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This Edgy New Mezcal Brand Harnesses Magic And Myth

Business

It's not often that you get the opportunity to become business partners with a close friend, and even rarer that you come together to create a brand so visually unique and pointedly representative of this #girlboss revolution.


Dynamic duo AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon have joined forces to create this art-infused mezcal brand that emits glamour and hipster chic vibes before you've even had the chance to sample the herbal damiana taste. As we've said before, being a female in the drinks business isn't easy, but the more women continue to invade the industry, the more rewards are reaped.

"We kind of came into spirits through the side door."

-Elliott Coon

The pair grew up together in the mountains of Virginia, and having been friends for years they began thinking of business ideas. “We started brainstorming a commercial venture that would bring together all of our interests" says Coon. By 2012 the duo had settled on the conception of a speakeasy that would be focused heavily on mezcal.

The bar, named Gem&Bolt proved a huge success, and gave the pair an opportunity to explore with mixology and mezcal infusions. "At the speakeasy we were serving mezcal infused with herbs," says Coon. The team subsequently became fixated with the herb damiana, said to have mythological properties (mostly related to sexual prowess and libido). The ladies then discovered that elixirs made from damiana and used in conjunction with mezcal were the most fruitfully sold, not to mention the most tasty. What began as an art project, would soon become their next business venture as they decided to take mezcal up to Oaxaca and begin hand-infusing the liquor.

"That was the beginning," AdrinAdrina says, "when we were really experimenting." The organic growth from the bar spurred the project and before long they were bottling the infusion.

The reason for the name? “In Oaxaca, we serendipitously discovered the ancient Zapotec myth of mezcal where a lightning bolt strikes the gem (or heart) of the agave plant, roasting and fermenting its sugars, creating the mystical sap now known as mezcal," Elliott explains.

They realized there was an opportunity to expand on the concoctions created in the bar and looked to find a chemist to begin the process of distilling and making their own mezcal.

"[The business] very quickly got very serious"

-Elliott Coon

Coon began working with chemists to define the spirit's composition with a focus on it being a pure, clean offering. Their resulting product is made without artificial yeast or additives and is 100% agave based, versus its tequila counterpart whose regulations are not as strict. But of course, it was the damiana that would come to characterize the brand and its different taste.

We asked AdrinAdrina if the company encountered any hurdles because its founders were women in a male dominated industry. She told SWAAY, "honestly we expected to have difficulties within the industry but we were welcomed with open arms into the mezcal community."

The mezcal world proved to be one deeply rooted in values of integrity and inclusiveness. "It is very protective of itself," says Drina. "In general it veers to engaging people who they feel have integrity and will bring integrity to the category." Thus, Gem&Bolt would find a welcoming home in the hills of Oaxaca because, she recalls, "for some reason, the people we were engaging - mostly men, thought that we would bring that to the table."

In 2015 they took on a partner in successful entrepreneur Jody Levy, founder of Watermelon Water. They would then look to someone with more experience in the alcohol industry and found in Lisa Derman, former COO of Stoli Vodka U.S, the perfect candidate for the job. Derman's near 25 year career in the industry proved her a worthy pick for CEO within the all-female team, and she reflects that as soon as introduction to the girls occurred, "I became mesmerized by the brand."

"Consumers in general are focusing on what they're putting into their bodies and we really want to emphasize more that mezcal is a clean spirit" -Lisa Derman

Derman's lucrative and long career in the industry made her a perfect fit for the brand. "Having been in the industry for 25 years I really had not seen anything like this, and I love the idea of mezcal as a new category," says Derman, underscoring that the brand Drina and Coon had created was something intrinsically unique. "The combination of the branding, the art, the herbs and the focus on botanicals - it's just such a great combination with a focus on health and wellness also because agave is plant-based."

Derman is very optimistic about mezcal's future, and notes that its growth rate has double and tripled in the last few years. "Mezcal is gaining notoriety because of the authenticity and artisanal production process," she says. "Much like whiskey, people are approaching it with connoisseurship." There's an opportunity with mezcal to talk about the production process, the harvesting, which adds an authentic story behind the product. The agave plant itself has to grow for eight to ten years before its harvested, and once ready, workers adopt a hands driven approach - crushing the plant with stone before distilling in small copper pots.

Having first launched in Austin, Texas in June of last year, Gem&Bolt is now available in L.A, New York City and upstate NY. The founders will look to Colorado next because of its pension for mezcal, and eventually further afield. "There's a big agave market there for tequila and metal and then we will look to Florida," says Derman. In keeping with the brands unconventional, style-forward position, AdrinAdrina and Coon were chosen to walk in the Gareth Pugh show at London Fashion Week as part of a positive, strong women protest. They say they would love for their spirit to be available in the UK, but building in the U.S. is the current priority. "Our focus right now is in the U.S but we already have some activation in Mykonos and Ibiza, London and Berlin," says Drina. "London is clamoring for Gem&Bolt. And how could it not - how often is it you see a brand with such artisanal flair and a pair of founders this fabulously passionate? It's rare and it's divine.

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Lifestyle

Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.


Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."