Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the multi-talented musician and entrepreneur, Shanti Bremer, Founder of Shanti Chai & Co. Shanti grew up in Washington State and fell in love with Vancouver Island when she visited as a kid, and decided then that she would move there one day. After attending University of Victoria, where she got her undergraduate in Psychology, Shanti worked in the field of social work for about 7 years. At the same time she was exploring music more deeply – touring, performing, writing, teaching. At about age 30, Shanti could feel this chapter coming to a close. Hard as it was at the time, she left her band, The Sweet Lowdown, and moved to the northern Cowichan Valley. She always loved business, and wanted to do something new, but felt unclear as to what the next move was. After a few very difficult years Shanti began to feel a new era upon her, where she wanted to build something, to create and learn and grow. She tried a variety of unfulfilling dead-end jobs that lasted only a few days and left her feeling disheartened and directionless. It was after one of these work experiences, while driving home, crying, and suddenly laughing, that an idea she had about 7 years prior came rushing back. CHAI! Her parents’ good friend, Pravin, who lived with her family for a time while she was growing up would make chai, and the smell of it on the stove, the blend of spices – cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorn – and sweetly rich milk and tea would fill the house. Chai was an occurring theme in Shanti’s life. She went to India and stayed with Pravin’s nieces when she was 17 , 22 and 25 and again, every day there was delicious chai – served in tiny cups, and so indulgent and delightful. In 2011, Shanti had purchased some spices and packaging, and even had labels made – Shanti Chai – but she was busy working and touring and put this thought aside until that day in the car. In 2017 Shanti officially launched Shanti Chai & Co and she is excited to be into the second year, with an office in Ladysmith and her chai now in nearly 25 stores and growing every month! Shanti’s main goal for Shanti Chai & Co is to bring truly authentic, indulgent and delicious chai to North America. And in doing so, to help those who make and enjoy it find a little time in their busy day to slow down… to use their senses of smell, taste… to relax and recharge. To create little daily traditions that help increase ease and feelings of contentment. And we could all use a little of that!
You were born in Washington State. What brought you to Vancouver Island?
When I was a kid, we used to come to Vancouver Island every summer for a boating competition in Sooke. I thought Victoria was such an exotic place – pretty, exciting, slightly European! The idea of living there one day formed early on. I am a dual citizen (Canada and the US) and decided to attend the University of Victoria to cement my Canadian citizenship. While finishing my degree, I met people in the music community and ended up staying on the island.
How did you go from working in social work to being part of a band?
At UVic I studied psychology and then worked several jobs in the field of social work. I enjoyed working with people but after about five or six years was finding the work quite depressing – seeing cycles of homelessness and drug abuse, seeing things come together and then fall apart… I knew I was ready for something new and also wanted to delve deeper into music. While still working I began practicing more music, going to workshops and camps, learned how to arrange songs and to work with fellow musicians, and started writing more and performing. The Sweet Lowdown formed in 2008 and I played with the trio until 2017.
What was your most memorable experience being part of The Sweet Lowdown?
When The Sweet Lowdown was playing in the Yukon one summer, we met Darren Nicholson (Balsam Range) and his band. He is an incredibly kind, hilarious, generous, supportive and talented human. He invited us to North Carolina, where he lived, and we did two tours there. What is most memorable to me is spending those weeks in that part of the world, getting to meet and play with musical heroes, and getting to hear old time and bluegrass music in its heartland. Oh yes… and on one of those trips, drinking moonshine straight from the jar with Darren and Bobby Hicks… a night not to be forgotten!
Why did you decide to leave the band?
I began resenting being away from home so much, and could feel the end of an era approaching. I was having health issues and had had two surgeries at that point and traveling and living that life wasn’t working for me. Leaving with grace would have been great, in hindsight! But for some reason things had to really meltdown for me before I could make the change. I left Victoria, took time off teaching and touring, and began incorporating new things into my life – meditation, exercise, new approaches mentally, physically and spiritually. Gradually things came back together, and as they did I was able to see clearly that I wanted to create new chapters in my life. In order to do so, I needed to let go of some pieces of my old life and to make space.
About 7 years ago, the idea to create a truly authentic chai came to me. Our family friend, Pravin (who helped name my sister and I) lived with us off and on while we were growing up and always made chai – spiced, rich, sweet and delicious chai! I had noticed that you couldn’t really buy it in a packaged way that allowed for true chai brewing. I bought labels, packages, and came up with a blend… but I was traveling so much at the time, it just seemed like one more thing to do.
