After more than three decades in the fashion industry, most notably as the cofounder of the Designers & Agents trade show, Barbara Kramer is pivoting to cannabis.
Kramer has opened The Plant Lore, a full-service agency offering branding and product development, sales representation and retail support. Based in Los Angeles, she and her team are representing 10 high-end brands making CBD-infused products, including CBD + Nature (skincare); Gron (beauty and confections); Hello Goldie (tea); Mimoi (color face foundation with SPF); Ondo (tinctures), and Beboe (CBD vape pens). They have partnered with Wunderlich Kaplan Communications to offer brands public relations support.
“I have always been interested in coloring outside the lines,” said Kramer, whose entrepreneurial spirit has moved her from New York to L.A. several times, while she was working as a showroom owner and sales agent for such fashion brands as Tocca, Jean Paul Gaultier and Petit Bateau. She and Ed Mandelbaum started D&A in 1996, focusing on the advanced contemporary category, and expanded the fair beyond New York and L.A. to Paris and Tokyo. Over the years, she’s produced runway shows, collaborated with the CFDA on events and been a buyer for Tootsie Plohound shoe stores. Three years ago, when she started hosting vintage pop-ups around L.A., Kramer noticed she was most excited to speak to customers about beauty, specifically CBD beauty.
“I kept thinking what’s my lane, how am I getting involved? I was intrigued, because I had already started to use the products for myself,” she said. “Coming from owning trade shows and having showrooms, I know these buyers and understand how to engage them and invite them into a new conversation. I was always about how to educate someone about why an Armand Basi T-shirt costs $150 in 1992 — because it’s woven on a circular knitting machine. I was seeing a lot of what was missing in the [cannabis] industry.”
What was missing was storytelling, she said. “I chose the name Plant Lore because we’re the storytellers behind plants, their medicine and the makers who love them. Most CBD brands go into business direct-to-consumer, and they don’t know how to go to market. Maybe they can pick up someone here and there, and if they do a good job, a smart retailer who is looking for this might reach out and find them. But they can’t scale.”
In addition to consulting on product development, packaging, language and color story for clients, Kramer is taking her brands to the Indie Beauty Expo in New York, Cabana in Miami, D&A in New York and L.A., and other shows. She’s selling them into spas, boutique hotels and independent fashion boutiques including Dover Street Market, Dillard’s, ABC Home, Free People, Two Bunch Palms, Post Ranch Inn, Calamigos Ranch, Heist in Venice, Baby & Co. in Seattle and Takamichi Beauty Room in New York. She is also in discussions to open The Plant Lore Corners in 10 Corso Como New York and other stores.
Kramer sees the potential for CBD in brick-and-mortar (as do Barneys New York, Saks, Sephora and more, which have added CBD products to their shelves). “I tell my stores it’s not about buying a brand, it’s about creating a curated corner. I’m giving retailers an opportunity to create an intimate conversation with their clients again. And you’re selling them something that…OK, their handbag or dress makes them happy…but you put these products on and you are addressing a deeper concern. They buy a tincture, use it up in 35 to 40 days, and come in and buy another one, or bath salts or something for sleep and you have a new business.”
She’s the first to acknowledge that the CBD world is not as glamorous as fashion. “My average order is $500 or $1,200, and what it takes to get that order.…I have one store in New York that an order came a year after our first meeting. Some things happen much more quickly, but for the most part this is a game of patience and education. I’m not a scientist, but I need to be able to answer questions.”
And yet, it’s no surprise to her that so many of her fashion peers are getting into it. “The fashion industry is not what it used to be. And this industry is not a fad, it’s a door opening to another way of life that’s much bigger than CBD,” she said, sharing her prediction that the wellness market will soon expand to include “plant alchemy.” “I’ve been micro-dosing mushrooms since January. I did my first ayahuasca journey 15 years ago. I believe this is a bigger, broader conversation. It’s about adaptogens, which are all fruits, berries, botanicals and herbs, it’s the mushroom world and the vines. Soon, people are going to hear more about toad and frog…CBD is a button word right now…but as CBD gets noisier, in Target and drug stores, people are going to say what’s real and that’s where my finger will keep pointing.”
Kramer is looking to be at the center of the continuing conversation. On Aug. 28, at the INN. Cannabis cosmetics summit in L.A., she’s moderating a panel discussion titled “The Future of Cannabis Marketing.” Looking to the future, she’s on the hunt for a strategic business partner, and thinking about launching a Plant Lore line of clothing to bring it full circle. “There is so much crossover,” she said. “You’re selling a product that has a story, a wellness appeal as well as a stylish, luxury aspect.”