BY RACHEL RUFRANO | Photo by Molly Pan Photography for Kush Queen
Olivia Alexander, CEO and founder of Kush Queen, entered the cannabis industry at the age of 18 as a budtender and was quickly dismayed to find that, behind the glass counters, a boy’s club ruled unfettered. Hence the macho branding and stoner-bro culture that permeated the post-legalization product packaging, style, and marketing ethos for a period of time, but has luckily been changing thanks to innovative, forward-thinking brands like Kush Queen. Alexander understood that not only was the industry alienating women, it was ignoring an entire demographic in search of effective plant-based wellness alternatives to pharmaceutical band-aids and elevated self-care products in bath, body, and beauty.
Alexander's science-backed innovations and her innate talent for community-building took Kush Queen from a passion project to becoming the largest seller of CBD-infused bath bombs in the States in 2020. Not only is CBD backed by new findings as a treatment for pain, research also shows that cannabidiol has promising therapeutic potential to help regulate anxiety and mood. Alexander's new Kush Queen and KINGDM products explore how CBD can even be an effective anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich addition to enhance your skincare routine.
Kush Queen has since expanded on the bath bomb and moved into what she calls "real CBD beauty"—meaning no hemp derivatives or ingredients purported by brands to be CBD: Kush Queen's age-defying Defynt Serum boasts 100mg of CBD, the Melt Lotion comes in varying potencies, and KINGDM's Foto Blur Primer won Refinery29's Beauty Award. The Kush Queen slogan, “Elevating you daily since 2015” connotes that it’s a practice, a ritual, and a means to breaking out of the mundane. Sometimes it’s not about getting high, but about getting to your higher self.
It isn’t just that Kush Queen is one of the forerunning women-led cannabis brands—her seamless blending of both style and substance, her outspoken activism, and her focus on representation in the industry is paving new roads. Alexander exemplifies what it means to be an ethically responsible company while remaining a role model for future entrepreneurs. And she was doing it before it became standard for socially minded brands. That’s why we were so excited to get some time to learn more about Kush Queen and hear her fresh perspective.
EMBER: Now that cannabis and CBD have reached the mainstream—an achievement in which you’ve played a great role—not many people are aware of the behind-the-scenes pre-legalization era. What about your first foray into the cannabis world captured your heart and made you realize it was your life’s calling?
OLIVIA ALEXANDER: In 2007, I worked as a budtender at a dispensary called The Green Easy. I fell in love with the plant and the people that used it from the moment I stepped behind the counter. Every single day I was amazed by the broad spectrum of uses people were using cannabis for and that everyone was using it. Moms, dads, young, old, all races, sick, and well. I was also sleeping for the first time in my life thanks to cannabis and that was pretty much it for me. I knew cannabis would be in my life forever.
Before working as a young person in a dispensary, what was the moment that made you fall in love with pot? An album, a friend, an epiphany, etc?
Mainly, just being able to sleep. I have struggled with bipolar disorder my entire life. I come from a family who has mental illness deep in our genetics. Finding a plant-based alternative that could help me sleep transformed my life. I couldn’t believe the first time I tried cannabis because I slept better than I ever had in 18 years. I knew in an instant all the things I had [previously] heard about cannabis were just stigma and propaganda. Despite its psychoactive properties, being able to give my body real rest was that instant I knew cannabis was medicine.
Post-Prop 64, there was a boom in stoner bro and hyper-masculine cannabis brands. How did you carve your own pathway to create Kush Queen and did any women, inside or outside of the industry, serve as inspiration or role models to you?
Being fully transparent, the industry pre-prop 64 was primarily male as well. Granted things are different post-prop 64, this industry has always been a man’s world. But early on in my career, seeing people like Corey Lou Thomas on stage winning a cannabis cup gave me those “I can do this too” feelings. The first iteration of Kush Queen was already being made, but when I saw Corey up there, it was a major moment for me. I saw myself on that stage, I saw the potential for my own brand and the ability to stand on my own. My second inspiration is my mentor, Shanna Droege, the founder of SOL Distro and Chill Chocolate. Without Shanna’s belief in Kush Queen, her encouragement to keep going, and her kindness in assisting me in the compliant market, I wouldn’t be here today.
