What do you call someone who can do photography, modeling, market research, branding, cannabis advocacy, and can also probably out smoke you? Easy: Cannabess. Meet Bess Byers. From market research to political activism to cannabis, Bess' journey to becoming one of the most recognizable and trusted faces in the cannabis industry is an intriguing one, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to present her story to you all. But anyone who has met her knows that there isn't really the perfect set of words that can be used to describe her, other than she just has "it." She has this effervescence and "go gettem" attitude about her that is both alluring and inspiring, and the more you learn about her, the more you'll want to know. If you ever get the opportunity to talk to her, I highly encourage you to strike up that conversation. You won't regret it.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Bess, but the industry knows me as Cannabess. I am a cannabis photographer and digital marketing expert.
Do you do that freelance?
I actually just started my own company called Blaise Creative. I named it that because on my dad's side, in the 1600's, Blaise Belot came over from France and was really integral to the settling of Quebec. He was really a pioneer, and I feel like what we're doing is pioneering the industry. So I'm doing that full time, taking on clients, photography, email campaigns, web, SEO, basically the whole digital gamut.
Wow, that's a lot. So for people who are looking to follow a similar path into the industry, how did you know when you were ready to move over into the freelance space, and then transition into starting your own company?
I still laugh at the fact that I'm even here. I almost went to D.C. to get a job in politics. I'm really active and passionate about the national debt and the economy and a bunch of fiscal issues that aren't as cool [as cannabis.] I would say if you're looking to get into the industry, find your area of expertise, whether its growing, sales, marketing, whatever it is that you like to do, and find ways to apply your talents to better the industry, help it grow, create a positive image, and really help break down that stigma.
I did do a little bit of homework on you, so I know a little about your political background. Obviously, you're extremely intelligent. Do you ever find yourself having to defend yourself or your intelligence because of your decision to work in cannabis versus a political career?
I feel like I'm a pretty strong personality, and even if I had gone to D.C., I would have been the red peacoat in a sea of black peacoats. You know, when I first got into the industry, it was hard for my mom to try and communicate to friends what I was doing because of the stigma of cannabis. But I feel like most people are very receptive to it, especially from an economic standpoint. It's a job creator, it's a tax revenue generator, and we're reducing the prison population.
How can you argue with people wanting the freedom to consume a plant?
You kind of touched on it earlier, but you have your hands in everything now when it comes to cannabis branding and marketing, and you do everything yourself from start to finish. What is your favorite aspect of your work?
Oh gosh. It's really hard to pick just one favorite aspect of my job. I love shooting photos, I love bringing that vision to life. I love writing. I've always been a writer, so I really love writing blogs and communicating ideas. I always enjoy being in front of the camera for more sponsored content. So really, it more depends on what the project is and what we're doing.
So, you went to Beijing?
Yeah, I lived in China for about a year after college.
And then you came back to the states and started working in market research?
Yeah, it was funny. So I minored in Mandarin, which is how I ended up living in China. I was interning with a graphic design and ad agency, and I started doing street style photography while I was over there. I couldn't get on any social media because all social media access was blocked by the government. So I started a blog and figured out a way to email my Twitpic account, so that was my one form of communication with the outside world. I met a woman who owned a marketing research company, doing ethnography and focus groups. I met her on the street and asked if I could photograph her. We started talking and immediately hit it off. I found out she was from Vancouver, and I started helping her with a project over there. Fast forward to when I moved to LA, I found out she had an office there! So I reached out to her, and she ended up hiring me, and I worked for them for about a year and a half. I was doing ethnography focus for a lot of really big clients. It was amazing to learn the psychology behind brand building. Even today, being able to apply all that knowledge to the cannabis industry has been really exciting.
So how did you go from working in market research to moving into the cannabis space?
Actually, between the marketing and my cannabis career, I had started a single issue non-profit called A Generation Empowered. We had one goal: to educate Millenials about the national debt. In a society where we're so divided by right or left issues, the one issue that affects us all, in my opinion, is the national debt. So I was really trying to unite people behind this. I was these doing Fiscal Friday newscasts. How do you make something like the national debt cool to Millenials? That was what I was doing. So I was going to go to D.C., I had this opportunity, and I was going to stick it to the man.
I told one of my friends who owns a grow-op here in Washington "Hey, I'm moving to D.C. in a month unless you know someone here in the weed industry who can make me a better offer." And make me a better offer she did.
I thought, you know, I'm from Washington state. Pot's political and people love pot more than politics, and I like Washington state more than D.C., so the answer as obvious. And now here I am three years later. I never expected my career to bloom the way it has. It's been really awesome and really inspiring.
Why do you choose to consume cannabis?
There are several reasons I choose to consume. I love the social aspect of it, whether you're sharing a joint with friends and catching up, or smoking a bowl and cooking dinner. I love to smoke and work out. I do dabs before I go and run Green Lake, or a couple puffs on my vape pen before I go and do Zumba. Cannabis helps me connect, it helps me tap into my feelings, it helps me improve my breathing when I'm exercising - cannabis is a bronchodilator - so it's technically a performance-enhancing drug (or plant). And why not!
