It’s not often that friction on Twitter leads to friendship in real life, but that’s exactly how I connected with the subject of this latest interview. Meet Melissa Rolston, founder and CEO of JADA, a skincare company combining cannabis with self care.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m fairly ranty on Twitter; it’s one of the reasons why that’s my favorite social media platform. On a day that likely ended in y, I was ranting about something in relation to the cannabis industry, Melissa cut through my rantiness with her forthrightness, showing me a different perspective. In just a few tweets, she earned my respect and admiration, and seeing what she was about, and the work she was doing, lead to a great conversation, and now a great connection.
Melissa is a social entrepreneur (someone with an aim to solve a social, cultural, environmental or other problems through their work or business) who has worked in the healthcare industry since 2009, narrowing her focus to medical cannabis in 2013. She spent her time in the industry consulting and building medical clinics, acting as a liaison between patients and physicians prior to cannabis legalization. Her personal and professional background gave her unique insight into the benefits of combining conventional and holistic medicine. JADA, Melissa’s upcoming cannabis infused skincare line, will be another creation of that knowledge, experience and passion.
Along with her work on JADA, Melissa is the founder of the nonprofit BTS (Breaking the Stigma) Stories, a multimedia project that aims to de-stigmatize and normalize social justice issues through their #BTSstories campaign. Featuring conversations with notable individuals from cannabis, music, the arts and more, BTS and Melissa open up about their own lives, and the stigmas they shatter every day, showing their audiences that it’s possible. BTS is supported by portion of proceeds from JADA X Dana, Melissa’s stunning campaign featuring high-end cannabis inspired jewellery, teasing the cannabis to skin connection that JADA will embody upon its entrance into the market.
And throughout the ongoing pandemic, Melissa has used her networking powers and business know-how to contribute to the battle against COVID-19. Teaming up with the Conquer COVID initiative, Melissa has worked to help raise funds, awareness, and source much needed personal protective equipment to frontline medical workers to help them continue the essential work they do.
Melissa Rolston is a compassionate leader who champions innovation, inclusivity, equality and activism in an industry that sometimes seems to forget that it was built on those very things. For her work ethic, her ambition, and her vision, I find Melissa truly inspirational, so I’m thrilled to be able to share some insight and advice from this awesome human with all of you.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For the longest time, I had my heart set on becoming a Paleontologist. I grew up in Forest Hills, Nova Scotia and our house backed onto a massive forest. The area I grew up in was abundant in fool’s gold so naturally, as a very curious kid, I would go exploring in the woods to hunt for fools gold and pretended I was also looking for different dinosaur bones! The best part of stumbling across potential rocks that may or may not have the “gold” was when I would lift them and discovered an entire new world beneath. There were tons of salamanders, tomato bugs, and all sorts of other creatures who lived under them. Even the way the tree roots adapted to the rock being there was something I was fascinated with.
As I grew older, I was informed that Palaeontologists don’t make money so I pivoted my vision of my future career to wanting to be an ER doctor once we moved to Mount Vernon, Virginia. Obviously I didn’t become any of these things, however, they built the foundation of who I am still becoming.
How did you get the Cannabis industry?
To be honest, completely by accident.
I professionally grew up in the healthcare industry since I was 15 which is around the same time I started consuming cannabis. I was surrounded by chronic pain patients who would use cannabinoid therapy alongside their opioid treatments. I’ve always been an observant person, so I would notice first hand the difference in the quality of life between patients who took a multimodal approach—cannabinoid therapy, exercise, supplements etc.—alongside their conventional prescriptions and treatment regime.
I didn’t become aware to the potential opportunities in the cannabis industry until I was hired as an executive assistant to a CEO of a licensed producer applicant in 2013 as the legal landscape didn’t exist prior to then.
The rest, is #HERstory in the making I guess you could say.
What inspired JADA?
I’m a big believer in the concept of “your name is your virtue.” JADA means the knowing one in many cultures across the world. Once I learned that, I knew it was my only option.
The inspiration behind the skincare line began in 2014 when I began researching and developing a topical formulation to combat my persistent symptoms of paediatric eczema and chronic pain. Through searching for a solution for myself, I discovered I could help others who suffered from similar aliments. This discovery happened naturally through word of mouth, for example, I was sitting on the Spadina Street car once and an elderly women sat next to me and started to tell me about the pain she experienced in her knee on a daily basis. I’m a firm believer that we, human beings, are meant to hold space for one another so I sat and listened. I then reached into my purse and pulled out my personal bottle of the OG formulation and handed it to her. I disclosed that there was cannabis oil in it, however, she wouldn’t experience any psychoactive effects from using it. To this day she calls me every 6 months or so to get a new bottle as it helps with her pain. I connected with my backer in a similar way, the products speaks for themselves.
Why was founding this company so important to you?
Although it’s taken me awhile to come to terms with it, I have envisioned this company for the past 6 years. It originally started with me seeking a solution for myself, has grown into what it is today, and will continue to grow. I truly couldn’t see myself doing anything else. This is my purpose.
What inspired the JADA X Dana campaign?
There were many moments throughout my lifetime that contributed to the JADA X Dana campaign. But the keys to my inspiration behind the campaign was Dana himself and that I grew up in a jewellery obsessed family.
My family has always had a tradition to pass down pieces from generation to generation to mark a significant moment along our journey through life. To this day you can find an angel around my neck and on my right hand that originally belonged to my nan. Some of my fondest memories were going through my nan’s and mom’s jewellery boxes with them and looking at all of the beautiful pieces.
Working with Dana, who is very much a brother to me, has been a blessing in disguise. I went through some serious hell in 2018/2019 and something that remained consistent was me going to the shop to bug him. It was therapeutic watching the light dance in the various types of gems I would hold in my hand; truly enchanting. Dana kept bugging me to do a line with him and although I kept saying “I don’t know, I have to see how it will all fit,” we would still sit down at the computer and build out the renderings every time we were together. I appreciate him, his family, and the fact that he has always pushed me to be great.
What are the biggest challenges/setbacks you’ve had to face?
[laughs]- Lets see:
- Healing from the trauma associated with work place sexual assault and harassment while building the foundation of the business.
- Finding “Do-ers”
What are some of the successes you’ve had?
Given this current economic landscape; surviving is a big success. My entire life has been crisis management; this is where I thrive.
What’s a piece of advice would you give to someone trying live their own dream, work wise?
Never give up. To put it differently: be persistent (or stubborn) as hell.
Even when you’re jobless, foodless, homeless — keep fucking going. Money always comes and goes. Trust the process and have faith in your struggle. I did and it’s been one hell of a journey that’s still far from over. I’m just getting started.
If you had one wish to help make the world a better place, what would it be?
For the world to be rid of stigma. Stigmas are what keep society at a standstill, and keep us from evolving — so let’s all try to be a bit more open minded.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
I can’t choose just one. Which is why when JADA partners with retailers, we create a custom line with the retailer and choose a specific charity to donate 10% of the proceeds to. We’re very excited to begin to announce some of these partnerships over the next few months. Stay tuned boo *insert 666 – kiss lips emoji*