When we think of tea lovers, the first thing that might come to mind is a nice warm cup of tea. However, CrafTea has taken a whole different approach on that topic.

Offering various shirts dyed using tea, it’s pretty safe to say that they put the tea in t-shirt. Putting all sarcasm aside, they offer a unique product for the person that enjoys something a little more natural and unique. From their tea dyed t-shirts to gifts from the Hot-Teas gift shop, they have a product for every tea lover.

I recently spoke with the owner of CrafTea, Janis Badarau, about the products and the inspiration behind them.

Tell us a little about CrafTea Designs.

CrafTea Designs is a re-branding of my original business model, Tea Dyed Tees. TDT was created and developed to sell and market natural-fibre textiles dyed with pure tea (Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamicus). This is something I’ve been doing, and wearing, for years and very much enjoy. I decided to diversify to include other types of tea-related gifts and wearables, and CrafTea Designs perfectly describes my current work: tea-dyed textiles plus tea-themed jewelry and gifts. It is a home-based business that sells and markets both locally and online.

What inspired it?

That’s an easy one: my great love of tea! Well, that along with my background in art and crafts — graphic design, clay, textiles, and paper.

What are some products you offer? Your most popular?

Our most popular items are tea-dyed scarves — handwoven or block-printed. Second is our tea-dyed ribbons, perfect for tying up your hair or a gift package. The Genuine Tea Shirt (dyed with tea and block-printed with the words Tea Shirt) sells well, as do Tea Diva women’s knit tops and tea party invitations. (That’s tea party as in asking friends and family to join you for an afternoon of sweets and savouries, a pot of tea, and relaxing with good company.) Customer demand for the relatively new tea-dyed and block-printed tote bags is growing. I’ll be introducing tea-themed jewelry in several media before Xmas; I think those will do well with my customers too. And I also offer custom tea-dyeing and design services to tea rooms, shops, individuals, and groups — like Red Hatters — who’d like something special and unique.

When was your business launched?

The business was formed as an LLC in mid-2008. Before that I was selling through Etsy and locally, so I have been doing this “unofficially” for some time.

How has it grown/changed since then?

Product offerings have shifted focus more to accessories and less on apparel. Without the need to stock a variety of sizes in each style I can both reduce on-hand inventory and concentrate on new-product development. It was a natural progression: it’s been my experience that most people buying gifts prefer not to have to deal with sizing and fit — they mostly choose one-size-fits-all scarves and accessories.

What goals do you still hope to accomplish with your business?

I’m looking to expand my wholesale clientèle. To that end I’ll be displaying at the World Tea Expo trade show in June, 2011. If that is successful, I will no doubt go to other trade shows. Right now I’m a one-person shop, but would like to grow the business enough to be able to hire employees.

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would have liked to do differently?

If I could rewind, I’d probably name the business CrafTea Designs from the beginning. While Tea Dyed Tees sort of rolls off your tongue, and accurately describes both the original business model and a good percentage of our products, I find that the name often gets confused with “tie-dyed.” I have made a few pieces using both tea-dye and tie-dye techniques, but tea does not lend itself to the wide variety of colourful designs that people expect from tie-dyeing. They’re two different processes, and I want to be clear about which one I’m employing.

What are some lessons your business has taught you?

— While you do need to network — give and get a helping hand when needed — you cannot rely on anyone else to promote your products or your business for you. You have to work at that yourself. Even if you’re paying someone for promotional services, stay on top of what they’re doing. For example, I contracted with a representative to market my products at two trade shows. I thought I could trust the representative, did not keep a close eye on what was happening, and was extremely disappointed with the both the actual results and with the feedback I received from customers and colleagues. Clearly I was not being well-represented. In future I will staff trade/consumer show booths myself.

— Never pay a supplier 100% in advance. Not even someone you are “sure” you can trust. This should probably be a no-brainer, but I was surprised to learn that I’m not the only one who has made this mistake. I won’t do it again.

— Always have a back-up for important supplies. When the soapmaker I contracted with to supply a special laundry soap in my signature scent decided to retire without notifying me I had to scramble to find a replacement. (I think I finally found someone who can recreate the scent and supply the soap at a reasonable price.)

— I’ve also learned that I detest using QuickBooks but that it’s a necessary evil!

Do you have any advice you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneurs that are just getting started?

1. Do your homework! Learn what’s involved in setting up and running a business, and specifically the type of business you want to own. Do you have the knowledge, the resources, the financing? If not, educate and prepare yourself before jumping in.

2. Your business should be about something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy your work, whatever it might be, you’ll never be successful.

3. If you have an online presence, be generous! Swap links, product reviews, and/or advertising promos with complementary online entities. When you offer to help others they’ll generally be happy to reciprocate.

4. If you’re serious about wanting to make money, be flexible. Listen to what your customers want, and adjust your business model as necessary to meet their needs.

5. Make sure you have the support of family and friends. Things won’t always go smoothly, and you’ll need these people to be around when you hit a rough patch.