Business 30 October 2017
Like many female businesswomen, Soo-Ah Landa left an important high paying job at a Top Fortune 100 company to raise a family. After two years of being a “stay at home mom extraordinaire," Soo-Ah received a wake-up call when her 9-year-old son was asked by a teacher in school, "What does your mom do?" and his response was "She cooks and cleans for us."
Having grown up in a Korean culture where having kids and raising kids is a traditional role for women, Soo-Ah knew it was time to make a change. She comments, “I realized I had a responsibility to teach my two sons that women do more than cook and clean, and can actually start companies too!" Fast forward two years and Soo-Ah's son wrote in his 6th-grade essay that when he grows up he "wants to start and build a successful company like my mom." (Priceless, right?) This journey to launch the only 100% organic bone broth plus juice company on the market, however, was not an easy one. Soo-Ah tells SWAAY about her biggest challenges and mistakes along the road.
Going back into the workforce after motherhood is not easy, and in exploring this, Soo-Ah sought out a community with similar challenges and launched Project 8, a group of eight women who mentored each other for eight months and created accountability to reach their goals in jumpstarting or creating new careers. While motherhood was amazing in its own way, it wasn't enough for this group of women. Project 8 was where Soo-Ah met her co-Founder and where BRU Broth launched.
The biggest challenge for Soo-Ah was learning how to create an entirely new beverage category: RTHD (Ready to Heat and Drink, or “Sip" in the case of BRU.) Despite a phenomenal education from MIT and a second degree black belt in tae kwon do."
“I knew nothing about how to start a beverage company and raise capital, nor how on earth I was going to find investors who would be willing to take a gamble on a product that didn't exist yet," she says. “Even grocery store buyers had no idea where to put us. We were a meat product that looked like a juice."
When we asked Soo-Ah what her biggest mistake was, she laughed, and talked about how there were so many, but primarily, underestimating the time, money and resources required to successfully get a brand on shelf and get the initial penetration needed to then go out and convince people that they should give you more time, money and resources. It was a journey of long hours, challenges, tears and travel, but the hard work eventually paid off.
Soo-Ah's milestone moment came when she was able to move production from her home kitchen and driving around with kids in tow after school delivering bottles throughout the Bay area, to a bottling facility alongside distribution management under a major national distributor.
While many women entrepreneurs have faced challenges along the way, Soo-Ah loves that her brand and product is making a difference in the lives of others. Together with her co-Founder, Mary Butler, Soo-Ah started BRU Broth because she felt there was a need for a sugar-free, nutrient dense warm beverage that went beyond coffee and tea. “I experienced firsthand the healing aspects of bone broth when my mom was making gallons of it for my dad to help him in his struggle with colon cancer," she says. “Bone broth is delicious, but it heals. My (Korean) Grandma was 100% right and it's why I grew up drinking bone broth. I want everyone on the planet to be drinking bone broth everyday because it is that good for you."
Bone Broth has now been trending for a couple of years (everyone from the Kardashians to P!nk to Tom Brady drink it), but here's why BRU stands out: It is the only 100% organic, pastured and grass-fed bone broth that adds cold-pressed vegetables, roots and spices.
While there are competitors that sell juice, plus broth formulations, BRU is truly bone broth (it's the first ingredient listed), with a touch of juice, so that you are truly getting the benefits of the bone broth. It's farm to bottle, and exceptional for on-the-go, for recovery, for health and even for cooking. BRU features delicious flavors and enticing names such as Turmeric Ginger, Hug in Mug (Bone Broth, veggies, coconut aminos), Hot Greens (Bone Broth with greens and a hint of jalapeno), and will be launching Broffee (Bone Broth plus coffee), later this fall. Imagine the benefits of bone broth with the energy and satisfaction of your cup of coffee. Yes, ladies, you are welcome. This is the innovation that Soo-Ah is after.
What advice does Soo-Ah have for other women looking to start their own companies and/or those who are struggling with the launch of a brand? First, Soo-Ah says, “You will never, ever, be fully prepared before you jump off that cliff, So don't wait for that to happen, that's just procrastination. Just go for it and know that yes, you might fail, but at least you have a chance of success by persevering through." As a mother of 2 boys, Soo-Ah likens this to the quote from Star Wars' Yoda: "Do or do not. There is no try." Second, “Do not fear saying, "I don't know" or "I need help." Many women entrepreneurs once had big corporate jobs and have other impressive credentials, educations and background, but then we find that becoming an entrepreneur makes us vulnerable all over again, which is an uncomfortable place to be, initially, when you might have once managed a large organization and a $500M+ P&L at a Fortune 500 company!" She assures us that it's ok to ask for help and advice. Lastly, “use the sisterhood because it's a strong network." Seek these women out at school, through alumni groups, through peers. This is why Soo-Ah founded her mom's group called Project 8: eight women, eight big ideas, eight months (basically during the school year) where they detailed out an eight-month plan with tangible goals, mentored each other and held each other accountable to their goals.
So raise a glass, toast and sip to Soo-Ah and BRU!
7 Min Read
"You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl." That was the comment that defined my early life, to which I would typically reply, "Thank you."
I continued to offer up the reply of "Thank you," quite generously, until my mid-twenties.
Growing up, every image depicted around me gave the message that most dark girls were ugly. So, when people would say, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl," I took it as a compliment. Why? Because I felt that most people didn't expect to find beauty in dark-skinned black girls, so when they claimed to find beauty in me, I actually felt flattered.
All was well in my little bubble. "I was a prize," I thought, despite being born with dark skin. After all the derogatory comments I heard about my complexion throughout childhood, it felt like a step up from being told by my darker-skinned grandfather that I was "nothing but a black bitch." So, I thought, I'll take it.
