Canna Conversations: Meet Our Bud, Riley Brain, Founder of Wandering Bud
We recently sat down with house pal Riley Brain, Founder of Wandering Bud, to talk about the power of handmade items, how she once hated making ceramics, and her fixation with TikTok's cottage cheese pizza toast.
Rogue Paq (RP): Tell us about your products being handmade and why this approach is core to your brand.
Riley Brain (RB): The early days of Wandering Bud were all about getting my hands dirty and reconnecting with the creativity I felt I’d lost touch with in adulthood. It’s because of these roots that I never even considered exploring factory manufacturing. Scaling a business and maintaining handmade production is really challenging–our overhead costs are higher because we are paying US rent and livable US wages–but dealing with these financial challenges has been worth it to provide local jobs for artists and a product that feels so organic and special. Making our products in our studio also allows us to get creative with limited edition collections and collaborations more frequently because we do not have minimums to meet or lengthy shipping lead times from overseas to account for.
RP: Which product(s) is the most fun to make and why? The least fun?
RB: Each artist in our studio will have a different answer here, but personally, my favorite to make is Billie. From the beginning in 2016, I set out to make a better and more beautiful water pipe. So when I developed Billie in 2019, things finally felt like they started clicking. I’ve always had a lot of fun dreaming up surface designs to play with Billie’s three tiers and stacked geometric shape.
My least favorite pieces to make are probably trays. In ceramics, it can be difficult to get flat objects to dry flat without warping, and larger trays are prone to cracking. Our large geo tray requires a lot of babying during drying and will still sometimes spontaneously crack during firing.
"From the beginning in 2016, I set out to make a better and more beautiful water pipe. So when I developed Billie in 2019, things finally felt like they started clicking."
RP: You have an amazing team of makers. Can you tell us their names and their specialties?
RB: Yes! We have the best team...
Molly is our production manager and was my very first hire in 2019. She joined WB back in the basement studio days, weathered a move to the current studio and covid lockdown, and has generally been a patient and adaptable angel as I learn how to manage people and grow this thing. Her role has evolved from part time production assistant to running our ceramic production and leading our team of artists.
Our production team includes Kelsey, Diana, Melanie, and Adriana. They do an incredible job making our ceramic wares, hitting production goals, maintaining quality standards and troubleshooting any issues that arise. They are all incredibly smart and have great taste, which makes collaborating on designs as a team so much fun.
Zoe is our office assistant and works very closely with me on the admin side of the business. She joined us after graduating from art school and was just presented with an opportunity to work in her dream field at the local modern art museum. We’ll miss seeing her every day! But that also means we’ll be hiring to fill her shoes very soon…
"In high school, I took one ceramics class and actually hated it. In retrospect, I think I was frustrated by the lack of control in ceramics."
RP: How did you get into ceramics to begin with? From where do you take your inspiration?
RB: I have always been really into making art, specifically drawing and painting. In high school, I took one ceramics class and actually hated it. In retrospect, I think I was frustrated by the lack of control in ceramics. It’s difficult to fully understand the materials you’re working with when you only have an hour a few times a week to make something. Starting Wandering Bud 20 years later gave me the opportunity to choose all of my materials and learn from my mistakes. I take most of my aesthetic inspiration from interior design and meld that with a wish list of functional requirements we’ll develop for a product. For example, I knew I didn’t want our bubbler bowls to protrude like a bong, so working in a recessed/hidden bowl really drove that design.
RP: You mentioned to me that you started out doing hands-on making but you’ve since moved to a more operational role? How has that shift been for you?
RB: Yes, I started and worked as a solopreneur for three years before hiring our first employee. I spent about 60% of my time making product and 40% working on the administrative side of the business. Now, I very rarely make product. When I do, it’s always a new design idea or a limited edition series. This may be surprising, but I’ve actually really enjoyed that shift. I look back on my time making product really fondly, but I was ready to transition out of production. Now, my role is focused primarily on growing the business, supporting our production team, conceptualizing new products and limited edition collections, strategizing with our contractors, and creating content for our social media platforms. Because I enjoy being creative and learning new things, this has been a great fit for me.
RP: What is your favorite book? What are you reading currently?
