We have seen Black women take on business and entrepreneurship in numbers and be incredibly successful in the last decade. What we have specifically seen is Black women stepping into industries where little representation of not only women but Black women are present. The wine and spirits industry is no different.
In recent years, celebrity brands such as Ciroc and Dusse have risen in popularity in our culture, becoming the drink of the party. Black-owned vineyards like Brown Estates in Napa Valley are now changing the narrative around Black people and wine. Historically, we have had our influence in this industry for years but with less acknowledgment. Our taste profile coupled with family recipes have influenced brands such as Jack Daniels, a liquor that can be reportedly traced back to a Black man, Nathan "Nearest" Green.
Amber Ferrell Steele, CEO, and creator of Timeless Vodka is changing the narrative of Black women taking up space in this industry by creating a vodka line that is expertly crafted with everyone in mind. She is a wife and mother who has stepped out into uncharted waters and created a lane for Black women in the spirits industry. It was the creativity of Amber and her husband, Bruce King Steele, that led her to try her hand at creating her own liquor brand. This idea grew legs, and Timeless Vodka was born.
Courtesy of Timeless Vodka
Since then, the Timeless Vodka team has come together organically, with Amber's retailers, distributors, distillery family, and her own family rallying around her. Trust has been a major lesson for Amber because she has only met approximately 35 percent of her team face-to-face. She has had to learn to discern who has her best interest at heart in a very small amount of time, and so far she has been right.
To create her unique product and process, Amber used influences from her family and friends to develop a brand that can compete on the premium beverage stage and is inclusive of everyone. Even down to the smallest detail of the bottle shape, inspired by a syndrome that her daughter English was born with, points to inclusion for adults who still are affected. Without much experience in the industry and little information available, she was able to leverage her skills in sales, as well as her relationships to build her brand and grow it to multiple states during the pandemic.
If you are wondering about the taste, Amber uses a special process that ultra-purifies her vodka as it goes through a distillation process five times to prevent hangovers. It is a clean and elegant process that creates a drink that even when mixed, you don't have to work too hard to make a beautiful tasty cocktail. Amber's key to success? Well, that lies in the fact that she purposely created no plan B because plan A had to work. Amber calls this grit, and it is one of the things she says you need to have in business to be successful where you are not only the sole woman but the only Black woman.
Check out Amber's journey as she details how she built her Timeless Vodka brand and the obstacles she faced.
xoNecole: You have a full-time job and a family. What made you take on entrepreneurship?
Amber Ferrell Steele: Entrepreneurship wasn't something that I actually sought to do, honestly, this was a hobby. And it kind of grew into the business, and I would say entrepreneurship found me, I didn't necessarily find it. I'd be lying if I said it was easy. January 2020 was our official launch. And before we could even really get our feet wet in the industry, we only had a good month and a half before things started shutting down or the fear of things shutting down actually took place
"Honestly, this was a hobby. And it kind of grew into the business, and I would say entrepreneurship found me, I didn't necessarily find it."
I'd be lying if I said it was easy.I can say it's been a very fascinating year to juggle. I have a full-time job. I'm a full-time wife. I'm a full-time mom, and then I have to become a homeschool teacher too. I really had to find time and balance, and time management wasn't something that I was necessarily ever good at. I had to quickly learn how to be good at all of it.
Courtesy of Timeless Vodka
How did you decide to take on the wine and spirits industry?
To a degree, my husband is not a big drinker. I like to drink. I'm willing to try different things, but him, not so much. So whenever I'd make something at home, he would drink it. But we would go to a friend's house or a restaurant, he was drinking just to drink. It wasn't something that he enjoyed the taste of. I asked him what it is, and he said, "I just don't really like the way it tastes," or "I feel like it's heavy."
So the vodka line started off as a joke. I was like OK, we'll just create our own. One day, I was at a sales meeting for my company and I started looking at research on how to create your own brand. It's surprising, there's not a lot of information out there at all. It took me about two years, from start to finish to start to find the flavor profile, and create it.
How did you come up with the name Timeless Vodka?
We already decided what type of flavor we were going to have and the last little piece to the puzzle was the name. I traveled and I had a thirteen-week travel leg, I was only really home on the weekends. Bruce gave me a card and it was handwritten on a regular Walmart card. But he had written a piece in it about what you share with the people that you care about most. Once memory fades, you will still be able to have that feeling that you can always remember. Make the moment count. So that's when we decided, let's call it "Timeless". We decided our catchphrase would be, "Moments matter, make them timeless."
Courtesy of Timeless Vodka
In creating your flavor profile, coming up with your logo, the bottling, etc., can you walk us through that process from concept to the finished product?
I definitely wanted it to be black and white. I thought that it was very timeless, classy, and elegant. It was really important for the bottom to be gray and it signifies that black and white can offer gray. The shape of the bottle is something that was important to me. My daughter was born with amniotic down syndrome. When she was little, she had a small limb deficiency with her fingers and toes and she always liked water bottles.
I kind of thought ahead, there are other adults that are just like English out there, so I thought that having a squatty or wider bottle is easier to grip. You wouldn't believe the amount of people who wanted me to change my bottle shape, label, or design. I really [believe in] standing firmly on what you believe in and what you want. There's not a lot of women in this space. Being able to say this is what I want to do, and this is why it was something I had to learn.
"I really [believe in] standing firmly on what you believe in and what you want. There's not a lot of women in this space. Being able to say this is what I want to do, and this is why it was something I had to learn."
What were some of the business challenges that you encountered while you were building your business?
Not knowing what I was doing. I mean I hate to say you don't know what you don't know until you're in that situation where you really don't know what you don't know. That was my biggest thing. Having to quickly learn different liquor laws for the state that you're in has to be the hardest part of the selling. Learning what I needed to do, legally, [I] can't say I've mastered it.
What are some of the tools that you acquired or that you use now that help you navigate the challenges of becoming an entrepreneur?
I'm pretty close to our distributor, it was nice that I was able to come in and be very honest with them. I do not know everything, but I'm willing to learn. I feel like a lot of people, in general, don't want to take the time to sit back and listen and learn.
Courtesy of Timeless Vodka
Did you ever feel like you had imposter syndrome? And what did you do to kind of get over that?
I don't think I have. There are very few women who own vodka or liquor lines in general. I'm not a celebrity, I'm not wealthy. I'm just a regular person who wants to create a great tasting product for my family and friends. Up until recently, I would go in, make calls and people would have no idea that I was the owner of the brand. I'm just now starting to tap out and say, "My name is Amber, and I'm the owner of Timeless Vodka."
What advice would you give women who are looking to go into entrepreneurship?
If anything, keep your ideas close. Don't tell anyone what you are going to do until it is time for you to do it. Sometimes people will put their fears on your success and on you. As far as going into your own liquor business, just have grit.
If you are interested in purchasing, you can find Timeless Vodka in five states, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. It is also available online and ships to 44 states.
Featured image courtesy of Timeless Vodka