NJMOMpreneur: Susan Parnell, Wild Leaf Active Tea, Sparta

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New Jersey is home to many ambitious and talented women who juggle family, career, and home. A select few of these women are also extremely busy building their own companies to help better manage the balance of work and family. At NJMOM, we want to highlight these extraordinary women who build businesses in New Jersey, and learn the secret to their success.

Founder of Wild Leaf Active Tea & NJMOMpreneur:
Susan Parnell

Susan Parnell‘s passion for blending her own organic teas didn’t happen by accident – it was necessary. After suffering through a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which began her journey with the healing power of teas. Through her own research and trials, Susan was able to alleviate her symptoms with natural (and yummy!) whole-leaf herbal teas. Once she was able, she founded Wild Leaf Tea to share her creations with fellow tea-lovers and those in need, while also filling the gap in the market that lead her to experimentation with teas in the first place.

NJMOM had the pleasure of learning about Susan’s journey since moving to New Jersey five years ago, her family’s favorite events to attend around the state, and some exciting news regarding Wild Leaf Tea’s future.

Susan Parnell, Founder of Wild Leaf Active Tea

NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Susan:
Wild Leaf Active Teas is a one of a kind tea brand with a simple mission: to keep us all active and feeling our best while juggling all the days crazy demands. Wild Leaf Teas are all organic, whole-leaf teas and herbs crafted into delicious, benefit-rich blends to help you live active and well. Wild Leaf Active Teas are real teas with real benefits for real life; an unconventional idea in a world of many teas.

NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Susan: Five years ago, my husband and I moved to New Jersey from the Midwest. Over the first year after moving here, I began to feel increasingly ill. I started experiencing things like migrating joint pain, irregular heart rhythms, and dementia-like symptoms. I’ll never forget the day when I dropped my two kids off at preschool, a mile from my house, and I had no idea how to get home. This was one of the few defining moments I had that something was wrong.

Not being from New Jersey, I’d never heard of Lyme disease and my symptoms seemed so fleeting and inconsistent I was afraid to go to the doctor who would then look at me like I was crazy. So, I began my own research and started googling my symptoms and Lyme disease kept popping up. Getting it diagnosed and treated was an adventure of its own and a story for another day.

While going through treatment, which consisted of powerful antibiotics, herbal supplements and teas, I was most amazed at the difference tea made with my symptoms. I found teas that would ease my Lyme induced anxiety, teas to erase my brain fog, teas that helped restore my broken and worn out immune system and teas that gave me energy. I spent days searching for the perfect blends to help me—it was much like searching for that perfect bottle of wine for that special occasion. Although, I was discovering a passion for teas and was amazed with their healing abilities, I found shopping for teas to be frustrating. As a result, I started blending my own teas and learning the delicate balance between taste and efficacy, which eventually led to the creation of Wild Leaf.

Susan Parnell, and husband, Justin Parnell, on site at the packing facility for Wild Leaf’s first order just prior to launch. July 2016.

NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Susan: I have two favorite parts of operating Wild Leaf. The first being, getting in front of the customers and speaking with them, learning about them and what they seek in a modern day tea. I also love receiving feedback on their thoughts on our teas, the brand and packaging. I go out and demo the teas several times a month, with our local retailers, to ensure I stay present with the customers and to continue my learning’s.

My second favorite part of running Wild Leaf is creating the actual tea blends, along side a team of tea and herbal experts based in California. I first research top trends and benefits that the younger, millennial consumers are buying or in search for. I then work with my colleagues and conduct focus groups (which include fun taste testings with the local community in Sparta, New Jersey) to finally decide on the perfect tea blend and recipe for Wild Leaf’s portfolio.

Susan Parnell, Founder of Wild Leaf Active Tea and friend, Adela Williams, selling Wild Leaf Teas at the Sparta Farmers Market.

NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Susan: Post earning my BA in Communications at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, I began my career in sales. First, with ADP, then rolling my skills into the pharmaceutical sales arena where I sold cardiovascular products to many national thought leaders in the cardiovascular field. When I came to the realization that I wanted to start my own tea company, I leveraged my husband, who is a marketer, to help me create Wild Leaf.

NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Susan: Looking back over the past 15 years, my career has evolved. From sales, to being a stay at home mom for five years, to starting my own company, a characteristic of me that has stayed tried and true is my internal determination. No matter what job is in front of me, I always put my best foot forward, stay focused on my end goal, and persevere. I am most proud of the success I have had in life thus far, even though, it hasn’t always been easy.

“Another fun event we enjoy attending is the annual Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport. This photo includes our dear friends, Kelly, Ella, and Matthew Stites as well as Susan, Ben, and Kaitlyn Parnell.”

NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Susan: On a fun and light note, few people know that I love the underwater world. I began scuba diving when I was 12 and spent many summer months diving the British Virgin Islands and Caribbean. There is something soothing and magical seeing this whole other world that exists on our planet, yet most never realize or see the true beauty of this underwater world for themselves. Every time I go diving, I am in awe, and no two dives are ever the same.

NJMOM: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2017?
Susan: Personally, I look forward to continuing my life journey: embracing all life has to offer, the highs and the lows, and loving my family. You can expect that I will keep my morals and values as my center point; remaining humble and letting God guide me through my life.

Professionally, Wild Leaf will continue to grow. We are increasing our distribution throughout New Jersey and on our way to securing nationwide distribution, which is scheduled to happen by January 2018. Wild Leaf will also be launching its seventh variety, REBEL, later this year. We are very excited about our growth and we look forward to keeping the momentum going.

