The wellness industry is expanding at a breakneck pace, and women are leading the charge. Our series I Want Her Job profiles the brand founders and influencers who are breaking the mold. Follow along as we learn about the ins and outs of their daily gigs, how they're looking to change the collective conversation, and what they envision for the future of wellness.
The first time I saw Charlotte Palermino was not the first time we were introduced. But I'll never forget it. We both worked at Hearst, a company that houses iconic books like Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire. I peered through the building's fish bowl–like conference rooms and saw her, red painted on her lips, looking like an absolute vision. She was commanding the room in a way I could only ever hope to. That woman is a boss, I thought before burying my head back into my computer screen. My introduction to her friend and now business partner Marta Freedman was similar in distance and admiration. I knew her from Hot Girls Eating Pizza and felt so drawn to the seemingly kind, laid-back woman behind it. Then, when we met, she was exactly as the internet would have you believe.
Now, years later, the two women have joined forces to launch Nice Paper, a weekly newsletter that offers everything from product recommendations and the latest on legalization to the science behind how cannabis can help assuage anxiety. They are both knowledgeable without compare, approachable, and, simply put, cool. So without further ado, find both their thoughts and musings on their own journeys, what brought them together, and the role they're playing in the wellness industry.
On how Nice Paper came to be…
"We were on a roof eating edibles and realized no one was writing about or talking about weed the way we did—as something that made our lives better and more productive," Palermino explains. "There's still a stigma around weed from decades of propaganda, and people are still sitting in jail for non-violent cannabis crimes. It all felt wrong. We wanted to contribute to changing that. At first, it started off as an idea to do brand consulting, as we know that approachable brands make things seem less intimidating. However, as we learned more about cannabis and how complicated it is as a plant, it dawned on us that we had to create content not simply around the societal aspect but the many ways it can better your life leveraging experts and science.
"Deciding to go into business at first was a side hustle, something we both did because we were passionate about it and wanted to learn. We both decided to turn it full time once we saw the potential. To say it's been rewarding is an understatement."
The role their backgrounds have played in launching a business…
"When I first graduated," Palermino says, "I was in Canada, and we were in the middle of an economic crisis in the U.S., so I took the first job I could—at a small ad agency in Montréal. From there, I worked my way into strategy and content production, eventually launching and running Cosmopolitan's Snapchat Discover and building it into the number one channel. That was a crazy year, I was designing, animating, writing, creating advertiser packages. Most nights, I'd go home at 2 a.m. and come back in at 9 a.m. It taught me a valuable lesson: If I pushed myself, I could do a lot more than I gave myself credit for.
"This led me to work at Snapchat and be the editorial lead on Discover, launching partners in the U.S. and abroad, which taught me how to navigate rooms and that no matter where you are in the world, you essentially want the same thing. Norway, France, Germany, Dubai—each publisher had similar challenges and my job was to teach them how to connect to audiences. Having to wear so many hats, shifting my career path, having to hustle, and having been at small and large companies makes us malleable. We know how organizations are structured. Between the two of us, we cover so much ground and are versatile. We also know when to let go of our babies. If something doesn't work, we know when to drop it."
Having to wear so many hats, shifting my career path, having to hustle, and having been at small and large companies makes us malleable.
"I just want to preface this by saying I never could have imagined this would be my career in my wildest dreams," Freedman muses. "But I know that every single thing I've done has led me here. I dreamt of working in fashion my entire life, so I moved to NYC when I was 18 and attended FIT. I studied textiles and I landed my first full-time job as a fabric assistant when I was still a junior in college. I thought that would accelerate my career, but I just ended up jumping from fashion job to fashion job for six years. I was never creatively fulfilled and pretty unhappy. My mom died when I was 23, and I launched two 'side hustles' in lieu of grief therapy that turned into businesses: Hot Girls Eating Pizza (a tasteful social project, pun intended) and a private-label nail-decal business that I named after my mom. I credit these projects for having developed my work ethic (as I did both of these endeavors while I maintained a full-time job, meaning all-nighters to produce nail decals or stacking up pizza dates, which was my version of a coffee meeting), introduced me to much of my network in L.A. and New York, and made me realize I was meant to be an entrepreneur. They also helped me land a job at Depop, where I introduced event programming and worked on partnerships in L.A. and New York. I learned a lot from working in a tech startup. It brought to the surface skills I didn't even know I had that now we apply to Nice Paper."
On a typical day on the job…
"We spend half our week piling meetings and half the week working on content for the newsletter and our Instagram," says Palermino. "Meetings are a lot about giving your energy to people and you have to be on constantly. It's best to stack those up, give everything you have, and then recharge for half the week. We also split our time between New York and L.A. So in L.A., we might be visiting dispensaries one day but in New York, we're checking in on our partnerships with local cafes."
