DENVER — You've probably heard the old adage not to mix friends with business. But, four college friends are throwing that theory out the window with their new line of wines.
Ryann Casey, Kyndal Easter, Erica Estrada, and Chelsea Walden met at the University of Southern California and reconnected during the pandemic.
"Everyone was sitting at home," said Casey. "So, we found a way to be connected through having a book club on Zoom. So, we would try different wines. We would read books, and we would just have a really good time."
But casual wine-sipping soon became their passion project to launch their own label and bring people together.
The brand Mela is short for melanin and represents the four skin colors of the founders.
"We want people to experience this sense of fullness, coming together," said Easter. "And, to know that there are four incredibly hard-working and passionate Black women that create really good wine."
Each of the women also has a full-time job, but finding a winery to work with them had its challenges.
Of the more than 60,000 wine brands, only 0.1% are women and Black-owned.
"So there were times that we were underestimated frankly," said Easter. "But this winery really believes in us and what we're trying to create with our brand. It's great conversation piece to understand the story and that wine should be something everyone can enjoy."
Now, they're out to create more of what they call "Mela Moments," with a hashtag on social media by the same name.
"But, the idea is that when you have a bottle of Mela, you're sharing it with ones that you love," said Easter. "You're taking the opportunity to reflect, to laugh."
They hope it encourages you to connect, and challenge other industry norms in the process.
"We don't want people to feel discouraged because whatever field they want to get into, there's not a lot of representation," said Casey. "We just want to encourage you that no matter who you are, or what you look like, that you can do it. And, that's essentially what Mela means to us."