“It just doesn’t occur to anyone that there is more than one gender working in this area.”
Antigone “Tig” Davoulas and other key stakeholders from the budding Shake Brands were in Little Rock, Arkansas, talking to the State Plant Board about launching its first industrial hemp pilot program. That included talking with interested grassroots and lobbyist organizations attempting to shepherd the process through legislation.
“One guy told us they didn’t know that there were any women in the business,” Davoulas says, laughing. “They said we should be the face of hemp in Arkansas because all anyone thinks about is some guy standing in a field with a plant.”
Shake Brands is a women-led, Arkansas-based cannabis branding and product development company. The organization is focused on building a diverse supply chain and raising up women in science, industry, and all through the production pipeline.
“People will ask us if we only work with women,” says Davoulas, the chief legal officer of Shake Brands. “Of course not. We want to elevate cannabis and education for the entire community. But it’s such an inspiration to work with empowered women, and that can be infectious. It’s just become a byproduct of our business.”
Most recently, Shake Brands is partnering with a female-led African American group of women based out of Los Angeles to curate a crate of Shake-branded products for nationwide distribution. On the local level, Shake is gearing up for a spring 2021 Northwest Arkansas Hemp Festival—the first of its kind produced by an all-woman team.
Shake is also looking to partner with the next generation. “Our latest intern is also a strong woman,” Davoulas says. “It’s so great to be able to send the elevator back down and mentor other women. We can all grow together.”
A Budding Relationship
Back in 2016, when Shake was searching for regulatory and compliance outside counsel, Davoulas continually heard the same referral. “Everyone kept telling us if you’re going into cannabis, you need outside counsel, and you need Hoban Law.”
Davoulas soon connected to Texas-based of counsel Ashley Simpson. “Shake Brands was one of the first clients that I really got to know well and that I was able to use my previous FDA experience with,” Simpson says. “It’s been a night and day change for me because I came from the oil and gas industry, where I was often reviewing documents from the 1800s. I transitioned from an area of law that had been established for decades and decades to a completely new legal field that’s still in the midst of being established and developed, which is fascinating.”
“To Ashley’s point,” Davoulas interjects, “as lawyers, we’re taught to really live in the gray and embrace it. When people ask for information ‘in plain terms,’ they mean black and white. And that’s just not where we are right now.”
Davoulas says the education component as it applies to the public at large is a critical function of those working in the industry. “A lot of people still think about [infamous propaganda film] Reefer Madness when they think of this industry. But I like to use the analogy of Prohibition. When it ended, it wasn’t something people were unfamiliar with or unaccustomed to. We’ve always had these commodities in our history, and, right now, there is a patchwork of states really taking a crack at legitimizing the industry as whole.”
Simpson is amazed by how far this burgeoning industry has come in such a short time. “This was sort of a scary proposition for any lawyer four or five years ago, and especially for me as a young lawyer with a one-year-old at home,” Simpson admits. “But it’s turned out to be a great decision.”
And Shake Brands is on the front lines. The company was the sole processor in Arkansas and only one of four in the South to receive USDA organic certification. Now, the company has set its sights on recreating its successful hemp product rollout for medical cannabis.
“We want to really open the market up with organic options and other chemical-free wellness product lines for the health focused,” Davoulas says. “Everything we see locally is missing this segment of the market.”
Shake Brands is looking to change that. The company is also intent on branching out from wellness into clean beauty. “We cut our chops starting in hemp, and now we’re really excited to lean in the rest of the way. We’re pumped to have Ashley with us to explore these avenues as well.”