Courtesy of KushKards

Industry Innovators: Lauren Miele, CEO of KushKards

Hannah (Izer) Vysoky

By Hannah (Izer) Vysoky

August 29, 2022

is the owner and founder of ! She graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology and earned her degree in Visual + Product Design, which she has used to merge two markets she loves the most — cannabis and stationery.

She understood the retail industry with a history of interning at Louis Vuitton and Aeropostale. Her career began in developing novelty bath accessories for major retailers. You can still find her work in all Bed Bath & Beyond stores.

KushKards began as a high-dea that turned into a sellable product that has won awards and rests on shelves in museums today.

We were so grateful to sit down with Lauren to learn more about her background and the passion that has gone into this company. So let’s get into it!

Courtesy of KushKards

How it All Started

High There: How did you become involved in the cannabis industry?

Lauren Miele: I became involved with the cannabis industry because of KushKards. I didn’t even know the cannabis industry was an industry. I’m a natural cannabis smoker; I have a 420-friendly family and started smoking weed in high school; it was always a part of my culture.

When I started KushKards and in actually late 2013, but it didn’t start until 2015 is when I’m like, “Oh, there’s other people out there who enjoy smoking weed.” And there’s, like, a whole industry because, you know, mind you, I grew up in New York weed was such an illegal wand; you know for 420 was hotboxing in your friend car. 

So, because the start of KushKards is how I entered the cannabis industry.

HT: Can you tell us a bit about your background before KushKards?

Miele: I went to the Fashion Insitute of Technology, graduated with an associates in visual presentation with visual merchandising, and my bachelor’s was in-home product development. 

So I learned how to style, design, package and market a product, and then I went into manufacturing the product. So I had great, really great experiences throughout college. My home base is New York City, where I was fueled by inspiration, creativity around me and opportunities.

I interned at Aeropostale, one of my favorites, working on the visual team. I had the opportunity to present a brand extension of teen bedding to the CEO, which I hope they have now. So fun because that ties back to my branding class, which tied back to developing and making bedding. So my journey before KushKards was all things visual presentation design. 

My first and only job other than KushKards was as a fashion bathroom accessory designer. I was in charge of designing the flip flop built-in, with the tissue basket and the matching shower curtain. That is kind of where my skills in editing down and learning the novelty industry because I was in novelty bathroom accessories, and our primary customer was Bed Bath & Beyond. Some of my stuff is still there today, which is incredible.

Courtesy of KushKards

HT: That’s so cool!

Miele: It’s so cool. In my first little three-year job, I had so much experience. I work with big box retailers. I learned how to make something from China flat, 2D to 3D, to real life. On the shelf. 

I’ve had all this experience of bringing something to market and creatively designing so many projects, and from FIP, I feel like this part is a big college project. I do. That’s it. I’m in it. I’m in it for the long run. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but I like to have a standard for quality of work, how you to present things, and how to think about designing a new product that will stay with me forever.

I like to use everything from my background. Every day of my life. I soaked it up all. I appreciate the journey. You know, I think they where I’m from, what cannabis meant to me then and what it means to me now, and funneling it into some product that people say “that is cute” and it keeps me going.

KushKards: A Life-changing High-dea

HT: What sparked the idea to create KushKards in the first place?

Miele: So I wanted to get a friend weed, and I was tired of going to CVS and getting cards that had nothing to do with who I was trying to gift. AKA: stoners. And then, in New York, they were selling dime bags. So my friends and I would get an eighth, and I would put it in the card, and you know, it’s so bulky they would pass an envelope when the person opened, and it was like there was no instant high. The weed fell out. You would have to roll it, and I didn’t know how to roll it then.

I’m just going to work one day. And, mind you, I live 100 blocks away in New York City from where I worked, and I just sat on this local train, thinking about my friend. I was like, and I wonder if I wrote his name in blunt and then what I would do is I went to work, and I predesigned a card, left the big face in the middle of the card open for me to go home and hand-sew the needle and thread his name to the card that I had already predesigned. You can scroll down [

] and see some of the first lines of the horrible drawing I did. I sent him a flower that was a real flower and that was like a real, like little pot with soil to the bow on the bottom. 

I got used to going after work and going to this paper store and just figuring out ways that things they can attach or how to make the card creative, which is, again, constantly me using my environment. And then when I did the card, and I sewed his name that my friend actually, her name is Karissa, and we were talking on the phone, and she said “it sounds like a Kush Kard with a K.” And I’m like, “What did you just say?” 

I think my life changed, and you know when you hear those stories. It’s either that the product comes first or the name does. I think that happened at the same time. My mom and I trademarked it. The first priority was that I gifted it to my friend, and I was so nervous, but he loved it. And I’m like, well, “why don’t I make more of these?”

Courtesy of KushKards

So in 2014, I was just hand-sewing blunts to cards, you know, so I was like sometimes like big, but I was the creative drug dealer. I made the bags, and I was down for like 50 bucks because you got the weed, and it was customized to what you wanted. It was like my hobby because after college when you get that job, it’s 5 o’clock or something, someone will say, “Well, what now?” I don’t have homework anymore. I was like that transition. I just think I’m super creative. I just started my job. I mean, it was six months after college. So I thought of KushKards very early. I waited a whole year, and my boss was my best friend. So it was great because she was my mentor. She would look at me and say, “don’t tell anyone.” I knew she knew that I wasn’t going to work there forever. You know, she can help me bring it to life. She just saw the vision, and she knew that I would work for myself for my next job, where I never thought I’d be working. So she helped me, and in 2015, after I’ve been doing it for a whole year, I’m like, “wow, this still is not a thing. No one is doing it. I’m sure, so many people have thought of it.”

