Discussion With Autumn Shelton, Owner and CFO of Autumn Brands: How She Started Out In Cannabis, Their PURE Certification, And Advice To Help Other Brands Thrive

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AUTHOR: Heather Allman

PUBLISHER: CANNABIS LAW REPORT

 

We’ve come a long way: from the rise of women, the laws we’ve overcome for women to make a stand, to the freedom we’ve secured in a society to become owners and trailblazers for today’s controversial passed laws — one being Cannabis.

 

Still a humble owner, Autumn Shelton,Owner and CFO of Santa Barbara-based Autumn Brands, is changing the culture and conversation around the female use of cannabis.

Building a cannabis empire that cultivates naturally potent strains in Santa Barbara’s idyllic coastal landscape, hand-cured and hand-trimmed to preserve their natural healing benefits.

Autumn Brands is a family-run, 50% woman-owned company known for its holistic focus and artisanal approach to producing powerfully potent strains of pesticide-free cannabis.

 

Autumn Shelton and Hanna Brand

 

From day one to the present, the company has sought to shift the female perspective, stigmas, and misunderstandings associated with the use of cannabis as part of a whole and healthy lifestyle.

Determined to make their mark on a male-dominated cannabis industry, the company aims to serve a growing female health and wellness market eager to embrace the myriad benefits of cannabis as part of a healthy lifestyle.

In late May 2021, I talked with Autumn Shelton of Autumn Brands, a fearless female leader, about one family’s hard work and dedication to making their brand one of the most reliable, sustainable, and dedicated farms in the nation.

 

Autumn Brands, Owner and CFO of Autumn Brands

 

CLR: How did you get started in Cannabis?

 

I was working for my then boss, now partner, as his CFO for his cut flower business at the time.  He had leased out some of his greenhouses to a medical marijuana collective and quickly saw the opportunity to switch over almost all the greenhouses.  I have always been a supporter of Cannabis and had an entrepreneurial mind frame. I will never forget the fateful day, when my partner said, “why don’t we start something?” 

I immediately started drawing up business plans and ideas.  His kids were going to be graduating from college a few years later and he wanted them to also be a part of this emerging industry. 

So the four of us joined forces and never looked back!

 

CLR: When and how did you personally first discover the potential of cannabis?

 

Luckily for us, most of the infrastructure was already in place and we literally just changed over the crop.  Our partner owns the property, so we got a little more time to pay rent. 

The four of us are frugal by nature and all strongly believe in growing within our means.  So while some in this industry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fancy equipment in the beginning, we only bought what we needed until we could afford more. 

This has allowed us to stay self-funded the entire time, be a profitable and cash flow positive company.

 

CLR: Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Well, there is never a dull moment in this industry.  In all honesty, I found my dream job and the best partners I could ask for.  There have been and continue to be many intense challenges along the way, but I wouldn’t give up this opportunity or business for anything. 

I have always been a believer and user of cannabis, but I never knew just how incredibly passionate I would become over this life changing plant.  

 

CLR: How do your past professional expertise and experience help you with your leadership role?

 

Immediately after I graduated from college, I earned my real estate license and worked for Prudential California Real Estate. I’ve always been industrious and I also started my own company, Platform Real Estate, to focus on the REO (foreclosure) market. 

I guess you could say I’ve always had a passion for problem solving and good ethics for work. I have had many incredible mentors throughout my life that have helped guide me to leadership roles.  

 

CLR:  What is it about your position that most attracted you to it?

 

Cannabis is a health and wellness industry and it’s a plant that can help so many people.  Women are natural caregivers and want to use and provide natural and healing products.

It’s easy to be passionate and attracted to this industry when you are in tune with all the benefits it provides.  

 

CLR:  What do you enjoy most about your job? The upsides?

 

The best part about this industry is that it’s still relatively new and has no glass ceilings or ‘boys clubs’.  Cannabis is an incredible plant that naturally regulates our bodies. 

It’s all about Health and Wellness and most women are naturally experts at taking care of themselves and their families.  I know more women will get involved in this industry, so that this incredible plant will continue to help more people everyday. 

