LONG LIVE THE QUEEN OF KUSH: An Interview with Olivia Alexander, CEO of Kush Queen
I have been a fan of Kush Queen for some time now and I should have known that chatting with the woman behind it would be everything I’ve ever wanted and more. Olivia is the person at the party we all want to get to know. The highly anticipated party is the wonderful world of (legal) cannabis and lucky for us the queen has arrived and she’s not leaving anytime soon.
Casey: So first of all I am a huge fan of Kush Queen, I buy your products a lot so I am fangirling a little bit right now. I want 100 bath bombs immediately. Everytime I go to MedMan they’re sold out and I get real sad! Basically, I’m obsessed with your brand and all of your products, can you tell me a little bit about the process you go through when creating new ones? How do you test them?
Olivia: Well I always start new products with what excites me or what I don’t see being made well. That’s why I started my first business The Crystal Cult. I just made a vape for myself that I liked and then other people wanted to buy it and I had a business, that’s really how everything started for me. I always just start from a place of what do I think needs to be improved, what am I passionate about; I’m really passionate about skincare. I’m really passionate about CBD. I’m really passionate about people connecting to people who aren’t necessarily stoners or people who even smoke weed or use cannabis the way that I do. A lot of times people ask me to make stuff and it’s just not in my heart, I’m not drawn to that product. Even right now I’m being pressured into making holiday bath bombs and we’re a wellness brand-we’re approaching everything from wellness and it feels superficial to me and I just can’t do it. I don’t want to sell cute bath bombs. I feel like if people want cute bath bombs they should go to LUSH. That’s where I go when I want something fun. If you want a different sort of experience, that’s what Kush Queen is trying to provide and now that we have so many people who are fans of the brand they give us feedback on the products so I do try to listen. Also if we get a lot of questions about a certain ingredient that people are allergic to I try to be super mindful. Right now I’m trying to get rid of cornstarch in our bath bombs because I’ve met a lot of people who are allergic to it. But really it’s just all about my passion, it’s really really incredible and I think that people undervalue what a product is in our world and our society. And I think more importantly all of the products in the world are made by the same twenty people. Genuinely. And I think that’s crazy. Especially our skincare products and our bath products. I mean I’ve been looking to replace my body wash because Dove tests on animals and that’s something I am strongly against but it’s actually really hard to find a body wash that doesn’t upset my skin and doesn’t test on animals. So that right there I’m working on, I use our body wash and soaps but I’m working on new ones that are more like a dove formulation. But it’s all about passion over here, we love the products just as much as everyone else. We use them all the time-sometimes it takes twenty five attempts or prototypes to make something good and then sometimes we get it right quickly, I’m working on some soaps right now that are on number eight and it’s not going well but it’s all part of the fun and then honestly when we feel like the products are ready is when we release them. Some of the new cosmetic stuff I’m doing there’s a lot more testing that’s gotta go into it like shelf life testing. Is this product going to harden in this bottle because I’m not using any preservatives in it? There’s so many little questions like that but mainly we use the living crap out of it and try to be really critical because it’s a really personal thing to make these products for people. Especially bath bombs and lotions-things that people use for pain or that might be sick or down or dealing with something, they’re in that much more of a vulnerable position as a consumer. I mean we’ve seen the healthcare industry exploit the fact that people are sick, it’s kind of twisted when you really think about it. It's really just all about the feedback from our customers and the collective of people that work here behind the scenes who play a huge part in the products that we make. Even with the bath bombs when we've had problems it’s because now we make more bath bombs than ever before. In the beginning I started making bath bombs in batches of twenty and now we make thousands of bath bombs every day and when you start to do that the business starts to change. I had to change my suppliers and then the person you buy from, you're also growing their business as you grow yours and those ingredients really matter. So it's really a lot of things, but honestly, everything behind our brand is the products and without actually amazing product we would be nowhere. It’'s just the most important thing. It drives me every single day and everyone here at the company as well.
