Judy Tan’s story illustrates how a person can launch out on their own, experience successes and set-backs, and always keep their passion for and commitment to their dream.
Born in China, Judy’s family moved to Portland at the time she entered first grade. “My mother is an amazing cook,” she says proudly. “My parents owned a Chinese restaurant, and their backgrounds influenced the food they served: not spicy, very clean, steaming fresh, organic ingredients to let their true flavors shine. An authentic style from their families’ roots in Southern China.”
Judy’s part in the family business covered everything: bussing, waiting tables, being the cashier. She loved eating all the good food they served and also going to other restaurants to explore new things, but she didn’t see herself going into the food business.
She studied graphic design in Portland and landed jobs at Nike and Columbia Sportswear, working on apparel and branding. Her parents questioned her decision after a couple of years to quit her good-paying job and launch a non-profit company.
“I loved the buying at my job, but I knew that working in a corporate environment would not be fulfilling in the long term. I dreamed of designing everything for a company of my own.”
Design became the central concept of her non-profit venture. Each month she and her team designed a t-shirt that symbolized the core mission of a chose cause. “We set out to make t-shirts with graphics that were so cool, people would actually wear them, not just for the march or event, but everywhere. That way they would become graphic promotions to support the cause. All the profits from the sales when back to the non-profit organizations.”
After four years, she expanded the business to Tanq.us, which is an ongoing project. “Some people buy a t-shirt specifically because it’s by an artist that they love. So we branched out, and each quarter we featured a different artist on a t-shirt. We were selling t-shirts to support causes and to support artists.”
About 6 years ago Judy became friends with a Japanese woman at her gym. “I had been drinking shots of apple cider vinegar in the morning for its health benefits. My friend told me that in Japan drinking vinegars are very popular. They even have pop-up vinegar bars. But the Japanese way is to infuse the vinegar with fruit juices to make it tastier and give it wider appeal.”
Both women are huge fitness and health advocates, and they began talking about a drinking vinegar project. They began with Japanese-inspired flavors, such a s yuzu. Judy was the branding and marketing side, and her friend was connected to potential customers, particularly in the yoga community.
Starting with concentrates and then adding ready-to-drink, they sold the products first at Farmer’s Markets as Gengi Su, “happy vinegar.” Stores came on board, and the business was growing fast. They felt they needed an investor. Unfortunately, that partner didn’t deliver on their promises and eventually, they had to dissolve the company.
“I was devastated, but my passion for drinking vinegar remained. So, I launched d a new line of fruit-infused drinking vinegars -- Purely. I’ve created new, improved formulas, and I am committed to handcraft the beverages using ingredients I can source from California. The flavors are more familiar and accessible, and they appeal to a diverse demographic.”
“There have been lots of ups and downs, but I have grown and learned a lot. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Purely doesn’t feel like work to me. I drink my own product each morning and evening. It’s been scientifically proven that vinegar is good for you, so I’m excited to be contributing to people’s health. I want to share this with the world!”