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Industry Innovators

10 Questions: Serge Chistov on the Future of Cannabis

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PHOTOS | The Honest Marijuana Company
Rocket Seeds

In the ever-changing cannabis market, one issue the industry needs to address is becoming paramount: the environmental impact of legal cannabis. At a time when we are concerned about plastic waste and reducing our consumption of the material, we should be using our purchase power to support eco-friendly companies.

The Honest Marijuana Company utilizes all-natural cultivation methods to produce organic and eco-conscious cannabis products. The Colorado-based company packages their products in Earth-friendly recyclable tin cans with pure nitrogen, ensuring the cannabinoids and terpenes remain of the highest quality. The company also recently launched their new Honest Blunts, the first organic hemp-wrapped, machine-rolled cannabis blunts.

Serge Chistov is the financial partner of HMC. He talks to us about what he sees as the future of our ever-changing industry.

Cannabis Aficionado: What is the future of cannabis?

Branded products and repeatable consumer experience will be major industry focuses. The industry is maturing and American consumers now demand quality, innovation, ease of use..anything that has to do with buying your product from Amazon. More and more Americans would vote today for the federal legalization. There will be new products and the same rules will apply to cannabis as they would for other products.

I also think that the hemp extract and some of the other cannabinoids will play an important role in dietary supplements and the overall consumption will be greatly extended with the new generation of products.

What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?

I think bud smoking will stay with us but be reduced by the innovations and new technologies that deliver cannabis, like properly designed edibles and dissolving pills. Seniors and soccer moms will also become bigger consumer groups in the cannabis industry. Older people who were influenced by the stigma of cannabis are slowly but surely catching on. With soccer moms, right now there is a big conversation about more delivery services in the industry, which may take away the stigma of going into the pot shop and associating with the unknown element.

What technology will have the biggest impact on the cannabis industry?

There will be a new generation of edibles and topicals. I’m talking about a nanotechnological approach that turns non-water-soluble substances like cannabinoids into nano-size so they can be added into transdermal patches, topical lotions, and more for the cleanest, most efficient, healthiest, and most discreet cannabis consumption. This would allow for a smokeable-like effect without the smoking. Products made with nanotechnology are effective, as you don’t need to consume a lot to get the desired effect. It is also healthy because they allow you to obtain medical benefits from cannabis without smoking and sacrificing your health in exchange.

Have we reached peak CBD?

No, I don’t believe so. I think that the hemp extract and some of the other cannabinoids will play a pretty important role in dietary supplements and the overall consumption will be greatly extended with the new generation of products. So no, I don’t think we have reached peak CBD.

Are vape pens going to replace bud smoking? Why or why not?

No, I don’t think they will. They will be an additional method of use. Some people I know who use vape pens are new users or they like the convenience. It is way easier to use a vape pen conspicuously in the public and while traveling. However, I think bud smoking will stay with us, as it is a traditional and long known way of consuming cannabis. It will be reduced by the innovations and new technologies that deliver cannabis, such as properly designed edibles, dissolving pills, oral dissolvable strips — things that will ‘skip the first pass’ of the human body will eventually take a bigger chunk out of the consumers who smoke bud and use vape pens.

How savvy are cannabis consumers when it comes to knowing the different strains?

They are not as savvy as we would want them to be, but they are definitely way savvier than they were five years ago. Consumers are still talking about their perceived values of different strains, without truly realizing that a majority of them are hybrids. There are no specifically unique indicas or sativas — there are indica or sativa-dominant hybrids because a lot of the cannabis genetics in the country are all mix-matched and there was no uniform approach to market them. So, yes, there is a long way to go as far as us educating the consumer. There is still a lot of work to be done.

What demographic do you see having the most growth? Hipsters? Oldsters? Soccer moms?

Seniors and soccer moms will become bigger consumer groups in the cannabis industry. Hipsters have been puffing away and the legalization is just another opportunity for them to experience new ways of consuming and new, improved technological advances. Older people who had a stigma are slowly but surely catching on with cannabis, with the societal changes that are changing that stigma. Baby boomers are a massive demographic. We would love or them to start participating in using cannabis. They are the largest demographic in the country! Obviously, with soccer moms, right now there is a big conversation about more delivery services in the industry, which may take away the stigma of going into the pot shop and being associated with the unknown element. As more and more of the industry develops and allows people to buy cannabis discreetly to use in the safety of their homes, I believe more and more of these demographics will be big participants.

What product is most likely show the most growth: Smokables? Edibles? Topicals?