There are so many different ways to get involved.  Specifically, being a grower takes a specific skill and passion whether you are male or female.  I personally do not have a green thumb and should never be in charge of the plants.

I am good at many other aspects of running the business and problem solving.  It’s important to always know your strengths and your weaknesses, so that you can collectively help the business be successful.

I love the people I work with within our company and outside our company.  I love watching the plants grow throughout their life cycle. 

I love to watch our packaging room assemble our consumer products and to hear feedback from the consumer how much they love them.  

 

CLR:  What are the downsides?

Being a pioneer in a new industry that is highly regulated is very challenging.  Working with a government that still hasn’t figured out how to regulate or help the industry thrive can be very frustrating.  

 

 

CLR: There can be two distinct kinds of CBD/cannabis: (1) compassionate or people-centric, and (2) capitalistic or profit-centric. How do you reconcile the two in order to maintain a balance at Autumn Brands?

 

Autumn Brands is owned and operated by two families.  We take a lot of pride in what we do, are very frugal and remind each other to always stay humble.  There isn’t a day that any of us aren’t thankful for this opportunity and experience. 

Our motto has always to grow within our means, so that we can remain profitable but most importantly happy.  It’s very important for us to also always pay it forward to our employees and to our community.  

 

CLR:  In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives — that are possibly not faced by their male counterparts — especially when it comes to the Cannabis space?

Some men’s focus is to dominate, where  women may prefer to collaborate.  Historically, men always had a seat at the table, where women weren’t allowed.

To change that perception will continue to take time in any industry.  But there will continue to be men that don’t believe women should be represented, just as cannabis continues to have a stigma.  Over time, both stigmas will disappear.

I am fortunate to have a male partner that only wants to lift me up and our local cannabis association, CARP Growers, which is primarily male dominated, just elected me to be their first female President.  

 

CLR:  Who taught you about or how did you learn your entrepreneur and business skill set?

My mom and my step dad both have an entrepreneur spirit.  But I’ve always wanted to start my own business, which I did in my 20’s, but it was unsuccessful. 

I’ve had many mentors along the way that have taught me a lot.  I am very strong in problem solving and having the right partners and vision has been key. 

 

 

 

 

CLR:  Do you have a mentor, concerning the cannabis industry?

I don’t have a specific mentor for the cannabis industry, but it’s my goal this year now that my baby is over a year and a half, and it’s safe to interact again after COVID to network and learn as much as possible.  

 

CLR:  How is your actual job different than the job/role you thought it would be?

When we started, I wore a lot of hats and I continue to do so.  My initial role was meant to be the CFO, but I really focus more on business development, compliance and making corporate decisions. 

My partner, our CEO, has mentored me along the way to take over more of his duties so he can enjoy more time off.  

 

CLR:  What did some states do right in their cannabis legislation and frameworks?

Participating in the development of California’s legislation and regulation has been challenging enough, so I haven’t had much time to follow many other states. California, being a very large state and home to a majority of ‘traditional’ aka ‘illegal’ cannabis farms, has struggled to find the right way to convert everyone to a regulated framework. 

It’s been a very bumpy and highly taxed road that some have been able to be very successful in and others continue to struggle to transition over.  

 

CLR:  What still needs improvement? What ideas or actions need to come to fruition for true Cannabis reform?

California is transitioning from three overseeing entities (BCC, CDFA, CDPH) to one governmental agency.  There has been so much confusion and inconsistencies between the three agencies, so this is a step in the right direction.

Cannabis businesses are taxed at the cultivation level and again at the retail level.  Which means we are being taxed on taxes paid.  Eliminating the cultivation tax and only collecting tax at the retail level, will dramatically reduce costs, confusion and unnecessary paperwork. 

At the Federal Level, 280e needs to be eliminated.  It’s crippling for cannabis businesses to owe more in taxes based on amounts that are greater than their actual expenses.  

 

 

 

CLR:  Tell me about your efforts to become PURE Certified.

A clean toke begins with a distinctively pure product and that’s why our product line carries the PURE icon – featured on all brand packaging – guaranteeing a steadfast commitment to the quality and safety of the pesticide-free plant elements within.

Offering a simple way for customers to identify products they can trust for a clean, potent cannabis experience filled with all the positive energy of a natural, truly PURE approach.

