After working as a marketing director for a big-name corporate cannabis company for many years in New York City, Tracy Anderson decided it was time to branch out and create a brand he truly believed in. With a desire to run his company on his own terms, Tracy called upon a few trusted creatives to join him on his new endeavor, a cannabis company called Pure Beauty.
The environmentally conscious, consumer-centered, and artfully curated cannabis company is run by three people. Tracy, who runs all marketing initiatives, has a background in branding and marketing within the fashion, consumer electronics, cannabis, and streetwear spaces. Irwin Matutina is responsible for the company’s clean aesthetic. As Pure Beauty’s creative director, Irwin oversees all things artistic and lends his expertise gleaned from years of experience in design, branding, and marketing. The third member of Pure Beauty’s team is Imelda Walavalkar, the brand's CEO. Imelda manages the business and finance end of things, and as Tracy and Irwin both said in unison, “Imelda’s the boss!”
We met with the Los Angeles-based brain trust that is Pure Beauty to discuss their strikingly beautiful packaging, social justice initiatives, the art of viewing their cannabis supply as a farmer’s market, and what’s on the horizon for the cannabis space.
Tracy, prior to starting Pure Beauty, you worked for about six years in the cannabis marketing space. How have you drawn upon this marketing knowledge and applied it to your own cannabis brand? Are you approaching cannabis marketing differently than other companies?
Anderson: People think there are already so many brands within the cannabis space that the ship has sailed [to start a new one], but I feel like we’re just getting started. I feel like we’re just scratching the surface here. When I was working for another company within the cannabis space, I wasn’t feeling super satisfied with what I was doing, with respect to the organization I was working with. I guess personal fulfillment wasn’t there. I just saw the opportunity and I felt very boxed in. I was also living in New York at the time because it was a larger organization that I was working for. So I packed up my bags and moved to LA and basically started thinking about what I could create on my own, which is when I brought Irwin and Imelda into the picture and we sort of collectively came up with Pure Beauty. We’ve been running ever since and it’s sort of taken on its own form. I think we applied some of the traditional branding approaches to the cannabis space but also it’s a very fragmented, regionalized marketplace. So we’re very specialized in the type of marketing that we do.
Are you feeling more personally fulfilled by what you’re doing now?
Anderson: Yeah, because it’s not a job. We’re doing what we want to do. The rules are defined by us, not by a board of directors that says we need to come out in the market and position ourselves in a certain way and have certain brand pillars or brand values. It’s just us and we communicate that through the brand and the people we work with and our network and that becomes its own identity. It’s very organic. It’s very what feels right. If it doesn’t feel right then we don’t do it. We aren’t trying to please everybody. We’re trying to do what we like. From there, other people with similar sensibilities and sense of humor will recognize that and appreciate it. That’s what our community is.
Let’s talk about design for a minute, Irwin. The packaging is really simple and sleek. The pre-rolls are housed in classic tobacco cigarette-like packaging and each pre-roll has a set of eyeballs on it. Could you tell us about the eyeballs and their meaning or significance?
“Imagining a hardcore stoner dude trying to buy a pink box just made me laugh.”
— Irwin Matutina
Matutina: When I first started to design it, I wanted something minimal. I designed the box and the logo, then I looked at it and I was like, “That looks really pretentious.” It didn’t feel like cannabis to me. I think with cannabis stuff, there needs to be some sort of element of humor or casualness that needs to be celebrated somehow. So, the eyeball thing was kind of like a last-ditch effort to make the branding feel approachable. It’s part of emoji and internet iconography so I felt like that being slapped on there just made it feel approachable. Then the fact that it kind of hinted at a side-eye or somebody looking around for cops... It connotated all those things but we weren’t spelling it out. It was just this simple thing that matched up with the rest of what was going on with the packaging. It made it feel less pretentious in a way.
So before it was the same packaging minus the eyeballs?
Matutina: Initially that’s what it was and then I looked at it and it kind of felt like everything else in a way that’s trying to be minimal. Which, the danger with minimalism is it can feel really elitist to me, like a graphic designer trying to be a graphic designer rather than being respectful of what the thing is you’re trying to give to the consumer. I think a lot of cannabis packaging can feel like it’s trying too hard. I feel like if there’s no element of humor to it, you’re missing a massive truth about the thing you’re trying to sell.
Your packaging is really modern and sleek but it also pulls upon the classic tobacco cigarette packaging. Were you apprehensive to tie it to tobacco in that way?