There will be a new generation of edibles and a new generation of topicals. I’m talking about a nanotechnological approach that would allow for a smokeable-like effect without the smoking. I do believe that that will be huge.

What new challenges will the industry face going forward?

The challenges are the continued regulations, the unknown of the federal legalization, and that we are not in a competitive state. Americans are competitive people and now our hands are tied. Canadians are doing what they’re doing and have all the funding in the world. Compare our industry to the stock deals done out of Canada. Just think about it. They are coming across the border and are able to accumulate resources and opportunities on our land. All of this is strictly funded by privateers, by people with their savings and their reinvested earnings. This is an unfair competitive landscape and I hate the sound of it! We are the ones who are pioneering the industry in Colorado and California and it turns out to be like an old joke — pioneers get shot and settlers are the ones who are making money! It’s not good.”

Is the market going to be more for dispensaries or delivery?

I believe it will be a healthy combination of the two. I believe that there will be an online presence, where the consumer will be able to be educated just like it is right now with any other goods or service industry. Then there will be the consumer who would like to go and actually chat with people who are in the know and in the action, just like you would go and select your wines. In this instance, you go into the store that has a great selection of brands and you will find two or three bottles that you really like, but this does not mean that you would not on occasion order them online just for the convenience of your day to day life. I believe it will be a healthy combination of the two, and it’s for the better.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

That is a good question! What I know now that I wish I knew when I was starting is that the changing regulations continue changing. I understand that the government is trying to find their footing, but because of this the manufacturers and logistical personnel need to continue changing the packaging and labeling and adjusting how we bring our product to the market. That would be helpful to know and I would have thought by now that the banking system would be more available to the cannabis industry as well, but that is still not happening. Other than that, our expectations were very limited, because starting in the industry was a freedom and an opportunity to finally do what we are passionate about and share that with the rest of the world.

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Industry Innovators

Bill Shevlin: Cultivating Carbon-Neutral Cannabis at 3 Bros Grow

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Bill Shevlin 3 Bros
Bill Shevlin | PHOTOS 3 Bros Grow

It’s no secret that indoor cannabis cultivation techniques leave a substantial carbon footprint. The immense amounts of water and energy required will make the model unsustainable if it continues unchallenged. Fortunately, by implementing cutting-edge technology and the best production practices, it is possible to grow top-shelf cannabis in a way that’s sustainable for both businesses and the environment. That’s the vision of 3 Bros Grow, a vertically integrated cannabis company in Santa Cruz, California, dedicated to growing the very best cannabis using environmentally friendly processes.

Cannabis Aficionado spoke to CEO Bill Shevlin about the 3 Bros Grow mission, their revolutionary cultivation practices and the importance of giving back to the community.

Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.

Bill Shevlin: I grew up in the Santa Cruz area, and if you grew up in this part of the country, cannabis was always around. When I was in high school, I took an outdoor ed program and learned how to read topography maps. My friends and I picked some locations that were back in the woods, in the canyons, planted there and grew. After school, I ended up getting into real estate development and management. For the last 15 years, I have advised technology and vertical ag companies while working in large-scale commercial construction and renewable energy.

In 2017, I started looking at energy usage in the cannabis and hemp space, as I knew cannabis was super energy-intensive. I worked with a few different companies in the industry — some were small, some were large — and I saw all sorts of issues from the infrastructure requirements but also on the corporate side. Due to my background in vertical ag, I knew you could cultivate and deliver food crops into local markets sustainably.  I knew there was value in being able to do the same thing in cannabis.

I met the founders of 3 Bros Grow — Tyler Smith, ‘CEBrO’; Mark Taylor, COO, and Russell Smith, CMO — at the end of 2019, and formally joined them as CEO in January of 2020. They have a really cool mission to be a sustainable company from day one and had some interesting things they were doing.

Grease Monkey

Tell me more about the 3 Bros Grow mission.

We believe it is our responsibility to offer only the highest quality cannabis products at an approachable price and in a sustainable manner. Cannabis is medicine, but we plan to use it to heal more than just people. From climate-positive business practices to community care initiatives, we strive to assist in the healing of our planet.  Unfortunately, the cannabis industry is far from green. There is a lot of waste and a lot of pollution. 3 Bros is committed to leaving this planet more beautiful than when we arrived and vow to put forward our greatest effort in sustainable and community-centred operations. That’s where my background in renewable energy comes into play.

Why is creating a zero-carbon footprint cultivation model so important to 3 Bros Grow?

