As she takes a break from a recording session near Malibu, Calif., Rita Ora proudly speaks of the independence and confidence reflected in the “amazing” new music she’s creating.
“I’ve really come from a place of feeling at one with myself,” she says. “Turning 30 was enlightening and eye-opening, so there’s lots of inspiration from being a woman finding her feet finally and being confident and proud of the woman I’ve become.”
It’s the same values of female empowerment that are at the core of the Kosovo-born, London-raised singer’s greatest passion project outside of music: Próspero Tequila. Ora, 31, and Conecuh Brands president and CEO Roy Danis launched the brand in 2019, teaming up with Mexico-based master distiller Stella Anguiano to bring greater female presence and power to the tequila industry.
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Based out of the Don Roberto Distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, the small-batch brand is made using 100 percent Blue Weber agave, which has matured for more than seven years and is presented in carefully hand-blown glass bottles.
Three years after launching, the team is preparing to expand its current offerings (Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo) and Ora, the brand’s chief creative partner, couldn’t be more thrilled that she’s now able to serve up her own award-winning tequila at parties. “I’ve always wanted to be like, ‘Hey, this is my drink that I make with my team. I’ve designed it and I’m really proud of it,’ — instead of half the time not knowing what you’re drinking at parties!” she says.
Ora and Danis talked to VinePair about merging music with tequila, building their brand during the pandemic, and the key to a great celebrity liquor label.
1. Rita, you grew up around your dad Besnik’s pub and the lively drinking culture of England. How did that shape your relationship with drinks?
Rita: My father had a couple of pubs, and drinking, celebrations, and doing a “cheers” was a big part of getting together in our communities. Spirits and wine remind me of family birthdays, good times, and anything celebratory.
2. Alcohol’s also everywhere in the music industry. What have you learned from the music business that you’ve brought into Próspero?
Rita: With music, there’s been several times I’ve been the only woman in the room, so I’ve learned how to voice my opinion, become empowered, and stick to my guns and ideas. As chief creative partner, I take it really seriously because it’s not just about me coming in and saying “Yes” or “No” to a graphic. I’m involved with the whole narrative and have a good understanding of the conversations happening in the world — especially with my fan base, because I stay in touch with them on social media platforms.
The spirit industry has been male-dominated for some time, so I’m passionate about changing that and I’d like to think we’ve helped make progress by having female leadership and setting a new example for how the industry can move forward. And not just the spirits world, but the music world, too. For example, my new record deal’s very forward-thinking with owning my own masters and setting a standard for the freedom we get as artists. So, I’m very in tune with fighting for independence and what we believe in, and that’s what Próspero also stands for.
3. Roy, you’ve got 40 years of experience in the industry with brands like Campari and Diageo. What are some key lessons you’ve brought into Próspero?
Roy: Having worked in tequila for so many years, I saw an opportunity to target an audience that hadn’t historically been focused on and place emphasis on bringing more women into the space. As a young man, tequila was something guys did shots of to get a buzz out of, and I’ve always felt the category was more elegant than that. So, when I was working on Próspero Tequila with Rita and Stella, it occurred to me to really focus on the female audience. [With] Stella and Rita, I discovered two very accomplished women who had the passion, energy, and enthusiasm to bring this brand to market. It seemed like a natural collaboration.
4. Why was Stella the perfect person to create the liquid?
Roy: She’s been making tequila for over 30 years. She’s born and raised in Mexico and culturally understands how important tequila is to that country and the people working in the industry. We wanted to create a brand with authenticity that imbued Mexican culture, and she embodied that. She brings that out in her liquids, formulation, and presentation.
5. What were the most important qualities you wanted to incorporate into Próspero?
Roy: It was important it held up well as both a great mixing tequila and sipping tequila. It’s 100 percent agave with no sugar added, so it makes great cocktails like a Margarita — or RitaRita, which is Rita’s trademark drink — without feeling over-sweetened, but it’s also a nice sipping tequila. It measures up on all those levels, which I’m happy about.
