The first time I laid my eyes on their adorable kitty tea-tins was when I was idly perusing through a shop. Bored, I had been walking past shelves until I came across this dark box full of tins – which upon closer inspection, I realised that there were tiny cats in an array of vibrant colours on them.
As a cat lover, I was absolutely delighted by what I saw – 6 kittens seemingly hanging mid-air, held aloft only by the string of a tea bag, their little legs dangling. My interest piqued, I decided to get to know the brand more.
Kittea: a portmanteau of the words “kitty” and “tea”. I fell in love with the cute packaging, the unique tea blends, and the fact that they matched them up to specific breeds, and so I went on a journey to find out more about the brand.
How It All Started
I met up with the lovely owner of the little kitties and their tea-tins, Inez. Inez worked in the social media and the PR industry for 7 years before she finally left to start Kittea full-time. They started in May 2016, but the website didn’t launch officially until October.
In the beginning, she only had 4 tea blends. Within a year, however, Kittea was available across 22 stores and 4 different countries.
It turns out that Inez’s business idea first came about in her teenage years.
“I had a Siamese cat when I was young, which was pretty much how I fell in love with cats. I adore how they have so many different species – which was somewhat akin to tea. I also nursed a growing fondness for tea itself.”
“When I was 17, I had the idea of a cartoon cat dangling from a teabag string – which I thought was a funny pun – kitty and tea, ‘kittea’.”
She tells me how she thought that the tea market in Singapore has always had a rather stiff, upper-lip impression. She thought to herself, “Why isn’t there any tea product out there that doesn’t take itself so seriously?”
To act on that sentiment, Inez combined her love for cats and tea into something fun and quirky and unique. “I want my tea to make people smile,” she admits to me readily.
The Transition To Teas
The transition from working for a company to actually running her own company can be difficult. Inez nodded her head resolutely.
“After I went to university and graduated, the idea of the cartoon cat dangling from a teabag was still in the back of my mind. However, I knew that my parents wouldn’t be very happy.”
It wasn’t until she was promoted to a regional role that she realised what she really wanted and made the decision to leave.
“Without telling my parents,” she added afterwards, much to my surprise and horror.
She laughed at my expression.
“Yeah, I would get dressed in the morning and let my parents think that I was going to work, and then sit at Starbucks for the whole day!”
She went on to say that her brother was the one who “ratted” her out – he found out about her quitting her job and told her parents. Understandably, they were worried.
“After all, entrepreneurship wasn’t seen as a very stable job back then. It wasn’t until The Business Times did a story on Kittea that I was able to show my parents my achievements. After that, they were relieved and began to trust me more.”
All About The (Kit)Teas
Inez didn’t have any prior knowledge of tea creation.
“I loved teas, and so I learned how to create my tea blends on my own. It bothered me at first that I wasn’t certified, but eventually, I became content with it. Just because I had a certificate doesn’t mean that I would be any better.”
When I asked her if she had a favourite blend of tea, she launched into her favourite story to tell.
“Immediately after I quit my job, I went for a holiday in China as part of a sourcing trip. I discovered so much Chinese tea – it was amazing!”
“My mission at that time was to match every tea blend with a cat. I wondered, ‘How come there wasn’t a Chinese cat/breed that was well known?’ and then the locals told me that there was one: a Chinese mountain cat, the Li Hua Mao.”
Inez used all her knowledge to create a tea after the Li Hua Mao, spending over 9 months to develop a blend of more than 7 different types of ingredients.
Eventually, it became her bestseller.
The Process Of Learning
Inez reveals that it took a lot of grit, hard work, and humility to get where she is now.
“The process of learning can be overwhelming and hard, but you can take it two ways: you can be negative, or smart. You can see it as an adventure, or something else.”
She wishes that Singaporeans can be more forgiving of failure. She’s terrified of failure because she knows she’ll disappoint her loved ones and herself. However, Inez also believes that failure is what hones your craft, what helps you stretch and grow.
In fact, she faced her own difficulties starting Kittea.
“I went to a tea expo and practically 80% of the people I spoke to were men, and every time they talked to me, they kept saying ‘Please pass this to your boss’.”
“It was an eye-opener,” she continued. “The men didn’t think that a woman like myself could actually be the boss, and that was when I realised that I needed to work hard and learn for my business.”
The Future Of Kittea
Knowing that her business was now flourishing, I asked Inez what she saw the future of Kittea as.
“I never thought of having my own café or turning Kittea into something retail, unless it’s overseas. If it does well, I’ll import it back home. Honestly,” she admitted, “the goal is more to get acquired. The capital to create is awesome, after that.”
Inez says that she’s more of a start-up founder than a CEO. She wants to be a creative director and wants to sell Kittea. She’s not afraid to – in fact, she believes that if someone can take her brand and make it better, then it would be for the best.
“If you want your business to scale, you have to let go.”
To finish off the interview, Inez told me this:
“To create or start something, you need to have 2 things, grit and humility. Without grit, talent is just untapped potential. Talent becomes skill that you can possess. You also need to be humble.”
“Owning a business is more than just how to develop and grow it – you need to learn other things such as legal issues, and IT, and all that stuff. You need to be humble enough to ask for help, and if you are constantly going to think that you are better, then you will suffer.”
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