Redefining Cannabis Culture: A Woman's Work

April 4, 2017

Laura Wolf

As The 3% Conference blog editor since May 2016, Laura Wolf collaborates with authors on the full cycle of article creation, in addition to managing a team of writers at the annual conference to recap and publish each session on the blog. Laura's day job is global content manager at POSSIBLE, where she is responsible for creating and managing website and editorial content for the agency's global marketing efforts.

April Pride

April Pride’s education, career and pursuits have always focused on design. The historical motifs studied at Parsons influenced her first product-focused company, which Pride sold four years after launch. This same year Pride introduced her eponymous fashion label and its signature piece, THE DRESS. A client in the cannabis space approached her to develop a "luxury cannabis lifestyle" brand. Van der Pop launched in January 2016 and was sold a year later to the parent company of Toronto-based Tokyo Smoke. Now chief creative officer overseeing both brands, she finds herself working hard to remind everyone that it’s okay to have a lot of fun.

I sat down with April Pride, CCO and founder of Van der Pop, to discuss her journey into the forefront of the burgeoning cannabis lifestyle industry.

Tell me about how you found yourself in the cannabis industry.

I got into the industry by accident. I had founded a company called April Pride to make and sell one dress designed after my 1970s vintage halter dress made by my mother-in-law. But, fashion has 16 seasons a year and there is no room for creativity; it’s nearly impossible to find success.

Once I made the move, I discovered that every single challenge that the fashion industry imposed to create a long-lasting brand, the cannabis industry solved:

  1. I would be entering into it first so I was immediately considered authentic
  2. I would have something that stands out—a lifestyle brand that transitions

I felt like I was a person who could do it right, instead of those ads and shops you see with pictures of topless women with marijuana leaves barely covering their breasts. Knowing my kids would be consumers in this industry eventually, I wanted to do it right. Those of us who are getting into it now, about 20 percent of us have the right approach, and that is only going to get better as awareness grows and more revenue dollars come in.

I like this because we get to make the rules and break the rules—intersection. For any person who’s interested in branding and making a company, there is room here.

What are some challenges you've faced breaking through in the cannabis industry, which is very entrenched in bro culture?

I’m a mom from Seattle with two kids—I live in a bubble. And yet, I have had more people high-fiving me from all the places I never expected.

We are fortunate in that there is a small handful of people who have the same attitude and aesthetic, and we found each other. The partnerships happened because we have that in common. 

When you get there first, you get the benefit of cultivating loyal fans early on. This is why we created an advice column. People, and women in particular, have a lot of questions about cannabis use, and that was un-realized by the traditional companies in this industry.

For example, female sexuality and how cannabis can solve some of the issues/complications around that is a hot topic, and women want a safe space to have that dialogue with other knowledgeable women they can trust.

Bro culture is an aspect, but also there are plenty of alternative brands coming up. And we are making people and brands who embody the antithesis of the bro culture stand out even more. Somehow their poor behaviour and advertising is forgiven because they’re stoners and they’re bros. How are people not reacting to this and calling it out as unacceptable? 

There are no HR departments in the cannabis industry, so we must lead by example. “Nip it in the bud, “ so to speak.

How does a women-owned business break through, and what advice would you give other women who want to make a go?

I don’t think of it as a women-owned business, I think of it as a mentorship opportunity. I’m the mentor, like it or not, which happens when you become older and women look to you for information. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

When I founded VdP the brand was intentionally gender-neutral, but realized early on it was a women-centric brand because that’s our voice and messaging we can convey in an authentic way. I realized that no one was speaking for us and the market’s reaction to us says that there’s a need—and we’re simply serving the need.

My advice is this:

Whatever you choose to do, it has to be absolutely true to who you are, something you are totally passionate about, that you and only you can add value to whatever it’s place is in an industry.

If it’s really something only you can do, then there’s no question you’ll be successful.

If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, like if you when you were 12 you always told yourself you would go to medical school but you really want to start an ice cream shop, it’s not going to work. It has to be sincere passion and that passion is the huge value that a woman brings to the table. 

As wacky as your idea is, as long as you’re passionate it will work. Start it as a side hustle, you don’t have to quit your job.  Leave no stones unturned.

What questions/comments do you have for the advertising industry?

When can we mainstream this from an advertising standpoint? The only publications cannabis is advertising in are industry pubs. We can’t advertise (except for on those horrible billboards).

I wonder what creative leaders in other industries see this unfolding? Will it turn to big pharma ads, or will we be able to show more of the lifestyle? What will be considered responsible advertising?

My advice to agencies:

Clients who don’t believe in this will choose to leave agencies that serve cannabis-industry clients.

Have no fear, there’s plenty of cash and need in this emerging industry to fill the void. If you—as an agency head—are passionate about the space, take the chance. And we in the industry want advertisers to choose this because they care to create better ads for our brands. The industry ads as a whole right now are all shit because there are no options. There are a few agencies that have popped up who cater to cannabis but they’re not producing the high-level creative we need.

Have some trust and faith this is all going to work out, and we can do great work together.

Do you have any final thoughts?

About a year ago, Gloria Steinem came to Seattle on a book tour promoting her biography. She left many lasting impressions. In particular and in retrospect—one has become apt when relaying my place in the emerging cannabis space. 

She said that black women were the first to push a feminist cause.  When she began embracing and sharing the same cause, Steinem understood the context of society that contributed to her—as a middle-class white woman—getting attention for this cause from greater society.

There are parallels in the cannabis space, which is described as "emerging." In reality, there have been women activists for decades. As an example, Mary Jane Rathbun, aka Brownie Mary, delivered pot brownies to AIDS patients in San Francisco. The distinction between "emerging" and "founding" is huge. Those of us working to push normalization into mainstream are continuing the long fought cause and not throwing the first stones. There were so many other women that came before us that deserve that credit.