The first time Kendall Jenner thought about tequila, she wasn’t drinking it. But she knew it was something special.
“I was intrigued by tequila because my parents really loved it. It was celebratory in our household,” she shares. “When I got older, I started exploring the space… And I was always trying wide varieties of tequila.”
Jenner conjured up the idea for her tequila company 818 over five years ago. At the time, she had a two objectives in mind; develop a gender-neutral, women-led brand in a heavily male-dominated industry, and build a socially and environmentally responsible company.
Jenner comes from a long lineage of female entrepreneurs and celebrities. Her sister Kim Kardashian started sKims, and sister Kylie started Kylie Cosmetics. Kim joined the Forbes billionaire list this year, and both sKims and Kylie Cosmetics have been valued at over $1 billion.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Jenner shared, “Coming from such a female dominated family, all of my sisters have their businesses. I’ve been really inspired by that my entire life. I was always watching my sisters do their thing and have their partnerships and businesses… so it’s always been very highly female-driven, and entrepreneurial, in my family. That’s been really inspiring for me.”
While statistics are hard to come by, the agave-based spirits industry (tequila, mezcal) is heavily male dominated, at least at face value. It is well known that very few tequila brands are owned by women. And according to CNN, there are just a handful of women who are certified as ‘masters of tequila’ in the town of Tequila, Mexico. Taking a broader industry lens, according to a 2020 McKinsey report, women represent just 10% of C-Suite positions in the food and beverage distribution industry.
What may be lesser known is that women play an integral role in producing agave-based spirits, from the fields to the factory (I wrote about women in mezcal for Forbes earlier this year). And an increasing number of female owned agave sprits brands are emerging.
“I found that it was a very male dominated space,” Jenner says. “I wanted to create a tequila brand that was traditionally crafted and delicious with depths of flavor that was also be gender neutral. I wanted anyone to feel like they could have it on their shelf.”
From the start, being “planet friendly” was a non-negotiable for Jenner. So she launched a partnership with 1% for the Planet. This nonprofit organization was founded in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. 1% for the Planet facilitates the donation of 1% of annual sales to environmental causes and works with leading brands such as Patagonia, Honest Tea, and Nature’s Path.
Through 1% for the Planet, Jenner works with the nonprofit S.A.C.R.E.D. (which stands for Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development) in agave-producing communities in Mexico. S.A.C.R.E.D. was founded by Lou Banks in 2013; the organization has worked with Mexican communities to replant agave, invest in rural infrastructure, focus on water security, and even to rebuild after natural disasters.
“When I first saw these [agave] spirits being made, I knew it was special, and I knew it was important that it continue as it had been for hundreds of years,” Banks elaborates. “It was ten or twenty trips later that I recognized that it needed to continue because the multi-generational wisdom that it represents is also manifested in practices that can resolve problems like water insecurity, food insecurity, and climate change. It sound grandiose, I know, but I think there’s a path forward for our species in the ways these rural Mexican communities are living.”
Jenner further explains, “We came across S.A.C.R.E.D. and they I just loved everything that they were doing. One of the main things that is really cool to me is that they listen to what each individual community needs. They go to every community directly and ask for their input into the process.”
In this community-first approach, founder Lou Banks and his team are working with a network of agave-producers to identify communities in need. Some of the 818 projects in S.A.C.R.E.D.’s pipeline include a library and a heritage agave cultural center. All projects are community identified and led. Where possible they use agave bricks made from the waste from the tequila making process, which come from Grupo Solave. Grupo Solave is 818’s partner distillery in the Amatitlan region of Jalisco, Mexico; the distillery is mostly powered by biomass and solar.
When the brand launched earlier this year, Jenner faced allegations of cultural appropriation linked to photos of her in the agave fields. George Clooney — who sold Casamigos to Diageo in 2017 for up to $1 billion — did not receive the same media scrutiny for photos of himself in the agave fields. (It is well documented that media sexism impacts women in politics, in advertising, and in Hollywood).
Jenner is determined to demonstrate that a women’s led alcohol company can set itself apart by building a gender-neutral brand and a socially conscious business. “I want to create and build a successful company that can help inspire other female entrepreneurs. That was the really big goal for me to do this.” She shares the following advice for women who are considering entrepreneurship: “It’s our time. Take advantage of your power and just how amazing you are. If you have a dream, and you have a passion…we are unstoppable. Just lean into that and love that about yourself.”