in the field and felt inspired to offset some of the damage she’s seen. After seeing the atrocities that were being done to the planet, she made a promise to give back in hopes of offsetting some of the damage done by launching an environmentally friendly tea company called Outwoken Tea.
Aureal’s brand is deeply personal to her. Outwoken’s logo, three mountains, is symbolic of the various challenges she’s had to face in her life. One of which represents a point in her life when she needed to work through some health issues that were beginning to interfere with her work in construction and needed to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle.
Tea played a big role in helping ground herself and change her diet. “I’m a true hippie at heart and have always loved everything from the earth,” says Aureal, “Tea was one of the things that helped me calm down throughout these lifestyle changes.” Many of her products are high in antioxidants that help with living a healthy lifestyle.
Aureal’s favorite tea, Purple Kenyan, has more antioxidants than any other tea leaf. “The farmers took over 10 years cultivating the tea, not knowing if they would get a return. It was an investment on their end, not knowing if they would make a penny of their land. I have mad respect for them doing that and continuing through without knowing what the return would be.”
After launching Outwoken Tea in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was forced to make a pivot early on. Early plans focused on B2B contracts with prominent businesses, but many backed out after shutdowns were announced in March.
Aureal’s 12-year-old son, Morello, sat next to her when she was opening these emails, “Of course your reaction determines everything for them,” she says. Determined not to give up, she spent the next 2 months recreating her business targeted towards the B2C sector with an official public launch in June of 2020.
Since selling at her first public market, her son has been by her side. “My son is my apprentice, he knows how to talk to people and all about the tea. My very first farmer’s market was on his 12th birthday and he spent the day helping me get everything ready. I felt bad at first but I realized he’s learning valuable life skills here,” says Aureal.
Similar to many other bootstrapped startups, Aureal found herself building her business day-by-day and overcoming obstacles as she faced them. With 90% of her revenue coming from in-person events like farmer’s markets, she knew she had to transition to online sales. After enrolling in several courses and learning more about the various online platforms, she successfully converted 90% of her sales to her online store in less than a month’s time.
In September of 2020, only a few months after launching her business, Aureal pitched her idea at Dolphin Pool. She was competing with companies that had existed for quite some time and had data to back up their offerings. Despite being a newly-founded company, she placed in the top five. This was a huge moment for her as it validated the business and meant she was onto something real. Aureal has also pitched for Fund Milwaukee alongside The Way Out. Since Outwoken Tea is entirely bootstrapped, she’s been keeping an eye out for experienced angel investors that can bring helpful insight to the table.
Aside from pitching at competitions, Aureal has made connections with many community resources such as the UWM Entrepreneurship Center, WWBIC, SCORE, Uncrowd, and several others. Her key piece of advice for fledgling entrepreneurs: don’t be afraid to show up and ask for help.
“If you’re not serving a purpose bigger than yourself, then what are you doing this for?” is one of Aureal’s mantras that guides her throughout her entrepreneurial journey and a big reason why she chose to make Outwoken Tea environmentally sustainable by using compostable packaging and plant-based inks. “People forget that you need a purpose for your business. If you’re not solving a problem, you’re just another business,” says Aureal. She firmly believes that large corporations need to be held to a higher standard and limit their pollution to the environment.
“My brand is my personal commitment to the damage I’ve done,” says Aureal, “It’s more than just trying to make a dollar. I could make more money, but I’ve intentionally made my packaging eco-friendly.”
Becoming an eco-sustainable small business isn’t as difficult as one might imagine. “Try harder than what you would usually try. It’s there, you just have to dig harder,” says Aureal, noting that her packaging took nearly eight months to design before going into production.
Like many other small businesses, there are many factors at play in the early stages of launching with different changes happening every month. However, there is one thing that Aureal is determined to keep at the core: social enterprise. Being a naturally curious person, she aspires to launch an educational curriculum that teaches students about sustainability and ways to reduce global waste.
Additionally, Aureal envisions a way to partner with farmers in foreign countries in order to create co-ops that help them gain back their buying power. “There are too many people out there that produce valuable things that we as a society need and they’re giving it away for dirt cheap because there’s nobody there to regulate and advocate on their behalf,” says Aureal.
Aureal is doing her part to help make the planet a better place for generations to come, one cup of tea at a time. You can connect with Aureal on LinkedIn and learn more about Outwoken Tea’s mission and peruse their variety of teas here.