Casey: As the new girl in LA, I got here in January from Chicago and I am embracing that California lifestyle. I hike, eat gluten free and I've been dabbling more into the world of weed. I found that a CBD gummy before bed does wonders for my anxiety and my skin because I sleep so much better. You mentioned it earlier but can you talk a little bit more about how important wellness is to your brand?
Olivia: It's so important to the brand. I think in the end it’s important to me as a person and to my family and the people who work here. I think that I was raised by a woman who taught me about self care often, she would teach me about all kinds of things even though growing up we didn't call it that. Back then it was just considered my mom making me a girly girl. That's kind of how it was judged and labeled. But my mother was raised by a single mom who didn't get a lot of attention, you know, my grandmother was just trying to survive. And so when my mom had me really gave me a lot of attention, she taught me about self care. She would teach me rituals that were her beauty rituals that were all about her taking care of herself. She frequently did take care of other people too much as well but also somehow she taught me the value that I can't be a leader in my community, I can't be a business owner, I can't even be a good girlfriend or sister or daughter if I don't take care of myself first. For me, wellness is a part of that, you know, being healthy is important to just life. And now I mean I grew up in a place in Louisiana and I moved to LA when I was thirteen. I'm thirty now, so I grew up in a place in Louisiana called Cancer Alley. That's literally what it’s called if you look it up. It was about one hundred and eighty miles of industrial chemical plants, more than anywhere else in the country. It’s so deregulated and I came from a family of women who all died young. Just three months ago my mom had a brain tumor, a non cancerous brain tumor that was removed, but it's a really dangerous place to live and they continue to like build subdivisions. They bath their children in the water and pollute through the Mississippi River. It's really dark shit. And because I grew up there I try to be more hyper aware than most people about the products that I use because I've seen that sadly, these businesses don't see making our products and taking our money as a gift and honor and responsibility and I think there's a lot of dangerous stuff out there. I’ve worked for cannabis companies for many, many years before I really had the ability to make my own products. I was trying but I was really making my living by doing social media, creating content, and being behind the scenes at bigger cannabis brands and what I witnessed was just more products that were actually going to make people sicker were just being poorly made. And I think that if we want to change the world and make the world a better place, we have to start with wellness and teaching people how to take care of themselves. You know, I grew up in the South. I grew up in a place where that's just not talked about. It's just not taught. And then you move to California and I think a lot of it was because I was an actress in the entertainment industry and in order to be an actor your body literally is everything that you've got. Also you're being dragged through this psychological warfare of auditioning and status and just all kinds of different things and a lot of my wellness routine came from me trying to cope with being in that industry and trying to make myself the best little person that I could be. And then my brother really truly is the other big influence. He struggled with a lot of mental illness in his life, but it made him develop the most incredible regimen of yoga and eating healthy and he's the one who taught me a lot about spirituality and brought that into my life. He really brings another element to it for me. I really try to preach it to everybody, especially after my mom’s health scare and then a week ago one of our employees got hit by a car in Hollywood and it was horrible and she was on a ventilator for four days, but is already off of it and they said she showed three to four weeks progress and it's just been a week. But they were both taking preventative CBD and using CBD and cannabis as a wellness tool. My mom got off Ambien and I think that might have also been what brought the brain tumor to the surface. We don't really know, but they both were better off because they they had wellness routines despite what life handed them. And I think that's also part of it, I think that a lot of people try to get into wellness when it's too late and they're already sick. I think that it's just crazy. We learn so much in school, but we don't learn any of that. And right now more than ever, I think that's all we really need. So that's kinda how I see it. It's pretty dramatic, but I'm a really dramatic person.
Casey: I love that! And I love Kush Queen, it's so wonderful, I mean it's dope period besides the fact that it’s founded by a woman and run by women which just makes it even more badass. I'm an actor and a comedian as well so I understand what you’re saying about the industry. I would further point out that the industry is very male dominated. Do you feel similar in the cannabis realm? Not that it's all about the battle of the sexes, but have you faced any struggle with that coming up?
