BY INDYA BROWN
Photo courtesy of Imelda Walavalkar
You’ve probably seen Pure Beauty before — their unique aesthetic draws design conscious cannabis consumers in instantly. One of the brains behind the brain? Imelda Walavalkar. As one third of the trio behind Pure Beauty, the company creates sleekly designed pre-rolls, flower jars, and cannabis cigarettes. They’re the type of brand you’d imagine enjoying as a vinyl record plays in the background or while binge watching Wes Anderson movies. And their attention to design also comes through in the quality of their cannabis: It’s top tier flower that’s potent and flavorful.
Born in California, Walavalkar’s journey towards creating Pure Beauty was decidedly nonlinear: She studied at University of California at Berkeley and Columbia. Afterwards she worked in human rights and started a catering business before helming the brand full-time. Along with her husband Tracy Anderson (the company’s marketing officer), and creative director Irwin Matutina, the three form a small-yet-mighty machine that powers the brand’s exploding audience. We chatted with Walavalkar to discuss why she loves strong weed, the ups and downs of being a small business owner, and why being stoned is better than mediation.
On her early relationship with cannabis:
My dad is Indian and my mom is Mexican so I grew up in a very conservative, immigrant household. I lived in Berkeley for a while, which is where I went to school, and that was my first introduction to cannabis. I remember going into a dispensary and being like, ‘this is crazy’. When you're young and smoking out of a bong, nobody is telling you how it works so I got stoned out of my mind. After that I didn't smoke for a while, but then I rediscovered it once I moved to New York. I realized what it really was and felt the way it's actually meant to be felt. I was in love and from then on have always been.
On her career evolution:
Coming from a nonprofit background I’ve worked in human rights and criminal justice reform for many years. I became jaded so I decided to start a catering business. While in the food world I became obsessed with tinkering around with weed and food, so I started just making stuff that way. I love being high and I've always been really into alternative medicine, like plant medicine, so I started building out a concept for an edible, working on different formulations.
On developing Pure Beauty:
A good friend of mine from college was growing his own cannabis as a business and asked us to join them. That grow ended up falling through so we went about doing our own cultivation which took off. There was no big plan. I didn't have any intention of going into flower right away because it didn't seem interesting. But now I'm so grateful that we're doing it because I'm obsessed with it. It's the crown jewel of the industry because it's the purest thing: Everything starts with good flower. It's like being at a restaurant knowing that they're using the best tomatoes.
On loving strong weed:
There are people that like weed and then there are people that really like weed. I'm the latter. I welcome all cannabis in all forms, but what I've realized is that I like it strong. The big difference moving from New York to California is that you have more quality control. It's like a wine lover moving from the middle of nowhere to wine country.
On being an eco-conscious grower:
We have an indoor facility and they have always been criticized for being the least energy efficient, but our cultivators are geniuses when it comes to applying technologies from other industries. One of the things he did for instance was use jet engine microturbines to generate energy because when you pull from the grid, you're losing up to 80% of the energy going from point A to point B.
Another thing is that it takes anywhere from 250 to 650 gallons of water for just one little cannabis plant to grow during its life cycle. For California, that's a really huge deal, you know? And so all of the water that we use to grow our plants is pulled from the air using dehumidifiers and HVAC, so we're not taking anything from the California tap supply.
We also work with the city to donate most of our used soil to public parks and are super hardcore about beneficial insects. We use a lot of ladybugs and other similar insects to fight off other plant eating insects. We talk to the plants, we play them music, and they're hand watered every day.
On the challenges of product development:
I've spent years figuring out the different methods of extraction and how flavor affects everything. It’s typical to use a team to first help with a formulation, but I've always been super hands on. There currently aren’t a lot of edibles out there that reflect my sensibilities: I'm very farmer's market focused, I like exotic flavors, and I don’t want too much sugar in the product. That said, I do enjoy Kiva because they're very consistent.
This industry is extremely stressful, hard, and intense so I like to use cannabis in the evening. I'm also very much into yoga and meditation but I'm such a frenetic person that I've never been able to achieve that feeling of being present in a moment. Even though I understand it conceptually, I just can't achieve it. When I'm stoned it's the only way and time when I feel like I’m not worrying about the future. Being high has given me so many profound moments of realization. It took me a long time to not just admit that to myself, but to also be able to say that to other people and not feel ashamed.
On the challenges of creating a cannabis business from scratch:
It was really difficult and really expensive. We were getting a positive response, but we kept thinking, is this gonna work? Also as a socially conscious person, I realize it’s messed up that if it's hard for us who came into this with a little bit of savings, how is this going to work for people without money and especially for people of color?
On what it means to be authentic:
The reason we've been able to do things the way that we’ve done them and without a lot of resources is because everybody that we collaborate with, are all friends who are a part of our community. We're a diverse team with very different backgrounds and perspectives, but we're unified in our vision. There's no marketing team that’s like focus grouping ideas: We're literally doing everything ourselves. The voice is our voice and I think that authenticity is felt by people.