The founder and CEO of Kush and Cute and The Hemp Honey Shop, curated canna-shops inspired and created by women of color, speaks to us about her thoughts on inclusivity, representation, and accessibility within the space.
We were instantly inspired when we heard Iyana speak about her brands and inclusivity when she was on a panel for The Hussle Lab's Smoke Screenings launch.
Iyana was introduced to cannabis her first year of college recreationally, "I had friends that smoked weed, I just was never really into it but going into my first year of college was very stressful and anxiety-inducing so I decided to just try it one day when a girlfriend of mine offered." Through her consumption, she became more educated and realized why and how it was helping her, which led to her officially becoming a medical patient/user in 2016.
2016 also happened to be the year that Iyana started working in the cannabis industry. She quickly noticed a lack of representation and inclusion in the space. Within her first role, she was the only woman and POC at the company. "As I did more work and went to dispensaries and events I realized I usually was the only black woman in the room. Instead of becoming discouraged by it I just had the thought 'Well what if I build my own thing?' but didn’t really act on it for a while until I didn’t have a choice. After that job I was very broke and needed to make some money quickly so I bought supplies, opened an Etsy shop, made my first batch of products, and created Kush & Cute. I honestly never intended or never imagined it to exist this long and grow this much but I’m incredibly grateful that it has and now Kush & Cute is such a big part of me and my life."
Kush & Cute creates and provides handmade hemp and CBD skin-care as well as cannabis-inspired supplies and accessories. Their mission is to provide products that educate and encourage women of all ages to add cannabis to their daily skincare and self-care routines. We aim to help de-stigmatize the plant and hope to be part of increasing diversity and inclusivity in the ever-growing industry.
Iyana found that the business triggered an evolution in both her industry and personal life. "Once I realized I can create and build the things I want to see in the industry I just continued doing it. Now I help other cannabis entrepreneurs with marketing and branding and just giving general advice when I can (my DM’s are always open to questions)."
Iyana's vision is carried through all of her projects; The Hemp Honey shop where she is creating a platform to help people find and shop all black-owned and woman-owned CBD and hemp brands all in one place. Through her podcast “Wine Weed & Weave” where she is able to have conversations with other black women in cannabis and support and amplify their work and experiences in this industry. "Everything I do in this industry now I pretty much do to continue to represent women of color in cannabis in a positive way and to continue to start conversations on how we can help support more black and brown cannabis entrepreneurs and businesses."
Iyana has faced stigmas for both her personal consumption and her businesses. "I will never forget my close friend's dad asking me 'So how’s the drug dealing business going?' and I didn’t sell at all, he just knew I worked in cannabis and did something with weed. I think for him and a lot of people they just thought all you can do with cannabis as a career/job was selling it and smoking it. So I have had to have those conversations with friends and family and really explain to them what I do and what’s happening with cannabis now so they understand that this isn’t just like dime bags and dealers anymore it’s a whole community and industry that’s thriving. This idea that weed is dangerous or harmful to me or my career has definitely been a stigma I’ve had to work through but now after much convincing and then seeing the industry grow they understand."
She also was privy to a lot of shocked responses from patients when they saw a WOC who knew her stuff and knew cannabis. "I would often have white male customers/patients I would give recommendations to and they just didn't trust my word and would like to go to my male coworkers with less experience and ask, then when my coworkers would agree with me it was great because that was a moment of education for the customer. In that moment they learned they had this bias about what a cannabis expert looks or sounds like, and because I’m a professional and educated WOC in cannabis it surprises people sometimes. My response is usually not defensive or offended. I understand why people think that way because for years the hippie white guy was considered the weed expert, and now it’s all types of people that are in the industry and educating people. So continuing to stay in this space and not get discouraged when things like that happen is how I’ve been able to push through that stigma."
She also understands that people have different opinions about cannabis and sometimes you just can’t change their minds about it. "I have probably tried to have that conversation with certain people multiple times and once I realized I just couldn’t convince them and they were going to remain stuck in their ideas about cannabis then it just wasn’t going to happen. Funny enough though, some of the people that originally didn’t support it now smoke weed or have asked me questions about the weed industry later on."
