Imelda Walavalkar is co-founder and CEO of Pure Beauty, a flower and pre-roll cannabis brand.
Imelda Walavalkar has a master’s in public health and international and public affairs from Columbia University. Before Pure Beauty and her work in cannabis, Imelda Walavalkar focused her efforts on social justice, including work with post-incarcerated populations. She then owned and operated Five Spice, a catering company in New York City, focused on sustainable and eclectic ingredients.
We spoke with Imelda Walavalkar for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Imelda Walavalkar, tell us…
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in San Diego but really I “grew up” in NYC. I currently live in Los Angeles. Both of my business partners also moved to L.A. from NYC, and I think Pure Beauty is very much a reflection of both California and New York culture.
Your current role in the cannabis industry.
I am the CEO/co-founder of Pure Beauty. We are a flower and pre-roll brand that grows indoor flower employing sustainable cultivation practices such as on-site energy generation, a closed loop water system and the donation of soil to public parks. We also have a very strong focus on art and culture, which we see as intrinsic to the plant.
Your earliest cannabis memory.
My earliest, most formative memory was smoking out of a giant bong (for the first time) when I was in college at Berkeley. It was the first time I experienced the real force of cannabis, and not in a good way. I got so high, I thought my life was ending. Now, I am completely comfortable with that force. Looking back I realize I was at one of the centers of what was the genesis of this industry. I went to my first dispensary in Berkeley with some friends, not realizing it was even possible to buy in any formal way. It was just a hallway with a little window that slid open, like a liquor store in New York. This was years before Prop 19 failed in California, and recreational legalization wasn’t even a popular conversation, even though it was brewing in the Bay Area, particularly with respect to social justice.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Cannabis has a positive impact on my life every day, from just getting to think about all the fun ways to consume it for Pure Beauty, to how it affects me personally. Being stoned always helps me see and experience the world in new ways that, I believe, push me to evolve as a human being and remind me that all the big things I am worried about are actually small things.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
I love our Terry T CBD flower. It contains less than 1 percent THC, so I was skeptical before trying it, but it is the first time I fully realized the value of CBD. It is very calming, without being sleepy. Plus, it’s a beautiful flower that smells like grapefruit.
Rose Delights are my favorite edible. From the chef-driven flavor combinations, to the use of full spectrum rosin, to the beautiful aesthetic, and the fact that they are vegan—I could go on and on, but you just need to try them!
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
Since promoting cannabis on most mainstream platforms is not permitted, we are pretty limited in what we can do and, therefore, not able to follow traditional marketing pathways. This can be frustrating, but it also forces us to think creatively and untraditionally, which is something we do anyway.
Our Instagram has been shut down a few times, which is never fun, and also just disheartening that such a guiding force in our culture is clearly unsupportive of cannabis. Part of our mission at Pure Beauty is working to break the stigma associated with cannabis and prompting conversation around why that stigma is upheld. There is a lot of work to be done still, which is reinforced every time we run into pushback from social media or platforms most other industries can use to engage customers.
One thing you’re excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
One thing I love about cannabis is all the interesting and unpredictable ways we can partner with people and other brands because of the nature of the plant. Cannabis lends itself to connecting art, fashion, music and design, plus so many weird, fun things that don’t exist in other industries.
Pure Beauty sees itself at the intersection of these worlds—all connected through cannabis—which allows us to play and come up with new, fun and interesting collaborations with partners. We recently launched an artist five-pack series with various creatives whom we connect with on some foundational value. Sterling Ruby is a friend of the brand and collaborated on one design, and Purity Wine did another, whom we recognize for their similar practices around sustainability.
We also launched a collection of one-of-a-kind bongs with Jochen Holz, who is an amazing glassblower based in London. Partnerships like this allow us to try new things and have fun creating something new we think our customers will appreciate. It is also heartening to see so many people dedicated to social equity and criminal justice reform in this space. It is such an important piece to what we are all doing that is particularly significant in this industry.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
We just partnered with Dream Corps’ and their Federal Prison Closure Campaign, who are doing a lot of great work around reforming the criminal justice system. This is an issue that has been important to me since before my work in cannabis; at the start of my career I worked with post incarcerated and other “at risk” populations.
I also really love Cannaclusive’s focus on inclusivity. This is another huge issue in the cannabis space—i.e., most positions of power and leadership are occupied by white men. This is the case in most industries, but it is particularly egregious in cannabis. We launched an apprentice program for that reason, with the goal of bringing more diverse talent to the industry. Minorities and women are both hugely underrepresented in cannabis, and we are actively trying to change this and use our voice and network at Pure Beauty to include, promote and celebrate those that have historically been less seen and less supported.
A project you worked on recently that you’re proud of.
We just launched a menthol cannabis cigarette. I have always found mint and cannabis to be a perfect pairing. Menthol is a compound that is organically derived from mint plants and is also a naturally occurring terpene in many cannabis strains. While it is a simple concept, we spent a lot of time and research making it perfect. Now we have a product that is beautiful, fun to smoke, unique and refreshing.
Someone else’s project you admired recently.
Not super recent, but I love and we support the Floret Coalition—an anti-racist collective of small businesses in the cannabis and cannabis-adjacent space supporting and funding equity-oriented actions via monthly donations and social campaigns. Their mission is extremely important to me, and the people behind it, Broccoli Magazine, are super passionate, thoughtful and smart. I know I don’t have to worry about where our donations are going or how they are being used.
Someone you admire in cannabis who’s doing great things.
Ophelia Chong. She founded Asian Americans for Cannabis Education, and among spearheading many other things, she is just a smart, interesting person. She uses her platform to create impactful conversations and promote positive change and inclusion within the industry.
A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.
Mint tea. It is amazing paired with a joint and the inspiration for our menthol cigarette.
What you’d be doing if you weren’t in the cannabis industry.
I would either be doing something with food—I had a catering business before Pure Beauty—or doing something in social justice, which was my profession before catering.