I’m often called upon to create tea blends for art museums, performers, or historic sites. But no project was more interesting than the commission I received from a Chinese fashion house who tapped me to create a line of 20 teas to match their designs.
The owners of Huanggen Fashion Group met me at World Tea Expo in Las Vegas and, within a few weeks, I was on my way to Shanghai.
In Shanghai, I visited the headquarters of Huanggen Fashion Group, a family-owned business with 400 stores across China. The company had recently installed coffee and tea cafes in several stores as part of their customer experience.
The owners loved tea and they wanted their own branded tea to be available throughout their stores.
After looking over their story boards with fabric designs and themes for the upcoming year, I was tasked with the responsibility to formulate teas that would appeal to the four main customer groups that shopped in their stores.
Each runway show begins with a story board. Here is one of the fabric ideas which inspired one of my green tea blends as I matched ingredients to colors and themes.
Back in Kentucky, I began to put these blends together and send samples to Shanghai for evaluation. It’s not always easy to anticipate what flavors might appeal to Asian tastes.
The owners wanted their teas to be blended in the EU because they believed that would add extra appeal for their Chinese shoppers. I arranged for them to meet me at one of the oldest blending houses in Hamburg where we spent a few days editing the blends, which I had created.
China now sources 15% of their tea from outside the country and many high-end consumers there look to Western producers for a new tea-drinking experience.
Five months later, the completed teas left the port of Hamburg and sailed to Shanghai where the fashion house had set-up packaging arrangements for their unique tea. The stainless steel canisters were wrapped in hand-tooled leather bearing their new tea brand. The project was finished just before the spring fashion show.
I arrived in Shanghai a couple of weeks before the launch in order to produce a story for TeaTime magazine and make an appearance at the Hangzhou Tea Fair.
The day of the big debut finally arrived and I was delighted to see tea displays and a pop-up tea kiosk at the company headquarters where the runway show would take place.
Several displays and videos had been installed for visitors to see and taste the new blends.
As a prelude to the runway show, I served tea to many of the invited guests and media members.
Before the show began, I was introduced as the brand’s new Tea Master. I had the opportunity to describe the sourcing we had used for tea ingredients and discuss the process we had used to create the HPLY tea line.
Soon the audience moved to the covered plaza where over 86 international models took part in the runway show, which was attended by industry guests from such cities as Paris and Milan.
This Shanghai project took nearly a year from start to finish and included three trips to China and one trip to Germany. I was delighted to be able to put my artistic skills to work with these wonderful clients.
Having been a fan of the show Project Runway for years, it was exciting to have my own fashion moment. I’m just glad that I had a year and not just 24 hours to complete the challenge!