Said to resemble a person holding up the sun – a nod to the brand’s sungrown cultivation – a third eye that speaks to healing elemental plant power, or a ladybug representing their pesticide-free approach that allows beneficial bugs to thrive, the PURE guarantee marks a product that is:

  • Pesticide-free, grown and nurtured by hand according to integrative, no-spray techniques that allow beneficial creatures like ladybugs to coexist peacefully
  • User-first, always keeping the safety and experience of customers top-of-mind during every step of the process
  • Responsibly-grown, using hydroponic methods and natural well water on a closed-loop system
  • Eco-friendly, incorporating into the grow process earth elements like sustainably sourced products that keep the brand’s carbon footprint small

 

 

CLR: How have consumers changed since you started in the THC/CBD space?

Since the Pandemic, we have seen a lot more opportunities given to retailers for delivery, which has really helped increase the customer base and ease of getting products.

Now that there is a democratic majority and new majority leader, we should see more progress towards legalization at the Federal level.

 

CLR: What type(s) and/or demographics of consumers are you seeing now?

We’re seeing a wide range of customers in California ranging from 21 – 99+.

 

CLR: What consumer product or service demand do you see trending currently?

Delivery services are on the rise.  And we’re seeing demand for our Salve product growing each week. 

 

 

Topical applications like our Salve are appealing to the boomer market too who are looking for alternative pain relief without the high.

 

CLR:  Let’s go beyond Corporate Social Responsibility. Talk to me about “positive impact” and what that means for Autumn Brands?

The most amazing thing we have seen in the past 3.5 years of not spraying pesticides is that naturally beneficial insects’  like ladybugs, have chosen our greenhouses for their next generation.

They strategically place offspring in locations where there will be or might be a food source. In essence before we know of a problem these natural partners 😉 of ours have put a strategy in place to ensure we don’t have a flare up of pests.

 

CLR:  What is the biggest challenge you personally  face in your role? How do you solve it or work to change it?

Men still dominate this industry, so making sure they understand that women have a lot to bring to the table, especially Hanna and I.  

We are very active in the industry in different ways and are able to communicate and collaborate as a team to prove our executive skills and abilities. 

 

 

 

CLR:  What advice or words of wisdom can you give to other leaders, especially women and minority leaders, to help their teams and companies and brands to thrive?

As a minority leader it’s important to present yourself in a clear, professional, confident and humble manner in order to gain the respect of your employees and industry partners. 

In any business, but especially in a new industry, it’s important to stay frugal and not try to be the fanciest company out there, or you could lose everything. 

We saw so many cannabis businesses go out of business because they spent too much before they even got their business up and running. 

Always stay true to your company vision and when something isn’t working, make small revisions so you can figure out exactly what needs to change.  

 

CLR: Give me one concrete example of a future Autumn Brands goal to show leadership in the ever-crowded CBD industry. Or, what future impact does Autumn Brands actively strive to make in the growing national CBD space?

We don’t have a goal to just be in the CBD space.  We grow cannabis, not hemp. Including THC with CBD can be beneficial to our bodies. 

Our bodies actually have a natural receptor to THC and when combined with CBD, they create a perfect synergy. And there are ways to get the benefits of THC without getting high such as in topicals for example.  

We developed an incredible Full Spectrum 1:7 ratio of CBD to THC Nourishing Muscle and Joint Salve from our pesticide free flower that works wonders for pain, inflammation, rashes, etc.  It includes all the cannabinoids and terpenes naturally derived from the plant. 

Most cannabis strains are high THC and low CBD, but there are also other strains that are high CBD, low THC or even some around a 1:1 ratio.  Expanding our product lines to include different ways for the consumer to enjoy all the benefits of cannabis whether it includes psychoactive effects or not is how we can continue grow our brand  

 

CLR: What are you most currently passionate about?

I am currently passionate about the incredible feedback and repeat customers we are receiving for our salve and our two new Elixirs that will be hitting the market in June 2021. 

Developing new product lines is always a lot of fun, but also daunting. It takes time to build customer and retail awareness, but it’s all worth it when you get awe inspiring testimonials.

 

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