Wandering Bud’s Riley Brain on smokeware and women in cannabis
The ceramic pieces created by Riley Brain, artist and owner of Wandering Bud, resemble funky statuettes and décor items. At first glance, one might not even realize that they’re fully functional smoking pipes. You might expect to find them on a side table holding a few stems of flowers or fitting in seamlessly on a shelf full of trinkets.
Their signature bright, pearlescent hues and flecks of real 22-karat gold accentuate intricately carved or painted designs. Pieces come in a variety of unexpected shapes that fit every smoker’s need. The store has an assortment of one-hitters, pipes, bubblers, and even a full-scale ceramic bong.
Wandering Bud began as a passion project out of Brain’s basement in 2016 after a trip to Portland. Cannabis had just been legalized in Oregon, and she was surprised to notice a lack of variety while browsing dispensary shelves for smokeware. She wanted to see something easier on the eye that could be displayed in the home.
“Glass spoon pipes and the enormous glass bongs, aesthetically, never spoke to me,” says Brain. “Having a beautiful space is self-care for me, and I just want my surroundings to match. It’s like an extension of myself. So, having ugly pieces around felt like I was doing something wrong—like something I wanted to hide.”
She began playing with pottery on the weekends, purchasing a kiln from Craigslist and making a list of practical needs for her designs. Originally working as an elementary school music teacher, Brain was becoming disillusioned with her day job and began planning to make the transition to ceramics full-time.
“I think my dad said something [at first] like, ‘As long as it doesn’t interfere with your real job,’” Brain recalls with a laugh. “I don’t think he realized at the time that I was wanting to leave teaching as badly as I was.”
Brain’s mother Jeannie Shaw, also a teacher, understood the pressure her daughter was under. She doesn’t smoke, but after living through the 1970s, pipes and cannabis don’t really phase her.
“I really respect [Riley] for the fact that she was brave enough to give up her teaching career and start out on her own in this business. It’s been a lot of hard work,” Shaw says, referring to the obstacles set in place for any cannabis-adjacent companies.
Banks and payment processors generally don’t work with cannabis-related businesses due to the plant’s federal regulation. In modern marketing spaces like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, Wandering Bud is censored for “sensitive content.”
While Wandering Bud’s Instagram account stands at 40.3k followers at the time of this writing, Brain is still experiencing a shadowban on content, which limits the number of people the account reaches daily. Her original TikTok account was banned as well.
The drop in views was drastic, but not all of Brain’s success comes from clever marketing and viral process videos.
[Editorial Note: some sources have been granted partial or full anonymity.]
“I always thought pipes were those grungy glass bowls that no one ever cleaned, so it was really refreshing to see a more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing take on that,” says Tessa, a loyal customer with a collection of over five different Wandering Bud pieces. “No one really knows it’s a pipe, it just looks like art.”
Another simple secret to Wandering Bud’s appeal may be the unique perspective women bring to the industry. In a traditionally male market, Gen Z women are proving to be a powerful force, with a year-over-year sales growth of 151% in 2020.
“I don’t want to speak for all women, but I think what I’m seeing is disillusionment with alcohol. People are tired of wasting their entire day hungover,” Brain says. “I also think that rates of anxiety and depression are much higher among millennials. Some people can smoke all day long and it’s totally medicinal for them. It brings them down to a productive level, whereas previously, the anxiety was so out of control that they couldn’t manage or function.”
Rachel, from Kansas City, first began smoking cannabis as a way to relieve pain and help her sleep after a repetitive stress injury. She had been prescribed sleeping aids and similar medications when a friend suggested trying cannabis instead.
“I realized that not only was it helping me sleep and improving my mental health, but it was so much better for me than alcohol,” Rachel says. “I started really believing in the power of weed as a medicinal tool. That’s why I smoke and why I’ve encouraged my friends to try it.”
The element of danger traditionally associated with obtaining cannabis products in an unregulated market is waning as these products are more widely accepted, with availability growing in legalized states. Meaning: women no longer have to fear meeting a strange man in a darkly lit corner of the city for illegal drugs.
One source for this story reports having purchased a larger amount of weed than what they personally needed in order to provide to friends, relieving the stress and fear that came with trying to locate it on their own.
Now, women in cannabis are on the rise.
“When I think of women in the cannabis industry, I’m thinking of people like Riley who are not only creating these pieces that fit within your home but also building a brand that supports minorities in cannabis and other overlooked groups,” Tessa says.
Wandering Bud currently takes part in different efforts to offset the disproportionate effects of cannabis laws on people of color. The business is a member of the Floret Coalition, which was started by Broccoli Magazine in 2020 to support equity-oriented organizations on a rotating basis.
With a studio located on Troost, Brain is hyper-aware of the division within the local community and allocates a portion of the company’s profits to Kansas City G.I.F.T., a local organization that grants funds to Black-owned businesses. Partnerships with other KC artists like Mackenzie Becker of MackBecks and Jess Macy of ColorbloKC allow the brands to cross-promote and grow their followings.
It is this unique mixture of functional art and community involvement that helps Brain and Wandering Bud overcome deleted accounts, failed payment processors, and censored posts in pursuit of a more equitable—and chill—industry.