Grower Stories #51: Imelda Walavalkar

Tia Moskalenko
Tia Moskalenko

Tia Moskalenko, author of the AskGrowers blog, brings a unique blend of content to her readers. She is known for conducting insightful interviews with key figures in the cannabis industry, including brand representatives, manufacturers, and experts. In addition to her interview skills, Tia has a keen focus on CBD. She expertly curates product selections and reviews, offering her readers detailed insights into the various effects and benefits of CBD. Tia's ability to combine in-depth interviews with comprehensive CBD analysis makes her a valuable asset to the cannabis community, offering a well-rounded perspective on the industry.



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Grower Stories #51: Imelda Walavalkar

An Interview With Pure Beauty CEO, Imelda Walavalkar, About Their Commitment to Equity, Ethics

It’s rare to see people of color as the faces of thriving cannabis-industry companies. That’s why Imelda, of Pure Beauty is dedicated to not only produce top-notch cannabis, but to do so in a sustainable, equitable, and ethical way. A female and minority-owned business based in Los Angeles, Pure Beauty is a brand all of its own.

I am half Mexican and half Indian. There are not that many of us out there! Cannabis embodies everything I stand for and enjoy, from social justice and alternative medicine to unconventional conversations with new people. And just overall remembering not to take things too seriously.

Tia (AskGrowers) : How you started Pure Beauty?

Imelda Walavalkar : I and my two partners started Pure Beauty because we wanted to do something that expressed our love and feelings for weed in a way that reflected our own culture and ideals. We were not seeing this represented anywhere. For me personally, one of the most powerful things about cannabis is the perspective shift. It gives you the ability to see the world in new ways. We wanted products and a brand that captures and builds on that experience.

Tia : What has been the biggest challenge your brand has faced so far?

Imelda : I definitely have to remind myself sometimes that nobody is dying. The journey to get to where we are has been pretty hard. Many people on the outside only see the headlines and don't understand how volatile and hard this industry actually is from a logistical and financial perspective. With the introduction of the recreational market came all kinds of stringent and often hard to interpret regulations. As you can imagine, this can be really stressful and expensive. From the high level of taxation to the lack of access to banking, and also just legal fees. And we are essentially still competing with the illicit market that is priced at around 40 to50 percent less. Of course, this is not a black and white issue as there are many people in the illicit market that want to be operating legally but are not able to. This is also frustrating. It should not be a system where only the best capitalized can succeed.

Pure Beauty products picture
Tia : Can Pure Beauty call themselves a “Sustainable Company''? What exactly does the company do to promote sustainability?

Imelda : Depends on how you define sustainable, but it is definitely our goal and guiding light in everything we do. Most people do not think about where their weed comes from or how it’s grown or treated in its life cycle the same way they do other things, like their food. We put an unprecedented amount of thought into all stages of our cultivation. All of the water used in our cultivation is collected from the air, we pull no water from California tap. So, for example, a single cannabis plant needs approximately 150 to 250 gallons of water to reach its flowering state. So we are saving millions of gallons of water a year, in a state where water is gold. Our cultivation has no runoff; even “safe” fertilizers and nutrients will contaminate surrounding water supplies making life uninhabitable for indigenous species. We also use bugs like rolly pollies, earthworms, and nematodes along with friendly bacteria, fungi, and protozoa to create a “soil food web,” which helps naturally prevent disease and plant-eating predators by working with the plant to provide nutrients and protection. And then we donate all of our soil to public parks.

This ethos also applies to our packaging. We try not to use too much stuff. We try not to use plastic. Most of our packaging is made from paper (and as little of it as possible) and is recyclable or compostable. We also spent a lot of time creating a child-resistant mylar bag that is made from plant starch. Traditional plastic mylar pouches are basically impossible to recycle and will not decompose. That said, I want to make clear that we know we are far from perfect. But we are putting thought into how to improve our practices every day. How to be better to the earth and raise up industry standards.

Tia : How does Pure Beauty maintain transparency in its product line from seed to sale?

