She Went From Broke To Launching A Multi-Million Dollar Company

Photo: Courtesy of Zhena Muzyka.
Over the past 16 years, Zhena Muzyka has gone from being a pregnant single mother with $6 to her name to founding a multi-million-dollar organic fair-trade tea company — and then getting fired from said company. In 2014, she was recruited to create Enliven Books, a spirituality and self-help imprint for Simon and Schuster. Last spring, Mark Walhberg’s production company optioned the rights to her memoir, and announced plans to create a TV series loosely based on her life. The longtime resident of Ojai, CA currently hosts a weekly CBS radio podcast, Founding Females, and writes from her yurt, which sits on Muzyka’s former ranch turned homestead.

“It’s admittedly been a bit of a roller coaster,” Muzyka says, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Over a pot of milky breakfast tea, served in Muzyka's recently thrifted tea set, the entrepreneur freely discusses her life. Fitting, seeing as her 2014 debut non-fiction book is entitled, Life by the Cup: Inspiration for a Purpose-Filled Life.

Muzyka acknowledges her victories and openly concedes her losses. The mother of two travels the world as a corporate healer, one of her many jobs. Her green-gray eyes twinkle as she discusses her most recent purchase for Enliven: a book about millennials from Josh Tickell.

“I feel I’m able to really be myself in business for the first time ever,” Muzyka explains. “I don’t want anyone to die with a book in them.”

Muzyka grew up in Lompoc, a Southern California town that boasts its own air force base and federal penitentiary, and she began looking for a way out early in her adolescence. Little did she know her past would become her future.

Hailing from the Ukraine, Muzyka’s grandma Maria passed on her knowledge of herbs and flowers, and taught her young curly red haired granddaughter how to blend them into tea.

Photo: Courtesy of Zhena Muzyka.
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In 2000, Muzyka founded Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, an idea she had while standing enormously pregnant at her kitchen table in the Ojai Valley. She launched the company while sitting with her newborn on her dilapidated front porch.

“There’s magic in this valley,” Muzyka simply states, “there was this moment where god just said ‘Gypsy tea’ to me, and I knew that was it.”

Her socially responsible approach to business included pioneering fair trade practices with her tea farm in Sri Lanka. The economic recession of 2008-2009 forced Muzyka to sell her company, although she retained her position as both a shareholder and figurehead. After clashing with new management over its direction, Muzkya was relieved of her position.

“I ended up on antidepressants, but I learned a crucial lesson: how you end things is more important than how you begin them,” says Muzyka.

When she’s not searching for new ways to end poverty for every tea worker in the world, Muzyka’s hunting for the next great story. She’s also gearing up to teach her second online course for Simon and Schuster, and debating transforming her home into a writing retreat for burgeoning authors.

“Zhena is someone who gets under your skin,” says Elizabeth Haffner, co-owner of Azu Restaurant in Ojai, and a longtime friend. “She makes you think about your life and pursue nothing less than your deepest passion. She makes it happen.”

Read more about what makes Ojai, California so special in R29's The Places Every Woman Should Visit In 2016.

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