Sure, we’re all familiar with the concept of a career jump. But, Annie Lawless took more than just a jump—she took a leap. Walking away from a law school education to start up the now successful juice company Suja Juice was frightening, but it’s a choice she’ll never regret.
With a passion for nutrition and the desire to make healthy choices for her body, juicing was a natural choice for Annie, who was already making various adjustments to her diet to combat eczema. After meeting a friend at a local yoga studio who worked as a raw food chef and shared her same passions, they teamed up to create healthy, organic juices and then peddled them door-to-door.
While she never would’ve imagined the business would grow from those humble beginnings in her own kitchen to where it is today, she’s definitely thrilled with the results! “We had no idea Suja would become what it has,” she says. “We also didn’t do it to make money or build this huge company. We just wanted to share what we loved with others and hope they loved it too.”
Today, Annie shares more about her scary leap from law school to growing her business and why she encourages everyone to follow their dreams, pursue their passions, and forget the rest.
Name: Annie Lawless
Location: San Diego
Current Title/Company: Co-Founder of Suja Juice, Creator of Blawnde.com
Education: BA Philosophy, Arizona State University
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
I went to law school right out of college and I didn’t have a job in the beginning because law school was so much more time consuming than I ever imagined. After my first semester, I knew I needed an outlet outside of school to meet people off campus and relieve stress. I had been doing yoga religiously from the age of 16, so I started taking yoga at a studio in La Jolla and fell in love with the people and community there. I ended up taking a teacher training, working the front desk, and eventually teaching there. It was such an incredible experience and I loved every second of it.
You started Suja, which produces organic, non-GMO juices. Can you share a little bit about your background and what drove you to launch this business?
I grew up with eczema all over my body, which is an autoimmune skin disease resulting in a highly irritating chronic rash. I remember being so embarrassed about my skin in grade school and using prescription steroid creams every night to help stop the itching. It persisted throughout my childhood, so I was finally tested for other autoimmune diseases. I discovered I had Celiac’s disease, which I had never heard of and knew nothing about. At the time, gluten was not a well-known thing and there were no gluten free products available in markets. We didn’t even have Whole Foods in Arizona at that point. I immediately cut gluten out of my diet with the help of a nutritionist and my eczema completely disappeared.
This was a big light bulb moment for me that what I put into my body was directly correlated to how I look and feel. I became obsessed with nutrition and was introduced to juicing as a way to easily absorb nutrients after damaging my intestinal lining from consuming gluten for so many years. I began juicing three times a day and loved how much energy it gave me. I truly felt better than ever before in my life and began obsessively researching the benefits of juicing and reading every nutrition book I could get my hands on. I continued juicing every day throughout my teenage and young adult years, and decided to turn my passion for health into my purpose.
So, you left law school in order to pursue your passion. That must’ve been scary! What pushed you to take the leap? Any advice for women looking to make a scary jump?
It was definitely scary! I had truly become miserable in law school because I realized within the first couple months that it was not the career path for me. When I hit the level of unhappiness that I felt doing something I didn’t love, I was willing to do anything to change my circumstances and create my life the way I wanted. That meant leaving school, and I took that leap because I valued my happiness and waking up every day feeling inspired and happy more than money or approval from my family and friends.
I would tell anybody who is unhappy in their career or personal life with whatever it may be, do not hesitate or feel bad about changing directions and getting away from circumstances that do not inspire, motivate, and energize you. Life is short and you deserve to be happy, so do whatever it takes to get there! Trust me, it will all work out in the end.
Do not hesitate or feel bad about changing directions and getting away from circumstances that do not inspire, motivate, and energize you.
Let’s talk a little bit about how Suja got started. You teamed up with a friend who had a background as a raw food chef. Did you bring this business idea to him or was Suja a collaboration between the two of you?
Suja was definitely a collaboration! We met at the yoga studio (where I was working) because he came in to take class and we were both drinking green juices we had made at home. We struck up a conversation and discovered our mutual love for health, nutrition, juicing, and organics. We gravitated to this idea of making cold pressed juices accessible for all of our local friends and family. We started small as a local San Diego home delivery service. We would buy the produce at full retail price ourselves, juice it ourselves, and deliver it ourselves. It was a really special and fun time!
It seems like Suja had a pretty humble start—making juices in your own kitchen and essentially taking them door-to-door. What advice do you have for women who are currently getting started the same modest way?
