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How This CEO Is Changing The Narrative Of Black Women In Spirits

Black women taking up space is the new wave.

BOSS UP

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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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