From day one, 3 Bros Grow has been about sustainability — the founders were pushing the sustainability message in cannabis even before I was around. They grew up in the surf industry and were professional surfers, so they’re very conscious of the environment. When I joined, it was really because we were having conversations around using renewable energy and sustainable energy for indoor cannabis, which is really energy-intensive. Sustainability has always been part of the core culture of 3 Bros Grow. We’re doing some really cutting-edge stuff around sustainability.

What are the sustainable ‘green’ initiatives at your new facility?

We’re creating a climate-positive impact at our revolutionary new vertically integrated facility in Santa Cruz. It allows us to offer truly green practices across cultivation, manufacturing, processing, and distribution.

Our COO, Mark, figured out a way to not use any outside water in his cultivation operations. The 3 Bros proprietary systems and technologies don’t use any outside water for cultivation, which creates a lower cost of operation, and it also has a positive impact on the environment. If you look at what the industry standards are, for water there is, unfortunately, a lot of waste. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, and we are fixing it.

We’re also implementing a carbon-negative microgrid that generates power onsite, allowing us to lower the cost of operation, and create a climate-positive impact. Again, cannabis is an energy-intensive industry. So even though a lot of people associate it with being “natural” and “clean,” the reality is that there are a lot of fossil fuels that are used to grow most commercially available cannabis.

Thirdly, using our proprietary Direct Air Capture technology allows us to sequester CO2 in our cultivation and manufacturing processes, which we’ll inject back into our grow environment. So, we’re actually pulling CO2 out of the air at a larger scale than we normally would, because we’re not supplementing with standard C02. We’re just supplementing with CO2 that we’ve captured from the air.

Mark Taylor in the 3 Bros grow room

The facility is being brought online in phases and will have a cultivation capacity of 10,000 pounds of top-shelf indoor cannabis. The interesting thing is that our environmental impact is positive, costs of operations are lower and our efficiencies are higher. Lowering the cost of operations is critical but doing them in an environmentally friendly way is even more critical. It really is the best of both worlds.

I believe sustainability should be taking place across all aspects of cannabis. In California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control requires certified hauliers to remove any cannabis waste — like stems and miscellaneous biomass — in a locked drum or container. It’s fairly expensive and very wasteful. We want to be able to take our waste and turn it back into something useful, not just bury it in the ground because the BCC considers it a hazard. So, we’re in the processes of obtaining authorization from the local county government to be able to take our waste and send it to our nursery site. This zero-waste program essentially creates a circular economy, not to mention a healthier soil program for our own growing.

We work with a company who has a soils program, the founder used to be with the Rodale Institute.  They are creating a compost program and implementing regenerative agriculture practices, which has multiple benefits: the crops produce more; the soils are healthier; the local climate is healthier, and those products are typically consumed in the local market and can fetch a higher price point.

Sustainable cannabis growing is all about reducing the negative impact on the environment. 3 Bros Grow demonstrates that sustainability in vertical agriculture can be achieved, that is profitable, and it is good for the planet and good for people.

How does the packaging that’s required for the sale of regulated products work into your sustainability model?

All 3 Bros Grow products are packaged using the most sustainable and environmentally conscious packaging available, like soy-based inks, recycled ocean-based plastics and bio-based plastic or hemp-based plastics. We’re talking to companies that are emerging that are using hemp fibers in this space.

I hate plastic. The amount of excess plastic and packaging used in the cannabis industry is a nightmare. The world’s starting to realize that plastic is going to kill us, and we’ve got to be able to find alternative packaging materials to be able to do it.

I think that as an industry, we need to insure everyone uses sustainable solutions. Right now, it is a little bit more expensive to use sustainable packaging. But in our opinion, it’s worth it to not pollute the planet and delay that cost into some future generation. Plus, I think we should be supporting our own industry to help it evolve — even if it costs a little bit more in the packaging up front for hemp fiber and plastic to come to market. From my perspective, it’s the right thing to do. 

What are the benefits of sustainable growing techniques?

You create a healthier, cleaner and consistent product. You also lower or remove your carbon footprint. And you lower your costs of operation. All three of these are important from a business perspective. You always have to have the lowest cost of business operations possible, so you can have a margin and continue to grow, expand and do what you need to in the marketplace. But from an environmental perspective, you have to do what’s right up front and every day.  

Can you tell me about your community programs, like the compassionate program 3 Bros Grow started during the pandemic?

We want to support the community that’s supported us. Any company can make money, but it is important to give to the community that supports us. We take a portion of our proceeds during a month and give that to a local nonprofit.

