In just a few short years, Indiana Ortez has emerged as a bright new voice and personality in the cigar industry. On Instagram she can be seen constantly posting videos and providing cigar enthusiasts a personal behind-the-scenes look at her family’s tobacco factory, its cigar brand and Nicaragua. Indiana is also a burgeoning cigar roller and blender who has worked on several cigars such as Ventura Cigar Company’s Fathers, Friends and Fire “Father & Daughter” cigar and the PSyKo Seven Nicaragua. Here’s a short interview with Indiana where she talks about her background in tobacco, experience with cigars and her take on the changing role of women in the cigar industry.
Cigars & Leisure: Tell us about your family and its history with tobacco.
Indiana Ortez: I belong to the first 100 percent Nicaraguan tobacco family. The Ortez family entered the world of tobacco when my grandfather Ramon Ortez began to work in the tobacco farms in 1967. My grandfather’s perseverance was what created the opportunity to learn the secrets of tobacco and set our path for future generations.
At the age of 10, my father, Omar Ortez, joined my grandfather in the tobacco fields. Many years later, with more experience, knowledge, and dedication, he was promoted to head of the farm. He assumed the role of General Manager for companies that became instrumental in the development of the tobacco industry in Nicaragua.
What inspired you to join your family’s business?
Ortez: The perseverance and the passion I saw in my father since I was a child aroused my curiosity. I wanted to explore and discover what kind of world it was that had completely captivated my dad. I studied Marketing and Advertising, and obviously all my projects were based on Omar Ortez Originals. I created brand positioning campaigns and reinvented some communication strategies and advertising campaigns, always focusing on the consumer experience.
It was at the University where I discovered that we are the first tobacco family with 100 percent Nicaraguan roots for three generations, which is something that I’d like to share with the world today. I was fascinated by a family tradition that at that time already transcended into the third generation with my two older siblings, Anielka and Omar, who were in charge of the administration and looked after the family’s tobacco business.
To me, the world of tobacco is “my new world”. It demands all my energy and time but when it comes from the heart, the reward is in a perfectly balanced smoke, capable of making you fall in love. I am 24 years young and I am simply in love with my new world. The Indiana that I am becoming through my experiences with tobacco is simply a different one: always sensitive and intense, but with much more tolerance and learning to be open to accepting criticism.
Currently I am supervising the department of quality control. I am by no means “the boss” yet! I have a lot of fun with my duties although I did invent the unofficial position of Chief Marketing Officer at Omar Ortez. It is my favorite hobby: sharing about our family and at the same time managing new clients.
I work with clients daily, elaborating their blends and stories. We smoke together while having a coffee and talk about where to take the projects next. I have become involved in the blending development process of Agrotabacos and tasting.
What’s your earliest memory or experience with tobacco and cigars?
Ortez: Browsing back in memory through my childhood, I remember experiencing the joy of seeing my father arrive at home, tired from a long working day, and wafting the aromas of burnt tobacco mixed with the scents of fermented tobacco. That very peculiar mix of scents fascinated me so profoundly that I often used to grab his shirt to sniff and absorb them with closed eyes before dropping it of at the laundry room. I can remember it vividly now that I am describing it.
At the University we had a project where the exercise was to reposition a brand. We traveled with a group of classmates to Agrotabacos and my uncle Alexis, my father’s younger brother, asked us: “How do you reckon to reposition a brand, if you do not know what you are selling?” Hence at the age of 17, I smoked my first Omar Ortez Original, and recall feeling that it was very strong, with rather unpleasant flavors. I had never even tried to smoke a cigarette. I had a lot to learn.
You’ve talked about contributing to a female revolution within the Nicaraguan tobacco industry. In your view, what does that revolution look like and what change would you like to introduce to the industry?
Ortez: I would rather like to talk about an “evolution” as opposed to a “revolution”. It is an inherent human characteristic to provoke change and roughly every 7 years there tends to be some kind of spontaneous evolution. This can be seen in consumer behavior where changes are manifested through different preferences, desires and tastes. And in a similar manner, the evolution of women in the industry has not been a matter of days or years, it has been a struggle for decades. Today many women are committing themselves to responsibilities and they are willing to sacrifice personal freedom in order to achieve professional evolution.
When I refer to sacrificing personal freedom, I’m implying the free time to study or pursue their preferences in order to accumulate knowledge and become the best in what you do. Women need to be clear that in almost every industry men have claimed the roles, but little by little women are showing their strong abilities, and rightfully claiming their participation based on merits and equality.
Personally, I consider that the taboo for women to smoke cigars is completely outdated and fading. Take for example the story of Maya Selva, a woman who decided to pursue her passion for tobacco and whose personal ambition led her become one of the bestselling brands on the European market. The market accepts us, the market needs us, we all want to see more women smoking cigars. Women should no longer be afraid to get involved, not only in the tobacco industry, but in all areas that historically have been considered purely “male”. These are different times.
In my case, being woman and being part of a new generation of Nicaraguan tobacco growers fills me with proud and joy. I believe that should there be a “revolution” –an internal matter of personal challenges, of discovering your passion and of not being afraid to feel that you were born for this. It is important to remain humble at all times, to continue to be eager to learn from the masters, to stand firm by your decisions, to remain cautious with regards to quality, to give your best regardless of hours, salaries and fatigue but above all to remain true to our values that make us authentic.
What do you want people to know about your country, Nicaragua.
Ortez: I am in love with my country: its culture, its flora and fauna, its wonderful sunsets and above all the human capital that constitutes this land of lakes and volcanoes. As a country we are known for our hospitality and kindness but perhaps even more for our “fighting” and “persevering” spirit.
We are a country where in the north you can literally breathe and live tobacco. The quality of our soils and richness in flavors is transmitted into our cigars. As a country we are 100% focused on the quality and the reputation of our cigars by taking care of every single one throughout the entire process.
In my opinion as a country we have managed to not fall into the negative cliché and reputation that characterizes other countries in the tobacco industry. In Nicaragua we tend to care about the professional development and emotional well-being of our co-workers and employees.
– Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director for Cigars & Leisure Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.