While travelling India in 2019, Ashlea Cromby found herself deeply engaged in fundraising efforts to build a school for children in the Kangra region. When funds dwindled with the unforeseen arrival of Covid, she devised a brilliant plan – to sustain the school’s vision by importing a rare tea grown on the estate.
Along with her business partner, Vanessa, the pair have nurtured this idea into a flourishing enterprise – Mansimble Tea & Estate Ltd. Now Kangra tea is making it’s way into hotels and tea houses across the UK, embodying the true essence of making a difference through a passion-driven venture. We spoke to Ashlea about her journey, her experience as a neuro-divergent business owner, and what is next for the business.
Tell us about yourself and your business?
My name is Ashlea Cromby and along with my fellow director Vanessa Browne, we have set up Mansimble Tea & Estate Ltd, a company that imports and sells wholesale supplies of high-end, specialist ‘Kangra’ tea, sourced from an exclusive tea estate in the Kangra region of India.
This tea was much-favoured during the Victorian era, but after the cataclysmic earthquake in India in 1905, Kangra tea was no longer available. This resulted in the dominance of Assam & Darjeeling tea in world markets. Now Mansimble Tea & Estate Ltd has secured a contract to import this beloved connoisseur’s tea from Kangra to the UK and beyond – so it is now available again!
What led you to set up this business?
In 2019 I decided to travel solo to India where I settled and started teaching in schools. It was whilst I was there that I met Bobby, the local tea estate owner. Bobby had ambitions to build a school on the tea estate. Together, we managed to fundraise money towards the construction of the school. Then Covid hit, and because of lockdown, people stopped donating.
Having toured the estate, I realised that this was one of the rarest and smallest tea-growing regions in India. Maybe we could import this beautiful, delicate tea to the UK and continue to raise funds for the school.
What actions did you take next?
At first, it was a lot to take in and take on – getting licensing, sorting out paperwork, accommodating the newly-shifting Brexit borders, and so on. I tried to do all of this by myself for a few months, but then I learned my first big lesson – I couldn’t do all this by myself.
I’d known Vanessa from University and so, one day, we met on a Zoom call and I put the idea to her as a potential partner. Soon, she was soon on board!
I realised that when you strip things down, it doesn’t need to be complicated, just one step at a time. Using the basic Business Canvas Model, we put our ideas together and formulated our thoughts – and Mansimble Tea & Estate Ltd was born.
Are there any challenges have you faced & how have you worked around them?
The first big challenge was setting up a business in lockdown, especially an import business which I had never done before. I’d also moved to Liverpool from London in February and then lockdown hit in March, so there were no existing networks or support.
Being neuro-divergent has meant that I have had some challenges along the way, such as general communication. I’m OK at sales pitching but mingling and networking can be a bit difficult for me. I’m not someone who is comfortable ‘winging it’, I need a structure, a framework, a topic and a clearly defined situation and I like to know the ‘why’ and what is expected of me.
However, I also have skills and qualities that have helped with the business – for example great attention to detail and instinctive pattern recognition. With my literal interpretations, this means that there’s no miscommunication because I need to clarify facts and information through confirmation and a step-by-step process.
How has support from The Women’s Organisation helped you to grow the business?
Also, the resources my business advisor, Paul, has sent me have really helped. Networking and opportunities to champion our business have been really helpful, and being able to chat to my business advisor to help unravel my thoughts and ideas has been a real benefit to me on my journey.
The Women’s Organisation has enabled me to make that ‘connection’ I needed and being supported by a local, business organisation for women in Liverpool has been an eye-opener. I’ve not come across a female-only accessible service elsewhere!
What advice would you give to someone starting a business?
Something that has kept me going is to simplify things and don’t get caught up in the business jargon. The truth is that I’m a person – you’re a person! If someone else can do it, why not you? And if you don’t know how to do something, find someone else to help.
Don’t be afraid to ask and you will save yourself time and energy. And don’t forget networking and being confident to ask that question. Why not speak to that local business that could have some great contacts? If they say no or don’t respond, ask them why or just move on!
What is in the future for the business?
Mansimble Tea & Estate Ltd recently won the prestigious £5,000 Female Founders Ankh Ventures Impact Award, in London. We were rewarded not only for our entrepreneurship and innovation, but for our commitment to ethically sourcing quality products.
We have also secured a contract with The Hilton Hotel, Marble Arch supplying them with our quality tea for their prestigious, Indian-themed afternoon tea offerings. Furthermore, we are excited to announce that we have recently collaborated with Elrick House Gin on a new Himalayan Tea-Infused Gin, to be launched very soon.
How has the school in India grown ?
We have helped raise the money for building completion by paying the tea plantation pluckers a fair day rate, and then adding an uplift on top of that to fund the school. It’s just four walls and a roof at the moment so the next stage is to equip it and make sure it is a great environment for learning. We already have 5-6 children attending!
Click through below to see a gallery of the schools progress.
Follow the below links to find out more about Mansimble Tea & Estate Ltd.
To enquire about accessing business support or career development courses, please get in touch via email@example.com or call us on 0151 706 8111. You can view our bookable events here.