Meet The Entrepreneurial Founders Working To Change The Face Of Whiskey

JacksonMcCrea co-founders Sheila Jackson (L) and Natasha McCrea (R)

What images are invoked or come to mind when you think of the typical whiskey drinker? Do you think male, white, Southern, maybe a beard, some cowboy boots, and a flannel shirt? For entrepreneurial duo Sheila Jackson and Natasha McCrea, that is exactly the kind of stereotype they are looking disrupt with their new brand of whiskey called Jackson McCrea. With current statistics showing that women now make up roughly 37% of whiskey drinkers in the United States, the landscape is certainly changing and is ripe for new brands to come in and cater to this growing market.

Although women are commonly associated with wine-drinking or cocktails, Sheila and Natasha want to make whiskey-drinking and the landscape itself more inclusive, beginning with their own origin story.

They came together because of their love for wine – and the fact that they are also both in the entertainment industry. Sheila is an award-winning writer/author, producer and entrepreneur. She is Founder of Eve’s Lime Productions, known for its predominantly female creative teams and crews. Natasha is a serial entrepreneur, entertainer, and the Founder of Love CEO Institute, a personal development company for women. Her entertainment industry experience spans over the last 20 years as an actor, director, writer and producer.

One evening, the duo met for dinner and discovered they shared a mutual love for Old-fashioned’s. They discussed how women are often whiskey drinkers on the down-low – ‘in the closet’. Ads and pictures promoting alcohol brands show women drinking wine publicly, with friends. But when it comes to whiskey, some women have a tendency to be more private.

Sheila had been thinking about creating a whiskey brand and Natasha immediately wanted to join her in this mission. From the moment the idea was borne, the duo knew they wanted to stand out from other brands. Jackson McCrea is the first and only premium whiskey brand to unapologetically and meaningfully engage women who love the spirit. It’s crafted by women, for women – to be enjoyed by everyone. The goal is to fill the void in the male-dominated spirits industry; for women whiskey drinkers to feel seen and affirmed, with positive, authentic images that represent the true diversity of the people who love and enjoy this amazing spirit.

As they continue to work on the brand, their biggest target right now is acquiring funding. Given how little investment money goes to female founders, especially women of color, Sheila and Natasha are crowdfunding, while raising awareness of their business venture with the public. We spoke with the co-founders to learn more about Jackson McCrea, the funding process, and why they believe disrupting the status quo is needed in the whiskey world.

How did you both first meet and decide to become business partners?

Sheila: We first met at the Sundance Film Festival. 

Natasha: We came together because of our love for wine – and the fact that we’re also both in the entertainment industry. One evening, we met for a late dinner to celebrate my one-woman show – and discovered our mutual love for old-fashioned’s. 

Together we’d had lots of wine, but never whiskey. We discussed how women are often whiskey drinkers on the down-low – ‘in the closet’. Sheila had been thinking about creating a whiskey brand. I had been thinking about it, too. So when Sheila suggested we launch a brand, I responded “Hell yes! Let’s do it!” We knew we both wanted to launch this brand in a way that has never been done before.

As successful women in the entertainment world, you both understand marketing and reaching audiences. What is missing from the Whiskey world when it comes to reaching women?

Sheila: I believe what’s missing is an acknowledgment of the diversity of women who enjoy the spirit. With more than 70% of whiskey ads featuring men, women are missing from the whiskey world.

Natasha: I also think that companies are not necessarily in the mind of a woman.  It reminds me, in marketing, in the 70s when companies would take the exact same script they wrote for general “white” audiences and then just change the music and the actors to black, with the same script. I think developing engaging, authentic approaches to marketing is the best way to reach women. 

Very few investment dollars go toward women-owned business, and even less for women of color. As two Black women in this male-dominated field, what are you hoping to show others in terms of representation? 

Sheila: We want to show people that representation matters; that Black women can create a premium whiskey brand that is enjoyed by everyone, and reflect that in our messaging and media. 

Natasha: Our mere presence in this industry will shift the culture for both black women founders who come after us – and for those who invest. It may take a while, but most certainly representation changes the culture. 

On your entrepreneurship journey so far, what barriers have you faced (or stigma) that you’re now working to break down? 

Sheila: As you mentioned earlier, very few investment dollars go toward businesses owned by black women. So we have to get creative in our funding efforts. We currently have a crowdfunding campaign happening right now.

Natasha: Funding is our greatest barrier right now. We are still courting investors, as we continue to move forward using seed capital from our continuous crowdfunding campaign. 

Along with creating a brand that you love and fills a gap in the market, what is your mission for Jackson McCrea? 

Sheila: From a product standpoint, we want to create a special whiskey that celebrates our love for California. People associate whiskey with the South. We have developed a recipe that honors what we love best about California lifestyle.

“Disrupting the status quo” is something that Jackson McCrea is certainly going to do in many ways. What does this statement mean to you both? 

Sheila: We live in a time where the status quo is no longer comfortable. The stakes are too high. We have to do things differently, if we want things to change. There’s a social media post featuring actress, Jennifer Lewis. She says, “The elevator to success is broken. You have to take the stairs.” It’s about moving forward in the face of the status quo, to do what needs to be done  – which means innovation and disruption. 

Natasha: Disrupting the status quo reminds me of how I coach my clients into creating pattern interrupts in their lives. Like pattern interrupts, disrupting the status quo is the only way to elicit growth. 

Why do you think society and media loves to portray women only as wine drinkers, and not spirit drinkers? How have gender norms or marketing tactics created this perspective? 

Sheila: I don’t think it’s society. I think it’s the decision-makers in the spirits industry and in the marketing and advertising world. There’s an African proverb that states, Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Women have been written out of the narrative, when it comes to whiskey. Yet, we were an integral part of the story of whiskey, from its beginnings. This all goes back to representation, diversity and inclusion – and why it’s so important. When those decision-makers become more diverse, all of that will change – and is changing now, with Jackson McCrea.

Natasha: I think the media has played a huge role in how some people in society view things. It is cyclical. We get to tell our own tale. Our voices are beginning to be heard, which will cause an inevitable shift. 

You are building more than just a whiskey brand, but starting a movement. Who do you hope to see join this movement, and what do you envision it impacting? 

Sheila: One of our goals with Jackson McCrea is to celebrate innovation and all the women out there making their own rules. Women have been starting businesses at a record pace, over the last few years. We want the women who are leading companies, teams, and families, who are out there doing the work, to feel seen and celebrated. Doing something that has never been done before, like launching a new brand can be invigorating and exhausting at the same time. Burn-out is real. Depression is real. And it disproportionately impacts women. 

Our social impact mission is to immerse women in resources and tools to elevate self-care and joy to a lifestyle, to ensure women have fuel for the journey. So we created the JM 100. The JM 100 is a collective of women leaders and investors who act as our social impact advisors, to help guide the direction of our social impact fund and wellness initiatives. Women with an interest in joining us can apply on our website.

Natasha: One of my greatest missions in life is to help women unapologetically live their best life, to want what they want, and enjoy their journey on the way to where they want to be. Launching Jackson McCrea is an example of this. And I pray that by seeing us, and the collective of the JM100, it will inspire others to honor their dreams as well. 

How can people follow along with the Jackson McCrea journey and find out when it will be released? 

Visit us at jacksonmccreawhiskey.com and subscribe, to be the first to know when the whiskey is ready. Follow us on Instagram @jacksonmccreawhiskey.

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