RB: I have a really hard time choosing favorites in any category! My favorite book of 2022 was Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. I get really into non-fiction when it’s written like fiction. This book told the story of the opioid Sackler family as if it were a novel, but also without glamorizing the destruction they have caused. My favorite book of 2023 (so far) is The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer. I’m currently reading Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment and listening to The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer. I work through audiobooks much more quickly - one of my favorite pastimes is going on long walks with an audiobook.
" I enjoy smoking cannabis as a stress relief and relaxation tool. A hit or two from our Billie bubbler is all I need in an evening or on a weekend...And if I’m having some intense pain resulting from my Crohn’s disease, cannabis either helps ease the pain or takes my mind off of it. I’m not sure which, but it really does help me manage abdominal pain. "RP: Tell us about your cannabis ritual and what makes it special to you.
RB: This is ever-evolving, especially since Missouri recently legalized cannabis. But I enjoy smoking cannabis as a stress relief and relaxation tool. A hit or two from our Billie bubbler is all I need in an evening or on a weekend. Sometimes I’ll have a night-time gummy with CBN before bed if I feel my mind racing. And if I’m having some intense pain resulting from my Crohn’s disease, cannabis either helps ease the pain or takes my mind off of it. I’m not sure which, but it really does help me manage abdominal pain. Because cannabis prohibition has lasted so long, every sesh feels like a celebration of how far we’ve come in the last decade with cannabis policy reform. Of course there is much work still to do, particularly in the criminal justice and expungement arena, but I’m thankful that I can smoke a bowl or eat a gummy safely and legally now.
RP: What are some of your favorite cannabis products on the market today - flower, accessories or both?
RB: The night time gummies with CBN that I love are by Robhots. I also love a CBD face wash bar by local small business Wild Wash Co - it’s particularly great for travel because it’s a solid bar. We recently started carrying Field Trip rolling papers which are so artfully designed and burn beautifully.
"When I told my parents about Wandering Bud, I expected at least a bit of resistance or questioning. I was surprised when my Mom shrugged and said 'Riley, I grew up in the 70s.”'"
RP: How was cannabis regarded in your household growing up and how do folks in your family feel about your business?
RB: Cannabis wasn’t a thing in my house or family growing up, and we really never talked about it until I started the business. When I told my parents about Wandering Bud, I expected at least a bit of resistance or questioning. I was surprised when my Mom shrugged and said “Riley, I grew up in the 70s.” I guess they had more experience with cannabis, at least peripherally, than I realized!
RP: What are the biggest struggles you face in the cannabis industry?
RB: Hands down, censorship and the enforcement of vague terms of service. Just yesterday, linktree banned us from using their services after years of being a paying customer on their pro plan. Last month, Instagram closed our account (we did eventually get it back after a few high-stress days). In January, TikTok did the same. We’ve been kicked off of most of the tech platforms that make running a small business easier and more efficient. And we just sell ceramics - we are not a plant-touching business. It’s pretty wild!
"My current hyperfixation meal is TikTok’s cottage cheese pizza toast. Sounds gross, tastes delicious and comes together in 5 minutes."
RP: Can you share a favorite recipe with us - it doesn’t have to be infused but it can be.
RB: My current hyperfixation meal is TikTok’s cottage cheese pizza toast. Sounds gross, tastes delicious and comes together in 5 minutes. Toast a chunky piece of bread. Top with warm marinara, cottage cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, fresh basil, arugula, and hot honey (most important ingredient). It’s like pizza that makes you feel good! A drizzle of infused olive oil would really set it off.
RP: What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a small business owner?
RB: My growth mindset has gotten me so far. I really believe I can learn how to overcome any obstacle, and I can learn any skill this business requires. I’m not afraid of looking stupid and asking questions of people who are smarter than I am.RP: Tell us about your favorite hobby outside of Wandering Bud.
RB: I’ve been practicing yoga for 8 years but really got into it in 2020 during lockdown. Yoga eliminated my need to see a chiropractor regularly, and it’s been fun to see both my mind and body become more flexible and resilient. I’m going on my first yoga retreat this Summer!
Follow Wandering Bud on Instagram and TikTok @wanderingbud