A sign bearing the words “We Own The Future” draped across a building that you can see from the Moxy LES Factory Loft rooftop. Humble Bloom didn’t place it there, but they might as well have. Because the sign stood steadfastly in the background as speaker after speaker took the “High Seat” to talk about the cannabis industry and what it means to be Womxn in Weed, an apt reminder that those connected to the plant are creating a revolution.
What Is Humble Bloom’s Womxn Session?
On May 1st (AKA May Day, AKA International Workers Day), Humble Bloom hosted their signature Womxn Session to celebrate entrepreneurship and leadership in the cannabis space. A dynamic platform focused on curating experiences around cannabis education and community, Humble Bloom seeks to elevate and empower individuals and brands with consciousness. Co-founders Solonje Burnett and Danniel Swatosh wanted this particular Womxn Session to be a place where the womxn and nonbinary community could intimately discuss careers and the current state of the industry while enjoying refreshments and consuming to their hearts’ content.
At the Moxy LES Factory Loft, a private event venue high above the popular Lower East Side hotel Moxy NYC, guests, presenters, and sponsors alike networked in a haze of divine femininity. The space gets its name from Andy Warhol’s famous Factory, and like that classic spot, the assemblage at the Factory Loft were all stars - pioneers in their various fields, business titans, champion communicators, visionary artists, healers, scientists, activists.
The event was sponsored by Union Square Travel Agency, a New York state-licensed dispensary partnered with The Doe Fund, a nonprofit which aims to reduce recividism and homelessness through job training. A sponsorship from Etain Health, New York's first women-owned medical dispensary, boosted Humble Bloom's Fair Play Fund - an initiative which allows people from communities impacted by the War on Drugs to attend the session for free.
After welcoming the throng, Burnett and Swatosh commenced the evening’s program, a rapid-fire series of speaker Q&As as each notable figure enjoyed a bit of limelight. Acclaimed journalists Mona Zhang of Politico and Danielle Guercio moderated the sessions with the luminaries, who offered insights into everything from marketing to operating a startup to policy and even generating change within your own family.
Speaker Highlights From Humble Bloom’s Womxn Session
Humble Bloom’s powerful speaker lineup at the Womxn Session featured so many pearls of wisdom. Here are a few of the takeaways we found incredibly powerful.
Mary Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive and founder of self-care brand Sheba Baby, urged advocacy for marginalized communities. “We need to get people out of jail… and make sure people who are melanated have access to capital,” she advised. She also encouraged everyone to practice good self-care. “You need to be okay,” Pryor said, adding that no one can help others without helping themselves first.
Arana Hankin-Biggers, President and co-founder of Union Square Travel Agency, extolled the virtues of versatility. “To be in cannabis, you have to be a jack of all trades,” she observed.
Jes Feuer, Marketing Director of Etain Health, shared her journey from the fashion industry into shaping the messaging for New York’s first women-owned medical dispensary. “I feel like cannabis has made me more creative than I’ve ever had to be,” she affirmed, explaining the ways that cannabis brands need to work around social media platforms and other advertising channels so they don’t get banned.
Karson Humiston, founder and CEO of the talent recruiting network Vangst, addressed the question of being underestimated as a young woman in the corporate world. Acknowledging that being underestimated can actually work to one’s advantage, the executive told the crowd that success is in the attitude: “You have to go into the meeting with confidence.”
Kate Miller, co-founder and CEO of sustainably-grown brand Miss Grass, brought up how evolving to meet your consumers’ changing needs is both crucial but also difficult. “A challenge still today is lack of data,” she said, arguing that it’s impossible to imagine the cannabis consumer as a particular “type” of person when not only do folks of all backgrounds and experiences have a relationship with the plant, but the current data available minimizes the contributions from women and people of color. If we’re looking for smart numbers, we need to start questioning our sources for them.
Aja Atwood, CEO of Trella Technologies, which provides technical solutions to indoor and urban farming operations, reminded aspiring entrepreneurs to prioritize their own visions above getting an investor. “Getting [venture capital] funding is not the norm,” she stated. “Don’t put a lot of energy into finding an investor because that’s really a marriage.” Instead, she advocated that entrepreneurs build their businesses in ways that feel genuine to their missions.
Tahira Rehmatullah, Partner at Highlands Venture and co-founder of wellness brand Commons, echoed these sentiments. “Partnering with the right people is so important,” she emphasized. But so is examining the holistic industry and how it fits into the social landscape overall. In her new book Waiting to Inhale: Cannabis Legalization and the Fight for Racial Justice, Rehmatullah asks readers to heed a powerful call for the racial reckoning that deepened with the War on Drugs and still exists as the cannabis industry has been transitioning to legal. “How do we fix what we broke?” the author queried. “We are all continuously responsible.”