And I’m going to try and make this so it can sit on a shelf. and that took some time because you know needle and thread, so like an idea that no one has seen before, which is my biggest challenge when I started, how am I going to show people in Colorado, which is where choose to focus, so you can attach a joint to this card that’s never been done before. That’s kind of when I moved into my launch.

A Complex Product to Create

HT: How did you scale the production to be where you are today?

Miele: It is the most complex product to make, though; it’s crazy. When I started, I was like, okay, “how do I make this mass producible?” And if you think about the steps of the KushKards, you have to punch the holes, thread two pieces of string, and then have matches on the bottom. At the time, even ordered that Amazon White matches, cutting and gluing them to the card. I literally was low-key supergluing the cards together and I just looked at my friend and we both said that there has to be a better way.

There has to be a way to get these mass figures on the card because that was also part of the invention, right? Like, you know, the cards came with one single match attached to the card. It was to that point that you had everything you needed. If you got this card in the middle of the street, you would take taken that, strike it on the card, and light it with that. 

So that was a big struggle. And then the original one came with a clear-cut straw, so to speak, a regular straw. But I figured this would be the best way to show that you could put something circular in the card, basically, and then the card has evolved so much since then, but we’re still working on that today.

The Future of KushKards

I’m coming out with gift boxes, which has been something I’ve wanted to do for so long. I usually just like to make them on Instagram, and people always ask for them. And then an interesting opportunity where the boxes got featured on Netflix in a movie called Senior Year (starring Rebel Wilson).

Courtesy of KushKards

A year ago, somebody reached out to me, and they’re like, “hey, we have this message,” and I decided to reach out to this person to see what they were talking about. Thank God I made the call. They said, “Hey, we’re making a movie with Rebel Wilson.” I have to sign this NDA, and they wanted to have her open a cannabis box. Can you make us a box? I said, “I’ll make you a box!” So I did, and I sent it in with so much stuff and with no guarantee, too, that it would be in the movie. And then someone spotted it. 

They did have her open it, but they had it in the back with other packages. But you could tell they zoomed up on it because I put the logo somewhere where people could recognize it. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to make these boxes.” So that’s what gave me the push to do them. They’re called the Polka Pot, because basically, they are polka dots but just adding the pot leaf.

So what I’m going to do with those boxes is offer them for people to make their own gift sets. But also, there will be some Halloween, Friendsgiving and Christmas themes where you can get a pre-packed box. I want to give my customers a different angle on all things for gifting cannabis. Mom, dad, partner, best friend. So that’s why Friendsgiving is kind of a focus for me too. So all of our friendships. And so that’s kind of my, my biggest thing coming out so far.

Thriving on Social Media as a Cannabis Brand

HT: Is there anything you can share about building a successful social media strategy?

Miele: There’s never a strategy. I promise. I think it’s so hard for small business owners who do it themselves to have a strategy sometimes. Instagram is ever-changing. Social media is changing not daily but almost. 

I feel my strategy is learning to adapt to the changes. So I think social media has helped me show more things, such as me behind the brand, becoming more comfortable with showing behind the scenes, and making that a part of my daily idea. Some of my ideas for posts involve quotes because people like them, and it’s very sharable content. If you can hop on the meme right away, if something happens in pop culture, I think having shareable content is super important because you can get maybe 50 likes on a post, but then over 100 people share it, you know what I mean? 

So 100 people saw your post in their story. Then I like to show myself in reels doing a trend but not necessarily doing the dances but doing what’s relatable to my customers, relatable to me and relatable to being a small business owner. A lot to do with smoking and how it’s not acceptable or gives me a lot to do with retailers who are not ready for my products because I put myself in front of them to have this conversation. So that’s a long way of saying I have no strategy, but there are certain things I know I want to use and certain kinds of reels I want to post.

I try not to look at the views. I try to separate myself from obsessing about that because it just takes one person to see it, and I see who’s watching my stuff, and I know that one person matters. My story views are ridiculous, and it’s like I’m posting for myself, but, you know, the couple people that watch you, those are the ones that are returning customers and the ones who are sharing my content. 

Courtesy of KushKards

I’m always showing them my buyers, stores, the ones posting my cards in their stores, love. Because that’s the most challenging step, is getting them and having them buy it. And then, once it’s in the store, it’s out of your control, and you hope that people are talking about them. You’re hoping they look great. So it’s fun because I encourage stores to reshare, and that’s original content, too, seeing the cards in the wild. I get nervous about holidays like Mother’s Day, on Father’s Day, knowing that people are looking for some type of sharable content. So make sure I have a couple of quotes planned for the week of Mother’s Day and start postings. And yeah, it can be very nerve-wracking sometimes.

I try it and again, it’s part of the job. I try not to stress it. I’ve hired and fired people, and I’m like, you know what? Social media is crucial to your brand; I will do it instead of complaining. And my partner does a lot for his company, and he’s starting a comic about cannabis. He just came out with the first part of the book. So in our relationship, we know, “Hey, we need to stop, make this reel, we’re going to stop and make the reel.” Whereas sometimes I’ve seen and experienced in relationships that the person gets annoyed, it becomes a little bit more frustrating for you. But if you let them know like this is just part of your job and hopefully become more acceptable.

Check Out & Support KushKards

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Thank you, Lauren, for your time with High There! We appreciate fantastic innovators such as yourself lighting up the cannabis industry.

Hannah (Izer) Vysoky

About The Author

Hannah (Izer) Vysoky