Kaylan Rexer is Redefining Drinking Responsibly

Kaylan Rexer is Redefining Drinking Responsibly

V spoke with the brand director of Ilegal Mezcal about the liquor company's inception, sustainability, and their relationship with politics.

V spoke with the brand director of Ilegal Mezcal about the liquor company's inception, sustainability, and their relationship with politics.

Text: Brandon Tan

Among the emerging masses of trailblazing power women defying odds in their respective male-dominated industries is Kaylan Rexer, bad ass brand director of Ilegal Mezcal. Ilegal is a liquor company that vends not only the secret, smoky spirit that is mezcal, but also a refreshing new mindset on consumer industries. They are fostering a new conversation between alcohol and politics, one that is finally clear of objectifying ad campaigns and controversial lawsuits. Rexer, as mastermind behind Ilegal’s voice is ironically soft spoken in her words, but loud and clear in her actions.

Ilegal’s history is rich in authenticity and transparent in intentions, cut from the same cloth as Rexer’s. Sitting in the den of a cozy Deer Mountain Inn by the Catskills, where Ilegal hosted an installment of their summer music series, Rexer disclosed to me their humble journey which accidentally started when her uncle began smuggling the mezcal from Oaxaca to his bar in Guatemala. Accommodating the flooding inquiries by his international patrons about taking the underground hooch home, John Rexer had unknowingly founded what would eventually become Ilegal Mezcal--proving that its name is an honest confession to its past, while Kaylan shows also that it is a provocation to our future.

On the origins of the brand’s name, Rexer reveals, “John wanted to call it Ilegal to take back the word illegal and to call into question things that don’t make sense that are illegal, to put the law into question.”

Rexer has made it her objective to align Ilegal with public affairs, but as our conversation suggested, their relationship with politics is a complicated one. Ilegal puts forward a new perspective on policy, questioning over abiding by what is deemed lawful. So complacent have we been to accepting what our governing body deems licit, warranted, or within reason, that we forget to consider our own ethics. That said, this administration over any has evoked a widespread reassessment among Americans, and Rexer alongside Ilegal is pioneering said movement within the liquor industry.

Since its inception, Ilegal has engaged in multiple political activations and fundraisers that have supported Planned Parenthood, Niños de Guatemala, NYSYLC, and LGBTQI+ rights. Impressively, only 2 days after the announcement of our current President’s campaign to run, the brand released a campaign by the name of, “Donald Eres Un Pendejo,” which in Spanish literally translates to: “Donald, You Are A Motherf*****”. As a queer woman herself, Rexer also launched a campaign for Ilegal against Chick-fil-a after the CEO announced that he didn’t support marriage equality. Again, showing off their capacity for tag lines that are as impactful as they are witty, Ilegal released posters with 2 roosters kissing and 2 chickens kissing saying, “I’d rather kiss a cock than eat your chicken,” and “I’d rather kiss a chick than eat your chicken.”

The company is also a committed advocate for sustainability and shares an ethical consciousness for the production of its spirits in Mexico and Guatemala. While most developing businesses become victims to their own growth, Rexer is quick to reject such possibility for Ilegal.

“It takes a lot of planning and trial and error, but one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is building our production in the right away, and our partners Mal de Amor have been a very integral part of that. A lot of people, when they think about sustainability, think about environmental issues. We’re very conscious of that, and it’s very important to us, because it’s very beautiful down there and you don’t want to create monocultures which is what happened with tequila, which makes the crops weak. The other big thing for us is economic sustainability--Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico and most people were leaving to find jobs elsewhere. There are whole generations of people who just leave, so we are very conscious about creating work. We say the number of hands that are touching the products being made directly affect how artisanal it is. Mal de Amor went from having 3 people working there to now 63 heads of households, and if you go, it’s a lot of young people too. So it’s a lot of people that would generally be leaving Oaxaca that are now not, because they have work and the ability to actually grow. It’s not a dead end job, they can go from working apprenticeships, to running fermentation. Yes, it’s about the production, but there’s the whole cultural side of Oaxaca too that we directly impact.”

While Ilegal stands as the black sheep in its punk attitude and social awareness among other consumer brands, Rexer hopes for more to follow their lead. The political landscape in the liquor industry, she admits, is changing. Though there remains a general old school mentality, Rexer tells us that there are new brands coming out with new ideas that uphold a set of sustainable ethics, while still proving profitable. After all, Ilegal has proven that most of what it takes is an inspiringly hardworking brand manager and some cheeky campaigns.

Photo by Ernesto Roman
Credits: Cover Image Photographed By Ernesto Roman At Deer Mountain Inn

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