When COVID-19 came around, we decided to start a compassion program for people who were struggling. We reached out to a lot of the vendors we work with and we had an overwhelming response; they donated products to us, and we donated it to our less-fortunate customers. Not just cannabis products — we donated large amounts of food to the community, too. We did the same thing when the fires came; we reached out to a lot of our vendors and created a compassion program.

3 Bros grow is committed to supporting the community.

We also support minority-owned companies and local brands that are trying to get in the market. We’ll bring their product in, give them some shelf space, get them some attention through our social media platforms and, most importantly, try to give them additional margin on their products. We truly believe that it’s not just about growing our business – it’s about supporting the industry. It’s about making the industry better.

In your opinion, what’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when talking about cannabis?

Educating people that cannabis is not a harmful thing – it’s really a helpful thing. I have friends who are veterans who treat themselves for PTSD with cannabis. I have friends who are senior citizens that treat themselves with cannabis for pain. I have friends who treat themselves for anxiety. I have friends that have weaned themselves off major opiates and other addictions by using cannabis and other cannabinoid products.

Cannabis is a crop you can grow in a really sustainable manner and deliver it into local markets where it creates local jobs. It helps people. It’s a healthy product. That Reefer Madness type of mentality has really been politically driven in the past and comes from corporations and the government — they want to keep this plant out of the people’s hands, unfortunately.

How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?

One thing the industry doesn’t do very effectively as a collective group is get together to push legislation that actually supports our industry. As a united industry, we should be reaching out to the political parties, to demand the legislation that we need that will allow us to continue to thrive and scale. There are still too many people who are focused on their own operations and aren’t spending time thinking about the big picture.

Cities, Counties and States want the sales tax revenues, but they don’t want to create the banking and infrastructure support that’s required for the industry to evolve. You can’t bleed tax money from the cannabis industry but also not have the legislation that supports it. It’s counterintuitive and counterproductive.

The cannabis industry pays a lot in tax, and at the same time think about the job creation that it brings to the community. It’s huge. Somewhere between 250-350,000 jobs have been created in the last few years. The only other industry that’s been on par with that has been the renewable energy industry. But unlike other verticals, we’re not supported, and we don’t have a united voice from the political perspective that will push the legislation that should be in place.

The amount of compliance we have to go through on the banking side means spending several thousand dollars a month in banking fees, cash pickup fees, and everything else. We’re fortunate that we actually have a bank account. Just recently, we’ve been able to start taking electronic payments. But in order to do that, we get charged a 3.5 percent transaction fee that we have to pass on to the consumer. In any other industry, you’d have a normal credit card system that would be half a percent, or one percent — maybe 50 cents. But there’s hardly anyone in electronic payments that wants to deal with you. We’re in the middle of expansion, so we’re talking to multiple different finance groups and capital groups. If this were any other industry, we could go out and get a regular credit line, pay a couple of percent and get a credit line of a couple of million dollars, no problem. In this industry, that doesn’t exist.

What’s next for 3 Bros Grow?

We’re continuing to expand. We’re doing some collaborations with some large brands. We just signed an agreement with Sherbinski to cultivate and manufacture some product for them using our environmental approach.  We are working with a couple of their genetics and bringing them to the products to the market that shows the climate-positive impact. We’re also working with some other brands to make create new products that come into the market in a sustainable manner.

Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?

You have to be able to tolerate pain; you have to be able to jump through hoops, and you have to be compassionate and, in our opinion, serve the community.

If you’re in Santa Cruz, be sure to swing by the 3 Bros Grow dispensary.

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Industry Innovators

Gav Lawson: How THTC Helped Make Hemp Hip

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Gav Lawson THTC
PHOTOS | Courtesy of THTC

The Hemp Trading Company, aka THTC, has revolutionized eco-friendly fashion.

The London-based company brought hemp to the high street two decades ago with the launch of the brand’s sustainable clothing line comprised of garments made from hemp, organic cotton, and other sustainable materials.

THTC merges music, art, and activism. The clothing line features T-shirts designed by artists such as Mau Mau, whose urban artwork is known for its cultural commentary.

The company grew from a college-run business to the award-winning global brand it is today. Musicians and celebrities like Woody Harrelson, Redman, Method Man, members of UB40, Ed Sheeran and world Beatbox champion Alexinho are just a few of the personalities known to have supported THTC.

Some of the THTC’s earliest and most popular prints include: “George Bush & Son Family Butchers (Est. 1989)” – originally released in 2001 – and “Weapon of Choice,” a T-shirt worn by artists and activists for over 16 years.

Not all designs are politically explicit; other prints showcase collaborations — like “King David” and “Born Free” — between THTC and organizations including the World Land Trust, Born Free Foundation, and The Refugee Community Kitchen.

