Designer Lilli Keinaenen on Custom Branding and Sustainable Packaging in Cannabis

Our chat with the Changemaker Creative leader

Lilli Keinaenen has been designing beautiful things for close to 20 years. In 2016, she went all-in with the burgeoning legal cannabis industry. She enjoys working with craft cannabis and hemp product brands—from edibles and beverages to topicals and smokables, as well as advocacy, dispensary and ancillary companies in the industry.

Lilli is the founder of Changemaker Creative, a Northern California creative agency, and recently joined the cannabis skincare brand Green Bee Botanicals as CMO. She's deeply passionate about sustainable packaging. 

Life before cannabis was with sustainable consumer products, environmental and social justice nonprofits, and ad agency work in both Europe and the Bay Area. Lilli is a classically trained designer with a bachelor of arts from her native country of Finland. She is also a self-professed reader of books, font aficionado, lover of salty licorice candy, and a total nerd.

We spoke with Lilli for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Lilli, tell us...

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I wear quite a few hats. I am the founder and designer+marketer at Changemaker Creative, as well as a co-owner and CMO of the cannabis skincare company Green Bee Botanicals. I am a passionate sustainable packaging advocate, founding member of a co-operative circular economy hemp farm and business incubator in Finland. Additionally, my advocacy work includes running the cannabis legalization efforts both locally in my home town of Alameda, California, as well as globally, with the cannabis citizens initiative for decriminalization in Finland, and I am also a board member of Cannabis Doing Good. I wear a lot of hats in the industry. It's lucky, because I like—and look fabulous in—hats.

But once we get past the titles and causes, the bottom line is that I help cannabis and hemp companies stand out with unique custom branding and sustainable packaging design—and attract a cult following of loyal customers. 

You can usually find me in Northern California, where I live and work out of Alameda, California, a little island town in front of Oakland.

Your earliest cannabis memory.

I was brought up in the era of "Just Say No." Which I did ... until college. College introduced me to cannabis for the first time, because hey, you can't go to art school without coming across pot smoke and booze! The problem was, it was college. In Eastern Europe. Which means my first introduction to my beloved plant was through really shitty weed, mixed with tobacco, and old and stale. The only thing I felt was sleepy and nauseous. Based on that terrible first impression, I decided it was "not my thing," and didn't touch the stuff for a decade.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Cannabis has helped change my life, both personally and professionally. It all began when I started researching healthy living and a more holistic way to care of myself. I had moved to California, so weed was everywhere. I decided to give it another go. As a person, I've always been a bit … high strung, the classic type-A perfectionist good girl. I discovered cannabis really does mellow me out, making me more productive for my clients, and just a nicer human. For work, I find more focus and stress relief, and oodles more patience. As a friend and spouse, it helps me with inner calm, and find more joy and laughter. And hey, nobody's getting any younger here, so the inflammation help? It helps.

Nowadays, cannabis is an integral part of my life—from an afternoon CBD-rich tincture, to a nighttime cocktail, to going out with a vape instead of drinks. I use it to manage stress, anxiety, sleep, workout injuries, and to live a more balanced life overall.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

There are so many! I love a good tincture (Juna, Humboldt Apothecary), and microdose edibles (Somatik Sparks, Mellows marshmallows) are my jam. I also just got a new vape that burns flower, but at a lower temp, so it's really bringing out the fruity and floral notes I love, without the throat and lung irritation. But if I should pick just one product, my whole summer last year was all about experimenting with different mocktails I was making with the cannabis aperitif called Artet. Not only is it a beautiful bottle and a fun talking point on Zoom happy hours, it's also just so damn tasty and versatile.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

There are quite a few challenges. The biggest one being the uncertainty. While there are more and more paid marketing options available, just the lack of access to the "normal stuff" like paid social is such an annoyance! Rant: these platforms know everything about us, and their technology was created to allow marketers to microtarget. So if the tools they created would allow us to target our exact audience to be over 21 and just within your state—why don't they let us do that? Federal legalization can't come soon enough so we can get banking and Instagram ads!

In a way, the biggest challenge is the ambiguous legality. We're legal but not, a total Schrödinger's cat of an industry—we're paying taxes, but can't bank. We can put a billboard up, but can't do a Facebook ad. We're legal, but treated like criminals.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

In that same vein, not having the normal channels, or mass market budgets, requires you to get scrappy. One thing we're planning currently with the skincare line are online webinars, where people can buy a self-care kit, and follow along for a cannabis-infused beauty regimen. When you can't buy ads, you have to create your own stages.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support and why.

I'm a 1% pledge partner of Cannabis Doing Good. I do the triple bottom line thing, where I also pledge 1% of my income to the planet, and 1% for the people, which in this case means supporting the Cannabis Impact Fund, which does social justice work around the racial inequities in cannabis. Also, the Cannabis Certification Council's Sustainability Symposium is close to my heart. 

A recent project you're proud of.

My passion is around helping cannabis companies be more sustainable. I've put a tremendous about of time and effort to find sustainable options for packaging for clients. From compostable bags for flower to plastic-free jar lids for cosmetics, reclaimed ocean plastic jars for an infused food product ... helping companies find sustainable packaging helps them, helps their customers, and it helps the earth. It would be so, so, so much easier to just pick the disposable plastic components, slap a vinyl sticker on it and be done with it. To me, it's important to pick packaging that is sustainably sourced, made with renewable materials, with the lowest carbon footprint as possible—both in the amount of packaging material required, as well as where it's made, how it's made, and how far it has to be shipped. And at the end of the day, helping to find packaging that is recyclable or compostable will make your customers keen to pay more and feel more connected to your brand story—81 percent of consumers surveyed say they feel strongly that companies should help the environment.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

Kendra Losee of Mota Marketing is doing a very cool thing. She noticed people are paying for marketing classes but not finishing them. So she decided to create a DIY marketing lab, where she will be teaching entrepreneurs and business owners how to market their CBD products with her support and feedback.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

Andrea and Amanda of Sava, the cannabis delivery service, are doing wonderful things. They don't sell anything that doesn't fit into the company values. The store platform allows customers to shop from small farms, sustainable brands, as well as POC-, queer- or women-owned brands. I love how easy it makes it for me, as they've done the vetting for me, so I can be sure everything sold is going to align with my personal values as well.

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.

Had 20-something me known how much fun concerts and movies are while high … For me, what I think it does is help me be in the moment, open to taking it all in, and not thinking about anything else. One of my favorite things to do is to go to an art museum, alone, while high—it's a heightened experience with all the feels. Highly recommend it.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

My "previous life" was designing for and working with environmental and social justice nonprofits, and I had some sustainably minded product brand clients, things like menstrual cups and cloth diapers, and vegan chocolate. I'd probably be working in that field more. I really enjoy working on crafting a product brand, and messaging—figuring out the "special sauce" for each company and what makes their story special. Whatever it is, it would be about creative work that helps people and makes a difference.

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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