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What goes into planning a world-class cannabis industry party? We spoke to the team behind Westword’s High Style event to find out.

header image via westword

With legalization sweeping the nation (congrats, Illinois!) and the mother of all 420s coming up (April 2020), I’m in the mood to celebrate.

Not just “have a few friends over for snacks and a smoke sesh”, but to plan full-on cannabis celebration sometime soon. But, where should I even start?

When the team behind Westword’s High Style reached out to share the big news about their upcoming event, I jumped at the opportunity to learn from the experts.

On Thursday, March 5th, High Style will fuse cannabis-inspired fashion, education and wellness into one amazing evening of curated, interactive programming focused on style, substance, and sustainability.

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Be a part of this groundbreaking event with $5 off using code HEYHELLOHIGH

The three floors of the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park in Denver, CO will be filled with fashion shows, presentations, panels and an open marketplace where the canna-curious can interact with high-end hemp and cannabis brands.

There will be passed hors d’oeuvres and samplings of CBD and spirits throughout the event. Plus, score $5 off your GA ticket with code HEYHELLOHIGH. How amazing is that!?

I had the unique opportunity to chat with Jenny Baker-Strasburg and Mary Spicer, Co-founders of JAM Productions (they’re running the show) and let me tell you, I learned a lot.

Now, let’s get on with the interview. For all the aspiring cannababe event planners out there, take notes! 

Hi Jenny and Mary, thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

Let’s start with a little background. How long you have been in the events industry, and working with Westword specifically?

Jenny: I began my career in NYC working for Liz Claiborne over 18 years ago. I started in an entry-level marketing position but asked my managers to groom me for a role as an event coordinator which they thankfully did.

I eventually ended up in a role where I created co-branded events with the publications we advertised in. While under the Liz Claiborne umbrella I developed event programming with Vogue, Glamour, InStyle, Marie Claire, Real Simple, and many others. Additionally, I oversaw the execution of over 200 in-store events per season. Mary and I have worked with Westword for seven years producing the fashion portion of Artopia.

Mary: I have been in the industry since I was 14 when I did some simple modeling. Unfortunately, I stopped growing at 5’5″ and decided to help the models get ready instead. This was in the 80’s way before being backstage was even close to cool but I loved it and I am still doing it.

I work for Judith Rice & Associates. During NYFW I have been the project manager for Wang Tao and her designer line, Taoray Wang for 11 seasons. I have worked for designers such as Kirby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss SS19 and SS20, Vera Wang, Tadashi Shoji, Vivienne Tam and many more.

 

Tell me a little bit about Westword’s High Style event that’s coming up on March 5th in Denver. What can attendees expect?

High Style is a carefully curated, multi-faceted event designed to educate consumers on the many benefits of the hemp and cannabis plants.

Guests can expect engaging activations, a large educational component, the latest in CBD and cannabis-inspired food and cocktails, music, pop-up entertainment, and an incredible fashion show.

Attendees have the opportunity to meet directly with companies that are growing, creating and packaging items that lend to mindful lifestyle choices. We find these companies absolutely fascinating with their tackling of social justice issues and the steps they take for sustainability. We love the stories of the brands and the wealth of knowledge they have about their products. The partners featured at High Style must be transparent and use best practices. This way guests can relax knowing that any of the products they encounter are safe and of the highest quality.

High Style will feature a cooking demonstration with Robyn Lawrence, author of two cannabis cookbooks, including her latest “Pot in Pans: A History of Eating Cannabis (Rowman & Littlefield Studies in Food and Gastronomy)”. She will be cooking and speaking with Jane West who wrote the forward to Robyn’s book, “The Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook: Feel-good Edibles, from Tinctures and Cocktails to Entrees and Desserts”.

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Adding these books to my reading list, STAT! (Shop it here on Amazon)

From there we have programmed a panel titled “Trends in Fashion, Beauty & Cannabis” featuring Bryan DeHaven founder of the Alpine Hemp Company and Kristi Blustein founder of Khus+Khus. The evening culminates with two fashion shows. The opening show features Pact organic clothing and Erin Colvin for High Society Collection. Pact apparel is made from organic, fair trade, factory-certified cotton. Pact uses zero harmful chemicals and processes that use significantly less water than conventional cotton. They’re about conscious consumption.

