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."
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"
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.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.