Olivia: No, I think there are a lot of women in cannabis and women in entertainment, there's women. We’re there. I personally have found though that women are not stakeholders. They're not controlling money, they’re not controlling real estate. They're not controlling licensing. If you're looking at a majority of the people holding licenses in the state of California for legal cannabis right now, it's going to be predominantly men even though there are social equity programs being put in place. But I mean, I giggle.
“For me personally, it’s always been a man’s world. I have always felt like I’ve been living in a man’s world and I would be more successful if I was a man. And that is a tragedy.”
That’s a really sad thing to say. My mother said that to me. She said, “well, you know, if you were Michael (meaning my fiance) you would be fifty times more successful” and that's terrible. It's just horrible. Especially since I have multiple nieces and and my cousins have young daughters and we cannot accept that. In cannabis especially there has been a horrible problem with representation of women in general as really oversexualized. I mean look even from where we stand, there's a type of woman who feels really, really empowered to be nude. And there's other types of people who don't. We're dealing with a super stigmatized plant and I don't think it really helps the cause. So I've personally found a lot of power in running my own business and being able to control who shoots my content, who is in my content, how they look, what we're saying. it's just, it's all really, really important.
My biggest issue with everybody is that nobody does anything. People say, Oh, Americans are apathetic. It's not even that. My parents were good people. They raised me well, they raised my brother well who is a gay man. They really surrounded him with a lot of love and acceptance but they've never called their senator, never donated to planned parenthood. You know, my mother had abortions, but they're just not active. I will say my dad donated money to different things and is very political but unfortunately he's on the wrong side of history as many of our parents are. But my mom, she's a great woman, a great person in our community but she’s not doing anything, you know, so I think for me, my life is also partially about me trying to get to a certain level to where I can really do something. and when I was working for these other companies and I was an employee of people or talent or whatever, I took it all in and for me it was always male dominated and it really isn't about them versus us for me, it’s about representation. It's about the power and the fact that Beyonce is using the first black man to ever shoot the cover of vogue. What?? No one black has ever shot a cover of vogue?! What the fuck? And if people could say, oh, that doesn't matter, but it's the most influential fashion magazine in the world. It does matter. It really does. So I’ve always tried to be one of those people who leads by example, who thinks every little bit does go a long way. We might actually have too many women at our company. I mean, not really. You can't ever really have too many women. We recently hired multiple guys and it’s just so funny to see dudes around here because for awhile, we had only gay man who worked here so we had to up our ratio of straight men in the house just to make sure they had a voice. Also because we do on occasion need to like do some terrible things and we want them to do it.
I unfortunately feel like this is really controversial, but whatever so the “Permit Patty Lady”,the woman who called the police on the little girl, she was in cannabis and obviously that went viral. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqARrnQdcQM) The video of was so visual and visceral and awful. But weeks before that, the cannabis industry, they were trying to out the owner of a very large weed company as a rapist, it was sort of our own me too moment and no one gave two shits. It angered me and so many women and so many people were trying to get people to care about this and no one did. But boy people cared about destroying that woman. And I mean whether or not she deserved it or not is, is on people, I just thought, wow, the fact that there everyone is so ready to burn a woman, but this rich man no one gave a fuck. And then let this other guy, defending this man's behavior and victim blaming tried to reach out to me to take down the post. This industry is run by rich white men. It's terrible. And I've always talked about it and more than that, the legal cannabis industry has a real white privilege problem. And then, you know, people really don't want to talk about that.
Casey: Yeah! We sold our merchandise on a website called Feminist Apparel. Again it’s called FEMINIST APPAREL but recently the CEO, they found out who is a straight white male has a history of sexually abusing women. Most of the staff and vendors left when this all came out last June but I was just so flabbergasted that there was a man in charge of Feminist Apparel in the first place. And then on top of that, he's not a good man. I think that's insane. That's so counterintuitive to me.
