The Naked Leaf
A blend of community and inclusiveness in Calgary
For almost 5,000 years, people have been consuming tea. Supposedly, the Chinese emperor was sitting under a tree when some tea leaves blew into the boiling water being prepared by his servant. Being a renowned herbalist, the emperor gave it a swig and decided he was onto something new. That was 2737 BC.
Fast forward 4,745 years to 2008, when Jonathan Kane decided there was a need for a new tea shop in Calgary – somewhere he could find quality blends and exquisite teawares to satisfy his own taste. That new tea shop was his own: The Naked Leaf, one of the first LGBTQ+-friendly businesses to join
Located in the cool and trendy neighbourhood of Kensington, The Naked Leaf is situated beside a pocket-sized patio. Open the door and go up a few steps to find an eclectic mix of teas, cups, Japanese castiron kettles and teapots ranging from classic to curious. You will immediately feel a sense of belonging as you’re greeted with a friendly smile and a genuine welcome.
The Naked Leaf is serious about two things – tea and community. Their purpose statement reads, “The Naked Leaf aims to build community, communication and inclusiveness through the comfort and ritual of tea.” Kane recognizes the value of being known within the community as a safe, friendly and welcoming space in Calgary.
MORE THAN TEA
Since opening, The Naked Leaf has also helped to promote and support local artists. When you buy tea products from The Naked Leaf, they are packaged in tea tins with labels featuring colourful images designed and submitted by emerging and established artists. These are paid commissions, “maybe not much,” says Kane, “but it is important that we recognize and value the arts in community. We also strive to help promote them through our website and social media. We need to support one another.”
For a small, independent business, the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough time. To thank their customers for their continued support, Kane and The Naked Leaf pledged to share $1,000 each month with non-profit organizations supporting Calgary youth. For many of these agencies, the contribution helped to sustain local programming, given the reduction in their ability to fundraise during the pandemic.
Efforts are now underway to create and host a series of “tea talks” where customers and community members can safely gather, hear a speaker and meet people up close. “Sometimes, when we have the ability to meet people that have different experiences and backgrounds than ourselves, it helps to build bridges,” says Kane. It is all part of being a good neighbour. The first series of talks will be by individuals from the Indigenous community, including Two-Spirit speakers and residential school survivors.
Kane and his husband came to Calgary so he could accept a new job teaching at the University of Calgary in the Fine Arts program. An accomplished dancer, Kane toured the world with a ballet company after discovering his passion for dance at the age of 18. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, dance became Kane’s ticket to such far-off places like China, Japan, Russia, Europe and many destinations across North America.
It was as a dancer that Kane discovered he had an allergy to coffee. So he began drinking tea, not realizing that his taste for the ancient brew would someday turn into a prosperous and inviting business, as well as a destination for other tea connoisseurs.
As a proud, gay business owner, Kane believes it is important to not only support others in the LGBTQ+ community, but to be a positive influence on the broader community.
Like other LGBTQ+ Calgarians, he has found the community to be open and welcoming. And he doesn’t shy away from using his social media, i.e., his Instagram account @nakedleaf, to take the occasional opportunity to put forward some edgy, gayfriendly, sexy posts. “It’s all meant in fun, and we need to be how we want others to be with us,” he explains.
That said, not everyone has always been on board. Kane lost over 80 followers in one
day with his “gay kiss” video that was offered for Pride 2021! Thousands more, however, have remained.
Everything, as they say, is a work in progress, and for Kane, staying true to himself remains key as he continues to build his retail business.