Kristina Lopez Adduci
Kristina Lopez Adduci, founder and CEO of lifestyle brand House of Puff, also spoke about intentional partnering. “If we’re not aligned in mission and goals… then godspeed,” she remarked. “I love to do business with people who over-communicate [and] who respond promptly.” She observed that cannabis brands have a duty to explain their stories to the public at every opportunity: “It’s not just about selling product, it’s also about educating the consumer.”
Meryl Montgomery, co-founder and CEO of Barbari, explained how the brand’s focus on botanical products and plant-based wellness opened their team to a wider audience. “We created a product that we’re able to sell without the border of a dispensary,” she said. Montgomery also mentioned how vital it is for business owners to protect their data and understand their own systems. Recalling how her practice of constantly backing up Barbari’s website data saved the company when they switched to a new e-commerce platform, the business leader added that every learning experience gives you value as an entrepreneur. “My value is not tied to material wins,” she concluded.
Melany Dobson, co-founder and CEO of Hudson Cannabis, illustrated overcoming similar obstacles when the brand’s Instagram account was taken down. She used the power of community by going to LinkedIn and bringing messaging directly to an industry network that knew what her brand stood for, which allowed the account to be restored. Excited for New York’s changing views on cannabis, Dobson summed up her company’s evolution from Hudson Hemp to Hudson Cannabis by saying, “It’s all one plant… We let go of hemp and embraced cannabis.”
Lulu Tsui, co-founder and Chief Experience Officer of On The Revel, opened up about how her family’s emotional support inspired her when venturing into the industry. As she remembered their willingness to let her talk about the benefits of cannabis and to be proud of her accomplishments, she marveled, “The fact that an Asian family… can have that attitude of openness [means so much]. It starts with family and then it goes into community and that is how we enact change.”
Vic Styles, content creator and founder of Black Girls Smoke and Good Day Flor, was adamant that women should be taking the reins in sharing their cannabis journeys. “Where is the female Cheech and Chong?” she demanded. “It’s about creating these stories.”
Last Prisoner Project's Mikelina Yonas Belaineh On Cannabis As Restorative Justice
Closing out the sessions with a message that brought everything full-circle, Mikelina Yonas Belaineh, Director of Impact for Last Prisoner Project, spoke about the issues at the core of the cannabis industry. A Harvard Law School graduate, Belaineh grew up in Texas and endured the challenges of being a Black trans female-bodied person in an environment that wasn’t inclusive or supportive. They are proud to work for LPP, a restorative justice nonprofit making efforts to free thousands of cannabis prisoners around the country.
“The one thing no one’s talking about is how cannabis is driving local incarceration,” Belaineh intoned. “Mass incarceration is the number one effect of the war against cannabis… We have a moral dilemma where we simultaneously have people traumatized, while businesses and government are talking about how much money we can make off it.”
Ultimately, they asked the attendees to remember that “cannabis is a gender issue” as much as it is a racial issue. The problems we see in the cannabis space are reflective of the larger society and we as cannabis advocates can be agents of change. “Hire women and LGBTQIA+ people for your team,” Belaineh urged. “We can be a champion of healing.”
Looking Forward: What's Next For Womxn In Cannabis?
As the night wound down, the happy hum of the crowd turned to various engagements. Guests could get professional headshots done for free, sponsored by Vangst and taken by photographer and visual journalist Cindy Trinh. The musical stylings of multi-instrumentalist and composer Treya Lam uplifted the room. An engraving station set up by the good folks at PAX to personalize each guest’s ERA device brought an extra bit of fun to the proceedings.
The event's goody bags featured swag from: Union Square Travel Agency, Hudson Cannabis, PAX, Miss Grass, Calm Better Days, CannaCurious, ENUF, Para, Paige's Candle Co, Wisp, Saint Jane Beauty, Barbari, and Budder NYC. Honeysuckle was also proud to be a media partner for the unique gathering.
And as we bid goodbye to each other, swag bags in tow, we felt fullest in our heads and hearts. In solidarity, in sisterhood, in knowledge, in taking the courage to honor our achievements as individuals and as womxn, we forge a path where anything is possible. The sign outside is a sign in every sense: We own the future.
For more information about Humble Bloom, visit humblebloom.co or follow @humblebloomco on Instagram.