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Brewing Success at Arbor Teas
A2 couple saw success in the leaves and founded their dream company.
Ask Ann Arbor native Jeremy Lopatin the story of how he came to be in business and he’s likely to say, “Well, you start with a wife who dropped out of her master’s program.”
He’s talking, of course, about Aubrey Lopatin, his wife and business partner who, as a student of architecture at the University of Michigan, secretly nurtured the dream of opening a small cafe. “One day, I realized that I don’t have to wait until I’m old to follow my dream” says Aubrey.
And, after steeping that dream in a fortuitous brew of gumption and opportunity, the couple founded Arbor Teas. The Ann Arbor-based online tea seller has been in business since 2003 and has grown steadily each year.
Aubrey marvels at their success “given the economy of the past decade,” she says. “The tea business is a wonderful market … it’s healthy, it’s been around for thousands of years, it’s organic and fair trade — how can you go wrong?”
With a socially conscious business model that’s proven successful, the Lopatins recently moved the business out of their home and have opened a new warehouse distribution center in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor.
“All of our products are certified organic, and about 75 percent are also certified fair trade,” Aubrey explains. “Fair Trade USA ensures that tea estates, as well as the larger plantations, meet their criteria for fair business practices and working conditions — such as paying a living wage, allowing their employees freedom of association and avoiding of child labor.”
That standard is important to Jeremy, who holds a degree in environmental policy from U-M’s School of Natural Resources. He and Aubrey strive to bring an eco-conscious mindset to their work.
“When we first started, we used tins to package our products,” he explains. “After learning more about the environmental impact of this choice, we looked for alternatives.”
The couple moved away from metal and introduced recyclable paperboard packaging. But further research revealed an even more desirable product to the couple: backyard-compostable packaging. “It’s made to be compostable in the average, non-industrial compost pile. Now, if you compost your used Arbor tea and its packaging, you’ll produce no waste at all.”
As the parents of two young children (Arthur, age 3, and Penelope, 1) the Lopatins have created a business model that allows them the flexibility to spend time with their children while also doing work that is true to their values.
“When we sell teas from these [fair trade] estates, a percentage of the profits go back to them, where a democratically chosen panel of workers and owners decide together how those funds should be used to benefit the tea estate as a whole,” Aubrey explains. “They’ve used these funds to purchase ambulances, provide child care to the tea pickers, for micro-lending to start new businesses or for school monies.”