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'Trust Your Gut.' Kendall Jenner Talks Tequila, Sustainability, and Becoming an Entrepreneur In an exclusive interview, the mega-influencer discusses her company 818 Tequila.

By Jon Small and Emily Rella Edited by Melissa Malamut

Photo by 818 Tequila

Kendall Jenner says she grew up watching her parents, Kris and Caitlyn, happily sip tequila. So when the model/mega social media influencer turned 21, Tequila quickly became her number-one spirit of choice.

"It's what I drink with my friends and family. It's such a complex and delicious spirit with so many different ways to influence the style of the liquid in the distillation process, which I find fascinating," Jenner told Entrepreneur in an exclusive interview.

Her love of Tequila inspired her to launch her first company venture two years ago — 818 Tequila. The company sold 1.5 million bottles in its first seven months of business and is one of the top-selling Tequila brands in the world.

But Jenner and 818 Tequila have also drawn criticism. Some on social media claim the brand exploited workers and the land in Jalisco, Mexico, where the Tequila is harvested and distilled.

A new B Corp status should ease those concerns. Late last month, 818 Tequila was verified by the non-profit certification organization, B Lab, to meet certain high social and environmental performance standards, transparency, and accountability.

The company underwent a rigorous review of the impact of its operations and business model and passed the test.

Working in partnership with S.A.C.R.E.D. (Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education, and Development), a nonprofit that supports Mexican communities where heritage agave spirits are made, Jenner's company has helped build a community library, charity offices, a retaining wall, and a tasting room for a local mezcal distillery in San Juan de Espanatica.

Sustainability is also a priority. The tequila production process at the distillery is powered by post-production waste using biomass boilers, which a company spokesman says both extend the life cycle of the agave and reduce CO2 emissions.

We spoke to Jenner about her Tequila journey.

Related: The Paradox of Celebrity Tequila

Why was it important to you to give back to the community as part of the 818 Tequila?

Jenner: From the moment we started this company and the first trip I took to Jalisco, I had said I wanted to make giving back a priority, not only to the local community but the planet at large. I wanted sustainability to be at the core of our ethos. For me, it was so important that we were as kind to the earth as possible across our entire production process and supply chain.

The Tequila is made in Mexico, but it's called 818, a nod to your California area code. Why?

I named this brand 818 as a representation of my hometown in California and the feeling of sharing special moments over tequila with loved ones. The 818 may be my home, but the planet is home to all of us, so we feel a responsibility at 818 to do our best to be as sustainable as possible in all that we do.

Why did you decide to create a Tequila company specifically? What is it you like about this spirit?

It's such a complex and delicious spirit with so many different ways to influence the style of the liquid in the distillation process, which I find fascinating. It's also been great to introduce some of the members of my generation to tequila as a spirit to sip and celebrate with, not only something you take a shot of.

Of all your entrepreneurial endeavors, what sets 818 apart?

This is the first time I have founded a company on my own, so by nature, it was inherently different from my other endeavors. I've been able to push for what's really important to me in the company. For example, sustainability is a huge priority for 818. We are members of 1% for the Planet, which means that with every bottle of 818 sold, we will donate 1% of revenue to environmental nonprofits. We also do as much as we can to mitigate the environmental impact of our production – for example, our distillery runs on biomass and solar power, which means that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

What is the most challenging thing for you about being an entrepreneur?
I started out in the Beverage Alcohol industry as a consumer, and I quickly learned how complex the spirits business is. I realized that to make my idea a reality, I needed to find experts in the U.S. and Mexico who shared my passion for creating this tequila. After 6+ years of working on this, I've learned so much about the industry and tequila production.

For example, while we were developing the 818 liquid, I learned about how everything – from the agaves to the ovens, to the distillation process, to the barrels, and more – can impact and shift the flavor profile of the tequila as it's made. We use traditional methods to create our tequila while still remaining as sustainable as possible. Finding that balance between modern sustainable technology and traditional methods was a learning process, but I'm so happy we were able to find a distillery partner that shared our commitment.

What's the best business advice you've ever received?

It's incredibly important to trust your gut. Hire the right people, listen to the experts around you, and also have confidence in your judgment.

What are some of the lessons you've learned in other parts of your journey that you've carried over into working on 818?

Be resilient and be diligent. People are going to tell you no, shoot down ideas, and not believe in you – but it's important to stay true to your vision and persevere.

Jon Small and Emily Rella

Entrepreneur Staff

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