Rita: From the jump, I was clear that it wasn’t just about putting my name on a tequila brand. I’m a huge supporter of women, and being part of this brand allows us to shine a light on incredible women like Stella.
I’ve also loved getting to pour my creative juices — excuse the pun — into a new outlet, from the labels to the feel of the bottles. With anything I put my name on, it’s important to make it distinctive to me, and I’m proud we’ve done that with Próspero.
6. Rita, you were intent from the beginning about not just being “another celebrity tequila ambassador.” How have you continued to ensure that?
Rita: I think it’s about the support. Our focus at Próspero is to give women like me and Stella a platform and make the best tequila we can, and I’ve ensured that by including genuine friendships, showing there’s a community with our tequila, and just bringing people together — just like with my shows. So, I’ve tried to just do the same thing I do with my music, with Próspero.
7. And you’ve also made a few trips to Mexico?
Rita: Yes, before this became a real thing, I wanted to check out the distillery and see all the agave. My sister and I go back and forth a lot. It’s an amazing experience and so much fun to see the process. I check in on Stella and the bottle-making and everything. And, Roy just made a really exciting trip that we can’t share too much on yet, but I’m excited to announce this next phase of Próspero, so stay tuned!
Roy: We’re looking at line extensions around September. It’s going to enhance the brand’s standing and increase its presence across the globe. We’ll have a formal launch in late summer.
8. Roy, you’ve worked with other celebrities, like Matthew McConaughey, on liquor partnerships. What can you say about how hands-on and involved Rita has been?
Rita: Say some nice things, Roy!
Roy: I did the Matthew McConaughey deal for Wild Turkey Bourbon and I’ve done many other celebrity deals, and they don’t all work. It takes the right celebrity — one who’s engaged and interested in the product. I’ve worked with celebrities who think it’s easy and that they can just go, “I’ll show up once or twice, sign a few bottles, and I’ve got a great brand.” But consumers are too smart for that. They see through paid sponsorship approaches. You have to believe in the brand and embody it, and Rita embraces it — she’s all in on this, and that makes a difference. She’s a partner, and that comes through in her support of the brand. When people see Rita on social media talking about Próspero in an authentic way, they can relate, and that authenticity is one of the keys for success with a celebrity brand.
9. How has Covid-19 impacted business?
Roy: For two years, most of the on-premise has been shut down and that’s where a lot of discovery and tastings of new products takes place, so we didn’t have that opportunity. Store traffic was also down in the early years of our brand, so it’s been a challenge, but we’ve done well despite the pandemic. We’re in almost the entire United States and export to the U.K., Australia, and EU markets, so we’re excited. The brand’s still in its infancy by industry standards, but there’s momentum and geometric growth, which is a testament to Rita’s effort, the brand’s strength, and the growth of the category. Tequila used to be a North American phenomenon, but it’s growing throughout the world.
Rita: Yes, when I was growing up in England, it was more about lager and vodka.
Roy: A lot of that growth’s happened in the last five years, so we’re in the right category at the right time, with the right brand and right people.
10. What’s your favorite way to drink Próspero?
Rita: I love the RitaRita, but I recently started liking it just with a splash of lime and ice. That was never my go-to because I always loved cocktails, hence I have the RitaRita cocktail, but I’ve started having it clean, and it’s so good. Just thinking about it’s making my mouth water. I might have to pour myself one!
11. One more question before you do: Back in the day, you performed at open-mic sessions at your father’s pub. How full-circle does it feel to now own a brand he could have sold at that bar, and what does he think about this venture?
Rita: My dad’s so happy! Being an immigrant family, it’s an incredible achievement to find your feet in a foreign country, so my parents are over the moon that I can provide for myself and have a foundation that I could potentially carry on through generations to come. My dad’s my hero, so I’m very happy I’ve made them proud.