Olivia: Yeah well it’s just representation. The world looks like this big melting pot of people and experiences and tragedy but in our government and our leadership and the people holding most of the wealth are the same twelve people who are all holding onto it and human suffering is at an all time high. Just normal people struggling is at an all time high. I really still believe that even though people can say whatever they want about the economy, but I think representation is the first step in fixing our problems in the world and when you think that there are no Muslim women holding office, that gives me chills. The only way to know what it's like to be a Muslim in America right now is to be one. And for us to not want to put people like that in office to represent that experience. I mean hello? These people are just, they're just missing it, and I know that I don’t know everything, but I do feel like there are clear answers and solutions and good first steps. And I just think that representation is a big first step and is everything that we're passionate about here at Kush Queen. With our look book this year, we made sure we were using real people with real stories. Not even just models, but people who either really used cannabis or really had HIV or really were gay. I’m just so sick of this idea that they're allowed to market it to us every day and literally try to brainwash people because that’s really what marketing is. They don't take into consideration what they're representing. Especially with cannabis because the drug war and because so many people are in jail for what we do, but I'm really lucky that I was educated, you know, and I grew up in the south and then I came to LA and everyone is the sum of their experiences. And I’m just the sum of mine. I've met people who've changed my perspective on everything and taught me to be better. And you know, my brother's experience being a gay man has taught me a lot about life. And unfortunately we've gotta we've got to do better not just in cannabis but in the world.
Casey: Yeah. (sigh) Yes to all of that. Now can you talk a little bit about how you maintain your mission? I know you've had several companies, but for Kush Queen it's about three years old?
Olivia: Technically. Yes. But I struggled for the first two. I didn't even have like a real viable business, I would say until maybe a year ago. I just stay true to myself, you know, and I try to stay true to like my gut instinct and my heart and I let that guide me and I'm a really hard worker. I am kind of like a relentless worker bee. I like to work. It makes me feel better about life. I need to physically be exhausted at the end of the day. If I don't exhaust myself I'll be up all night thinking and I figure sometimes the best medicine for life is really hard work. Just keeping it real with people and trying to be honest and stay grounded and just pursue what's in my heart and try to not listen to other people that much too.
Casey: Yeah. And you guys partner a lot with other companies. Why at Kush Queen is it important to continually work with other brands and women?
Olivia: Well, I think that the cannabis industry people have a hard time with partnerships. But I think that our business has these products but it's also a platform and when you have the privilege of a platform you have to do something with it. I think that that's why we partner with other women or people and we have some other partnerships that will be coming out soon, But that’s where all the good stuff lies truly. And it’s about putting your money where your mouth is and in your action. I feel like if I'm going to be one of those people who's out here saying I stand for something then we have to have the receipt. And this is the age of the Internet where people will quickly see through your marketing ploy, which I'm not saying everyone is fake, but there are people saying we're hiring felons right now on a big billboard which is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but where’s the other work that you guys have done for that cause? And are you going to be dedicated to that long term? I hope it's not just like a quarter one and two marketing campaign. It’s got to be a we're dedicated to this forever type of thing in my opinion. And that's kinda how it is with Kush Queen in anything that we do or we create, it's just got to always stand for something because I'm not back here trying to just sell shit to people. If I'm wanting to do that, I would leave cannabis and go work for a huge company and be an executive somewhere but it's not what's in my heart and is not what's really fulfilling. So we just keep it real. My mom is a huge part of our business too. And when I think when you do business with family and when you're a family owned business, your family has a way of keeping people in check. Even me, even the brand and the platform. Then when you meet people, even like yourself, when you just meet people, it's a responsibility. Also because I came up through social media, the brand work I did, I think that a lot of people legitimately follow me. I think that that could either be something that drives me crazy forever or something that is the greatest gift I could ever be given in life. And that's how I see it. I just feel like I've been over here and I'm just doing me and I know this is the right thing. I know that these are the good things and I know that my heart is trying to be aligned with always doing what is good or what I believe to be good. And I think that is powerful. I'm going to go in and I'm going to be covert and I'm gonna get all these people on my side and then I'm going to use it. So they do good. So other brands celebrate pride month because when they see me getting all this damn press getting next to Levi's and getting on all these big placements and all I'm doing is selling a bath bomb and donating almost all the money I make. At this point, people just copy me and I'm only trying to use that for the betterment of the world. I just really hope that there are other good people out there though who were going to do it, not just for business but because it's what we need. We just all have to have a collective awakening.
