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Seattle entrepreneur April Pride shares her insights on the importance of good design, radically honest dialogue, and how Canada can be the best thing to happen to cannabis.
If you’re a cannabis consumer or executive, chances are you’ve bumped into April Pride or one of her products. Pride is a fixture on the cannabis conference circuit and the founder of Van der Pop, a cannabis lifestyle accessories company that launched in Seattle in 2016, was acquired by Tokyo Smoke in 2017, and then purchased by Canadian industry giant, Hiku, in 2018. Now it’s one of the most recognizable consumer packaged goods brands in the industry.
Pride has been called “the unofficial godmother of the women and weed moment.” When she’s not giving interviews or speaking at conferences, Pride and her team dish out advice on cannabis and sex, women’s health, beauty, and parenting in the Dear Vandy advice column on the Van der Pop website. After learning about cannabis, visitors can click through to Tokyo Smoke and buy Van der Pop accessories, which are stylish and relatable: a chic white clutch that also happens to be an odor-containing stash bag, pink and black pre-rolled papers ready to receive ground-up, federally legal cannabis flower, no previous rolling experience required. The company name is an homage to the guru of “less is more” mantra, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. The Pop part of the name is there because, well, it’s fun. And in conversation so is April Pride—something crucial to the world of cannabis.
We caught up with Pride while she was momentarily in Seattle. The Pride and Van der Pop success story is a case study in what it is to be a player in the business at this pivotal moment when established and fledgling brands in the US are forging partnerships with Canadian corporations. It requires from entrepreneurs agility, capital, and above all, education with a still nascent market. And of course, being open to the market educating them in turn.
For Pride, the nimbleness came in handy from the beginning. “I didn’t set out to design a brand specifically targeted at women,” says Pride. When she started the business, the aesthetics of the cannabis accessories industry leaned toward the crafty, the hippie, and the DIY. As a recreational user, Pride couldn’t find products that spoke to her. With a background in design, architecture, and fashion, she set out to fill the gap in the market for functional, good-looking accessories. Her first product was a collection of stash jars for cannabis with strain-specific functional labeling: focus, calm, sex, etc. They were gender neutral, in a deep violet, nearly black colour, and embossed with simple gold icons. “I saw a white space in good design,” says Pride. “I knew women make decisions in purchasing consumer packaged goods 85 percent of the time, and if we took some of the more gender neutral design creative you saw in other industries and applied that to cannabis it would look familiar and less off-putting.” The market response was instantaneous and almost 100 percent female. Within six weeks of launching she stopped marketing to men, the customer base grew exponentially, and Van der Pop became a female-first brand.
But to scale she needed capital. And lots of it. At first, it proved to be hard to come by. And then got even harder with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. “Suddenly we had a president that was anti-cannabis. This brand was important and people were connecting with it, and if we were going to make it work it was clear I had to go to Canada, or I was going to have to walk away from it,” Pride says. A cold email to Hiku CEO Alan Gertner turned into a meeting in Seattle that turned into an afternoon hang over beers, that turned into an acquisition. “Moving to Canada allowed us to truly become a cannabis company.”
As a veteran of the US cannabis industry, Pride marvels at the luxury of working in Canada and says that, comparatively, it’s an entrepreneurial utopia with regulations starting from a single source and changing to meet requirements. With legality taken care of and the support of one of the biggest licensed producers in the country, Pride has become an educator of the highest order. “I’m honoured to have this position,” she says. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
A lot of that work requires giving women space to share their stories that transcend the April Pride story on the Van der Pop content platform. “Part of Van der Pop’s authenticity comes from our commitment to sharing true stories from real women about their experience around cannabis. My story is just one story: I’ve not had to use cannabis for fibromyalgia. I wasn’t really a cannabis user when I was pregnant and nursing, but there are women who are faced with this now because cannabis is legal.”
Giving voice to the consumer is just one part of the equation. On the topic of women working within the cannabis industry, Pride says: “If we’re not out there advocating for what’s important for women and how it will make you money it’s not going to happen. That’s my lean.” Pride points out how crucial it is for female executives to be hired and promoted at the highest levels to create meaningful products for other female consumers. “After three years of being in the industry, I’ve learned that a woman’s not going to walk up to the male head of a cannabis company at a conference and spill their guts out.”
Seeing the value in an honest and open dialogue between business and consumer is just one part of the equation. And Pride doesn’t see the win-win stopping there. “Canada knows they’re the global leaders in this and they are investing in it as a government, municipalities and at the provincial level.” She cites the positive impact that Canopy Growth’s Tweed has had on the formerly economically depressed region in and around Smith Falls as an example of how meaningful the benefits of the cannabis can be. “The companies recognize across the board that they need to be good corporate stewards.”