One day, for what seemed like the umpteenth time, someone granted me the usual back-handed compliment, telling me I was pretty despite being dark-skinned girl, only this time my mom was there to witness it. As I smiled and said, "Thank you," my mother became incensed. "Don't you disrespect my child. If you can't simply tell her she is pretty, don't say anything at all."
Boy was she furious. Though, at the time, I didn't understand why. My mother immediately questioned my decision to say thank you to such a comment. When I explained that I saw it as a compliment, she instantly and quite bluntly corrected me. "No!" She asserted. "That's like saying you're pretty for a monkey, or, that despite your blackness, you're pretty. Do you understand me?" Her corrections landed on me with a hard thud and then continued to sink in like a dull stomachache. My response was a sheepish "I guess so."
At the time I thought she simply didn't understand because she had been born with the privilege of light skin and never had to face these types of problems. For as long as I could remember since I was a young girl, everyone has always told my mother how pretty she is. My grandparents' only light-skinned child, she was the golden girl in her community.
As time progressed, I built up complexes that I was unaware of on a conscious level. I would never color my hair blonde, for fear that I was too dark and would be laughed at for lightening my hair. I was also convinced that I was too dark to rock some red lipstick and red nails. I had created so many beauty blockers for myself.
"Dark-skinned girls can't wear this." Or, "Dark-skinned girls can't have that."
Back in my time, we had phone chatrooms that most Generation-X kids will probably remember. You would dial in and speak to people all over the world. You couldn't see each other, so it was just a bunch of voices on the other end of the line, with people flirting and repping where they were from. I remember when I would describe myself, and I would tell people, "I'm really dark."
My close friend at the time heard me and questioned why that was one of the first things I defined myself by. "Well, I'm a lot darker than a paper bag, so I must be really dark," I replied. A few months later I was with this same friend and we met a boy through some mutual connections. We were all hanging out, and he really vibed with me. At the end of the evening, he said to me, "I really like you. I think you're gorgeous, but I can't date you. I prefer light skin." To add insult to injury, he went on… "I'm going to holla at your homegirl, not because I think she's prettier or nicer, but because she has light skin."
At this point in my story, you may have already done a dozen or so eye rolls, facepalms, and winces on my behalf, marveling at the absurdity and cruelty of it all. If it helps, I've come a long way since then, and I've grown to truly love myself. But I digress…
Flashing forward to my first job after earning my Bachelor's degree, I was working in the field of social services which I felt good about because, although my workload was intense, I was doing my part to help my community. I was working on cases to determine people's benefits. One day an older gentleman in his mid-seventies came in to see me. He laughed with me and was very charming. And then… he said it! It was that phrase that had followed me throughout my life. "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl." My boss happened to walk into my workspace and overheard the gentleman (who was much darker than me), say those insidious words. And just like my mom, my boss lost it.
"Shame on you," my boss said. "You should know better than that. You're too old to be saying ignorant things like that. Just tell her she's beautiful because she is." The older gentleman apologized to me and told me he meant no harm. He then explained to me that in his time, it was rare to see that kind of beauty paired with dark skin. That experience was my first inkling that all the people who had ever told me I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl were not consciously trying to hurt or insult me.
They were, themselves, victims of colorism.
Suddenly, I understood why my mother had been so upset and hurt when she heard her baby girl being subjected to colorism in front of her.
Before I could continue to gather my own thoughts, my boss (who really looked out for his team) called me into his office to apologize to me for having to go through that kind of backward thinking and the subsequent comments. He explained to me that this ignorance was deeply rooted in the minds of ignorant people. It was an aha moment — a real turning point in my life. That's when I began my journey of self-love. I learned to love everything about my beautiful brown skin and love my complexion unapologetically. Since then, I have pushed every limit and tore down those beauty boundaries I had saddled myself within my twenties.
Although my signature look remains cropped black hair, I now boldly experiment with every hair color including platinum blonde, and yes, I have fun with red lips and red nails. And guess what? It looks good on me. I love a blonde wig and a red lip, and I define my beauty parameters now, not society. It wasn't easy to transcend, but these days, I do not accept the backhanded compliments and micro-aggressions born out of other people's ignorance and colorism.
Fast forward to the present day, my husband, whom I love and adore, was himself a victim of colorism and admittedly didn't date dark-skinned women in his younger years. I'm glad his values and sensibilities changed before we met. If a man ever loved a woman, my husband loves me from the crown of my head to the sole of my feet. My husband is one of my biggest influencers when it comes to my current style and beauty image, and he's been a champion of me expressing my style and beauty as I wish.
My husband and I are intent on flipping the script of that old colorist narrative with our own children. We call our three-year-old son our little chocolate drop. We let him know he is perfect in his beautiful medium brown-toned skin, and I wouldn't change him for the world.
I am now pregnant with our second child, and should I have a girl, I am ready to support her in any way needed to face this world and all its societal complexities. Whether she is dark, light or in between, I will convey to her that she is perfect just as she is.
I love that I've come into my worth as a woman of color, and some of the adversity I faced early on drove me to succeed as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. These experiences fueled my passion for uplifting all women, inclusive of all ethnicities, cultures and, yes, skin tones. I went on to co-own one of New York City's most celebrated recording studios and music production companies, Brook Brovaz. I run Cloe's Corner, a storefront co-working community in Brooklyn, New York, and I chair a thriving non-profit organization, Women With Voices, providing community support, practical resources and education for women from all walks of life. My online platform, including a soon-to-be-launched mobile app called WUW (We Uplift Women) will provide these services to women digitally. The best part is, I am just getting started
I am Cloé Luv, and I am unapologetically a dark-skinned black woman.
This piece has been originally published on April 14, 2020