I always tell people when they tell me “oh I want to start my own business.” I always say well you should! Because all the businesses in the world are run by twelve people. And if we just had people who were more conscious and were buying from a more local business or a family owned business or maybe still a big business, but they're an independently owned business like LUSH trying to change the world using their platform for so much good. I mean they're some of my idols and you can see all the work that they've done in the company, stood for all kinds of crazy things that businesses just don't do or say like “we're against the death penalty.” Have you ever heard of a brand saying that? So I'm just so inspired and the worst the world gets the more I’ve realized that my mom raised me to be inherently good and that is a gift. Even with my mom getting sick and my employee and everything- everyone around here, all we want to do is live life to the fullest, grab life, you know, by the bath bomb and just be extra.
Casey: The first time I tried one of your bath bombs, I just had this kind of out of body experience where for the first time in my life I hugged my legs in and was like, Casey, you're beautiful. I had never said that out loud, it was life changing.
Olivia: I feel like what happened was we just wanted to make really good products with cannabis in them and we made the bath bombs because they combine essential oils and it's just an unbelievable self care kind of experience because you're submerged in this big hot tub of water and then you have the essential oils and you have the cannabis. So many people say that they had this crazy experience and it made me realize so many of the products that people sell are just superficial and they don't like touch us at the experience level. And I also think that's why Kush Queen’s brand is going to continue to just be a leader and continue to grow and just be this amazing sort of orb of amazingness because I really want to focus on the experience for people. That is something that you can't put a price on. And it's just a bath bomb you know but I feel the same way. The other day I was just around my house naked letting my jiggles everywhere and smoking a joint. And I thought you know what? I may not be the skinniest girl in the room, but I’m definitely the happiest and I don't give a fuck. It feels so great. And hopefully we can share that and help other people achieve that because all I want is people to feel that just because the world is telling us that we're all wrong doesn’t mean it’s true.
Casey: Just customer service, I mean as a Kush Queen customer, I do feel taken care of and valued. And with your branding I just, there's a sense of community and it's inclusive and cool. And that’s what it’s about, people just want to feel like a person.
Olivia: Yeah because we are people. It’s so funny too, I think people think we’re some huge company but we really don't have that many employees. I don’t say it like it’s a bad thing but when I tell people how many employees we have and how big our business is they’re like, wait, what? But it's just the power of the way we do it here and the way we've always done it. People are human and all the people who work here are and the fact that we don't pretend to be this machine or want to be seen as that-I mean I am scared everyday when I start to release certain details in my partnerships that people are going to think that I've sold out, that people are gonna judge me and ask what are you doing with your business? But I have to always remember that I sat down with the people that I'm partnering with and I know what they stand for as humans. I can feel comfortable in that. You know, we just have to grow, we have to expand. And I just think that we're not perfect but we do our best. I think that's the difference, there are a lot of companies out there who are purposely trying to deceive people, purposely trying to get people to believe their product is organic when it isn't or it has less CBD than it does. For example MILK makeup for crying out loud, a brand that I thought I loved what they stood for selling hemp seed oil and calling it CBD in Mascara when the hair is dead. I think it's cool that they're using it as a replacement for something having to do with bees but I just think deceiving your customer who you built all this supposed trust with as a brand is just outrageous.
Casey: Which Kush Queen products do you use?
Olivia: That’s really tough, I use the bath bombs a number of days a week. I have really sensitive skin and I've had like every horrible skin condition under the sun so I use our Relief bomb and I love it. Then I usually use it in combination with Melts because I'm normally so tired and my arms will hurt or my back will hurt from working all day or lifting heavy boxes but I really do use them all. I use the shower gel religiously. Helped me with my back acne. Glamorous but true. And then I live for our skin serum, which is a new product, and I don't wear makeup every day but I can use that after taking two rounds of accutane because of this amazing product. They're all heroes me in different ways. But definitely the bath bombs and the melts. The melts are an addiction at this point.
Casey: What else do you do to practice self care?