They also just announced that starting in early 2020 they will be using biodegradable plastic bags. Designer, Erin Colvin, is an Oregon based studio artist whose practice undulates between craft and design; focusing on jewelry as both the format and subject of her work. Her beautiful jewelry pieces are incredibly clever and tie into the cannabis theme.

The closing fashion show features renowned fashion designer Korto Momolu who will be showcasing her collaboration with Women Grow along with some never before seen designs.

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Korto Momolu x NYFW 2019

Women Grow is the largest US cannabis organization for women. This collection contains pieces made of eco-friendly and organic fabrics like hemp, jute, linen, organic cotton, and cork. Not only will we have the clothing for sale at her pop-up shop, but Korto herself is coming and will walk the runway!

 

What has been the most exciting part of planning this event?

The most exciting part is finding like-minded people who understand and share our vision for this event. We want it all. We want to look good, feel good, eat well, exercise, have fun, save the world and bring about change. That’s all. No sweat.

 

What has been the most challenging?

This is the first event of its kind so we’re definitely navigating the challenge of convincing partners to take a chance on us.

We’re coming out of years of the stoner identity and it’s hard for some to change that narrative. A few potential partners have pushed back on the fact that this is NOT an open consumption event. We do not have onsite consumption for a couple reasons: 1) The rules around House Bill 1230 are still be written and it was of the utmost importance to us that we provide a safe, compliant environment. 2) Nobody benefits from too much consumption of various products in a single evening.

We encourage guests to first find the best individual fit for them and then try it at their leisure, one product a time so they can determine what delivers the best results and gives them the desired effect.

 

If you could bring on any celebrity to join your event team, who would you pick and why?

If you mean to be at the event it’s hands down Korto. Luckily, we didn’t have to hire her but she chose to partner with us because she believes in what we’re creating. She is a strong woman, a pioneer in the cannabis industry and an absolute force in the fashion world. Korto has been incredibly supportive and a dream to work with.

Additionally, we have Jane West onboard and we couldn’t be happier. We have been longtime fans and couldn’t believe we even got her to meet with us, much less partner.

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In promoting an event of this scale, what has worked well to get the word out?

Countless networking events, interviews, social media, podcasts, dinner with friends, talking in passing and shouting from rooftops. Seriously, because we have such a great network of women who all support each other in this industry, that is how we get the word out.

We continue to go out and talk about it daily. Our partners have been great in helping spread the word too. Is there any red tape you’ve had to cut through because it’s a cannabis event? Yes, navigating the new legislation has been ongoing. We’ve attended all the rulemaking sessions to make sure we’re up to speed and aware of everything going 3 on within this space. Additionally, traditional advertising of cannabis and cannabis-related events is tricky.

 

For women aspiring to break into the cannabis industry, specifically into the events/marketing side of things, what advice can you share?

Don’t get discouraged and lean in. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. There are days we start work at 4:45am and don’t wrap up until late evening. It took us three solid years of research to get to this point.

Also, it’s a lot better with a partner. We don’t know what we would have done without each other. We are incredibly lucky to have found each other and I think our styles compliment each other very well. One of us always picks up where the other one leaves off.

 

This year 4/20 gets a whole month and we plan on celebrating ALL through April. Any pro event planner tips on throwing a 420 theme party?

Yes! Buy local, organic and fresh. Keep it simple and try to reduce the amount of waste you use. I like to put products on cake stands and decorate with simple plants and flowers.

I also add informational bits and suggested amounts on tented cards so it is easy to see. Make sure to have a rain plan. It’s Colorado. Most importantly, be sure to keep guests safe and consume responsibly.

Be sure to grab your tickets to Westword’s High Style this March using code HEYHELLOHIGH for $5 to support this amazing event! 

Jenny and Mary, thank you so much for sharing your cannabis event planning wisdom and congrats on your incredible success so far.

Disclosure: Links contained in this post may be affiliate links, meaning when you purchase from our partner sites you help support HeyHelloHigh at no extra cost to you. All opinions are our own, and we only choose to partner with brands that we truly and honestly love.

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