Image: Valarie Sakota and Meryl Montgomery. Courtesy Barbari.
Valarie Sakota and Meryl Montgomery were far from thinking about being business partners when they were in college – they were just two close friends who started smoking herbal blends as a way to cut their stash and save some money. Creating herbal spliffs sparked the inspiration for creating a business, entering the market with a mission to create the best individual-dosed pre-roll available. They formed Barbari.
Their friendship was the foundation and is what sustains them in difficult times. As business partners, they balance and challenge one another. Barbari sprouted from the spirit of connection and female kinship and cross-country drives from Oregon to New York. When they launched the business, there was nothing else like their herbal spliffs available – they were creating a product that they both wanted as consumers with the goal to start a brand that made a real impact on the industry.
Barbari states that their herbal smoking blends are crafted to “get your mind right without rambling, made from organically-sourced food-grade ingredients with effects that can center, intoxicate and balance.” Like components in an herbal tea or a perfume, the ingredients in their blends come together to create a composition that is restorative to the body. Their blends, Airplane Mode, Car Sex, and Muse are lovely on their own, but they also pair beautifully with hemp or cannabis flower. Starting next week, we will be carrying their Variety Packs. These include one Airplane Mode CBD Spliff, one Muse CBD Spliff, one Car Sex CBD Spliff and two Hemp Smokes.
Leading up to this, we had a conversation with Valarie and Meryl about their journey starting a business and how the company has evolved since. Here’s what Valarie and Meryl had to say.
How has Barbari evolved since its inception? Have there been any unexpected challenges?
Valarie & Meryl: The vision has always been to offer a consistent and cohesive product line nationwide. This way consumers are able to enjoy the Barbari Herbal Spliff experience if they live in a legalized state or not. Over the years, we’ve been able to bring this evolution to life, and we have so much farther to go!
What excites you about being in the Cannabis Space/this industry as a whole?
M: The community, particularly the women in this industry. I knew from the moment I walked into the Serra dispensary for the Broccoli launch party and entered a beautiful space filled with creative, intelligent, glowing women of cannabis that I had found my tribe. Since then, through the love, support, and encouragement of so many women in this industry, I have grown and become so much stronger and self-assured.
V: The fact that it’s still evolving and establishing itself. It can be a challenge and an opportunity at the same time but it feels like we are in a unique position to have a lasting influence on how this emerging regulated industry operates 100 years from now.
A survey by Forbes showed that only about 27% of executive roles in the cannabis industry are held by women. What is it like being a woman in this space? How does that influence your product?
V & M: Diversity is how conversations change and progress, and because of this we view our gender as a strength. Being a minority gives us a unique voice and approach, and the ability to take conversations further.
How do your values shape Barbari?
V & M: We started Barbari because of a desire to take some autonomy in our lives. We wanted to work towards a greater purpose and create a company that serves as a flywheel of creativity, diversity, and creativity. We wanted to create an environment that we would want to work in and run it in a way that kept the long term health of the environment and community in sight at all times. At the start of the year, we wrote an open letter to the cannabis industry detailing how our values lead our company.
How have you seen the industry change over time? How have you adapted?
V & M: Especially with the onset of a quarantined life, we’ve seen conversations really pick up about microdosing cannabis: microdosing & work-life balance, microdosing and parenting, microdosing and sex, etc. Since college and through our careers, we’ve been using small amounts of weed regularly. It’s exciting to see the industry really start to cater to this kind of consumer.
You were one of the first brands creating herbal spliffs. When you started, it wasn’t the trend that it is now. Was it difficult to get your herbal spliffs to the market?
V & M: I’m not sure who said it, but nothing worth anything is easy. It took us about 3 and a half years to get our THC product to the market. Being the first-to-market product means resistance every step of the way. We’re the first to do it, so are the ones on the front lines working with regulations, production, and financing to launch. It’s a part of the big vision though, and entirely worth all the stress and work.
We love your herbal smoking blends because of their versatility and use of Companion Botanicals. Which one of your products is your personal favorite/do you use most regularly?
M: It really varies on my mood. I was recently in Mexico for a while with limited access to weed. To make the few nugs I had last longer, I mixed it with our Airplane Mode blend most nights to wind down. It was great to keep up the ritual of smoking and not stress about running out of weed.
V: It’s hard to say, I formulated all three herbal blends to suit my various whims and use-cases. I probably turn to the Muse Spliff most often because I tend to smoke during moments of productivity and creativity and that blend is really tailored to more of the clear-headed and uplifting “get-shit-done” high.
When you started with Barbari, you began from the ground up pitching your brand and product to investors. What advice would you give to people wanting to get involved in the cannabis industry?
V & M: Find a good partner. The success of Barbari has been a team effort, and it’s hard to imagine being alone in this. It’s a chaotic, complex, fast industry. Having a good partner increases our chances of success, but also makes it so much more enjoyable to have someone to share the wins and challenges with.