Finding her Cup of Tea: Isabella Ranger Brews a Business from Herbology
“It wasn't really like I planned it so much as it was that I knew that my favourite place to be was out on the land,” explains Isabella Ranger, reflecting on her origins as a tea maker. Brewing tea is an act of intention, but the career of teamaking just came to be for Ranger. With training as an herbalist, she started making herbal teas over twenty years ago. What started as an herbal apothecary became a thriving tea business with blends sold in restaurants, cafes and online, reaching tea fans all over under the brand name Ranger Teas.
At the age of 18, Ranger happened upon a book about herbs which fascinated her. She hyper-focused on it and felt the field of herbology calling to her. “That’s when I started realizing that's what I want to do, but it wasn't really like a career path,” she remembers, thinking about how her passion wasn’t well recognized initially. “It was in all the cultures of the past so it just rang true to me,” she continues.
Ranger is an Inuk and Celtic adoptee reconnecting with her family from Nunavut. She currently lives on Squamish and Lilwat territory where she crafts her teas. To create Ranger Teas, Ranger’s team spends time in nature. “We respectfully gather mountain botanicals. We spend a lot of time out on the land, and gathering some medicinals mostly up in the mountains. We also blend with plants that we source, and we make them for community, for plant kin and for the land,” she explains. Those plants become all sorts of tea blends, some custom-made for companies.
She started the company in 2006, taking a couple of years to get things situated in her business. Initially, they had a co-packer who she learned a lot from. The learning curve was steep, she found, and that was partly because creating a company wasn’t in her initial plans. “I wasn't really planning on going in business. But I was a creator, I wanted to make things,” Ranger recalls.
As an Indigenous business owner, one of the toughest parts for her has been funding. She struggled with the initial calculations around costs of goods and margins, finding the backend of the business less intuitive than the more creative aspects. “I studied herbalism, what I love, and I'm passionate, but the business world of it was not something that I really knew,” she reflects. The organization, business plans, funding, logistics and administration were challenging, particularly given her worldview.
“I'm not really a capitalist. The way I do things is an Indigenous way,” she clarifies. The courses and mentorships she found were based on capitalism, which didn’t really resonate with her. She found there was a mismatch between what felt right inside and what people expected her to do, but she’s since found different tools and groups now that felt more aligned. The incongruence she felt and her reluctance to play the games of capitalism were difficult in the beginning until she found her footing and her community.
“There's capitalism, but there's a whole other way of doing things where money can be medicine.”
One of the ways she learned was through a course called The Trauma of Money and what she learned made a big difference. “It was a life changer, because it really went through all of our money systems and how they're set up, and who benefits and the privilege mixed with the disorders that we have, and how, with a trauma-informed approach, we can heal all these intergenerational money things that we have going on, and just understand where they come from, and how these systems are set up, and how they benefit only a certain few,” Ranger recounts. Through somatic therapy techniques, she learned to heal, open up and feel safe as she did the work of learning about money and how to be in a relationship with it.
If she could go back and give a message to her younger self it would be, “You’re enough and you belong.” Ranger has struggled with imposter syndrome and had to learn to trust and believe in herself, a lesson she wished she learned earlier in life. She was diagnosed with ADHD late in life and wished she had more support growing up. The other things she would want her younger self to hear would be, “Ask for more help. Get the support. Go with your gut feeling all the time.”
As she moves through the world, Ranger is inspired by the women in her life, especially a group she’s a part of called Indigenous Women Outdoors. It’s an inclusive and supportive community of women that she considers life-changing in the way they support safe access to the outdoors. Ranger is also inspired by the herbalists of the past and the teachers who shaped her journey with her apothecary, a journey that started on the land.
On the land is her favourite place and as a teamaker she spends her days steeped in it. Moving from an apothecary to a beverage brand, she’s found a life of herbalism is her cup of tea - Ranger Tea. She climbs mountains to pick medicinal plants for her blends and learned about money as medicine along the way. Brewing tea is an act of intention, but her business is something that came to be, just like her love of plants and herbs so long ago.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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