THTC’s founder, Gav Lawson, talks exclusively to us about building the award-winning eco-fashion line, and the company’s newest collections.

The Beginnings of Something Sustainable

L-R: Woody Harreslon, THTC founders Gav and Drew Lawson.

Lawson founded the ethically driven streetwear brand alongside his brother, Drew, and friend Daniel Sodergren in 1999 while they attended universities in Hull and Bristol respectively. Together they formed the campus hemp awareness societies called Hempology, which became the basis for THTC.

“It took a few years for the brand to gain traction,” said Lawson, who is now the sole owner. “I didn’t know if the company would take off. We were so ahead of our time; ethical or organic clothing was not really a thing in the 90s.”

Almost four years ago, Lawson was joined by digital marketing expert Ashwin Bolar, who has vastly helped transform the company’s online strategy and boost their social media presence.

“Ashwin has been a great help to THTC,” said Lawson. “He is a very talented digital marketer and brings a lot to the table. Since he joined, our number of Facebook followers has more than doubled to almost 55,000. He also creates THTC’s graphics.”

THTC made its move into the mainstream when it became the first ethically minded clothing brand to be carried in Virgin Megastores.

“That was big for us,” Lawson said, “It had always been our aim to bring hemp to the high street and Richard Branson gave us that first opportunity.”

TK Maxx (the U.K. version of TJ Maxx) also started to carry THTC garments in more than 80 of its retail shops.

“THTC became one of their most popular t-shirt brands and we were the first hemp product to be stocked in their stores,” Lawson said.

“Ethical Consumer Magazine” ranks THTC as the U.K.’s most ethical independent menswear brand. British newspaper the Observer’s annual Ethical Awards also recognized the company as runner up for “Best Fashion Product” in 2004. In addition to its many accolades, Lawson earned a PEA award – the UK’s “biggest green awards” – for his achievements.

THTC recently paired up with Colorado-based Hoodlab Store, who is now the brand’s official U.S. distributor.

Finding THTC Brand Champions

Method Man and Redman wearing THTC tees.

When asked why THTC found success as an eco-fashion brand when others did not, Lawson credited it to years of networking, brand champions, and his small staff.

He spent more than a decade promoting his brand on the club scene, giving away T-shirts, and sharing his passion and vision for THTC. Through this experience, he said, he found champions of the brand, or people who wear THTC products “[…] because they are proud to.”

“People are often too busy in their own lives to worry about trying to save the world,” Lawson said. “They don’t know where to start, or that wearing one t-shirt made from organic hemp compared to conventionally grown cotton can save up to 2,500 liters of fresh water.”

THTC customers feel empowered just by wearing a T-shirt, a term he described as “armchair activism.”

“It becomes infectious,” Lawson said.

Making Sustainability Stylish

Josh Whitehouse (musician from ‘More Like Trees’ and actor from ‘Poldark’) in “Evil Mac” tee.

THTC revolutionized sustainable fashion by taking it from boring to trendy.

“Most environmentally friendly brands lead with their environmental credentials,” Lawson said. “We wanted THTC to be design-led, so we focused on creating strong designs and a cool brand that people would be proud to wear, whether they are environmentally minded or not.

Men in the U.K. are one of the hardest demographics to sell ethical fashion to, said Lawson; “generally speaking, they couldn’t give a damn about saving the planet.”

That’s why the company focuses on marketing itself as a fashion label before being a political one, Lawson explained. “We try to be the first ethical purchase for people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily think about sustainability.”

Rising From the Ashes

MC GQ.

One of the biggest struggles in the company’s history came shortly after the economic crisis in 2008. A few years later, in 2013, a fire occurred at THTC’s screen-printing facility that destroyed their screen-printing machine and 12 years worth of screens, costing them thousands. As a result, Lawson put on an event at South London-based venue, Electric Brixton called “Re-Grow.”

The event featured a very impressive line-up comprising of many of THTC’s supporting musicians who came along and performed for free, said Lawson.

“I was overwhelmed by the goodwill from the people,” he said.

Another challenge, and a point of pride for Lawson, is keeping THTC products affordable.

“I’ve always kept prices as low as I can — the cost of producing sustainable, truly ethical fashion is astronomical compared to cheap, throwaway cotton,” he said. While shops like Primark (equivalent to a Forever 21 in the U.S.) “pay peanuts for a t-shirt, we’re paying around £8 [more than $10],” Lawson explained. “We screen print all of our designs in London, usually with water-based and discharge printing processes.