In 2017, as I started to rebuild my life, I kept trying on different jobs, trying to figure out what the next move was. After quitting one such job after 2.3 days, I was driving home – feeling lost, crying and then laughing (at the absurdity of quitting a job after 2.3 days!) – when suddenly it hit me: CHAI! Within a month, I had started the business, come up with the name (Shanti Chai & Co) and main blend, found suppliers and incorporated. My mission with the company was to create a truly authentic chai that was organic and well-sourced, and to teach people how to make it at home. We are now into our second year, and I am so excited to see where this goes!
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles that you’ve overcome – personally and/or professionally?
Being ill for several years in my late 20s was definitely the biggest challenge I have faced and overcome. Every part of my life was effected – work, income, relationships, self-esteem, confidence – and I remember at the time falling deeper and deeper into a darkness that is even now hard to describe. However, now that it has passed it seems like a precious gift I was given. Through that time, I let go, forgave anything and everything, including myself. I began feeling deep gratitude on a daily basis, gave in to receiving help, let go of expectations and learned how to rebuild my body and my life. As my health and strength increased, so did a new general sense of ease. Is the ease and confidence all the time? No, of course not! Life is life! But I wouldn’t trade the challenges of the past for where I am now, and life feels full of all the good stuff!
What do we need to know “for sure” about starting a new business from ground zero?
For me, the number one thing with starting a business from scratch is having a clear idea of what you want to do, even if you really have no idea how the hell you are going to get there. All the little bits come together as they need to – someone asks you if you have done this or that with your product, and you realize you haven’t and that you probably should figure out how it’s done! Or you read an article, and there is some suddenly glaringly obvious concept you were missing that you can immediately apply to your business to make it better. One little thing leads to one new little thing, and it all comes together over time. But you definitely have to have the idea of the thing you want to create.
Why is giving back to your community so important to you?
When I founded Shanti Chai & Co, I knew I wanted to grow it in a way that supported the community that we are a part of. So built in to its foundation is a promise to give 2% of every dollar that comes in back to the community, to organizations already functioning successfully. Last year, it went to purchase winter clothing for individuals in need living in our business’ hometown of Ladysmith, BC. This year, it will go to providing healthful meals to kids in schools on this part of the island. I love the idea that as the business grows so will the amount we are able to give back. This concept: growing, expanding, and helping to create more health and ease… this concept excites me!
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
I would say (and I do say sometimes, still, to myself!) “It’s alright. Not only WILL everything be ok, but it already IS ok. So there is no need to worry, my love!” I would speak with more sweet words to my younger self, and I would forgive more readily.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
I would say indulge in your own life. If you want to learn something, learn it. If you want to go somewhere, go. You are entirely responsible for your own life, so no blaming. I would also say write down what you are grateful for as often as you can remember to do it! Inspiration will come, it always does. But being grateful for all the goodness already in your life makes you more open to receiving it or noticing it when it comes.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
My parents are two of the most incredible people I have ever met. My mom is wise, thoughtful, generous, and quietly talented at such a range of things. My dad is inspired, bright, and constantly learning and mastering new concepts and hobbies. They are both amazing human beings and I continue to learn from them all the time. I have had dozens of other humans in my life that have inspired me over the years, but they are my biggest and most constant heroes.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I am happily married to the love of my life and we own a beautiful house in the country that we live in with our happy, healthy kid(s). I have a huge, bountiful garden. Good food and drink is enjoyed daily. Money easily flows in, and our businesses are flourishing. Investing in goodness is easy. Laughter reins supreme. All the parents are happy and healthy and enjoying their 60s and 70s. Travel – Iceland, Italy, the tropics – is regular and is done in luxury. I am fit and strong and graceful and capable. I experience expanding ease in all areas of life. Life is the sweetest.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
The humor I share with my parents is… hilarious. We have the ability to say one word to each other that changes the whole face of whatever it is we might be discussing, or that someone might be stuck on or worried about. It is priceless. With my sweetheart, it is an ongoing humor that brings about daily laughs and reminds me how lucky I am to have a partner who shares a sense of humor. (Side note… when I was going through that difficult era a few years back, I joined laughing groups on Skype. Yep, you just laugh with strangers on the Internet. It was one of the most therapeutic things I did. You end up laughing just because it is so weird that you are laughing with strangers. Then, you are just laughing because it feels so fucking good to laugh! Which is also very weird, which leads to another bout of the deep belly laughs). And this gets to the second part of the question… If you laugh hard enough you cry. I love that!
If a song were written about your life, what would it be called?
“Now That I’m Here, Let’s Do this Thing (la, la, la…Life!)”
To learn more about Shanti Chai & Co head on over to the website at: http://www.shantichai.com/
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