Backed by Timbaland and Nas, Imelda Walavalkar’s Los Angeles-based cannabis brand leans into the joy of getting stoned and having fun.
In 2017, three friends from New York moved to Los Angeles to reimagine the cigarette. But the kind of smokes Imelda Walavalkar, her husband, Tracy Anderson, and art director Irwin Matutina wanted to make would contain no tobacco—just marijuana.
“Personally, I think it’s an iconic form factor,” says Anderson, who helped launch Bob Marley’s cannabis brand, Marley Natural. “The cigarette, it’s beautiful.”
The three soon founded Pure Beauty, a boutique cannabis brand that specializes in high-end, environmentally friendly grown herb that’s rolled into marijuana cigarettes, complete with a wood pulp filter. Today, its bestselling product is a box of mini pre-rolled joints the company lovingly refers to as “Babies.”
The cannabis legalization movement owes its growth—37 states now allow for some kind of legal sales—to medical marijuana. But for Walavalkar, Anderson and Matutina, they felt as if there weren’t enough brands just trying to have fun and get people stoned. Many cannabis entrepreneurs often cite deeply personal stories about how marijuana helped a loved one battle an illness, while others have virtuous narratives about wanting to heal the world with a plant bestowed by the gods. But for the founders of Pure Beauty, weed is all about kicking back.
“We are unabashedly recreational,” says Walavalkar. “It’s okay to want to get high just for the sake of getting high.”MORE FROM FORBESDutchie, The Cannabis Industry’s Highest-Flying Software Company, Falls Back To EarthBy Will Yakowicz
In many ways, Pure Beauty, which takes its name from the artist John Baldessari, is a typical startup. The brand launched in a South Central Los Angeles garage with a $30,000 cigarette rolling machine and went through dozens of different types of paper—one burned too quickly, another too slow—until they landed on a marijuana cigarette that felt and smoked just right.
In its first year, Pure Beauty had around $200,000 in sales, most of which were drummed up by Anderson, who drove around L.A. in the company’s minivan, selling jars of pot and packs of joints to dispensaries. But by the end of 2017, it landed its first big order: MedMen wanted $100,000 worth of Pure Beauty cigarettes.
“To us, it was all hands on deck, working all day and all night, double shifts,” says Walavalkar, who is the company’s CEO. For two weeks, the founders marshaled a “cadre of help” composed of dozens of friends of friends, fed them burritos and tacos and worked around the clock. Pure Beauty met the deadline, but realized it had to scale up—their bootstrapped operation wouldn’t be able to meet future demand.
During Hall of Flowers in 2019, a cannabis trade show in Santa Rosa, California, David Mars, an investor with New York-based White Owl Capital, came across Pure Beauty’s booth. He was struck by its clean, minimalist design and intrigued by its sustainable cultivation methods. The brand’s 22,000-square-foot grow site in Sacramento is off the grid, generating electricity through microturbines and boasts nearly net-zero water usage—HVAC units and dehumidifiers pull moisture from the air to water the plants.
Mars says he sees Pure Beauty as a “stand-alone, national brand” that has created an authentically chic and cool vibe. “I think they would fit into a portfolio at LVMH,” says Mars, who eventually invested in the company.
Pure Beauty has raised a total of $7 million from Gron Ventures, Subversive Capital, Ceres Group Holdings, White Owl—all cannabis investors—and has also been able to get musicians Timbaland and Nas to open their wallets.
In 2020, the company generated what Forbes estimates to be around $20 million in revenue and last year Pure Beauty pulled in $44 million. The California-based company has now expanded to Michigan, through a deal with Gage, which has about a dozen dispensaries in the state.
At Cornerstone Wellness, a 15-year-old cannabis shop in L.A., Pure Beauty products don’t stay on the shelves for long. “I think very few brands hit the marks—a really well-designed package, an eco-conscious brand, woman-owned and an art-forward company; it’s refreshing,” says Cornerstone Wellness founder Erica Kay. “Their pre-rolls have been a smash product for years now and are always selling out. You can’t keep enough.”MORE FROM FORBESHow Former NBA Star Al Harrington Is Building A $100 Million Team Of Black Cannabis EntrepreneursBy Will Yakowicz
Pure Beauty also makes a THC beverage “enhancer” called the Little Strong Drink, or LSD for short. The 2-ounce bottle is packed with 100 mg of THC from live resin from high-grade buds and is made with Concord grapes, cardamom, Egyptian hibiscus and Ashwagandha grown in India.
Cannabis beverages currently made up around 1% of the $25 billion in legal cannabis sales last year, but Big Alcohol is moving into the space quickly. (Boston Beer Co. is launching a THC-infused iced tea in Canada.) For Walavalkar, who admittedly “loves weed,” beverages are a way to bring a session into the family backyard without the stigma of smoking.
“My parents won’t smoke a joint, but they’ll have a beverage,” says Walavalkar. “The ceremony of drinking is still inculcated in our culture. If you’re at a barbecue, there’s no ceremony around handing out a gummy to everybody. The beverage doesn’t have that stigma [like a joint] and anyone can engage in that way.”
For now, Pure Beauty is still a small, boutique brand, but the founders have successfully harnessed a coolness factor reminiscent of Beboe, which sold to cannabis giant Green Thumb Industries for $80 million in 2019. In an industry that is increasingly dominated by corporate brands, Pure Beauty is a repudiation of market research-driven products developed through a series of focus groups, says Anderson.
“We threw it all out and followed our intuition,” says Anderson. “We’re doing it from a true sense of self and art and culture and things that we really care about.”
Walavalkar believes many companies justify cannabis use by focusing too heavily on the medicinal benefits. For Pure Beauty, the strategy is to help destigmatize pot by admitting that getting stoned is fun. “The beauty of getting high is that it makes you happy, it gives you a perspective shift, similar to art,” says Walavalkar. “That perspective shift for me is a wellness thing—it’s more about the joy of getting stoned.”