Imelda : Each clone is tracked from when it’s taken off of a mother plant to harvest using California’s mandatory METRC track and trace system. Of course, this applies to any licensed flower company in California and is not unique to Pure Beauty.

Tia : How do you think you differ from other brands similar to yours?

Imelda : We have a very specific point of view that originates from an authentic place. I think this comes from the fact that we are a pretty diverse team - not just ethnically but philosophically. Everything we do is coming from a very real place, from people that are part of our growing community that in and wants to take part in what we are doing. We are not just trying to make sales or get likes - we want to put things out into the world that make you laugh or think, or at least say “that’s interesting.” We want our brand to feel the way our weed makes you feel.

Pure Beauty interview quote
Tia : Do you grow cannabis indoor or outdoor? Why?

Imelda : Indoor cultivation affords us the ability to maximize the full potential of the plant. We are able to customize and provide ideal conditions with respect to the biology of the plant for it to prosper. By this I mean, realizing the full flavors/terpene profile that the plant can produce. As a result, we are able to put out quality, consistent flowers throughout the year.

Tia : Do you have any specific approach to cultivating cannabis?

Imelda : As much as possible we try to work with the biology of the plant rather than fight against it. This means we don’t subscribe to a one size fits all approach, we understand that each plant is unique in its biology and, accordingly, what it needs not just to live but thrive. And we try to listen to what it needs for a full expression. This is why we hand water our plants every day (a lot of people find this hard to believe, but indeed we do!) - we keep an eye on each plant throughout its cycle and adapt its care as we go.

Tia : What is the ethos behind the brand’s marketing efforts? What is the message that you want to convey?

Imelda : Our ethos is that we do not necessarily connect to the word “marketing” so much as we want to just do things that we believe in. We try to do everything with passion and thought so they are intrinsically interesting for people to relate to, connect with and think about - for example, our cultivation practices, our social justice initiatives, or the artists we work with. Releasing a strain called “A.C.A.B” was something we felt important especially during that moment in time, but it also received a very powerful and positive response that communicated something important to people.

Tia : What kind of fertilizers do you use to grow cannabis?

Imelda : We use a hybrid of organic and traditional mineral salt-based fertilizers throughout the life of the plant. Because we grow in soil we encourage a healthy microbiome in each pot. As I said earlier, we customize our approach-looking at everything the plant needs at different life cycles and adapt our fertilizers accordingly.

Tia : If you could smoke with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Imelda : I’d say [tooltip title="John Baldessari" content="US conceptual artist who worked with films, videos, installations, sculpture, printmaking, and photography."]John Baldessari[/tooltip]. I would get high with Baldessari and discuss “Pure Beauty” as a concept--since he created the original Pure Beauty. And I’d like to know what he thinks of our weed :)

Tia : Your top three strains to smoke?

Imelda :

This is our CBD strain that is less than 1 percent THC and it is truly incredible.

Pure Beauty interview quote
Tia : Are there any brands you appreciate and follow? Mention them.

Imelda : Many: Aster Farms, Broccoli, Cannaclusive, Cornerstone, Cosmic View, Gossamer, Mister Green, Rose, Sonder. I am definitely leaving out some good ones, but these are all brands with thoughtful, quality products run by people I respect and appreciate.

Tia : What do you think is the biggest issue right now in the cannabis industry?

Imelda : The lack of diversity/POC in positions of leadership or power. When you look at the mastheads of any of the biggest cannabis companies, it is rare to see any Black/Latinx people--the groups that, as we all know, have been the hardest hit by the War on Drugs. We as an industry need to make more tangible efforts to support Black and Brown businesses as well as create pathways to bring diversity into the space in a meaningful way. The fact that it is so expensive to not just enter the legal cannabis market but exist as a business makes it even harder for these groups; this is compounded by our disproportionately low access to capital. Less than 2 percent of venture capital funding goes to Latinx entrepreneurs and 1 percent to Black entrepreneurs (the number is even lower for women in these groups). I have a lot of thoughts on how to address this but that is a longer conversation!

Thank you!

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