Matutina: Not at all. I think that was the whole point is you think that these are cigarettes but they’re not. I think for me at least design-wise—taking things out of context and reintroducing it to something else—that to me is the best part about creativity. Taking something that was familiar or had this context and then switching it to something else, that’s when you give it to someone, and they go, “Oh wait, I thought this was this thing and now it’s not!” I feel like the magic is in that.
How did you land on yellow and pink for your colors?
Matutina: I just wanted [the yellow] to stick out. And then the pink? I don’t know. I guess it felt "feminine"—which, I don’t know what that word means anymore. But at the time, it was funny because the weed we had was so strong and then to put it in a pink box, I found it really humorous. Imagining a hardcore stoner dude trying to buy a pink box just made me laugh.
Pure Beauty has done something that’s pretty new to the marketplace in that you created miniature pre-rolls. It’s counterintuitive from a purely business standpoint—basically enabling your customers to waste less or consume less cannabis. Why did you decide to create the mini pre-rolls?
“I think there really is a strain for everyone. A type of flower for every person.”
— Imelda Walavalkar
Anderson: I think from a user point of view, how you ingest or inhale or use cannabis is becoming 2.0 of the market space where it’s what works best for the consumer, not necessarily the other way around. How many times do you smoke a full gram joint and you’re smoking it by yourself and halfway through it, you’re super stoned and you need to put it out and then you save it and it stinks? I think the evolution of what a customer expects in terms of functional use just makes a lot of sense. You can have just a small joint and that works for a lot of people.
Walavalkar: It’s super practical also.
Matutina: We just listened to all our friends going, “I can’t smoke your pre-rolls because they’re too strong!”
“It’s a farmer’s market, not a supermarket.”
— Imelda Walavalkar
Walavalkar: We do OG strains and they’re very strong. We take pride in the strength and the beauty of our flower and that really appeals to people who are lifelong smokers and have a strong familiarity. I think the minis are a little more accessible for [those who don’t] want to get totally brain-baked. What’s great about them is you can just put them in your purse or throw them in your pocket. They’re so tiny and cute and you can share them because you get ten [in a pack]. I think we were just thinking about it clearly. We have all these other products we’re working on right now and all of it is based on “what would we want to use?”
Anderson: Also we just like cute shit. The smaller, the better.
It’s neat to see companies like Pure Beauty not encouraging customers to overconsume. You’re known for the potency of your flower, but do you have any less potent products coming out?
Walavalkar: We have a new strain called Terry T that’s high-CBD. I was skeptical of it at first because I’m like, “That’s not gonna feel like anything.” Because with a lot of the CBD products I’ve tried, I’m just waiting for the big revelation to happen, then it doesn’t. But this is just amazing. You smoke it and it feels like everything you hear about CBD coming to life. It’s amazing because it’s just a tiny tiny bit… I don’t even know if you'd call it stoned. It’s just a weird perception shift. I think there really is a strain for everyone. A type of flower for every person.
Anderson: We have a pretty regular rotation. We have a plethora of strains. I mean right now on the menu I think we have 9 strains. Sometimes we only have 4. It just depends on—
Walavalkar: What do we say? “It’s a farmer’s market, not a supermarket.” We go with what is right at that time. We’re not just gonna keep offering the same strains over and over just for the sake of strains.
“It hits you, but you can also get shit done at the same time. I think OG is just my jam.”
— Tracy Anderson
Anderson: Like Imelda was saying, people are constantly looking for something new and they want to try different things. We do have some strains that are usually always on the menu, but it’s more broad categories. We usually always have an OG on the menu, but it’s not necessarily gonna be the same OG. We’ll always have a more citrusy strain on the menu. I think what’s interesting, when we’re talking about strains, is we’re looking for things with interesting terpene profiles. On the market right now, what sells the best is what has the highest THC content. I think we’re looking forward to the time when it’s not just about the THC content, but it’s also the terpene profile. Because those are really where the effects are coming from. If somebody’s smoking a 30% THC strain or a 20% THC, you’re getting high either way, but what are the terpenes in it? Is there myrcene? Is there linalool? I think as more research is done and as more consumers become educated, they’re gonna see that’s where everything is headed.
Are you planning on having, or do you already have, the terpene breakdown as a resource for your consumer?
Anderson: We do have the terpene profiles. We provide them to budtenders and the stores so they can discuss it with customers. Probably in the next two weeks we’ll be actually printing the terpene profile on the box as well. That’s just a matter of logistics. Getting it done. We test for all terpenes always.