The price of hemp, and other eco-friendly fabrics are already expensive enough, he said, “We try to make our products as affordable as possible.”

Transparency Through the Production Line

Lawson and the THTC factory workers.

Lawson recently visited China, documenting his visit to the two facilities that produce their hemp clothing. THTC is currently editing a mini-documentary about the experience which is being produced by THTC’s video creator Spelt Productions.

The moment people hear about production in China, “They assume you’re working with sweatshops,” said Lawson. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The factories producing THTC garments are small, with between 12-20 staff. They are not exposed to harsh chemicals due to the nature of the products made, and a shared commitment to sustainability. They work from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and take regular holidays.

Lawson is quick to remind others that poor working environments occur everywhere. It is countries like China, he asserted, that need ethical production facilities more than anywhere.

“Plus,” he said, “hemp has been in Chinese culture for thousands of years. They’re way ahead of the game in terms of how the fabric is manufactured.”

For those reasons, he is proud of how and where THTC clothes are made.

Lawson is focused on transparency and sustainability throughout the entire production line. The company has produced ranges with upcycling businesses such as My Only One, and Good One, turning old garments into new styles.

Future THTC Fashions

THTC just released their spring collection this April, which includes new prints such as “System of a Mau,”  “The Missing Peace” and “Get Back to Your Own Country,” as well as reprinting 16 past favorite designs such as “Get Rich or Try Sharing”, “Just A Ride” and “Plastic Fish.”

THTC is preparing to launch a line of THTC accessories that includes socks, underwear, wallets, belts, flexible ball caps, and more.

In the near future, Lawson also hopes to expand into the white label market, and create prints for dispensaries or other companies who are seeking sustainable merchandise.

To keep up to date with THTC’s new drops and news, give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit their website and enter CANNABIS-AFICIONADO-15 for a 15 percent discount on everything in the THTC range excluding charitable collaboration designs.

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Industry Innovators

Casey Georgeson: Setting a Higher Standard for Clean, Green Beauty

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Casey Georgeson

Casey Georgeson is the CEO and Founder of Saint Jane, a luxurious, 100% clean CBD beauty collection that has taken the CBD beauty category by storm since its launch in January 2019.

You could say entrepreneurialism is in her DNA. Coming from the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine family dynasty, Georgeson has spent her career developing beauty brands for Sephora, including Marc Jacobs, Disney for Sephora as well as the hugely successful wine brand, Cupcake Vineyards.

Georgeson is passionate about the powerful benefits of CBD and whole plant science. I spoke to her about her journey to becoming a cannabis entrepreneur, the importance of transparency and the story behind Saint Jane.

CA: Tell me about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.

Casey Georgeson: My family has a history of entrepreneurship. My great-grandmother was a mail-order bride from Italy (yes that was a real thing!) who came over in the 1900s. She and my great-grandfather grew grapes in the San Joaquin Valley with their seven children. At the end of The Prohibition, still in the Great Depression, she saw an opportunity to use their vineyards for winemaking. She took out a $10,000 loan, using the farm as collateral. She gave $5,000 to her sons, the Franzia brothers, to start a winery; and $5,000 to her son-in-law, Ernest Gallo, to start a winery with his brother, Julio.

Essentially, a 4’10” mail-order bride started two of the largest wine companies out there. That story always resonated with me and even though I never had the chance to meet her — I’ve always admired the confidence it must have taken to do that as a woman in the 1930s. My uncle was also an entrepreneur and I learned a great deal from him throughout the years, watching him create a business.

I started my career as a producer for CNN and got into the wine industry as a brand creator where I developed a brand called Cupcake Vineyards. I went to business school at Stanford and interned at Sephora. It was there that I had this extraordinary training in the beauty industry and in product development and formulations. Once I graduated, I worked at Kendo, Sephora’s brand incubator. My role was to sit as the liaison between the brands we partnered with — Marc Jacobs, Elizabeth and James, Disney, Hello Kitty, Kat Von D— and articulate their vision in the world of beauty and that would ultimately lead to the building of their brands.

I had been creating brands for many years and thought I want to create my own brand at some point. It might be beauty. It might be wine. I just knew I wanted to do something on my own, but it had to be a really big idea.

When I discovered CBD in 2017, I first began really thinking about creating my own brand. It all started when I read a PopSugar article on CBD. The headline was, NATURE’S XANAX MEETS ADVIL. I was like, what is this natural miracle molecule? I immediately went to the dispensary and said to the budtender, “Show me everything you have that’s high CBD, low THC.” They showed me all these products that were really crunchy and hippie. Some formulated for the skin, some ingestible. This was in 2017.

