SINGAPORE: An American woman, who came to Asia to start a business, says it's a bit like selling ice to the Eskimos. TWG Tea Co-founder Maranda Barnes speaks to Channel NewsAsia for the series, Women At The Top.
Ms Barnes knows luxury. Even before she co-founded TWG tea in 2008, she was already immersed in the world of elegant indulgence, concocting fragrances and strategising with luxury fashion brands.
"I knew about luxury packaging. I knew how you are supposed to talk about luxury products, how important the ceremony was and these small little details," she said. And that eye for luxury is everywhere - from TWG's packaging to the colours, to the company's website.
Ms Barnes' touch of sophistication, along with the sourcing of premium tea leaves, has proven the perfect blend. In just seven years, TWG has gone from three employees to 3,000, from one salon in Singapore to 44, stretching across 15 countries.
And last year, another milestone - TWG became the very first international tea company to open tea salons and retail boutiques in mainland China.
Ms Barnes also spoke on the lack of tea culture in the United States and the difficulty of setting up a tea company in Asia.
"In the beginning, it was a bit of a scary challenge because it was like selling ice to the Eskimos. Here we are, coming from overseas to sell a product to Asia and the Asians are the connoisseurs of tea. But at the same time, I sometimes feel like it takes a foreigner to see the value and the beauty in a product that has become very mundane."
Ms Barnes, whose husband Taha was the tea connoisseur, said she felt it was time to really invest herself in learning about the product than live in her husband's shadow.
"But it wasn't fun all the time. There were moments when you're very obviously greeted in a secondary capacity. You go into a meeting and you're greeted "Oh, Mr Taha, and then, oh, Maranda!" I even changed my last name. I don't use my husband's last name - which I love - on my business cards because I said I need to be my own entity, my own self."