Walavalkar: Another thing in terms of the strains we choose—our hope is that as a brand, people understand the level of quality you’re gonna get. It’s been cultivated in an environmentally progressive way where the cultivators are being treated well, too. To pivot off what Tracy is saying, our focus is on quality, the soil we grow [the cannabis] in, the nutrients you put into it, and the microbiome you cultivate. Our cultivators are really crazy soil nerds so they’re putting in different insects, rollie-pollies, and ladybugs that actually repel other insects and any other pest or bacteria and diseases that could hurt the plants. All that stuff plays into the health of the flower and the terpene profiles.
Where does Pure Beauty grow?
Walavalkar: In Sacramento. We grow indoors.
Let’s talk about some of the strains you have. For different situations, what strains do you tend to go towards?
Anderson: I usually always go toward an OG just because it’s balanced and clean but it gets you high. It hits you, but you can also get shit done at the same time. I think OG is just my jam.
Matutina: I’m the least particular about what I smoke. I basically just take what’s in the office and smoke it at home. Whenever I smoke, I’m staying at home listening to music or just going to bed. I’m pretty clueless with the strains and stuff, but I trust Pure Beauty because it’s always good.
When I was younger I think I smoked really cheap stuff from other people and it always gave me this paranoia and anxiety. It wasn’t until we started this brand that I started smoking a bit more. I was like, “Oh, this is what good cannabis feels like.” I think me being an outsider on the weed space helps us because we don’t always want to follow what other people are doing. So, I think me being a sort of outsider doing other drugs kind of helps inform the brand. Rounds it out.
The eyes are a little psychedelic.
Matutina: Yeah. [Laughs]
Anderson: Very psychedelic friendly.
What strains do you gravitate towards, Imelda?
Walavalkar: Honestly, I’m such a lover of weed in general that as long as I’m not getting that crazy paranoid feeling, which I haven’t actually gotten as I’ve got more selective about what I smoke. As Irwin was saying, I haven’t felt that way in years. I’m happy with wherever it takes me. I kind of agree with Tracy on the OG thing, though. I didn’t really understand OGs until we really got into them ourselves. I didn’t really understand the beauty of them and how strong they are. What I like about the OG is it’s immediate and potent. Then sort of on the flip side of that, the Terry T high-CBD strain we do, that’s where I want to be on a normal basis. I could smoke that all day every day and be fine. I don’t know, I’m in love with a different strain every week. That’s the beauty of it. To go back to the farmer’s market thing a little bit, it’s like now the apples are really good so I love apples. That’s kind of my approach. But I’m a pretty universal lover of so many strains.
Let’s talk social justice. Cannabis is legal in many states, and there are still people incarcerated on cannabis-related charges. With this in mind, is Pure Beauty carrying out any social impact initiatives? Do you plan on doing anything? Where are your minds in terms of that?
Walavalkar: This is such a big question for us and something I think about constantly. I think politically we’re extremely indignant about the fact that’s happening and yet there are so many people profiting from this industry while people are in jail for doing basically the exact same thing. There are various levels of how to touch on this, and on my very cynical days, I’m like, “The issue is just capitalism. It’s education and the criminal justice system and everything combined. How do you even address that?” I don’t think anybody can be in this industry and be making any money without thinking about it and trying to do something about it.
I was actually talking to a potential investor the other day and I was like, “It’s hard for us because we’re a tiny company and we’re stretched so thin and we’re trying to do stuff but I feel so powerless in a way.” He was like, “Just doing what you’re doing, being a female and a minority, is representation and it’s important.” I never thought of it that way because I feel like I’m always so privileged to be here that I need to be constantly doing something else. Then I thought about it and it seems like this lazy excuse—“Just being me is enough.” I’m not saying that but I think just trying to push forward in a space where it’s hard for people like me to do this, I think is super important because you need to have diversity in positions of power.
We do make sure we’re hiring other minorities. Our offices are in South Central. We’ve talked to people about trying to do initiatives where there are job training programs for people to get post-incarcerated populations into the space. Prior to this, I studied human rights and reproductive health, so I worked a lot with post-incarcerated populations when we were living in New York, namely the Women’s Prison Association and Fortune Society nonprofits. We’d like to eventually do some sort of program or some sort of monetary contribution to people that could do it more effectively. But I think on the everyday level, we do make an effort to hire women and we do make an effort to hire brown and black people from underserved communities.
Check out Pure Beauty's products here, and if you're in San Francisco, get them delivered to your doorstep via Parcel.
Photos by Emily Berkey.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.