In this blog, I sit down with Davina Kaonohi, CEO and co-founder of Element Apothec, a California-based CBD wellness company focused on creating healthy products from sustainable means. We discuss transcending the gender binary in the beauty industry, being a woman in the cannabis industry, and the still-untapped potential of minor cannabinoids.
For Davina Kaonohi, cannabis is a family affair.
She grew up around the plant, accustomed to seeing her Veteran father using it. But it wasn’t until one of her aunts grew ill with a multitude of autoimmune problems that Kaonohi saw just how powerful CBD could be.
Kaonohi is the CEO and a co-founder of Element Apothec, a California-based CBD skincare and wellness company.
Element Apothec was launched in 2021, a culmination of several years of family-centered hard work. Kaonohi’s sister grew cannabis and had begun to dive deeper into the differences between CBD and THC around the same time as her Aunt began to create CBD-based products to help treat her ailments. These formulas would ultimately become the basis of their products sold today.
As Kaonohi began to learn more about cannabinoids, skincare, and healthy ingredients, it quickly became apparent to her that there was a large gap in the market. She wanted to use wholesome products, formulated from ingredients that were truly good for people- not just fillers or cost-saving preservatives. So in addition to the tinctures and creams at Element Apothec, you’ll also find face serums and body lotions, all vetted and backed by a team of medical advisors.
But for Kaonohi, it wasn’t enough to just enter the CBD market. She wanted to create a company that gave back more than it took, a mission and a vision she could proudly stand behind. Element Apothec was founded on the pillars of trustworthiness, transparency, sustainability, inclusion, and diversity and this guides all of the decisions they make.
Element Apothec is certified cruelty-free and has a pending B-corp certification. (If you are uncertain of the significance of a b-corp status like I was, let me fill you in: A B-Corp is a business that has met high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.) They’re also constantly striving to improve, examining not only their packaging and ingredients, but assessing their partners as well to ensure they’re aligned with businesses that hold the same values they do.
Element Apothec is still in the early stages of business and growth, but Kaonohi has big goals. She and her team want to transcend the gender-specific norms of the beauty industry, creating products that men, women, and non-binary folks can all use proudly. They’re working on expanding into the retail space, adding shelf spaces in dispensaries, and creating additional products. But growth in business also means growth in giving back, and Kaonohi is exploring ways to drive cannabinoid education in the cannabis space while supporting organizations like the Last Prisoner Project.
What’s something you’re excited to see in the industry right now?
DK: There’s so many things! I’m really excited about the continued growth in this space.
I see so many people supporting each other, which is just an incredible thing, especially in women supporting each other. I’m so fortunate to be in a space with people that are so willing to help, provide contacts and share their experiences.
Also, the education research that’s coming out about other cannabinoids in clinical studies. In order for us to move mainstream, those are the things that are going to have to happen to break this deep stigma that exists in people still about what this plant actually is and how it can help people.
And the variation of products that’s coming out from beverages to including it in food and people looking at other ingredients like adaptogens and other ingredients that can complement it.
What’s something you’re not excited to see?
DK: I think that there’s a lot of people that are maybe not in it for the right reasons. It is tough being a woman in this space. I came from eCommerce technology and it was the case there too. There’s just not a lot of female presence. And I think that’s changing but I think it’s still a difficult place to be.
How do we help bring more equality and diversity within this space? There’s not a lot of variation in the people that you see in this industry right now. I think the inclusivity of this space and changing that landscape is where I feel like it needs to change more.
Also, obviously, the regulatory compliance and difficulties with marketing and all those things that make it so challenging for all of us.
What does social equity look like in your company?
DK: Looking at our team as we grew and ensuring that it doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s just the skill that you bring to the table and being inclusive of everyone that we welcome into the brand.
It goes beyond that, thinking about our package and design was very intentional in terms of being non-gender-specific. I have a sister that’s transgender. When she first transitioned, it was really tough for her in the cannabis space to get accepted. She was actually separated from one of the companies she was working with because of that. Thinking about how we translate our products so that it feels like it could be for anybody was something that we put a lot of effort into thinking about that. A lot of products are very gender-specific in this space.
It’s looking at things that we could do better in terms of what other organizations support. We’re at that point now where we’re growing and we have some additional money that we want to allocate. We’re thinking about what groups and how we can support that and partnering with the different organizations to do different in-kind donations.
How does sustainability factor into your business choices?
DK: It was everything. There were certain pillars that we started with as a company and that was trustworthiness, transparency, sustainability, inclusion, and diversity. So, sustainability was a key component. I think it’s a work in progress to get there.
Thinking about how we source our sustainable ingredients and looking at ecosystems, certain ingredients, and then down to the packaging. I think a lot of companies look at the packaging and they say they’re sustainable, but it goes beyond that. It goes to organizations that you partner with in terms of what are their sustainability goals and what are they doing to better serve things. We’re looking at a shipping company that’s carbon neutral and using some creative ways to ship.
We went through our packaging looking at cardboard and glass, our lotion tube of sugarcane ethanol. And obviously, there’s certain things that we’re still looking at, like the tops on the tinctures. We haven’t been able to be as sustainable as we want with some of those items, but we’re moving as much as possible.
We support 1% for the planet and try to support organizations that can make a difference beyond what we’re capable of doing.
What’s something you’re really proud of?
DK: To see our products out there and helping people. To get an email from someone who had slept better last night because of your product. To know that you can impact people or help people experience life just a little bit better is something I’m so proud of.
I just got a review from someone and she said: “Your product makes me feel like a goddess, I think this is what Cleopatra would use on her face. I don’t even wear makeup now, I just put on lipstick and I leave the house.”
We’ve held true to what we started with. We’re not veering, no matter how easy it is to shift sometimes. We’re really trying to provide quality products, even if it means our growth is slower and there’s more cost involved and things like that. I’m proud of that. And I’m really proud of the team that we have been afforded to surround ourselves with.
What do you want customers to take away from an experience with you?
DK: I think it’s just the idea of just a better-quality life. If we could just support our consumers to feel a little bit better every day, that’s the experience that I hope that they get from using our products
You can’t promise everything, but if our products can help make your skin feel a little bit better, look a little bit better or you sleep a little bit better, you have fewer aches, that’s the goal.
Also, understanding and learning that you can rely on plant-based remedies to really help. That CBD and cannabis don’t have to have these bad stigmas. It’s great when people smell our face serum or lotion and they’re like, it doesn’t smell like cannabis. I’m like, well, there’s all these other ingredients that you can add to great products and they’re all helpful.
What’s next for you?
DK: We’re really looking to expand into a B2B and retail. Getting in more dispensaries and being able to share products with more people is what 2022 is a lot about. Also launching additional product line lines, expanding our current ones, and then moving into some other variations of products that we think consumers will be able to use in different methods.
Definitely a lot more growth, a lot more marketing and expanding in sales and just being out there. I also feel passionate about us really trying to support more of the organizations within the cannabis community to help drive education and drive ESG initiatives (author’s note: Environmental, Social Impact, and Corporate Governance) and helping support the Last Prisoner Project.
What’s your favorite fun fact about cannabis?
DK: I just love the entirety of the plant and all that is made up of it. You know, all of these cannabinoids are so fascinating. My mind just exploding about the possibilities of what this plant can do for people as we really start to understand a lot of the minor cannabinoids and terpenes within the plant.