On any given day, you can find Herficionado, Octavia Toliver’s moniker, just about anywhere from the cigar shop to a rooftop terrace puffing on a cigar and planning her next move as she takes the cigar industry by storm. A storm that she hopes will continue to change the demographics of those who embrace a good stogie on a beautiful afternoon and present opportunities as far as the eye can see, smoke clouds aside. The cigar world has traditionally been the stomping grounds of old white business men, but Ms. Toliver’s “feminine perspective” as she puts it is bringing elegance, style, and a breath of knowledge that runs cigar circles around many of her male counterparts who dare try to see her as just a beautiful face. Nor is she alone as the #SOTL or Sisters Of The Leaf are a rapidly growing and yet underappreciated segment in the cigar world. According to the CDCP, women cigar smokers have grown from 1/10th of 1 percent in the 1980s to 2 percent of U.S. women’s population. It may not sound like a lot, but 2 percent is equivalent to 3.2 million women. As such, Ms. Toliver has become an influencer and innovator within the industry and HBCU Money was able to catch up with her for interview.
What is your HBCU background? I achieved a B.A. in English from Rattler Nation better known as Florida A&M University. Never ask a (southern) lady her age OR graduation year.
We are sure you get asked this a lot, but what got you interested in cigars? I was introduced to cigars by a guy who took me on a date to a cigar bar 10 years ago. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the cigars! Lol.
In light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements where women are empowering themselves to push back against sexual harassment in their respective spaces. How do you believe women are treated within the cigar industry? What improvements would you like to see in respect to women within the industry? The cigar industry is obviously male-dominated, so there are still some instances in which women are treated as just pretty faces. A woman can know more about cigars than any man, but if she’s very attractive, she will never be considered an authority, by some guys. This hasn’t been my experience, completely, because I’ve gotten tremendous support from men in the industry, but I’ve definitely felt the resistance from some. I’m not really sure if there is an improvement that can/will be made. I just advise all of the SOTL’s (Sisters Of The Leaf) to keep carrying themselves with class so that eventually the guys will come around. Or they won’t and we’ll start more of our own cigar companies! *wink*
For HBCU students who may have an interest in the industry, what advice would you give them on getting started? Frequent your local cigar lounge or shop! Hang out, ask questions, try various profiles! Join a Facebook cigar group! There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people online who are just waiting to teach others about cigars! Just like with any other industry, educate yourself and go for it.
Tell our audience about what led to the creation and mission behind you co-founding the Atlanta Cigar Week? Atlanta Cigar Week was created from a desire to showcase Atlanta as the top cigar market in the country. We have almost 100 cigar shops and lounges so we wanted to show the country what we have to offer. ACW2017, we executed 13 events in 7 days! We had a great turnout, but we’re expecting even more attendees and sponsors for 2018. We are also expanding to Dubai in May, and hopefully at least one other city before the end of the year!
Do you think your HBCU experiences prepared you in any special way for the work and life you live today? I’m not sure if it prepared me for my work, but my experience at an HBCU was a great bridge from childhood to my adult life. FAMU was my first experience where minorities were the majority. I’m from a city that is sometimes called the Redneck Riviera, but it was just HOME to me. In retrospect, I now see that my perspective of black people was quite limited. Attending an HBCU opened my eyes a great deal because there students from many backgrounds who just all happened to be black. When we speak of diversity, we’re usually referring to people of different ethnicities or races, but I had never seen such diversity in people of the same race. I now live in Atlanta which is the same on a much larger scale.
What is one of your fondness HBCU memory? One of my fondest memories was Set Fridays at FAMU. As a freshman, I lived in a dorm only a few yards away from the set, which was a courtyard on campus. On Fridays, vendors would come set up tables and food stands! There would be music playing, and all of the students would hang out in between classes. I LOVED it because everyone would put on their flyest outfits, and the Greeks would always come stroll through. The camaraderie out there was absolutely beautiful.
You can follow Octavia Toliver on Instagram at @herficionado for all of her latest projects and events.