The growth of the fun and formidable cannabis marketplace provides fresh opportunity for brands to expand their collections or for totally new original brands to make their debut. Ryan Rankin never started his own brand before he founded Mary Joe Brand with his partner and friend Robert Guy. Mindful surfers from Costa Mesa, California, they recognized the health benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) and wanted to create a product that could integrate well in surfing lifestyle culture. PRØHBTD chatted with Rankin to learn more about this new wave of products and how he approached building Mary Joe Brand.
Did the Mary Joe Brand start from a love of coffee or CBD?
My good friend Robert Guy and I have been involved in surf culture and [the] arts for a long time now. We were working together on another project, actually, and we weren't quite feeling it, but in that time period we'd been using CBD and other hemp products. Seeing a lot of positive results, we thought what if we take our influences and this other world, which is very surf, art and lifestyle branding, and what if we apply it to this new frontier of CBD, hemp and cannabis.
We love coffee, but the angle is a hemp-based lifestyle brand. We thought coffee would be a cool product to start with, to launch. There's a huge [CBD] learning curve still among the masses. Everyone's pretty familiar with coffee so it's a platform that's an easy transition. It's like, “Oh, I already drink cold-brew coffee, maybe I'll try this thing I'm not so familiar with.” [It] lets you ease into it. There's actually a lot of awesome benefits of drinking CBD with coffee. It's kind of this balancing effect, and people say that it eases the jitters and is a more productive version of a coffee-drinking experience as well.
Surfing has had a connection to cannabis going way back to the islands the sport was developed on. The surfing community likes to be healthy so CBD seems like a no brainer.
Of course. We like cannabis, we've always been utilizing it, but we're not huge into being unproductive. Surfing itself takes a lot of mental and physical energy, so you're not just trying to get super stoned and sit around all day. You want to be functional, and that's why we're passionate about getting involved in this new space because it's something that everyone can utilize. Not everyone’s trying to get high, but most everyone wants to be healthy.
Where do you source your CBD?
We don't grow it ourselves, but we work with a company based out of Colorado. It's all hemp based, all organic. Really high-quality standards. Ours is actually a full-spectrum, water-soluble CBD, so it has all sorts of beneficial cannabinoids minus THC, obviously. You get all the good stuff; it's more of a full-hemp extract.
How about your coffee?
That's more of an experience that we're able to oversee, which is cool. Our buddy runs a roasting company called Wilson just down the street from our headquarters. We work with him on a plan—it's all done in-house from the roasting to the actual brewing and bottling. It's pretty cool to be able to see everything happen from start to finish at the same facility.
We don't outsource that aspect of it. It's not done in some huge-scale corporate facility, [so] it's very hands on. We're able to retain more guidance over the project because of that.
How did you develop your branding? I discovered you on Instagram because I had an instant connection to your logo art.
Totally, like I said from the beginning, this is the world me and Robert come from. As far as the branding and the lifestyle effect, we've always been really big into art and design. The original idea was that it's still such an untapped industry. There's some better-quality stuff growing now that it's being legalized in more states, but at the time we conceived the idea, there wasn't much in the way of good product as far as branding and marketing go.
This all started with the idea. We wanted it to be lifestyle oriented, and have it just look really good, high quality, and then we were able to work with Barry [McGee] on the art. We've known him for quite a while. Robert actually lived in San Francisco for 10 years, and he worked with him a bit. He’s a designer as well. I think they were surfing one day somewhere in San Francisco, and he just pitched him the idea, like, “Hey, would you be willing to mock up a little design for this project we got going?” He was super willing, and we're really grateful for that. A couple months later we had the final version and started mocking it up. Within a year we were on shelves.
A big thing for us is the way it looks and the way it sits on shelves, and like you said, the packaging is big. In the beginning we actually used Boston round bottles, which is the more standard cold brew-looking bottle. It was glass but with a plastic cap. That was bothering us so we switched to a new, more unique glass bottle that has an aluminum twist off cap. Just any little thing like that we can do to reduce waste and not use plastic.
Our whole deal is diving into hemp and its many uses. A big part of the story of hemp is how eco-friendly it is, renewable and sustainable, even more so than other crops like cotton. This plant is so beneficial for the planet, and we really think it should be utilized way, way more. You can make biodegradable plastics, build houses, you can fuel cars, all these things. It wouldn't make sense for us to be pushing this whole idea and then have some non-eco-friendly packaging.
Most people are using plastic so we just wanted something that can be recycled. To us, that's the most important thing—not creating waste that you use once and then that's it forever. We made sure to get the California CRV so it can be recycled. Eventually the goal is—it's actually hard to do in California—to have a recycle program where people will send it back to you and you clean them and reuse them. In Mexico they do that like crazy, and it's pretty cool, but here it's not so easy. I think it's because of health codes, standards and things like that.
We're still a very young company. We're not even officially a year old, so we're just doing the best we can do with the guidelines we have. The first thing we wanted to do was eliminate all plastic.
Back to your coffee, are you doing a few different varieties of brew? Are you doing things that are seasonal to Wilson and to what they bring in?
We launched with one product because it gets hectic and confusing when people come out the gates with too many products and too many things. We're like, "What if we start really simple so all we had was this one product with the same blend, nothing added as far as sweeteners or creamers or anything?" It's just this CBD-infused cold brew coffee. The idea is not to be a coffee company per se. The whole concept is to be a hemp-lifestyle company.
One of our tag lines is "ascended essentials." It’s like tapping into essential items that you use throughout your daily life, and coffee is a big one for people. For example, we're working on a full hemp cut-and-sew clothing line. We're doing apothecary items. It's like tapping into all the many different uses of hemp and offering the basic essentials as opposed to like 10 different versions of this coffee. Our clothing collection will not have 50 different types of shirts. It'll have the essentials. It's maybe a minimalistic approach and offering what we feel are really the essentials.
Just playing devil’s advocate, why be sustainable in your brand process when you could instead spend less money and probably make more profit? Why is that important?
I think different brands have their own answer to that. For us, this is something we're passionate about. We surfed our whole lives and spend a lot of time in the ocean. We see plastic everywhere. It's like, if we were contributing to that, it would not feel okay at the end of the day. No one's perfect, and we're always going to try to better ourselves as far as our approach to running a brand. Also, it works for us because it's a little bit of a higher price point item. It's a higher quality item, and that's how we want it to be perceived.
It's passion. It's being able to wake up everyday and feel good, knowing that you're doing a good thing in the world.
There are a lot of things that we want to do with this platform, but one of the big ones is spreading knowledge about single-use plastic and how devastating it is on our ocean and planet. We want to produce stuff like this so people can learn and streamline their approach to consuming. People don't think about it, but you go to a restaurant and get a water cup or a straw every time. All you literally would have to do is bring a bottle with you or your own straw or utensils. Little things like that make a massive difference over time. We want to be on the forefront of utilizing hemp to eliminate single-use plastics.