Olivia: Well I like to take just like a little time in the morning. I don't like to use the word meditation because that feels you know like you have to be Ohhhm. When people say, I do a meditation app I say well I'm not that far. But I do like that take time in the morning. I like to just have me time for about an hour where I'm not on my phone and just sit in my backyard. I also love to get my nails done. My nails are everything, it feels like it resets my soul and I take it super seriously. And then just living fully. I know that sounds kind of silly, but just making sure that if I feel like I've acted in a way that I'm not proud of, I apologize and just try to live every day being better. I also have a strange addiction. I love cleaning my face and I have a facial steamer. I love steaming my face. You can do it too much so you can't get too addicted. But I try to steam my skin once a week and do a mask and that really helps me just feel so moisturized especially in dry southern California.
Casey: Last question. What stereotypes around using cannabis do you think should be broken or just aren't true?
Olivia: Well, I think the biggest thing for me is that people only relate to smoking weed. Smoking weed is the basic level of cannabis and probably in twenty-five years we're going to laugh, we're going to look back and be like, oh, remember when people used smoke joints? Or smoking out of a bongs- I think that it’s sort of still the biggest hurdle that we have to overcome is that certain people don't look at cannabis as a daily preventative. They look at it as just something sick people need. And I’ve grown weed and I’ve dealt with the plant so much that it's a plant. It's like a carrot and I'm on this mission to get people to look at it like a carrot or kale because even people who say oh, I can't believe you smoke weed everyday-but I don’t only smoke weed. Sometimes I use it topically, I take a capsule, so many other ways besides smoking weed. And I think that the media has had that same fascination with the stoner. Even the cannabis community, the people who are in the core community or people in the industry, a lot of them are extreme consumers. I think that that's okay, I'm the kind of person who also doesn't want to be judged for the fact that I want to smoke a joint in the middle of the day, but I think it's all one big problem that we're still not understanding it as a plant. We're really still over shooting on the harm and I just think that the legal cannabis industry has its own hurdles to overcome because we're creating an industry that's not sustainable as far the packaging. We've got to wake up and be more conscious as far as like the waste we’re creating. And I think the stoner will go away. I really do and people are gonna understand it more medically. I think it's got to be seen as a plant and everyone's still seeing it as dollar signs or a drug. I really liken it to kale and one day whenever I teach my kids about it, that's how I'm going to teach them. We still have a lot of lot of hurdles to overcome with stigma-it's a lack of understanding, you know, even the munchies, people will say, oh, weed will give me the munchies and I'm like, well it is an appetite stimulant, but if you were using a high THCB strain, which is a different molecule, but certain types of THCB, like a Durban Poison, it will actually act as an appetite suppressant. But people just don't know and then you get like such a little time with media and different things to explain to people as opposed to really being able to educate them. It's just gonna take a long time. That's all.
Casey: One more thing and then I'll let you go for real.
Casey: You were talking about your staff and I would love to end on who is a current staff member that you think is invaluable and why? I mean, I'm sure they're all great, just the first one that comes to your mind. It doesn't have to be favorite.
Olivia: Well obviously my mom.
Casey: Oh yeah, of course. What is your mom's name?
Casey: I love it.
Olivia: You know, she keeps us all on our toes. But I really honestly I love every single person who works here, obviously with having someone on our staff who had a very traumatic accident, you realize how much time we spend together and then to get back to people love our product, you know, people who are big fans. That's also something everyone here loves. One of my friends has worked with me for years and her name is Ashley. She's another one who’s been here every step of the way. I mean there's a lot of people who've been here for over a year. Everybody's special and everybody brings their own unique everything to it. My brother, I mean you can’t ask me my favorite, i can’t pick one! I'm related to two people so it's extremely biased.
Casey: Well thank you so much for chatting with me.
Olivia: Yeah, no problem. Thank you so much for taking the time to believe in what we do in care and it really, truly makes everything amazing. Yes. We're just really lucky if we would be nowhere without people like you who believe in our products and who enjoy using them. So we do appreciate it.
Casey: Well and thank you for doing the work that you do.
Olivia: I'm just doing my part.