Iyana is most excited by the future of inclusivity within the space. She is seeing more and more women of color in this space, getting interested and involved, and she now knows that women of color in the cannabis community can really grow in this industry together. "The cannabis community and industry is doing a lot better at making sure POC and WOC are represented in the branding and marketing which I really appreciate because when I first started I very rarely saw black and brown people in cannabis-related marketing at all. Myself and other women in the industry I know who are content creators or fellow business owners have really had to push and fight to get the cannabis industry to understand why we need to be seen and heard in media and ads for cannabis brands. We consume cannabis and are a big part of the cannabis culture and industry, so there's no reason for a cannabis brand to not have diversity in their ads at this point, period."
Education and evolution have been important factors to Iyana even in her personal consumption ideology, "Back in the early legal days I think for me and everyone else we were just so excited to have access to legal weed so it was all about getting products that got you super high and being super high. Now when I consume or shop I really look at the ingredients, terpenes, and quality when I purchase products cause I’m not just trying to get really high I’m always using weed to help me in some way whether it be able to eat, sleep, be less anxious, or whatever else. I use and view cannabis as medicine way more often now than I used to."
Iyana's mental and physical health have benefited tremendously because of cannabis, CBD, THC, and hemp. "I use all of them daily in various forms/products for skincare, anxiety, depression, chronic health pains, cramps, sleep, so much more. I don’t know how I was surviving before I was consuming, I was just uncomfortable all the time, and having cannabis makes me feel like I have control of my body and mind again."
She is crushing stigmas daily when it comes to representation, business ownership, productivity, and beyond. She wants to remove the consumption stigma of the lazy or unproductive pothead, " If you don’t consume cannabis you think cannabis makes you either lazy or uncontrollable when that’s not true at all. I actually have more control of my brain and body when I consume, sometimes it actually gives me clarity and helps me think clearer. I always say whoever says stoners are unproductive is a liar, because for myself and many other people cannabis helps us move and think and get creative."
When it comes to new budding canna-preneurs, Iyana provided this advice, "Just start and if you don’t know how to start or how to do something just research and reach out to experts that do. DM’s and emails are a great way to get information from other people in the industry or brands you want to work with, you never know what can happen and oftentimes people in this industry are happy to respond and share because we’re all learning about this industry at the same time. It’s new to all of us so don’t feel like you don’t know enough or don’t have enough experience to get into the industry. Collaboration and education are a key component of succeeding in this industry."
She also had some wonderful insights on steps we can take as a community to help make the space more accessible and representative. "Buy and support cannabis brands that are black-owned, buy from brands that support BLM and have initiatives to give money to organizations that support inclusivity or are making actual efforts to add diversity to their staffing and marketing. Ask your local dispensary how they support the community or if they carry any black-owned brands? If we ask these questions and continue to support it we’ll see more of happening in the industry. But if we continue to support big brands that don’t care about diversity, equity, and inclusivity then they’ll continue to push out the smaller and family-owned companies and black and brown owned companies that actually do care about how they are represented and who they represent for."
When it comes to what's next for Iyana and her brands, there is a lot in the works. " I have lots of new product ideas in the works for Kush & Cute. I haven’t developed new products in years so I’m excited I’m getting creative with the plant and products again." She is also continuing work on The Hemp Honey shop with hopes of launching in 2021. Kush & Cute has three new products coming out very soon, along with holiday bundles. Her podcast will have a new merch line that is launching soon as well. "I’m also in general just trying to be more active online as “The Marijuana Iyana” so I can provide information to more people on cannabis and cannabis & CBD marketing tips so I’ll be involved in a few upcoming virtual events and projects."
We are incredibly inspired by the work Iyana is doing and the conversations she is starting inside and out of the canna-space. We truly believe in her vision and the importance of normalization, representation, communication & accessibility. She left us with her insights on how the world as a whole can benefit from canna-normalization, "Today’s world can benefit from cannabis in so many ways. If cannabis became fully legalized everywhere it could be studied and used for medicine even more than it already has, it can be used to build things, it can be used to rebuild and give back to the communities most damaged by the criminalization of cannabis."