James and Angela Brown are not your ordinary boutique cigar brand owners. Known mostly for the dark and edgy Black Label Trading Company brand, James Brown entered into the cigar industry more like a lion than a lamb. When launching the Black Label Trading Company cigar brand back in 2013, James decided to make a statement and debuted not one but six different cigars. In the first year, Black Label Trading Company grew slowly and organically but Brown did more business than he originally anticipated. Since that launch year, Black Label Trading Company has steadily increased every year since.
Many would stop at that and focus on what they have–but not Brown. He’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, having owned several businesses prior to entering into the cigar industry. As Black Label Trading Company grew over the years, so did Brown’s dedication to the cigar industry. He didn’t want to be another guy with a brand–much like the debut of his brand, he wanted to make a statement and wanted to do it ambitiously. Unlike many other boutique cigar brands, Brown didn’t want to rely on other factories to make his cigars. He wanted to be able to see his out-of-the-box ideas and attention to detail carried out in all steps of the production process. He, along with his wife Angela, knew there was only one way to achieve this goal–they needed to manufacture their own products. To do that, they up-routed their family of three and moved to Nicaragua to start their own factory, Fabrica de Oveja Negra based in Estelí, Nicaragua.
“I believe that if I’m putting my name on something, it has to be mine. I need to own the process,” Brown explained. “With our factory we can control every step that goes into making our cigars. I can guarantee the quality of our tobacco, our cigars and maintain a consistent product.”
Not many boutique brands can say they own their own factory. It separates Brown and his brand from other boutique cigar companies and demonstrates Brown’s commitment to not just his own brand but the cigar industry as a whole. With the factory, Brown saw an opportunity to not only use it to help build his own brand but other boutique cigar companies as well.
“The idea with our factory was for it to be a place other boutique brands can come and feel comfortable making a premium cigar. We now produce several other brands and private labels. Our doors are always open to people looking for a manufacturer.”
With the launch of the factory, Brown also saw an opportunity to get creative with his blending process. Brown began to experiment with different blends but found they didn’t fit well within the Black Label Trading Company brand. To show what the factory was capable of producing and highlight the artistry of his cigar making, Brown launched a second cigar brand–Black Works Studio. Even more so than his first brand, Black Works Studio adopted a more boutique philosophy. Everything released under the Black Works Studio label is made in 100 box batches. Since its launch, Black Works Studio has been called the “boutique inside of the boutique,” keeping with Black Label Trading Company’s edginess but taking a urban approach to the marketing and branding.
“My influences for cigars come from many different things. Sometimes from movies, music or art. The way I treat the [Fabrica de Oveja Negra] factory is very much like a studio. It’s like a playground where ideas come to life. That’s why we named it Black Works Studio,” Brown revealed. “The brand has taken off like crazy since we launched it. The demand is very high for the cigars but we still keep our 100 box productions and small batch philosophy.”
Even though Brown’s Black Works Studio and Black Label Trading Company brands fall well outside the FDA predicate date, he isn’t giving up on either brand or the Fabrica de Oveja Negra anytime soon. Just as he welcomes boutique brands to use his factory, he sees some good having come from the recent regulations imposed by the FDA–it’s starting to unite the boutique cigar makers.
“Since the FDA ruling I have noticed that people in the boutique cigar community have started to come together. I see a lot of sharing information and genuine concern for other brands. I love seeing people come together to help each other,” explained Brown.
Brown also isn’t afraid of the challenges ahead. “My personal goal beyond our two brands is to grow the factory. I would like to see us producing more cigars for other like-minded companies in the next year. Yes, I own two brands but at the end of the day, I’m a cigar maker. I love the process and the challenges, whether it’s for my brand or someone else’s.”
There are new releases planned for Black Works Studio. February 2017 saw the release of Black Works Studio’s first limited release, Sindustry. Additional limited editions will follow–the Boondock Saint in July and S&R in November. The company has also unveiled two event-only cigars, Killer Bee Lonsdale and Green Hornet “Kato”. Along with additional releases from Black Label Trading Company planned for release this year, Brown shows no signs of backing down from his entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm for the cigar craft anytime soon.
To learn more about Black Works Studio and Fabrica de Oveja Negra, visit blacklabeltrading.com.
– Story by Antoine Reid
Photos courtesy of Black Works Studio/Black Label Trading Company