We like to take time to highlight women we see out in the world doing their part to make the world a little nicer. In this Real Nice Lady Spotlight, we’re talking to Riley Brain, a Kansas City-based artist, about how she uses handmade ceramics to destigmatize cannabis culture.
Artist/Owner of Wandering Bud
Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich
“Like A Prayer” - Madonna
What song are you listening to on repeat right now?
I actually listen much more to podcasts and audiobooks while I work, but since watching the Taylor Swift documentary on Netflix, I’ve been listening to her “Lover” album a lot.
Female icon you would be for Halloween?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
What first attracted you to your current profession?
In the Summer of 2016, I spent a week exploring Portland, Oregon while my husband was there for a work trip. This was the year Oregon legalized recreational cannabis, and my first dispensary experiences came on this trip. I realized during that week that while the city was incredibly open and accepting of cannabis and the people who benefit from the plant, on the whole, consumers were still hiding their pipes and other smoke accessories in drawers out of embarrassment. Glass spoon pipes with a masculine or novelty quality dominated the market.
I decided I wanted to be a part of a movement to bring that destigmatization culture back to my home in the Midwest through the design and production of aesthetically pleasing, handmade ceramic smoking devices.
Where do you draw inspiration for your creations? Where did you draw inspiration when you were first starting out?
Last March, I picked up a vintage glass ashtray from a shop in the West Bottoms, made a plaster mold using that piece as the prototype, and started slip casting ashtrays. That really kick-started my pull toward mid century modern design. I use mid century furniture, fabrics, and wallpapers as the inspiration for a lot of my newer pieces. Even more recently, I’ve started looking toward floral tattoos for inspiration, and I’ll likely explore that more in 2020.
When I was starting out, I was focused much more on learning techniques and experimenting since I don’t have a formal education in ceramics. I had no idea how to make a mold or slip cast and was terrible at wheel throwing (and still am not great), so I was limited to what I could handbuild. I knew I wanted pieces to be feminine, so I was drawn to non-traditional colors and shapes to try to break out of that dark, glass spoon pipe aesthetic.
What is your favorite thing about your industry? Your least favorite?
My favorite part of this industry is the supportive community of (mostly) women that I have connected with. I am a bit of an island doing this work in the Midwest where most states range from newly legal to completely illegal (looking at you, Kansas), so Instagram has been an invaluable tool in building a support network. The women in this industry want to cheer each other on and help everyone succeed. It’s uplifting and empowering and makes for the best work environment.
My least favorite part of this industry is definitely the barriers that come along with payment processing and web hosting. Deemed a “high risk” business, anyone selling cannabis-adjacent products like mine have to scale frustrating walls that website platforms and payment processors have put up to keep us out. And it seems there is never a simple or inexpensive solution.
What do you want for the future of your industry?
I want cannabis to be federally legalized so we can implement more research studies and educate the public about the plant. Kansas City is at such a special moment in the legalization and destigmatization process. When I meet people at events, most are genuinely curious and have many (mostly) non-judgmental questions about cannabis. I can answer some, but other questions need more research. I would also like to see more people of color represented in the industry, especially considering that they have been disproportionately affected by the prohibition of cannabis.
What advice would you give other women trying to succeed in your industry?
Read the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. When I was a teacher, my principal required all teachers in the building to read this book. The intent was for us to implement Dweck’s ideas about a growth mindset with our students, but I ended up applying the concept to my own life. The basic idea is that there are two mindset groups that people fall into - a fixed mindset, in which a person believes they are born with all of their skills and talents - and a growth mindset, in which a person believes they can acquire any skills and knowledge through time, guidance, and practice. I refer back to that idea any time I encounter a problem that seems insurmountable. And those come relatively often in entrepreneurship.
What was a formative moment in your life that made you who you are?
I don’t mean this to sound cheesy, but honestly, meeting and marrying my husband, Donald. Before I met him, I “knew” I wanted to be a teacher. I came from a family of teachers and the only question in my mind at age 18 was whether I wanted to teach music or art. The path to becoming an educator was clear and defined; it was a stable career, and I liked that. Conversely, Donald comes from a family of entrepreneurs. I can remember asking him early on in our relationship something like, “so, you guys just make your own jobs? How is that even possible?” I didn’t get it, but it sounded pretty cool. When I decided to pursue my idea for Wandering Bud, Donald was my biggest cheerleader, still is. When I wanted to quit my teaching job, he wasn’t scared at all, even though I was. His reassurance that I can succeed at this keeps me going on the days I want to cry and quit.
When do you feel the strongest in your life? When do you feel the most vulnerable in your life?
I feel strongest when I am working in my new studio. We’re in a bit of a honeymoon phase right now since we just moved WB out of my basement and into a natural-light filled space in January, but it makes me feel pretty badass. There have been many moments where I’ve looked around and thought to myself, “damn, I made this happen. I have a physical place of work to go to every day that started as just an idea in my head, and that is pretty cool.”
I feel most vulnerable whenever my health forces me to slow down or take better care of myself. In 2012, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack any part of the digestive system. It can also cause random symptoms like arthritic joint pain. While there is no cure, I do a pretty good job of managing my symptoms through IV infusions every 6 weeks and by eating a low sugar, vegetarian diet. Despite my best efforts, sometimes the disease knocks me on my ass and I need to rest. Or I need yet another colonoscopy decades before most people get their first. But as far as diseases go, Crohn’s is pretty manageable, and I am grateful for that.
How do you take care of your body when it needs rest?
I’ve been prioritizing yoga again recently, which always helps me feel my best. I also love to eat well, avoid a lot of sugar, and have been somewhere on the vegan-pescatarian spectrum for the last five years. In relation to my Crohn’s disease, my most debilitating symptom is abdominal pain. This happens rarely now, but when it hits, I can’t walk easily or do anything comfortably except lay down on my side. There was a day this past Fall that knocked me out, and I spent the day laying on the couch, waiting for the pain to pass. I had gone two years or so without much pain prior to that day, which I attribute to staying on top of my medication and eating well.
Who are five women that inspire you?
My Grandmothers (Mary Ann Shaw and Ora Mae Barron) Lizzo Ruth Bader Ginsburg Terry Gross