NJMOM: What cause are you most passionate about?
Susan: As Wild Leaf continues to grow and hit national levels of distribution, I am looking forward to raising awareness about Lyme disease and helping move the testing and treatment options forward. The CDC and general public vastly misunderstand Lyme disease. While it affects everyone differently, there are millions suffering right now without any support from our healthcare system, and there are countless others that are misdiagnosed due to poor testing. Lyme disease is a very debilitating disease, but it doesn’t have to be with the correct testing and treatment, which is not readily available today.

NJMOM: Who is your role model?
Susan:

My role model is any entrepreneur. I gain strength by admiring others who have successfully been down the path I am on with Wild Leaf.

Knowing they have had to overcome huge hurdles to earn their success, had to put out fires, been up against regulations, and to know that they followed their passion to make the world a better place is very inspirational to me. A couple successful entrepreneurs that I value and admire include Daniel Lubetzky, Founder of Kind Bars, and Shannon Rihm, Owner and Designer of Mustard Pie and Jack & Peppar, designer clothing lines for babies and children. Both entrepreneurs have embraced their mission to make the world a better place my following their passions and dreams. Both have been through the gauntlet and found success even though it hasn’t always been easy. I admire them for their determination and tenacity.

NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom ever gave to you?
Susan: “If it’s meant to be, it will be. Everything happens for a reason.” I find great solitude in this quote that is often given by my mom. Through this quote, I have been able to embrace great things and let go of things that didn’t pan out as I had hoped. I’ve been able to find positive meaning and learning’s behind every hardship and this quote allows me to grow through both success and failure.

NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by?
Susan: “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Recently, I have come to adopt the Serenity Prayer. This prayer reminds me that I can’t control everything, but I can control my actions, my words and the people I surround myself. I have choices and I choose to follow my heart and dreams. This prayer brings peace to my life, no matter what is going on around me.

“We love every chance to celebrate our kids. On this day, we are celebrating our son’s karate achievements with his dojo, www.njmartialart.com, located in Landings and Randolph. Susan and Justin Parnell with our kids, Ben and Kaitlyn.”

NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Susan: When we moved to New Jersey five years ago, we remember being surprised with how much of an outdoor lifestyle this state embraced. Being a family who loves every season, and the outdoors, we welcomed this lifestyle. My family and I love hiking throughout Sussex and Morris Counties, skiing at Mountain Creek, kayaking and boating in local lakes, soaking up the sunshine on Jersey’s shore and admiring the beautiful fall foliage each October.

There are so many fun things to do in New Jersey, and I recommend to get out there and just start exploring.

NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Susan: My favorite part of being a mom is watching my kids, now eight and six, grow and mature into independent, well-rounded individuals. Watching them learn new skills, and all the sudden, seeing how far they have progressed is very rewarding for me. I also love watching my kids learn how to own their happiness; understand that they don’t have to let a bully’s harsh words affect them, to embrace kindness, empathy, respect, honesty, and that trust takes a long time to earn, but can be lost in a heartbeat.

NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Susan: My favorite coffee shop is Cloveberry, located in Sparta, New Jersey. Since I moved to New Jersey, this is the place that I meet up with my friends after we drop off the kids at school to laugh, share parenting stories, listen to hardships, and offer advice. All over an organic, wholesome and tasty breakfast, accompanied with either a cup of tea or a latte.

NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Susan: My family and I live in Sparta, New Jersey. I think Sparta is remarkably beautiful, and as I drive around, I often find myself thinking that I can’t believe I live in this beautiful town surrounded by mountains and European styled shops perched along Lake Mohawk. This town offers a lot to families and I am so grateful we found this charming town upon moving to New Jersey.

“Our son, Ben (8) is an avid aviation lover. Each May, we attend the Millville Airshow and this past year, our son was fortunate to meet a handful of brave Blue Angel pilots. A memory that will last a lifetime for him.”

NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Susan: My advice for any NJMOMpreneur is to follow your passions, embrace challenges, and stay determined. Your success will not be a straight road to the finish line, but rather a path of growth, learning, and highs, and lows. Embrace each day of the journey and as long as you never give up and keep evolving, you will be successful.

NJMOM: Anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
Susan: Mom life can be challenging and exhausting, yet, at the same time, it can be the biggest sense of accomplishment we have ever felt. Don’t do it alone. Let Wild Leaf Active Teas help you along your journey. Grab a cup of Wild Leaf CHARGE to help you get through that mid-afternoon slump, or Wild Leaf SMART when we need to sit down and help your child with their latest school project, and then there’s HAPPY for when you just need a little boost in your mood (and yes, we all do from time to time). You can find our teas on our website, in select retailers throughout Northern New Jersey, and stay tuned for our big announcement coming January 2018.

If you have a favorite coffee shop or store near you that you would like to see Wild Leaf Active Teas, please let us know and we will work to get Wild Leaf in a store near you. I can be reached at susan@drinkwildleaf.com. Thank you for reading my story and letting me be a part of your day.

To learn more about Wild Leaf Active Tea, visit their website and follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

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About Author

Chelsea is a freelance writer and photographer based in the kid-friendly community of Asbury Park, and she loves sharing tips and news about this cultural beach town with NJMOM readers. When she's not discovering new bike trails, playing in her handbell choir, or reading on the beach, Chelsea works as a Children's Library Associate at a public library. You can catch her out in Asbury Park watching her husband play drums with talented local artists - be sure to come say hello!

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