Don’t worry about the outcome and focus on the present! We had no idea Suja would become what it has. We also didn’t do it to make money or build this huge company. We just wanted to share what we loved with others and hope they loved it too. Staying connected to your original goal and passion is so important in building an authentic and successful brand. People can feel when a company is formed by investors looking to make money versus truly passionate people who are looking to live their dream. Always remember why you are doing what you’re doing and stay true to that.
Obviously, Suja has grown! So, let’s talk money. Tell us about the intimidating process of finding funding for your business. Any advice for women who need to find funding for their own startups?
Don’t be intimidated! We were very lucky that our first investors approached us and presented us with the opportunity to partner and grow our business. That made the initial funding process much easier because we didn’t have to search. However, it was the first time I had partnered with other people in a venture and I have since learned a lot about understanding your value, your idea’s value, and how much to give up in relation to the investment. My advice is do your research, ask lots of questions, and understand what you are getting yourself into.
Balancing being a blogger and a successful business owner has got to be a challenge. How do you make it all fit in one day?
It’s definitely challenging to juggle the Suja business and BLAWNDE because my blog is 100% me. I don’t have a team of people responding to emails, doing my graphics, editing my photos, or creating social media content. I never knew before starting my blog how much work goes into one blog post. But, I’m a big believer that if you love something and want to make it happen, you will find a way. I always manage to fit it all in even when I think I can’t because I truly love both Suja and my blog, and that motivation keeps me focused.
Suja has developed quite a following. Can you tell us a little bit about marketing your business? How did you spread the word?
We have been such a grassroots brand from the beginning and still make huge efforts to connect directly with our consumers. We started as a small local brand and were able to create a strong presence with our SoCal community. From there, our story and mission kept spreading and trickling out to like-minded people who wanted to be part of our extended family. We believe in sharing our passion with our customers so they feel connected to our mission to democratize juice and make it accessible to everyone.
Your blog itself also has a pretty devoted following. What came first, the business or your blog? What sort of overlap do you see between the two in regards to community and promotion? Has your blog been a great asset for your business or vice versa?
Suja came first, but the blog was not far behind! I was writing a lot for the Suja blog and received so many personal e-mails and messages about specific health questions or advice because I am also a certified holistic health coach. Additionally, I would get lots of inquiries on my Instagram about what I was eating in pictures, what I was wearing, what restaurants I was going to, etc. that weren’t related specifically to juice and more about my life.
I decided to create BLAWNDE to be a more casual space to share my life and write about all sorts of topics people were interested in. It’s definitely a very similar demographic and a lot of Suja customers share my interests, so they head to my blog to go deeper and learn more beyond the bottle of juice on the shelf. And, a lot of my readers who initially visit for fashion or travel end up discovering and falling in love with Suja because they want to look and feel their best and can relate to a lot of my nutrition and health posts. It’s a very natural and beneficial relationship between the two because my blog helps share more of the lifestyle behind the brand and how nutrition can be easy and accessible to everyone.
Follow your heart and keep doing the things you love even if you aren’t sure where it’s all going.
What advice would you give your 23-year old self?
Don’t worry what other people think! I used to do things, like attend law school, because I wanted my family and friends to be proud of me and think I was a certain person. I was worried if I followed an unconventional path they wouldn’t understand it and would think less of me or be disappointed. I learned the hard way from going down a path I wasn’t passionate about that it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you are miserable and unhappy, other peoples praise and acceptance won’t be worth anything.
Follow your heart and keep doing the things you love even if you aren’t sure where it’s all going. Living in accordance with your purpose and the things that make you happy will ultimately put you on a path to where you are supposed to be.
Annie Lawless is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to blow off steam?
Yoga! And online shopping…shhh!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Jennifer Lawrence. I love that she’s unapologetically herself despite having a million eyes on her and always stays true to who she is. I’d order a steak because she’d be right there with me and not make it awkward by ordering a salad with no toppings and dressing on the side.
Go-to coffee order?
Iced coconut milk latte with 4 shots, no sugar.
I wish I knew how to…
Sing! I’ve always wanted to effortlessly bust out a song with a beautiful voice, but I sound like a wounded hyena and it’s embarrassing.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Always play in the game of life—never sit on the sidelines.
Favorite business book?
Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso.
yoga image via Basil Vargas