There are many reasons why someone may choose to pursue a career in wine. For Tahiirah Habibi, the decision came as she found herself with more opportunities for leadership roles.
Her story, of being the sole Black woman in a room full of executives who wield wine lingo as part of the general conversation, is not a new one. But how she chose to use those encounters — to shift the experiences of other people of color — is.
“It’s a weird thing to think about, but at that time I became very aware of how wine knowledge can adjust people’s attitude toward you,” says Habibi. So when given the chance to learn more through the Wine School of Philadelphia, she jumped at the opportunity, continuing on to become a nationally recognized sommelier working the floor of many prestigious hotels within the hospitality industry.
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Despite her certifications, skillset, and knowledge, though, Habibi continued to face similar treatment that left her feeling less than her authentic self. But from those memorable experiences, her idea for a community of wine-loving Black people was born.
In 2015, Habibi formed a small company named Sipping Socials that brought together wine with other facets of Black culture, including music, food, fashion, and art. In no time her small local Atlanta events began to gain steady attendance. With Sipping Socials’s recognition growing, Habibi knew it was time to expand and set her sights on taking the organization nationwide.
The rebrand of Sipping Socials was meant to build a more extensive community that would be inclusive for all types of people, no matter their occupation or their ethnicity. When it came to finding Sipping Socials’ new name, she looked to the multi-hyphenate mogul Jay-Z for inspiration. As Habibi tells it, ‘society’ was always going to be part of the rebrand, but it was the reference to hue on Jay’s “4:44” album that cemented the new name.
Officially launched in 2017, the Hue Society aims to be the antithesis of negative and judgmental feelings when it comes to wine. At its core, authenticity and genuine joy come together to form a celebratory space of inclusivity. When speaking about the Hue Society’s origins, Habibi can’t help but use the term “vulnerability” when describing her intentions. For her, showing up as your true self can often put you in a vulnerable place, especially in social wine crowds, which is why she believes this social community is especially important.
From the Hue Society’s beginning, Habibi strived to create a space where Black people could learn about and enjoy wine entirely through their own lens, while also working to dismantle the barriers she faced previously.
Through four chapters across the U.S., the Hue Society is increasing access to the wine industry for people of color, with the ultimate goal of providing more representation. Under the organization’s umbrella, the individual chapters curate events, classes, seminars, and other activities that cater to the specific member needs of each location. On a national level, the Hue Society provides educational resources that extend beyond wine, such as business classes in marketing and branding, as well as potential job opportunities within the industry.
Advocating for Black, brown, and indigenous people is a passion that has burned bright for Habibi for a while — she also co-founded The Roots Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to Black and brown scholars pursuing a career in wine. And with the Hue Society reaching global expansion through its South African chapter and coming chapters in England, Ghana, and Australia, it’s clear that that fire is far from dying out.
The force behind Habibi’s passion is perhaps best summed up through the Hue Society’s motto: Assimilation not required. “I want people to feel loved, seen, and heard within this industry and, most importantly, to know that they can have fun doing so because they deserve that too,” she says.
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