Stephanie Vanamee clearly likes a challenge. A copy director in the marketing world, she pivoted head-first into the CBD business—a totally legal but banned-from-the-socials industry. During a pandemic. With young kids at home. Did we mention her product can’t be sold on social media? 😳
And she doesn’t just like a challenge, she clearly thrives on it. Because what she’s created with Parson Brown, her line of hemp-derived products, is such a high quality, absolutely stunning, and deliciously fragranced self-care line that it will be a surprise to no one when it goes viral ends up in every Ace Hotel or Soho House around the world.
We proudly carry Stephanie’s line in our teeny tiny HudCo Shop, and we encourage all members (and visitors) to chat her up whenever you see her in the HudCo kitchen or hanging out with us in the café up front (where her and Sara are planning their next Picture Book x Parson Brown Book Club). Without further ado, meet Stephanie Vanamee:
You’re a writer and storyteller and fellow magazine world-person. How did you fall into the world of CBD?
It was kismet! My co-founder is a former colleague from my days working in luxury magazines. We also worked as creative partners—he as art director, me as copy director—more recently at a travel brand. So he reached out to me during the pandemic with a fun project. His family has a hemp farm and lab in Florida that needed a rebrand. So we did a swap with them—in exchange for helping them rebrand, we were given the opportunity to create our own hemp products. I was already very familiar with CBD and used it for anxiety and back pain. I had also done a lot of work in the clean beauty space and knew a lot about ingredient safety, knowledge of which we applied to our product development.
What do you love most about Parson Brown products? What kind of response have you had from consumers?
I love that our products help people feel better. When we set out to create our brand, we knew that we were entering a saturated market — even bodegas and gas stations sell CBD! So we were laser focused on creating beautiful products with beautiful packaging, and our aim was to differentiate Parson Brown by making it feel more like the non-CBD luxury body brands out there — think Aesop or Le Labo. We didn’t think that feeling good and smelling good needed to be mutually exclusive. In other words, we wanted to lean away from more “medicine cabinet” or “locker room” CBD products and more towards “use these before you go out for the night.” And because our focus was so much on the formulation, I think I didn’t anticipate what it would feel like to have customers tell me how our salve helped them so much with their pain that they came back to buy two more. At events, people often rub on the lotion or the salve or try a drink with our CBD drops in it, and then shop around and come back 20 minutes later to buy it. Because it works! And oh my god, that feels so great.
As you build this business and consider your past professional experience, what do you feel you seek most in the type of work you do? What fulfills your soul in regards to work?
I’m probably happiest when I’m writing. It’s been that way since I was a kid. When my middle school English teacher took notice and pushed me to submit an essay to a competition that I then won, I realized that writing was my superpower—and I used it from then on. Especially as a kid that struggled with anxiety, it felt powerful to be able to write what I usually couldn’t say out loud. And while I ended up studying art in college, most of my studio work was text based, so words even found their way into my art.
A few years back I pivoted from magazine publishing to copywriting, and I find it tremendously satisfying to puzzle together words that make an impact.
Creating Parson Brown has felt like the culmination of all of those things. From finding the name to obsessing over creating actual products(!!) to crafting a visual identity to finding and honing our voice…it has been an incredible creative journey.
How does that work align with what you do for fun, in the remaining hours of the day?
What fills my souls most is creating things. I consider myself a maker, a tinkerer, a dabbler, a crafter. I take sewing classes (Ed note: Pic below is from Stephanie’s work at Hastings Sewing Studio) and am learning to make garments. I knit slowly and badly but wear my funky hats proudly. In my professional life, I am constantly challenged with problems to solve and new skills to learn (picture me simultaneously googling “how to write a business plan” and “how to make a TikTok”), and while it can be daunting, I think it is an incredible skill to have to learn on the job. In my personal time, I’m usually googling things like “best olive oil cake recipe” or “best deer resistant native plants for shade”—basically learning on the job, home edition.
The CBD and cannabis world is ever-changing, it seems like a difficult industry to break into and work within. What are some challenges you find in growing the Parson Brown brand—both back-end and customer-facing?
The biggest challenge we have faced as a small CBD brand has been with digital marketing. The rules and regulations that Google and Facebook adhere to regarding CBD products are bananas. In a nutshell, CBD products are legal but still considered “banned substances” akin to firearms and alcohol, so I can’t use social media to reach large audiences via paid ads. Larger brands have figured out how to game the system but small brands have to fight for every follow, every click, every post. It’s been so frustrating. However, someone recently told me that she consults for a big cosmetic brand and that they are struggling to be seen in the digital space too—there is just so much competition and noise. She said she was brought in to create activations for that large brand that look much more grassroots. I thought that was kind of funny—and it made me decide that I was going to be happy doing marketing the old fashioned way—meeting people at our pop ups and events, because that is where we can make the biggest impact anyway.
If you could change someone’s misconception about the cannabis industry and CBD, what would that misconception be and what would you want them to understand?
Well, the first misconception is around CBD and its potential psychoactive effects. This is why I love meeting our clients in person. They have so many questions! How will it make me feel, how much should I take, etc etc. But I do want to clear this up: CBD doesn’t make you high.
The second is around what we call the adult-use cannabis market. If you are anything like me, maybe you swore off getting high after one too many paranoid episodes 20 years ago. But as a person working within this industry, I want to say that I am seeing firsthand that the legalization of recreational cannabis use can be life-changing for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. And, going back to my feelings around creating a product that helps people, legalization will allow for so many more medical studies of all of the incredible benefits of this plant — and thus so many more products that can help people.
How does running a business fit into your family life? Is it challenging to balance it all, or is there a flexibility that’s helpful?
This is a tough one to answer. Mostly, I fit work around my family life, but I never feel like I’m doing it right. Something is always suffering, and in the last few years, the balance has swung towards my family. As a woman and a mother, I feel so let down by this country’s lack of quality affordable childcare and lack of support for women and working mothers—something laid bare by the pandemic, which is when we started Parson Brown. Because I was home. With the children.
OK—Pretend we’re at the next HudCo market. Can you introduce each of the Parson Brown products to us like we were hanging out with you at your table?
Our body cream is sort of like our hero product. It is beautifully scented with a citrus neroli blend, and some of the earthiness of the hemp comes through. It’s thick and moisturizing and really penetrates the skin, helping both dry skin and soothing soreness, because it contains 1,000 mg of CBD—on the high side for a cream. You may have seen it around HudCo and even used it in the kitchen after washing your hands.
The bath salts are an amazing way to unwind at the end of the day. They are made with pink Himalayan sea salt and CBD, both of which enhance your bath and smell like a tart orange candy. Only a few scoops are necessary and—hot tip—I mix mine with epsom salts. We also had a client tell us she uses hers as a salt scrub for her body in the shower—genius.
Our CBD oil may be my favorite product. Stir a few drops into your tea or mix yourself a mocktail (fresh orange juice and flavored seltzer are my go to) and feel your stress melt away. You can also drop the oil right under your tongue. It’s great for sleep and stress relief.
Our Parson Brown candles make an amazing hostess gift. They are scented with top notes of bergamot and neroli and additional notes of teak, tobacco, pine, and hemp. The scent is not cloying but rather sophisticated and relaxing.
Last but not least, our Relief Salve. It has been our most popular product and sold out before the holidays, and we are hoping to bring it back soon.