Meet Reem Rahim Hassani, Co-Founder Of Numi Organic Tea
Reem Rahim Hassani is an artist and an engineer—a potent combination of skills and perspectives when it comes to building an innovative and ethical business. Together with her brother Ahmed Rahim, Reem co-founded Numi Organic Tea in 1999. She’s the artist behind the brand, and he’s the alchemist behind their unique blends. Fluent in English, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic, Reem is living a truly global life, managing a business with sourcing relationships all over the world while living on a farm with her family, growing produce and raising chickens.
We connected with Reem to learn more about the tea industry, how being both left- and right-brained has served her business, and the ways in which Numi is investing in the wellbeing of their farmers around the world.
Tea—trading it and sipping it—has always been about relationships. You co-founded Numi Tea with your brother, Ahmed. Let’s talk about that. How has owning a business influenced your sibling relationship and vice versa?
Starting a business with a sibling or spouse/partner has its share of challenges and benefits. The benefits are that you have an enormous amount of trust established with that person. In the end, you always have that person’s back and no matter what disagreements you have, you will not leave the person. So it forces you to work through your issues.
As siblings, you have the strengths of your family dynamics that can come through but also the weaknesses and dysfunctions within the family. The more aware we are of those the more we can potentially heal and improve them. Although we are siblings, we are very different so understanding, accepting and respecting those differences and allowing each to excel within them has been an important challenge to move through to be able to work together for so long.
Grown all over the world, what is the environmental impact of traditional tea production?
Relative to other commodities, tea is actually a very low-impact crop to grow, and has minimal environmental impact. As tea is grown on bushes that are only harvested from the top two leaves and a bud, it can maintain good soil health when grown organically and with regenerative farming practices (the way we encourage our farmers to). We do ship our tea from around the world, but being a shelf-stable, lightweight commodity it is relatively low-impact.
What impact—social and environmental—can consumers expect to have when they purchase Numi Tea?
Numi strives to be a standard-bearer in the business when it comes to social responsibility and sustainability. One of the things we’re most proud of, is that the purchase of Numi products help support Together for H2OPE, a nonprofit initiative of the Numi Foundation whereby we help provide clean, safe drinking water access to our farmers around the world. The World Water Crisis is jarring in scale, with 1 in 10 lacking access to clean drinking water.
We’re currently working with our farmers in Madagascar (turmeric), India (black teas) and Egypt (mint and chamomile), to install and maintain wells, repair existing water infrastructure, and fund community-led education in water sanitation and hygiene. Our long-term goal is to be able to help every farmer we work with around the world receive access to clean, safe drinking water.
Numi teas are also all organically grown, and Fair Trade Certified or Fair Labor Verified where possible, to ensure that our farmers are paid fair wages and can invest in their communities.
Your tea bags are compostable but the staple on the tags are not, which I know is something you’re working on. Tell us more about the complexity of innovating on this packaging to reduce your footprint. What hurdles have you faced?
In order to remove the staples from our tea bags we had to change our production to a style called C24 that allows us to utilize a flat (unstapled) tea bag tag and unstapled tea bag seal. While our Moroccan Mint and Aged Earl Grey teas (our highest volume flavors) have been stapleless for some time now, we’re currently in the process of adjusting the entire Numi line of teas so that they can be staple-free.
We’ve been working through hurdles with this, a big one being that we’ve had to wait for our manufacturers to catch up with our demand. They’ve had to make big investments in enough machines to run our product line, and we had to grow our business enough to justify it to them. So, in a way, the more teas that are purchased, the more sustainable we can make our production!
Numi products are fair-trade, GMO-free, and certified organic. With so many to consider, walk us through why those three qualities were important to your brand.
First things first, certified organic is at the heart of what we do at Numi Organic Tea. Organically grown crops are not only a cleaner product for the consumer (because tea leaves are never washed before they meet your cup), with the elimination of chemicals and pollutants, they also are better for the health of farm workers and for the health of the planet in preserving our precious resources.
One little-known fact for a lot of consumers is that anything certified organic is inherently non-GMO, whether it’s labeled that or not. We really just have this one as a formality. We’re proud that Numi was a leader in pushing the non-GMO project to ensure that the non-GMO certification is also included the tea bag itself.
The desire to create a product that helps uplift workers abroad was one of the reasons we created Numi—thus why Fair Trade Certification on our teas is important to us. Fair Trade ensures that the growers of our teas, fruits, flowers, herbs, and spices get paid a fair wage, and also receive additional premiums paid by Numi to invest in their community, however they need. Numi farmers have used the premiums we’ve paid (more than $800K since Numi’s founding) to buy school buses for their community, invest in hospitals, worker dorms, and more. Numi also created the Fair Labor Verification some years ago, a continuous improvement program focused on labor and workplace conditions. Fair Labor can be used alongside Fair Trade, or in situations where Fair Trade isn’t as applicable.
We’re curious, with so much insight into the dirty side of the food and beverage industry—what qualities or certifications do you look for in the food you consume?
I always look for the USDA organic symbol. I then look for products (especially produce) that is grown locally, meaning it’s fresh. I then look for some type of Fair Trade seal.
You are an artist and an engineer. How has that balance of expertise prepared you for social entrepreneurship?
As both, I’ve always been both a left and right brain thinker. As an engineer I tend to be analytical, mathematical and more structured. That has had obvious implications in being able to run a business systematically, with strong organization and executional skills. Being an artist has helped shape the business in a number of ways. First, it allows me to envision what doesn’t exist in the marketplace, take a leap of faith and not be afraid to do that. Artists are generally more sensitive and I think that helps to assess others’ feelings, the atmosphere, undertones and issues and hence create a more caring and considerate culture. Finally, my aesthetic sensibility has helped shape the look & feel of the brand and, hopefully, influence the beauty and artistry of our packaging.
What advice do you have for our readers who are wondering how to apply their unique skillsets to create positive social and environmental change?
I would recommend for anyone starting a business or non-profit to do some deeper introspective work to figure out what they want to say in the world. Each of us is unique and individual and has a core or essence that is constantly at play in our lives. When we combine our essence and will with our consideration of others—people and planet, we will naturally be working for the common good. That said, I recommend that people choose one thing and dive deeper into that while trying to forge through whatever fears come up along the way.
Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One K Creative. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.