Making It Makers

How a Beverage Company Found D2C Success in the Pandemic

Photo credit: Mackenzie Smith Kelley

In a pandemic year that motivated many businesses to pivot their offerings and pursue new opportunities, Farah Jesani steered her hand-crafted chai company, One Stripe Chai, to expand its reach and achieve new levels of success. 

When Jesani first left her day job in New York and relocated to Portland, she didn’t have a master plan to build a business inspired by her South Asian roots. But, in just a few years, she launched and scaled her company through a B2B strategy, working closely with coffee shops and other vendors to connect customers with her products. When the pandemic hit and key retailers closed, Jesani focused on her online presence, building a direct-to-consumer arm of the business to continue growing, and expanding her products to include DIY kits and other at-home necessities for her customers.

She recently talked with Squarespace about navigating D2C expansion, and how brand authenticity guides every business decision she makes — from the earliest stages of product creation to content marketing.

Squarespace: You’ve built One Stripe Chai from the ground up. What made you want to start your own business?

FJ: I hadn’t really quite set out with the intention to start my own business, to be honest. I had just left a job in tech consulting in New York City, and had ventured out to Portland, trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was getting really interested in specialty coffee and with Portland having such a rich coffee culture, I ended up learning to be a barista. 

Very quickly, I started to realize that the same coffee shops that give so much care and attention to coffee were serving chai that never tasted like the real thing. And it’s not due to a lack of care, but simple logistics — chai has to be brewed over a stove top, and most coffee shops are not equipped with a full kitchen space. So that drew me into playing around with a potential masala chai concentrate, something that I knew would harken to what South Asians would make at home but could get easily at a coffee shop too. For the first couple of years, One Stripe Chai was a side hustle for me. In 2018, I dove into the business as a full time venture and have never looked back! 

SQSP: How has your lived experience shaped your business?

FJ: My entire business is, truly, built around my identity. Chai is synonymous with being South Asian. I grew up in a home where we drank chai twice a day, it was how we celebrated both the big and special holidays and the quieter gatherings with family and friends. Back in 2015, when I first started One Stripe Chai, there really were no chai companies that were founded by South Asians, the people who created this drink to begin with! It was really important to me that authenticity was represented in the market and that this drink, which is such a big part of everyday life for South Asians, was given the love, care and attention it deserved. 

SQSP: Prior to the pandemic, One Stripe Chai was primarily B2B. How has your business strategy shifted over the last year?

FJ: Yes, really since the start of One Stripe Chai, our focus has been on working with other businesses. We have wholesale accounts with a number of wonderful cafes and coffee shops both locally in Portland and across the country. We also work with retailers to sell our chai concentrates in store. But when the pandemic hit, coffee shops shut down across the board, and it really left us reeling and unsure of how things would shake out. But — as we are all very aware now — pivoting was the name of the game in 2020! 

For a while, I had been thinking about expanding our offerings, and so I used this past year to really lean in to recipe testing and perfecting a whole new product line. We launched our DIY blends — Chai Me at Home, which is a dry blend version of our masala chai concentrates, and It’s Haldi, Doodh, which is a turmeric latte blend. We also launched a very special At Home Blends Collection kit that comes with smaller sized options of the blends and a really nice, high quality stainless steel strainer, which is a really cute gift for the tea lover in your life! 

SQSP: When you’re getting ready to launch and market a new product, where do you start?

FJ: I think everything starts with just a spark of an idea. I’m always looking to see what other BIPOC owned brands are doing differently, and what customers want too, for inspiration because there is so much creativity in this space right now. The most important thing to me is authenticity to my culture. So whether that’s with launching a new blend, like our brand new Gulab City blend that just launched, or thinking of a partnership or collaboration product, it is really important that the product connects with and speaks to the South Asian diaspora. That thread runs through the entire process — from our packaging, to any influencers we partner with, even down to the background and history we share through our newsletters. 

SQSP: What is your biggest piece of advice for other entrepreneurs who are just getting their ideas off the ground?

FJ: You just have to go for it. I’m not saying that everything will automatically fall into place — the reality is you will probably make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that is absolutely part of the growth and learning that comes with entrepreneurship. But you have to just start somewhere, because that alone can be the most daunting part of bringing an idea to life!

SQSP: What role has your website played in the growth of your business?

FJ: When the pandemic hit and our B2B accounts — coffee shops and a few retailers — were faced with closures or limited hours, we shifted our focus to transitioning into a D2C business model. We launched our blends to be sold exclusively through our website, which allowed us to reach our customers right where they were: at home. Having an e-commerce aspect to our website meant that not only could customers (new and old) learn about One Stripe Chai but they could easily and quickly get a taste of our concentrates and blends at a time when that exploration of pantry items and discovery was at an all time high. 

SQSP: How do you see One Stripe Chai evolving in the years ahead?

FJ: I have some really amazing things up my sleeve! My hope has always been to grow One Stripe Chai into a South Asian beverage brand that touches on a few different moments of nostalgia. Can’t share too much just yet, but definitely watch this space!

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