You offer cannabinoid-infused skincare and makeup—something that you’ve referred to as “real CBD beauty” when compared to some, perhaps naive, luxury brands. What differentiates Kush Queen from the others and what makes it “real”? What are the benefits of topical CBD and why do you believe it belongs in the skincare process?
The biggest differentiators for Kush Queen are technology, high-quality ingredients, and effectiveness. As you know, a lot of CBD beauty products contain hemp seed oil and do not actually contain CBD. Others that do contain CBD use CBD oil which has low efficacy and often sit on top of the skin rather than penetrate the dermis to provide benefits. At Kush Queen, our CBD beauty products contain our patent-pending nanotechnology which makes the particle size smaller than your pores. Because of this technology, our product actually allows for absorption through your skin. When we think about the topical delivery method, it helps address some of the biggest issues with skin starting with inflammation and oxidation. We know CBD is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, so it’s the ideal tool for delivering cannabis’s healing properties to your skin. At this time, Kush Queen is the only CBD or THC cosmetic in the compliant market. And since hemp CBD is unregulated, we believe this sets our CBD beauty apart from the rest making it real CBD beauty based in science.
You’ve spoken previously about your disappointment in the “green-washing” of beauty brands purporting to contain CBD, but like you said, actually only have ingredients like hemp seed oil. How do you combat this with your own products and where do you see the future of this trend going?
Ultimately, I have always remained transparent about our products and focused on education. For me, staying in the compliant market in California is really how we set Kush Queen apart from all the other hemp CBD brands. We self-identify as a cannabis company for this reason. I had to speak out because so many consumers were genuinely confused and I believed it was harming not just the beauty industry, but the cannabis/hemp industry.
At the end of the day, I cannot control if other brands will falsely advertise hemp seed oil and call it a CBD product. I can’t control if people don’t dose their products correctly. At Kush Queen we can only educate and make better products. So, that’s what we do. We focus on ourselves, our consistency, our commitment to making the best products we can while making the world a better place with plant-based wellness tools. I think over time, consumers learn and this is the reason why I have an innovative business: we focus on customer relationships and trust. I never had the most money or fame, but I have products that give people repeated effects and experiences. To quote the incomparable Michelle Obama, "When they go low, we go high.” When companies sell people lies and garbage, we double down on quality and effectiveness. Innovation, trust, and effectiveness are inarguably how we have set ourselves apart from all the noise.
What are your thoughts on wellness and self-care as an industry and how does Kush Queen fit into someone’s routine to live a healthier, happier life?
Our philosophy at Kush Queen surrounds daily cannabis use, our tagline captures the Kush Queen ethos perfectly: Elevating you daily since 2015. For me, self-care is not just reserved for special Sundays or a trend on social media. Self-care is the art and ritual of putting your body, mind, and soul first. It’s the concept that when we are truly our best selves, we can go out into the world and make it a better place. Too many people come to cannabis when they are sick or already unwell. Our approach to wellness and self-care at Kush Queen is not to wait until it’s too late or we feel bad. In order to really live a happier life, we need to put ourselves first, say consistent in feeding the endocannabinoid system, and taking time for ourselves. This is what we teach our community and what resonates with them.
To someone who is new to Kush Queen, where would you recommend they start and with which product? What should they read, who should they follow, and/or where can they look to expand their knowledge of cannabis and this ever-evolving industry?
At the end of the day, Kush Queen would be nothing without our bath bomb. Your skin is your biggest organ and a powerful delivery method for cannabinoids. Our bath bombs are a true wellness experience that does wonders for your skin and mood, and provides real relief for aches and pains. Our blog at KushQueen.shop is always hot with the latest in cannabis innovation, use guides, and personal experiences.
You can find Kush Queen products at your local MedMen store.