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The all-female firm set to define the CBD industry

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Rebekah Hall - CEO of South West Brands

All-female led South West Brands is the first multi-brand consumer goods group developed specifically for the CBD sector. It is brand which take the industry to the next level, says CEO Rebekah Hall.

The all-female led South West Brands (SWB) raised £1 million to launch in February, with ambitions of shaking up the industry.

The multi-brand consumer goods group, developed specifically for the CBD industry is preparing to launch its first new brands in the menstrual care and beauty categories in April.

But these are just the beginnings of what is set to become a portfolio of leading, global CBD brands with the group’s sights set on raising another £10 million over the next 12 months. 

Led by former investment banker, Rebekah Hall, who is leaning on over a decade of experience in the City, the firm is approaching the cannabis industry with a capital-like model and a “laser focus” on originating, building and acquiring brands to develop for exploitation.

Hall left banking to “scratch an entrepreneurial itch” and set up Botanical Labs in 2015, cottoning on early to the growing interest in health and wellbeing. 

The brand brought the first charcoal drink to UK shelves, and shortly after launched the first CBD-infused drink in Europe in 2017.

Falling into the CBD sector by accident, Hall took a punt that consumers were ready for it – and it proved to be right. 

Now, she’s convinced that those same consumers are ready for things to move up a level and for cannabis to be taken seriously as a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) category. 

“Everybody’s sick of the next CBD oil that’s going to be on the shelf. 

“They broadly all look the same, they all do the same, they don’t really provide you with any information or reason to buy,” says Hall.

“People don’t buy Nike because they have the best quality materials – maybe they do – but people buy them because Nike told you to just do it, and that’s what we do.

“That’s what needs to be injected into this industry – the reason for being for the consumer.”

SWB was born out of Hall and her business partner’s desire to build scaled brands, across multiple consumer product segments in a short space of time, during what she describes as a “window of opportunity” in the industry.

“I see cannabis as the most exciting thing to happen to consumer products in a lifetime,” she continues.

“I was pondering how I could get this across more comprehensively, across different consumer products segments and more importantly, across different consumer demographics?

“We are very much brand experts. I feel that that’s so important now because consumers are ready for it, regulation is getting to the point of being ready for it and it’s that that is going to drive demand for the rest of the industry.”

Hall believes that rather than farmers or cultivators, it will be the brand builders who define the cannabis industry.

“That’s not to the detriment of anyone else in the industry,” she clarifies.

“Everyone has their place, but I think brand is what will define this sector and take it to the next level. 

“Bringing in some recognised expertise and recognised techniques in doing that is really key to elevating this industry to a place where everyone who has invested the time and money in it can enjoy the benefits of it.”

She also expects to see the larger FMCG brands making their move in the sector in the next few years, which will only be a “hugely positive thing”.

“There’s a lot of fear that the early entrants have done the hard work and then the big guys come in and sweep away all the benefits and there’s some truth to that, but really the industry needs the discipline and rigour of those big players to elevate it to a place where there’s consumer trust.”

That said, Hall disputes the idea that entrepreneurs need to be “evangelical” about cannabis in order to be in the industry.

“What I believe on a personal level is sort of irrelevant,” she says. 

“I don’t think it’s necessary for me to be evangelical about cannabis, to be a business operator in this area.”

Hall adds: “Do I use CBD products? Yes, and on a personal level I do believe in this product, but that’s not particularly relevant for what we do in business.

“From a business perspective, I believe wholeheartedly that there is a huge business and economic opportunity, both for us and for the industry at large and that’s the important thing.”

This is a move away from the current state of play in the sector, where many brands are borne out of an individual’s personal experience with and enthusiasm for how CBD has helped them.

“Often when brands are built at a small level they’re built for the founder, they have a problem that they’re addressing and they connect very deeply with that,” says Hall.

“We’re just moving on a little bit from that in terms of looking at the consumer at large and how we can address consumer problems at large.”

But that’s not to dismiss the work of those who have campaigned to get the industry where it is today, who may well criticise Hall and her contemporaries for being “in it for the money”.

“Advocacy and the personal stories of people who derive real benefit from the plant have taken this industry a long way, particularly on the medicinal cannabis side, but from a consumer products perspective it’s slightly different,” she says.

“You often get it levelled at you in this industry that you just did it for the money…yes I am in it for the money, yes I believe economically in the industry, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that or any need for accusations to be levelled.”

Hall is not one to play on the fact that she is leading an impressive, all-female management team, but moving from one male-dominated environment to another, it is not something that has gone unnoticed. 

“I think the capital raising side of industry is very male-dominated, bit it’s not unique to this industry,” she says.

“I come from an investment banking background, probably one of the worst industries for it.

“I’m passionate about putting women at the front of entrepreneurship and seeing women in leadership roles, other than just putting them in a creative advocacy role – which are very important, but women don’t just have to just operate in those places.”

Her team includes operations director, Hannah Skingle, widely known for her role in building Dragonfly Biosciencesthe first CBD brand to be widely stocked in Boots, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. 

Chief financial officer is former Goldman Sachs fund manager and equity sales expert, Jolyn Teoh, while brand and marketing director Fran Pearce brings 20 years experience, a founding member of the management team of Pollen CBD, having previously built an award-winning global marketing team for Superdry. 

“We have an exceptional team, the best in the industry, both in terms of their experience in consumer products but also in cannabis, and they happen to be all women,” continues Hall.

“I think that’s an important representative statement for the industry, that a business which has big aspirations, to build a really strong commercial endeavour is led by women.”

She adds: “We’re in a very exciting capital market for cannabis at the moment so watch this space as we look to take advantage of that.”

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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