Next to all these products that the budtender put out, was a list of all the things CBD was purported to do. You know that list, it’s very impressive and kind of shakes you to your core. Inflammation. Pain. Sleep. Anxiety. Gut health. Sleep. I thought, ‘If CBD does even one of these things, it is truly one of the most powerful skincare ingredients of our time.’ For topical use, most of the products dealt with pain management and were paired with MCT oil, because it was the easiest and it’s what was most commonly used for ingestibles. But, at the time, nobody was formulating with true skincare ingredients that would be at the level of something you would find at a luxury retailer.

That’s when I saw the opportunity. I would pair CBD with other really potent botanicals, that support the CBD mission for the skin, I knew it was an incredible idea. I went deep into learning about CBD and botanicals and Saint Jane was born.

What a journey! Can you tell me a little about the name Saint Jane?

Saint Jane has two meanings.

One, it’s the innocent side of Mary Jane, because CBD will not get you high.

Two, Saint Jane was an actual person in 1500s France. She was anointed into sainthood for healing people. Specifically, healing women, which society would otherwise never touch: the old, the very sick, unwed mothers. She dedicated her whole life to healing. Her story has been very inspiring to us because our products focus on nurturing, healing and we have a very authentic female empowerment story, as well. I have three daughters and the company is comprised of all women.

It’s truly a gift to have Saint Jane’s legacy as a foundation for the brand. Our approach is healing-centric and the way we’ve expressed that through the brand feels very authentic.

How amazing that you can pay homage to somebody who otherwise would’ve been forgotten in the mists of time, that’s beautiful.

The idea of reimagining this woman who was so important to society and culture for her to devotion to helping people, through this modern lens, is really inspiring. I had 16 years of Catholic school, yet I’m not religious. But this has inspired a renewed faith for me… in our own mission for women as Saint Jane.

What makes Saint Jane different from other CBD skincare products on the market?

I think the biggest difference is the way we’ve crafted the products. It’s about the whole plant story and other botanicals that we pair with CBD. It’s not just CBD for the sake of it. We thoughtfully match CBD with botanicals that support the cannabinoid’s mission of calming, soothing and nurturing the skin.  The botanicals work in concert.

We’re also passionate about full-spectrum CBD — the whole plant extract — because we believe in the entourage effect. Rich endocannabinoid receptors in the skin benefit from those minor cannabinoids found in full-spectrum products.

We also believe in higher concentrations of CBD. When we started, there were a lot of debates around topicals and dosages. It felt so instinctual to me that a higher concentration would be most efficacious for the skin. My background in beauty taught me about performance and the end benefit. If your product works, you’re going to have people come back to you. I believe that our results-driven formulas really express that.

We’re also 100% clean. Our philosophy around clean is also non-negotiable. My second daughter was born very small, underweight. It’s called ‘Small for Gestational Age’ (SGA). We were terrified by that because my older daughter had been born at a normal weight. Juliet was shockingly tiny. We kept trying to figure out why and one of my doctors asked if I had been exposed to any chemicals while pregnant.  At the time, I was developing fragrances, nail polishes. So, I flashback to those windowless offices where I was developing those products and I couldn’t tell anyone I was pregnant yet — it was my first trimester. In the end, we’ll never know; it was inconclusive if there was a correlation. But since then, clean has been non-negotiable and if I was going to create my own product line and collection, it needed to be as clean as it gets. My daughter is amazing and thriving today, but I never would want someone else to go through that. Clean is essential to our ethos.

Transparency and testing are the last ones. Trust is important to us. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the vendors and suppliers that I chose when I started Saint Jane. Back before the Farm Bill, it was really like the Wild West. I didn’t know who to trust as I was getting these packages of white powder delivered to my home. Or these full-spectrum extracts in syringes. I went through my own vetting process with vendors. My mission was to find the best of the best. I retested everything myself with third-party vendors and was shocked to see what I received was often different from what the paperwork stated.

That integrity of testing has stayed integral to the brand since we launched. We test four times during the supply chain to make sure everything is matching up and that we can stand behind everything were putting out there. Every batch is different and we have to stay true to that dedication to the integrity behind it.

Saint Jane has just been stocked by Sephora stores. Congratulations on such an amazing achievement. Can you tell me about that process?

Sephora has been an amazing partner, they’ve been incredibly insightful about our brand, they see our potential, so it’s been really rewarding to work with them. Being in Sephora stores is a huge validation. We’re still so small, still so indie and we are just getting started. Even though I had Sephora experience, I didn’t think they’d take a little brand like ours within our first year. It’s very full circle for me and we’re so grateful for their partnership.

