To continue our month-long celebration of women in honor of women’s history month, we sat down with Trista Okel, founder of Empower BodyCare.
WLM: Tell us about what got you started with CBD?
TO: I was a medical marijuana patient, grower, and advocate for nine years before I started Empower BodyCare. I used a Volcano Vaporizer and found that I really liked how I felt when I used strains that tasted like cherry cough drops, which back in the day was a common flavor profile for strains that were high in CBD. There's been a lot of cross-breeding since that time, so the correlation doesn't stand true anymore, but back when CBD was a new thing, it did correlate. I always vaped at a lower temperature, so when I was done vaping, I'd infuse the remaining "spent" flower in grapeseed oil and fill capsules with it.
I discovered that cannabinoids had therapeutic value topically when I was camping with some friends, and one of them had a large log fall on her foot. It was immediately inflamed, but luckily it wasn't broken. On a hunch, I started breaking open the capsules and applying them to my friend's foot. After a couple of hours, I watched as the inflammation subsided. It was the beginning of my career, and I didn't even know it!
WLM: Did you use CBD religiously before starting your own company?
TO: CBD wasn't a well-known cannabinoid amongst the cannabis community until 2012-2013. I was using strains with CBD in them but didn't start having my strains or my products tested at analytical labs until 2013, when I launched Empower.
WLM: How has CBD helped your day-to-day life?
TO: It's stressful to run a company, and I read some studies that were promising in terms of potential benefits, so I started taking CBD internally in addition to using my topical products daily. And, dosage is tricky, as it depends on the person as to how much one "needs." I take 125mg of CBD daily. I started at 25mg and started working my way up in dosage, checking in with myself on how I felt every couple of weeks. I've found that 125mg feels like a sweet spot for me, and I've heard from friends that 5mg works for them. I think it all has to do with one's own ECS (Endocannabinoid System) in determining the right dosage for the individual.
WLM: What makes your CBD company, Empower, unique?
TO: Empower was birthed in advocacy, activism, and a need to help my mom. I wanted to break down the barriers for women with cannabis. At the time I thought of the name EMPOWER as an acronym (End Marijuana Prohibition, Organize Women, Enact Reform). Women polled on the issue of legalizing medicinal marijuana were more against it than for it. Making non-psychoactive topical products was a way to bridge the gap. Topical products are excellent "ambassador products" because they work and women were open to trying them because they aren't intoxicating. I also wanted to help my mom get relief in a non-intoxicating way, which was my first motivation for making topical products.
We are very mission-driven, and we want to empower people everywhere to take better care of their bodies.
WLM: What is the best advice you were given when starting your CBD business?
TO: Always have a great accountant and great lawyers. And always make business decisions with integrity and a good night's sleep.
WLM: What's your recommendation for people using CBD for the first time? What advice would you give new users on how to dose and what to expect?
TO: First of all, don't use products that don't have their testing information available, either on their packaging (with batch-specific testing information clearly displayed on the outside of the packaging) or with a QR code that links you to the information on their website. Ideally, the packaging will have both on it so the consumer has access to the information on the spot and can look at the Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) on their website.
That said, topicals are a great place to start because they work and are non-psychoactive. After people experience relief, they tend to open their minds to trying CBD internally in addition to using it topically.
WLM: What do you have planned for your company in the next year and five years in terms of new developments, products, expansion?
TO: This year we are working towards Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) certification, which I am really excited about, expanding beyond the 28 states where our products are currently sold, and expanding our product line to include new lotion scents, a balm, and a skincare line.
In the next five years, we hope to be on the shelves in every country that allows it, making a real impact with our products in the lives of millions.
WLM: This is Woman's Month, and the theme for many is the better the balance, the better the world. #balanceforbetter. What tips would you give fellow women to help them achieve more prominent roles in the workplace?
TO: Always be working on yourself, both professionally and personally. If you want to work in management, read books on management and communication. Always be willing to admit mistakes, find solutions, and find ways to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
Become an expert in your field. For example, if you are a compliance or policy geek, know the rules inside and out and keep up on them, as they are ever-changing.
WLM: Have you experienced any barriers as a female in terms of leadership? If it has affected you, how did you overcome those barriers?
TO: I think I am exceptionally lucky in this regard. I think that since I own the company, I have not had any barriers in terms of leadership. (Except for my own learning curve in striving to always be a better leader.) I have an amazing team and we have a company culture of kind, respectful communication.
WLM: Who are your female role models?
TO: I am a huge fan of Jane Fonda. I mean, who doesn't want to be Jane Fonda when they grow up?! But on a local level, Wendy Collie, the former CEO of New Season Market, is an amazing mentor and I'm so lucky to be able to work with her to learn how to be the best CEO I can possibly be.
WLM: What keeps you up at night?
TO: Mistakes. When I make mistakes, I have a hard time sleeping until I figure out how to resolve them and hopefully not make the same mistakes in the future. Oh, and ever-changing regulations. I'm constantly trying to stay on top of them and ready to pivot.
WLM: What keeps you going during the day?
TO: Knowing that through our products, we get to help people have a better quality of life. We receive a lot of testimonials, thank you e-mails, and phone calls on a regular basis, and it's these interactions that really keep me going. Also knowing that I am living my mission with the help of an exceptional, dedicated team makes me super happy.
WLM: We hear that your CBD soaking salts are a must for local service industry folks. What feedback have you received?
TO: When I wear an Empower t-shirt when I am out and about in Portland, I am often approached by people who want to tell me how much they like our products. On more than one occasion, I have been told by people who work in the service industry that they LOVE Empower, especially for their feet after a long shift. Apparently, our soaking salts are super popular amongst service industry folks who do foot soaks at the end of a long day. These stories also keep me going!
WLM: Tell us more about how CBD works topically.
TO: I used to think that CBD interacted with CB2 receptor sites in the skin. But new studies have shown that isn't the case. Here is what the latest studies are saying about CBD in topical applications:
CBD activates the TRPV-1 (vanilloid) receptor, which is present on the skin as well as throughout the body. This is the same receptor that capsaicin binds to. This receptor is responsible for helping us to achieve homeostasis; it regulates pain, temperature, and inflammation.
CBD also activates PPAR-γ (gamma), a receptor found throughout the body (including the skin) that regulates cell life in a number of ways, including regulating inflammation. Additionally, CBD suppresses the production of TNF-α (alpha), which is a pro-inflammatory enzyme found throughout the body (including the skin). This effectively reduces inflammation.
WLM: Trista, thank you so much for your time. Your journey is inspirational and we love your products. We can’t wait to see what you do next!