From Diddy’s Cîroc to Nicki Minaj’s Myx Moscato, celebrities have touted alcohol for years, with popular endorsements seen on national billboards and television commercials. Yet, we rarely hear about the entrepreneurs without famous names who have wine and spirit brands of their own, especially the Black female tycoons-in-the-making. Stephania Lauger, founder of the Bou’Jae Vodka line, started her business in January of this year. In a very short amount of time, Lauger has become a name in the crowded alcoholic beverage game, providing something unique for calorie-watchers and the health-conscious: organic vodka. MadameNoire Business got down to business, finding out the important presence of both Lauger’s GMO-, allergen-, and gluten-free vodka, and the mogul herself, in the alcohol business arena today. According to Lauger, her vodka, “reduces your blood pressure as well as the possibility of having a heart attack. It also decreases inflammatory problems in the body, stress, and does not negatively affect your immune system in the way that regular vodka does.”
MadameNoire: What was the catalyst that started you on your path in the organic spirits industry?
Stephania Lauger: About two years ago, I found out that Sean “Diddy” Combs was not the owner of Cîroc. He’s the brand ambassador. So I thought, “Well, he’s been promoting his vodka for years, and when he promotes it, people buy it. I want my own vodka!” I was encouraged!
My concept was that I started to go gluten free last year, mainly because my son is autistic. I heard that if you take gluten out of your diet, their hypertensive* activities will slow down. So, I started buying gluten-free food for my son and then began to eat it as well. I started to notice that after two months of incorporating a gluten-free diet, my bloating and intense menstrual cramps went away!
Also, my friends are fitness freaks. If they plan to go on vacation, they will work out really hard for two months and then they will stop. They are also big wine drinkers. When they work out, they do not eat dinner, so as to make up for the calories in the wine they are drinking. I thought, “You all are crazy! You want to miss dinner so you can get 200 calories off your wine?”
From that point, I decided that I wanted to make my own drink that is both low in calories and safe for those who may have certain illnesses and worry about the side effects of regular vodka. My sister-in-law has Crohn’s Disease and she can’t drink certain alcohol because they would cause stomach flare-ups, internal bleeding.* She likes vodka and drinks it sometimes, but she knows the outcomes that would happen if she decides to. I just wanted to make something that people could drink and have a great time, without the preservatives and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
MN: Where do you source your organic vodka from?
SL: It’s distilled in Florida, out of Key West. My organic vodka is gluten-free, GMO-free, and allergen-free.
MN: What did those close to you first say when you decided to create Bou’jae Vodka?
SL: I’ve heard everything! I’ve heard, “There’s Diddy. There’s 50 Cent. You’re not a celebrity.” I learned a long time ago that to be an entrepreneur, you cannot listen to people at all. The people that are usually giving you ill advice or the ones who don’t have dreams, and they usually don’t do anything. But there’s nothing in the world that I don’t think I can do, regardless of my background.
MN: The name for your organic vodka brand, Bou’Jae, is that a play on the word “bougie”?
SL: Yes! My friends are bougie! My name is Stefania Jade and for two years people called me “Stef Jae”, because they couldn’t pronounce Stefania. My autistic son’s name is Jae’On. It’s a nod to being boujie, and the boujie people in Atlanta who call Target, “Tarjae,” my name, and my son’s name.
MN: The wine and spirits industry appears to be oversaturated, with new brands appearing frequently. How have you managed to distinguish yourself and your brand?
Lauger: There are not many female entrepreneurs in the alcohol industry, and hardly any Black women in the alcohol industry. I’m a single mother of two kids, with one who is disabled. My ultimate vision is to create a global brand to where I am able to employ women, single mothers, and give them a certain schedule where they are able take time off to be with their kids at home and also work. I want to provide a platform for single mothers to work and have a flexible schedule.
I don’t have a high school diploma, which I also wrote a book about. There are many people out here who in the alcohol industry who have money. There’s not one entrepreneur with a wine or spirits brand out here, that’s poppin’, that does not have money. I don’t. I’m doing all of the funding for Bou’Jae by myself. I think that people can relate to my story more versus Diddy’s.
MN: What did your business plan for Bou’Jae Organic Vodka look like?
Lauger: I’ve been freestyling the whole way, to be honest. There are no other investors and I did not have a business plan until last month.
MN: Do you have any plans to distribute other types of organic alcohol in the future?
Lauger: Yes! It’s funny because I’m a tequila drinker, not a vodka drinker. But I decided to build my brand on vodka first because regardless of what your alcoholic preference is, you will drink vodka. You may like tequila or Hennessy, but you will drink vodka. I know people who prefer Hennessy, but they won’t drink tequila. I definitely want to brand packaged mixed margarita drinks, the ones you find in grocery stores.
MN: Who are your business mentors?
SL: I admire Lisa Nichols. She is based out of California and is a motivational speaker. Any chance I get I go to see her live. She is incredible and has a similar story to mine, which shows that you don’t have to have a degree to be successful. I’m not saying that education is not important. But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have that degree. Anyone with drive and believes in what they are doing can make it.
MN: For anyone interested in creating their own brand of alcohol, vodka or otherwise, what advice would you give to them?
SL: First and foremost, go with your gut. Do not listen to the naysayers. Educate yourself and find out what your competitors are doing, and what people, your potential customers want. For a lot of people, alcohol is alcohol and they don’t care what’s in it. People are just making alcohol these days and they’re not really taking into account what the ingredients inside of the drink could do to a person’s body. Find out what people want in their alcohol to separate yours from the rest.
*There have been reports that there are specific benefits to various dietary changes. MadameNoire doesn’t advocate for any treatment or diet plan related to autism or Crohn’s Disease.