The retailers we work with have been incredibly supportive across the board, too. As a CBD brand, we can’t operate like other normal indie skincare brands with Facebook, Instagram and Google advertising, so our retailers have been our storytellers. They’ve been our platform for brand awareness. We feel so grateful.

You recently announced Dr. June Chin has joined the team as your Chief Medical Advisor. Can you tell me about what that means for Saint Jane?

Dr. Chin is a recognized name in the cannabis space. She’s a longtime advocate of CBD and its healing potential — and not just in skincare. Because we pride ourselves on clean clinical-grade formulas, it made sense to partner with a doctor who shares our passion. She’s just been next level on understanding the power of the plant and has a background in plant-based medicine. CBD is one of the many plant-based ingredients that she’s passionate about. It’s been extraordinary to see the product through her eyes and getting it right as we don’t want to take a misstep on information. We want to make sure we’re architecting the narrative of CBD’s efficacy in the right way.

Who is Saint Jane aimed and why?

I would say we hope to reach people who want to transform their skin, with the powerful benefits of CBD. People are becoming more and more aware of CBD’s potential and we have an extensive range of customers who use it and are loyal to us. Luxury Beauty Serum is our hero product and it’s focused on skin condition and treatment. It has 20 botanicals that all focus on reducing irritation, balancing and detoxifying the skin. We have customers in their twenties through to their seventies who are all using our products and seeing results.

If you’re having a bad moment with your skin, it can impact on your confidence. It must be amazing to have made something that has an impact on someone’s life.

Hearing from customers has been the most rewarding thing since starting the brand. I talk about it a lot with my team. That’s why we’re doing it, to help people. And that’s the legacy of Saint Jane that we’re trying to honor.

What’s next for Saint Jane?

We have so many things coming up on the horizon. I have more ideas than I’m allowed by my team to bring to market. It’s really about staying focused and disciplined on what we bring to market, to make sure that everything we introduce meets our standards.

How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?

For one, there is a lot of product out there that is not being produced and marketed responsibly. The products that work and are responsibly crafted are going to rise to the top and gain customer loyalty. I think as an industry we are architecting transparency and how brands communicate integrity. As an industry, we need to make sure we can have standards that ensure quality, education, transparency and as much consistency as we can with a highly botanical product. I want founders, I want companies, other brands to rise to the occasion, to honor the potential of CBD.

As the saying goes, “the rising tide will lift all ships” and that’s what I believe will happen.

What trend do you predict for the CBD and cannabis skincare market in the next five years?

My biggest hope is that CBD is regarded as a skincare ingredient like Vitamin C or Peptides. That’s number one. It deserves a place in that roster.

Number two, there are so many benefits to the minor cannabinoids found in the plant, like CBG and CBN. I think we’re just getting started in terms of understanding the benefits found in the entire plant. As a brand, we’re looking deeply into that. There are benefits that have not been fully explored yet. It’s exciting and in the next year, the next five, we’re going to learn a lot about the minor nutrients in the whole plant.

People like you are setting the standard of this next generation of cannabis products.

Thank you, we’re trying. And, we are willing to put in the work to accomplish this.

What do you wish you knew when you started out in cannabis entrepreneurship?

I think there’s entrepreneurship and then there’s cannabis entrepreneurship. I would say with entrepreneurship, you have to be so comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Becoming a founder is committing to a lot, essentially a new life.  You’ve got to be ready to ride the rollercoaster, get used to not sleeping. The cannabis side is its own endless roadblocks, with payment processing issues, advertising headwinds, which I didn’t expect. I wish I’d know some of the challenges we were going to be up against.

Any pearls of wisdom that you’d like to bestow to other women who want to enter the cannabis industry?

Do it. Do it! Do it! Do it! There’s a fabulous group of women as leaders in the cannabis industry. There’s a real sense of community and I think that is unique. It’s very unique in beauty, certainly – which as an industry is comprised of mostly men. There’s so much opportunity out there. It is like post-Prohibition. Think about how many wine brands, alcohol brands, spirits, beer, have launched since prohibition. This is a new time, a new era. I think CBD benefits women so deeply. There’s something about the molecule and women that’s so powerful. It’s a very unique combination. I would say yes….  if you see an opportunity, go for it!

Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?

Patience. Agility. Integrity. I would say these are the top three. It has to go deeper than just being a market opportunity or a buzzword.  In cannabis, you have to be doing it for the right reasons in order to break through and to endure the saturation that’s coming.

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