Trade Street Jam Co. is a culinary inspired Brooklyn made jam company created by Ashley Rouse. They curate unique, vegan and low in sugar jams used in craft cocktails, BBQ sauces, glazes for meats or vegetables, baked goods, salad dressings, yogurt and more. Their produce is locally sourced, and they’re working on an initiative to use residual jams to make pb&js to feed the less fortunate in order to support their community.
Ashley hails from Chicago, but the name “Trade Street” comes from North Carolina, where she attended culinary school and worked in restaurants and hotels for over a decade. After moving to Brooklyn, Ashley decided to turn her passion into a career by taking a leap of faith and starting Trade Street Jam Co.
Who is Ashley Rouse and what was your motivation for starting your brand?
I will be honest with you. I’m still figuring it out, but I like where I’m going with this. I’m a wife to an amazing husband, who is calm and patient and keeps me grounded. I’m an entrepreneur of a company that I started from the ground up. I’m a loving, family friendly person and I love people. So I have a small, but tight knit circle. Those relationships are very important to me.
I’ve always been into food so I went to culinary school. I’ve been in this industry for about 14 years now and I’ve always had different creative endeavors that I wanted to focus on. So this was an idea that I came up with at a time when I was doing a ton of cooking. For friends, I started doing a food swap, where I would get a ton of foodie friends together, 20 people or so, we pick a venue and everyone would bring small portions of an item and set it on a table. Then you go around, write your name down on the items you want, and you swap. It’s really something that I wish I could have continued. I think I’m just doing a million things right now, but it really inspired me because I saw a lot of different things that I hadn’t seen before. It was like fellowship. It was a really good experience. Doing things like that inspired me to do something in the food industry that I loved. So I wrote down this idea about starting a jam company, and then when I moved to Brooklyn a few years ago, it just felt like the right time, and I started it from there.
Tell me about Trade Street Jam Co.
We are Trade Street Jam Company. I make low sugar vegan jam and it is a clean product. There are not a ton of ingredients, no ingredients you can’t pronounce, and no preservatives. It’s really important for me to introduce something to the world and especially to my culture that is going to continue to progress in some way, especially for black people, diabetes and other health concerns. It’s important to have healthier products. Our jam flavors are really fun. That’s where my background comes in. We have a smoked peach and a strawberry, chipotle, and fig. Funky flavors that people haven’t heard of before. Our applications are different as well. We’re making a cocktail, putting it over roasted meat or vegetables, or doing parfaits, and oatmeal. Just really having fun with the product. That’s the whole concept behind the brand and you can find this on our website. We’re also on Amazon and we sell in a couple stores in New York.
Prior to culinary school, is that what you always wanted to do?
I wanted to go to culinary school for a while. I think maybe by my sophomore year in high school, I had been watching the Cooking Channel and Food Network. I was always cooking something at home and I was kind of forced to cook at home. It was just me in my mom’s single parent household, so she expected that because she’s getting home at eight o’clock at night that I had something prepared considering I’ve been home from school for a few hours. She would leave me these recipes from different cookbooks so I think that kind of helped shape the angle. Being black, food and fellowship go together. So I grew up with my grandfather cooking, he was a great chef so I was always around food.
What are some of the major challenges you faced with your brand?
I think it’s more about me being tested in the understanding of how to, manage stress, manage my time, and manage my relationships in a sea of being so busy all the time. I really see God testing me in those areas where it’s about me, making sure I’m taking time to take care of myself, take care of my husband, my family, and spend time with faith. A lot of the testing is internal, which I find really interesting because I think maybe a lot of people wouldn’t say that. But I think a lot of people go through that, and they just don’t realize it. You can get so caught up and enthralled in your business, and they don’t really realize the internal struggles that are going on. That’s a big part of it.
As far as struggles with the actual business, honestly, everything was a challenge. When you try to get into stores, it’s not like, you just go up to the store, and say here’s my product and they’re like, “Oh, we love it, let’s have it”. You have to figure out how to get in touch with the buyer and that information is not really on the Internet. So you have to go into stores, try to talk to them and figure out how to get more exposure and PR (public relations). I spend a lot of time emailing, networking, going to events and trying to get the brand out there in general and get people on board to want to write about it or cover it in some way. The biggest struggle is the fact that I’m my only employee. We actually had one employee throughout the busy vending season to help me market, but I’m my own employee. I do the marketing, financial, content, production, and I help assist with manufacturing. Literally every aspect of the business is on me.
What are some of your favorite resources?
I Google so many things and my husband has a strong marketing and business background so he’s been very helpful. I try not to stress him because he gets so jammed out. He’s not really a part of the business, but he is like my go to for everything. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is networking. I learned that from my husband because even though I’m a people person, I can be introverted. So sometimes reaching out to people isn’t always the first way that I would choose to go about things. But I’ve really built a strong network of small business entrepreneurs, just from doing tons of events and people reaching out to me on Instagram.
What motivates you to keep going?
I think I just have this internal drive to do something bigger and do something that I love. That’s probably the number one thing. I just see me doing some really cool shit. So it’s hard for me to stop. There are days when I struggle with it, for sure, but I’m really trying to walk in my purpose, which I feel like I am doing. Knowing that and being more confident in that, I feel like I have to keep going. That’s a big driving factor. I also don’t want to see myself going back to corporate America or working for someone else. I have always been super independent.
What are some of your accomplishments so far? And which one are you most proud of?
I did some great things this year. A lot of us don’t spend enough time looking back at what we did. My husband always says, “celebrate the small wins”. We get so enthralled in pushing forward and trying to find out what’s the next thing that we don’t really take the time to just appreciate what happens. I don’t know if I have one that I’m most proud of. There are a few things that I think are really pushing me forward or showing growth in 2018. I got a manufacturer because the demand was getting too high for me to produce on my own in a shared kitchen. So I hired a company to manufacture my jam. For me, that was a really big deal because it took a lot of pressure off of me. We also filmed a documentary for a show on Vice, called “The Hustle” executive produced by Alicia Keys that’s out now. Lastly, Bon Appetit magazine one of the biggest food brands that I’m obsessed with wrote an article about us. Quitting my 9 to 5 was also one of my biggest accomplishments.
My last day, I believe was September 14, 2018. It was a process for me. Essentially, my advice to people would just be that it’s a personal journey that you have to be ready for. You may or may not know when you’re ready, but all you can do is prepare as much as possible, if that makes sense. So for me, preparing in the sense of my husband and I sitting down to work out our finances was a part of the prep because my very first and probably only issue was money. I just thought it was unattainable. Once we sat down and put our finances down into a spreadsheet, budgeted for things and figured out where we could cut and put all of our savings together, I was okay.
What advice would you have for women following in your footsteps?
I would say, be strong. Be confident. Work Hard. Focus on God. Hustle hard, but understand that the work comes from God. Pray that you’re in the space that you’re supposed to be in.