Cannabis Processing Without The Mansplaining

Shake Extractions owners cannabis processing
Brittany Phillips, Antigone "Tig" Davoulas and Julie Brents of Shake. Photo: Shake Brands Corp.

Inside a few small rooms in a Northwest Arkansas office building, four women are blazing a unique path in the state’s cannabis industry. Shake Extractions, located in Johnson just outside of Fayetteville, is a women-owned cannabis processing facility, bringing distinctly women-focused products (and big plans) to market in a male-dominated retail landscape.

The ladies have experienced their share of mansplaining and folks telling them they won’t be able to make it in the industry. “We couldn’t possibly know what we are doing,” Brittany Phillips, the company’s chief creative officer, said. “Certainly, early on, we had that. We don’t entertain it anymore.”

Shake isn’t just owned by women, it’s influenced by them, which is evident in the company’s products. The team focuses on three areas: beauty, dietary supplements and sexual health. It’s the last element of this trifecta, though, that is likely to garner the most attention — and a few snickers — from customers who spot the items on the shelves in the state’s dispensaries.

This male reporter felt a little awkward asking the four women owners about the sexual health products, but admitted it openly before pressing on out of professional obligation and personal curiosity. The owners — Julie Brents, Antigone “Tig” Davoulas, Syrona Scott and Phillips — were happy to answer all the questions. While drops and balms make up the beauty and dietary supplement product lines, the sexual health products consist of vaginal suppositories and a sex lube for couples. Both products are infused with CBD and THC.

The vaginal suppositories come in a metal tin similar in size and shape to a container for Altoids mints, although you’d never want to confuse the two. The label describes the product as a “cannabis-infused vaginal moisturizer with coconut oil, shea butter” and says it is “ritual self-care for your delicates.”

While the products might engender a few giggles or awkwardness, they are infused with 80-85 mg of CBD and 7 mg of THC and treat real ailments that the state’s patients experience. Patients use the products for vaginal dryness, painful sex, menstrual pain, nausea and more, they said.

“It’s just a really lovely product,” Phillips said. “You put it in, it dissolves. The THC and the CBD enter your bloodstream in a quick way and it’s localized but also a body high.”

The sexual health product line also includes a sex lube for couples, and one owner said it optimizes orgasms.

“We are women and we understand women’s health issues, but we also want to broaden our market for everybody,” said Davoulas, the group’s chief legal officer. “So we want to balance. Yes, we targeted women with the vaginal suppositories, but [the sex lube] is for anybody that likes to enjoy.”

Developing cannabis processing for products with women in mind and marketing to women makes business sense, too. According to a report from the state Department of Health last year, 47,872 of the state’s medical marijuana cardholders were women, accounting for 51.8% of all cardholders.

“The void in the market for something this specific was absolutely why we came to market with this,” Phillips said. “It’s why we settled on these [products] and how, in an effort to differentiate, we can bring our patients something they can’t get otherwise.”

How it started
In 2015, Brents moved back to Arkansas after several years working in cannabis ventures in California. She worked on a campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas and then the serial entrepreneur, as she calls herself, saw a new business opportunity in Arkansas.

Brents had known Phillips previously and had met Davoulas on a previous trip to Arkansas. “I thought we could have an all-women team and get after this,” Brents said.

The team came together and created a line of CBD products called CBD & Me that are similar to the THC-infused products they are making today. The CBD products are USDA-certified organic, which means that everything from the Vermont hemp farm where the plants are grown to the final stages of product creation in the Northwest Arkansas lab are organic.

The team’s THC products from cannabis processing are also organic in a sense, even though they don’t carry the USDA-certified label. (Cannabis is still illegal on the federal level and THC can’t be bestowed a USDA distinction for being grown organically.)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Brents and the team saw an opportunity to shift their focus and apply for a processing license. The arduous process, evident by the size of the fat binder Brents plopped down on a table, resulted in Shake being the first processor licensed in Arkansas. Shake also happened to be the first hemp processor licensed in Arkansas, Davoulas noted.

Shake, which buys distillate from Good Day Farm, sent its first product to market in October. Today, the products are in 12 of the state’s 38 dispensaries and the team plans to extend its reach into more dispensaries. The company has had several reorders, they said.

“Everybody has really responded well to us,” Phillips said.

Big plans
Shake Extractions is more than a cannabis processing facility, though. These ladies have big plans.

Shake owns 13 registered trademarks for “Big drip energy” and other things and is working on another trademark for “Cannabis by women.” The trademarks are an important part of the business, because they would allow Shake’s brands to cross state lines, even if cannabis itself can’t travel across state lines because of the federal prohibition. A trademark, like “Cannabis by women,” could appear on products in other states without violating the federal prohibition, for instance.

Davoulas’ first job out of Ole Miss law school was in the legal department at Playboy Enterprises, an experience she said had some similarities to cannabis as a highly regulated industry. The company had an international portfolio of trademarks and the experience made her think big when it came to business. “That [experience] kind of lended itself in the same facet as what we do here,” Davoulas said. “We wanted to leverage our own brands, too.”

Phillips, who owns a design firm in Fayetteville, said it’s important for the industry to create products for women but also to market to women. “For us it’s just so important to have that seat at the table and to bring the patients a perspective that they are not getting from a product development standpoint,” Phillips said. “Not to mention from a brand standpoint in how they are being represented essentially. That was super important to us to develop products that are made with women in mind, that was important to us and always will be.”

The owners showed off a bag from a company called “Buy Weed from women,” made by a woman in New Jersey who supports legalization as well as minority-owned, women-owned, Black-owned businesses. “We wouldn’t be Shake if we didn’t uplift other female brands,” Davoulas said.