Spotlight Series: Emma Baron Founder of MilkWeed
Emma Baron is curating heirlooms that you will love forever. Tired of mass produced accessories she set out to create a space where artisans could create functional works of art that you would place in any room in your home.
"Made by hand on Canadian land" Emma's company Milkweed offers pieces that are modern yet timeless. The company's obvious love for all things Canadiana is charming and heart warming and everything on offer is designed to age gracefully and last a lifetime.
Milkweed is about beautiful objects made by hand & made to last.” Tell me a little bit about this philosophy
We're excited that Canada is leading the world in the cannabis paradigm shift. If we're going to be known for great cannabis, and we're already so gosh darn hospitable, then shouldn't we be able to serve it all up in style on Canadian-made accessories? A couple years ago we looked around the city and the internet to find accessories from local artists that were on that Kinfolk/Dwell/modernist tip, but we didn't find anything that fit.
We're big believers in shopping, eating, and smoking local, so we decided to jump in and fill the niche. You develop a relationship with dependable, handmade objects that you don't with disposable, mass-produced pieces. Plus, call us crazy, but we believe that people should be paid fair wages. Working directly with local artists, we know how the pieces are made and the effort that goes into them. Working with natural materials like clay, wood, and metal, we pay attention to the details that make an object stand the test of time, in both style and craft.
You’re from a small town in Northern Ontario, what was that like growing up? When did you discover a love for cannabis?
It's taken me a while to appreciate it, but Northern Ontario is a beautiful, wild and magic place. It offers so many kinds of adventures and bounties that are invisible to the untrained eye: secret patches of wild blueberries; wildlife scampering through your yard on the daily; crystal clear lakes; vast expanses of forests and fields. The other thing it offers is time and a lack of resources, which are the ingredients for creativity and problem-solving. I learned how to make and do things myself, and appreciate the effort that goes into handmade goods. I've been crafting and selling since I was 6, travelling with my mum and grandmother to one-of-a-kind shows across Ontario. I need to go home to stay for a bit and learn to weave with my grandmother.
I was much later to the cannabis party than most of my friends. Not that I really lent credence to the war on drugs or had a super-conservative family, I was just busy with all the nerdy activities like student council, theatre, and band. I also worked part-time as a server during the school year, and in the summer I would work two jobs as a bookkeeper during the weekdays and at the restaurant on nights and weekends. It wasn't until the last few months of high school that I smoked my first joint. It was during a Metallica concert at the Winnipeg Arena, and it was... a bit much, if I'm honest. (Both Metallica and the joint.) My best friend and I still laugh pretty hard about it today. My love for cannabis came in university, where I discovered that I much preferred to relax at a party with a joint than with a drink.
Can you tell us what brought you to the cannabis industry? How did you get from Dryden Ontario to Milkweed?
People skills and a love of adventure. Working in the hospitality industry put me through a degree in arts administration, both of these fields trained me in aesthetics, organization, and persistence. As I became more comfortable with cannabis, I became increasingly less comfortable with the stoner stereotype, as I'm sure the majority of Canadians have. I've often worked (at least) two jobs since I was 14, put myself through a degree on my own dime, and always have a volunteer event on my schedule.
What inspired Milkweed?
Cannabis is a compliment to your day, something that gets you doing what you like to do. Whether that's kayaking, killing it at the weekly office creative meeting, painting in-situ at the park, the average person uses cannabis as a tool to facilitate doing what they like to do. Cannabis is the means to an end, not a dead end. We were inspired to create a new cannabis aesthetic as we didn't see ourselves in the products that were on the market. Many cannabis accessories are mass-manufactured, which inspired us to create a brand that was homegrown, closer to the heart and hands of Canadians.
We chose the name Milkweed for a few reasons. Firstly, we wanted a nod to the Canadian ecosystem, and secondly, it conveniently contains the letters w-e-e-d in its name. We try to bring some wit and humour to the table, as they are great tools for breaking down barriers and opening up the conversation.
How do you find new artists to work with? What do you look for?
Our first priority when we're looking for artists is, of course, local goods. We'd love for our website to represent cannabis accessories from every part of Canada.
We tend to look for artists who aren't already creating cannabis inspired pieces, it helps bring a new perspective to the products. We work with them to create new objects that could sit in almost any room in your home, or maybe in your bag or as your carry-all that transports you to your next adventure.
Pieces with a story are important too - we're not looking to squeeze margins or fastest turnarounds from our suppliers. We want to support small entrepreneurs who are doing cool things that appeal to a broad variety of Canadians who will appreciate their work. Our products, we hope, will be a one-time purchase, to be used over with confidence wherever you may need them.
Do you have a favourite piece on the website?
The Road Trip Kit is the anchor piece to the collection. It was a process to get it right, but a labour of love. Sourcing vegetable tanned leather is harder than you'd think! It takes multiple weeks longer to tan the hides with natural dyes. Feeling out just the right size for the pouch: big enough for your vape or phone in the long pocket, yet sleek enough that you'd carry the kit by itself on any occasion. The thickness of the leather needs to be just so - not flimsy or bulky. The kit represents everything we stand for: quality-made, durable, stylish goods with a history and a future.
What is your vision for Milkweed going forward?
We're emphasizing Canadian creativity, design, and local production in the emerging cannabis marketplace. We want for Canadian craftspeople to be involved this new economy, and we would love to have pieces from every province and territory in our collections. We look forward to collaborations with emerging brands from coast-to-coast-to-coast. We're also looking forward to collaborating with the rest of the world once cannabis legalization catches up. We love finding collaborators who share the same lenses of craftsmanship and quality, working with them directly to make objects with a sense of place and a story.
Are you excited about the end of cannabis prohibition in Canada? How do you think it might impact your business?
Yes, prohibition of cannabis has been a failure and we're glad to see it end for a few reasons. Once we're through the birthing pains, I think we'll start to see the emergence of a truly Canadian cannabis culture, and I'm excited to see what that looks like. It will be great for business when we can do social media ad buying, but working around the limitations has forced us to be more creative and sharpened our wits, so both sides of the grass are green. I look at LCBO's very popular 'Food and Drink' and I know it won't be long until we're there with cannabis.
If you were to offer one piece of advice to another woman looking to jump into this industry, what would you tell her?
Do it! There's plenty of pie for everyone. Find a mentor. Show up for things. Go to networking events, even if its shitty outside and you don't feel like it. The future of all industry depends on a diversity of thought, so your opinion definitely matters.
Where can readers connect with Milkweed to learn more?
Find us at Shopmilkweed.ca to get a look at the goods. Follow us on Instagram - we're all about getting out and exploring the world, and taking pictures of the fun and beauty along the way. Tag us, we'd love to see what kind of adventures you're up to.