On women in cannabis and taking the leap into an industry that's still mildly controversial…
"There's a misconception that women are running cannabis, but from our experience, when you look at leadership and executive roles, you see a lot of what you see in every industry—white men," notes Palermino. "More diversity, not just in gender but ethnicity, isn't only necessary for social justice, but as we've seen in every study, it's an economically sound one. Homogeneity doesn't make for good products or policy, and as we expand our team, we will take this into account. Nice Paper tends to focus on companies and hype products that are made well, with good policies, good practices, and good people.
More diversity, not just in gender but ethnicity, isn't only necessary for social justice, but as we've seen in every study, it's an economically sound one.
"We are so cognizant that this is a plant that has decimated communities of color and those communities are now being excluded from the industry while white people, aka people who use weed just as much as people of color but get stopped by the police less, are cashing in. This is what we were most hesitant about. However, we know that [fewer] voices talking about these issues mean they may get glossed over, and it's a large part of what we want to achieve at Nice Paper: awareness. Not just on the plant, on history.
"For example, plug here, the Farm Bill that Mitch McConnell is putting forth excludes people who have been convicted of a drug crime—including non-violent drug crimes. When you look at stop-and-frisk policies in New York, which ballooned the state's prison populations with mostly people of color for non-violent crimes due to mandatory minimum sentencing (forced convictions regardless of the circumstances)… How are you going to keep these people, some who were minors at the time, out of a billion-dollar industry? It's modern-day redlining. This is all a long-winded way of saying we care, and we're passionate about the U.S. getting legalization right. Cannabis shouldn't be controversial. The policies that put people in jail only to exclude them from the industry is what should be controversial."
On combating misinformation…
"Constant research, constant explainers, being in touch with the DEA and FDA and experts, and responding to every DM," says Palermino. "It's a lot of work but the only way you can combat alternate facts is with the real ones. We have no delusions around that slowing down, it will take time. Furthermore, a lot research needs to be done, being honest about the limitations in what we know and the work we need our government to do so scientists and doctors can research it is equally important."
On strategies to stay focused and calm when things feel hectic…
"It's helpful to work in an industry where the products in many cases target anxiety, sleep, and physical pain," explains Palermino. "Working out really early, taking care of ourselves, drinking a lot of water, and turning our phones off sometimes tends to turn the most acute stress down a few notches. It's boring, but it works. Also, reality-checking ourselves. Being grateful and vocalizing that to each other. We both recognize we're lucky and have support from our family and friends."
On the most unexpected lessons…
"You have to turn down opportunities to grow. If the partnership doesn't feel right and the company doesn't share your values as a person (when you're starting a company, personal values become your business values), walk away," asserts Palermino. "We've had amazing partnerships and some (thankfully not many) that have been disappointing. You need to evaluate the true worth of working with people beyond the bottom line, even when you're worried about making rent.
"Work when there is longevity in the partnership. We're lucky to have built networks that want to help us, but we've done everything from Airbnb our places to taking on freelance gigs independently to fund our business. We're lucky to even be able to do that. No money is easy or fast, so you might as well hustle and to find nice people to partner with that you'd be down to marry. Also, speaking of matrimony, go into business with someone you'd also want to marry. You'll spend more time with them than your significant other, so you better be having fun. Otherwise, what's the point?"
On how to deal with failure…
"Every time there's a disappointment, we go through the typical 'everything is falling apart' spiral," Palermino admits. "That's not productive, but it can be cathartic. After we've had a quick pity party, we analyze what went wrong and what we can do next time. When you recalibrate 'that was terrible' to 'why did this happen and what can we do to change this outcome next time?' everything becomes a learning moment."
On the future of wellness…
"Wellness has become synonymous with 'trendy,' which is dangerous," Palermino says. "To us, we don't want cannabis or hemp to be a fad that burns out. Or a marketing word companies throw in front of their products to sell things without thinking about the historical or health implications. We want companies to understand this is a chemical compound that, when done at the right doses and with responsible farming practices, can help people. Snake oil isn't cool and hurts the industry as a whole. There will always be bad actors. The best we can do is give people the tools to navigate the market.
We want companies to understand this is a chemical compound that, when done at the right doses and with responsible farming practices, can help people.
"We've spoken to a woman with rheumatoid arthritis who has been able to get off chemo and deal with debilitating pain with a mixture of edibles and topicals, people who've been in so much pain they've detached from society, or, in one case, a woman who couldn't have sex until she used weed lube due to vaginismus. Weed helps people in different ways. Nice Paper is about combining honesty, humor, science, and personal anecdotes to guide those interested in learning more.
"We hope that when people sign up for our newsletter or look at our Instagram that they feel they're amongst friends and can ask us anything without feeling intimidated or uncool. Hopefully, you laugh at our jokes. And soon, you'll be seeing from us some nice products that practice what we preach."
Next up: Read about this Brooklyn-based beauty shop founder who also curates for Free People.
D. EN. Approaches to Managing Organizational Diversity and Innovation. IGI Global; 2014.