Wandering Bud’s Riley Brain on aesthetic smoke accessories and being a woman in the cannabis industry

Photo by Lauren Pusateri

Riley Brain has always been an artist. In fact, before starting her business of making and selling smoke accessories, she was an elementary school music teacher. But in 2018, she left her career as a teacher, created a small studio in her basement, and started what is now Wandering Bud; now she uses her artistic side to create stunning smokeware that is meant to be displayed.

In this Pitch Questionnaire, Brain talks about what it’s like to be a woman in the cannabis industry, her inspirations, and next steps.

Social handles: @wanderingbud

Hometown: Overland Park, KS

Current neighborhood: Brookside

Wandering Bud accessories

Photo by Lauren Pusateri

Where’s dinner? Aixois if I’m feeling fancy or Bier Station for something more casual

What’s your guilty pleasure? Buying house plants, ogling interior design Instagram accounts and redecorating my house over and over

The last book you read: Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

What is your soapbox? Ooof as I’ve entered my thirties, I’ve realized this definitely changes with age. Right now, it’s the legalization of cannabis. As I’ve had discussions surrounding legalization with older adults, it’s become clear that most who oppose legalization do so out of fear and misinformation that has been spreading for decades. The war on drugs propaganda has really sunk into our collective psyche despite what research is telling us about cannabis.

Wandering Bud accessories

Photo by Lauren Pusateri

Why did you choose ceramics over other forms of visual art? I was really drawn to the functional art aspect of ceramics. I knew I wanted to create art and be a leading force in bringing aesthetic cannabis culture to the midwest, so making ceramic pipes was a natural way to combine those two interests. I love all forms of art and could see myself becoming a painter in retirement, or getting back into music at some point. I’ve actually surprised myself with ceramics – I really disliked the medium when I was younger. Now, I love the challenge. It is incredibly scientific, and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface in all that’s possible to create with this medium in this space.

What are some hardships that you’ve faced in the cannabis industry as a woman? How did/do you overcome those? I have actually found this corner of the cannabis industry to be very welcoming to and supportive of women. There is a genuine culture that encourages rooting for and supporting other women in the space. The biggest hardship I’ve faced so far actually has nothing to do with my being a woman. In August of 2020, our payment processor closed our account via an email notification with no notice. It took me a month to get a new payment processor up and running on our website, which meant no income for an entire month. I encountered obstacles like “we won’t work with you because you have ‘bud’ in your name.” But, you just have to keep pushing forward. There is always a solution. And it was actually that network of supportive women who were there to offer suggestions and connect me with their own payment processors that ended up working out.

How has Wandering Bud allowed you to connect with others in the space? I think we all have a collective frustration over the vague regulations that come with an industry that is in a slow transition from prohibition to legalization. We lean on each other and ask for advice when our payment processor shuts us down, when Instagram closes our account for no reason, etc. We can all feel each others’ frustration as we navigate obstacles that other industries never need to worry about. There is also obviously a pretty homogenous view on cannabis that brings us together. You automatically feel like you are surrounded by your people.

Equally as important is the connection I’ve developed with the KC community over the last few years. My first public appearance with WB came at the 2018 Westport Art Fair. I had just left my teaching job and was so nervous to see how the city would react to seeing pipes on display at an art fair. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive – KC was clearly ready for me! I love having conversations with members of the community about cannabis as we work to lessen the stigma. And I feel like I’ve really found my home in this community of creatives. 

What is your main inspiration when creating pieces for Wandering Bud? When we are developing a new product, I will usually start by creating a list of functional requirements. Since smokeware is a category that needs to feel ergonomic in the hand and must function well as a smoking device, creating that list has proven to be a great starting point. From there, I tend to draw inspiration from interior design (did I mention I love perusing home decor Instagram accounts?). The goal is always to be able to leave our wares out around the home and have them complement and blend seamlessly with their surroundings. 

What’s your favorite product you’ve created and why? The bubbler is definitely my favorite piece. I had been dreaming of creating a water pipe for about a year prior since I personally prefer a bubbler or bong hit over anything else. I also hadn’t seen a ceramic bubbler yet, let alone a ceramic bubbler that didn’t look like a smoking device. I am so proud of the form + function blend we struck with our bubbler. It is hands down my favorite pipe to smoke from – the hit is so smooth – and I love leaving it on display as an art piece in my home.

What are the next steps for Wandering Bud? I want to continue to scale up and grow in a slow and sustainable way. We consistently sell out of our handmade products, which makes me feel comfortable continuing to increase our production capacity. And I have found a passion for creating a working environment for my employees that I would want for myself. I hope to one day buy a building for us to expand into, maybe even with a dispensary or cannabis accessory storefront attached. Oh, and we will be launching a brand new smoking device this Spring/Summer that we are all VERY excited about.

I am also becoming more vocal about cannabis education and equity as I continue to educate myself in this area. I’m not exactly sure how it will look, but I want that to be a space that we continue to explore. It seems like everyone is starting a podcast these days, but I could see something like that being a potential future step. There is so much work to do in the decriminalization area, specifically. Folks (disproportionately BIPOC) continue to be incarcerated for non-violent, weed-related “crimes” while others (disproportionately white and wealthy) are getting rich in this industry. It’s not right. And I think many are unaware of these discrepancies. I want to do my part to spread accurate information and to support the communities most harmed by the war on drugs in any way I can.

Categories: Questionnaire