The Celebrity-Endorsed Bottled Water Company On a Mission
Ryan Morgan knew his life was out of control when he found himself on the floor of a bank with a gun pointed at his head by police. He was 19 years old. Convicted of armed bank robbery and given a lengthy prison sentence, the San Bernardino, California, native once had dreams of a college football career. "I didn't want this one mistake to define my life. I knew I had more to give," he says. By the time he was released from prison in his mid-20s, Morgan's football dreams had started to fade.
While working as a personal fitness trainer and attending Oakland's Laney College, he was encouraged by friends to continue to pursue football. Morgan sent out his highlight reel, and it eventually landed in the hands of then-University of San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh, who recruited him. They won a national championship together.
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After school, faced with the decision to continue football at nearly 30 years of age or accept a job offer from E&J Gallo Winery, Morgan took the job, and later went on to work for Pernod Ricard, the world's second largest producer of wines and spirits, where he had a leadership role in the company's corporate social responsibility division. "It always bothered me that the alcohol beverage industry didn't have an authentic, more thoughtful approach towards giving back to areas that look like where I come from," he says.
He grew tired of the corporate gig and set out to become the change he wanted to see. In the summer of 2019, Morgan took a severance package and went back to school for an MBA. When the pandemic closed schools for a year, he faced yet another crossroads—how to pivot. He wanted to start his own business.
"I've always been a fitness junkie and can't operate without my water. I wanted to create a product that truly is good for people," he says. When it came time to choose a name for his water brand, the word equity kept coming to mind, and Aqua Equity was born. He also thought about the idea of ownership and the history of that being stripped away from working class, diverse communities.
"Aqua Equity isn't just about water; it's about community impact and the equity we can provide people," he says. He contacted three like-minded friends from his UC San Diego and corporate days, and together they set out on a mission.
"We chose Watts [for the headquarters] because it is one of the oldest Black communities in Southern California, rich in Black history and resilience," Morgan says. "We were welcomed with open arms, and decided to fully commit to the area and power our marketing to bring awareness to non-profits and other organizations that align on the same mission and our motto: Drink good… do good."
Brandon "STIX" Salaam-Bailey, the unofficial mayor of Watts and founder of ThinkWatts Foundation, was added to the team as a co-founder. The company has a monthly commitment to donate 10 percent of profits to the community through food box and water giveaways via ThinkWatts and the Watts Community Core program. In just over a year, Aqua Equity (which comes in recyclable, 16-ounce aluminum bottles) has donated almost $25,000 in product, and this summer the company will launch an entrepreneur training program for young people in the area.
And their good work is being recognized. Brad Pitt and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers are regular volunteers. Ari Lennox and KeKe Palmer have shouted out the brand on social media. Director Melina Matsoukas made a significant purchase and a commitment to stock the water on set for her shows like HBO's Insecure. Aqua Equity is available at convenience stores and restaurants throughout Southern California, and there are plans to expand to more retailers this year.
"Our goal is to be the official bottled water of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, and bring Aqua Equity to underserved communities in San Bernardino, West Oakland, and Flint, Michigan, where we have built relationships. It is important to us to be authentically connected in the communities we serve because equity is everything," Morgan says.
To buy Aqua Equity, or donate a case, visit aquaequitywater.com.