All good businesses ideas take time to brew. For Nailah, her entrepreneurial journey started at an early age. When she learned the word inventor at school something inside her lit up.
A young Detroiter, she remembered how exciting it was when speakers would come into her elementary school. One speaker who shared their story was an inventor. Something about the idea of inventing excited Nailah. Combining the gift of invention with her gift of selling, she was already forming the backbone of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
"I always sold everything, candy, chips, juice,” she said. “I knew then that entrepreneurship was for me."
So what was a product she could start with? Years later Nailah would try a few ideas before stumbling on the right one. Nailah always loved her family’s iced tea recipe. It was passed down from her great grandfather. When her father made it during the holidays, everyone loved it. She thought that it could be a low barrier into entrepreneurship. So, Nailah started to make trips to the grocery store to purchase bags of tea and create her own recipe.
“There were other things I looked into and then realized our tea recipe was it,” she said. “I asked myself if there’s no such thing as money what would I do for free? Making our family beverage was it.”
It wasn’t so easy at first. Nailah had to test out different ingredients and then learn how to take those ingredients to scale. She made it every day for an entire year before she felt it was good enough to sell. First, the color was off. Then, the materials weren’t right. Adding raw herbs and keeping everything natural felt right.
“I had to become a chemical engineer and create my own recipe,” she said. The tea is hand steeped. A lot of other companies will use syrups, but not Ellis Island Tea. It’s a much cleaner label product and it tastes homemade, from Nailah’s family. Now, Ellis Island Tea can be found at Meijers across the midwest and whole food stores near you.
“We hear all the time it’s so smooth - just like real tea. It is real tea!,” she said.
But it’s not just brewing quality tea that inspires Nailah, or her ability to invent a company on her own, it’s freedom for herself and jobs for others that keep her going through tough times. She loves having the freedom to create and work for herself though she warns it can be challenging.
“Entrepreneurship is not easy. It is much harder than having a job. It’s harder than a 9-5,” she said. “You have to figure a lot out for yourself. Freedom is what pushes me through hard times.”
Though her tea is becoming a national brand, Nailah has no intentions of losing her Detroit roots. She treats her own employees as part of the family. She also has big plans to grow the family.
As they expand and build national momentum, she hopes to keep hiring Detroiters.
“What does our growth mean for Detroit? Employment. I can hire more Detroit natives,” she said.” A lot of people are claiming they can rebirth or save the city but it’s not always helping Detroit natives.”
“I am working with people born and raised here. That’s what Detroit needs,” she said.