People want to consume this plant. Let them!
How has cannabis affected your lifestyle? It seems like it's a very intricate part of your day-to-day.
It is! Ever since high school, I've casually smoked weed. Now that it's more legal and I don't live so much in fear of being caught - because I have been caught by the cops and I've had a cannabis charge before - it's more of an enjoyment and an enhancement kind of thing. I use cannabis to enhance experiences. So like I said if I'm going to go to Zumba, I'm going to take a puff off my vape pen and it's going to help me really feel and enjoy the music more. Or if I'm going on a hike with friends, let's stop on the trail and smoke a joint and then power up these next few switchbacks. Even with my mom, we'll sometimes smoke together when we're at home and then we'll watch Forensic Files for hours on end, and we'll talk and laugh and just connect.
Okay, now we're going to move on to some photography questions. First off, do you prefer to be in front of or behind the camera?
It depends on what we're doing. I love being in front of the lens. It's fun to model and get dressed up and be all pretty, but sometimes it can be a little stressful. I have to get my hair all done up, and my makeup on. Are my nails good? Am I styled right? Am I too stoned and now I look too stoned in my pictures? It can be really fun if I get a vision in my head, and I want to execute it, to find the model, the stylist, the hair, and bring all of that together. Really it just depends on what I'm doing. Your shots are really unique. What are you looking for throughout the entire process of the shoot, when you're styling it, when you're picking a model, when you're picking a location, etc.? It kind of depends on what the shoot concept is. Am I photographing, for example, this clothing company that I'm wearing, Pink Dolphin? They're definitely a more streetwear line. So if that's the case, I'm probably going to do something with more of a city vibe, or look for colors in the location that tie into the outfit. If we're somewhere out in the mountains, do I want to have a beautiful gown, or do I want to have one of my friends style it? You know, I'm working with Bethany who owns Falcanna, so are we bringing a falcon along today? So really it just depends on what the whole creative vision is, that affects the styling, the location, the colors, everything.
What's your camera setup?
I use a Nikon D810. I just upgraded to a full frame about a year ago. I choose to shoot Nikon because ever since I was a little kid my dad shot film, and then decided to shoot with a Nikon digital. He was an early adopter of technology and got me a Nikon D60 when I was 22 before I moved to China. It's like Apple vs PC. It's just what I learned on and I'm quick with it. I've shot Canon, I've shot Sony, but Nikon is my go to.
What's your lens setup?
I most often shoot with a 24-105 mm. I also like to shoot with my Nikon 60mm macro. I have a 200 mm that's good for action sports shots. I have a 50mm manual lens. But the 24-105mm is my go to.
Are there any challenges that you've noticed that are specific to shooting cannabis portraits and lifestyle shots versus non-cannabis?
Yes. When you're shooting in a grow the lighting can be difficult so make sure you have a filter for that. When I'm shooting smoking photos, I don't like to have any wind because it makes it hard to get those fat clouds that look so nice in pictures. Also, when you're on a full day photo shoot, I've been on shoots where I'm like "Welcome to my photoshoot. Here are six joints. I'm going to have you smoke on that giant bridge, now go dangle your feet off that bridge and get lit." And you know, they get stoned, and their eyes start to droop, so CBD. CBD is key if you're doing multiple or pretty long photo shoots.
What advice would you give to someone looking to move over into cannabis photography?
I receive this question all the time. If you're looking to move over into cannabis photography, find your aesthetic and what you like to do, and just run with it. Don't compare yourself to other photographers, or you're going to get sucked into that hole of constantly questioning your work and comparing yourself to others. Just be you.
Do what makes you happy, shoot what makes you feel good, and just have fun with it. Because let's face it, we're shooting cannabis. It's a blast!
How does your family feel about your work?
My family is very excited about my work. When I lived in L.A. and received the job offer, my dad was the only person to encourage me to take the job in the cannabis industry. Everyone else was saying go to D.C., continue to pursue your passion for politics, and my dad just recognized that it's a growing industry and it's a huge job creator, so get in early. He compared it to the end of prohibition, and was like why not? And I jokingly said, "You just want me back in Seattle, don't you?" My family thought I was crazy, like "What? You're coming to work in the weed industry?" But now, just seeing the growth of how far I've come, my family is really proud of me and really supportive, and I definitely wouldn't be where I'm at without their help.
And now for some fun questions! What's your favorite activity to do while stoned?
That's tough because I have a lot of activities that I like to do when I'm stoned. I love working out while high. I would say that's probably my number one. I live near Green Lake so I'm always taking dabs and running the lake. I used to dance competitively in high school, so I love just getting baked and going to Zumba. I am that girl front and center in class just going crazy. People probably think I'm crazy, and maybe I am! Or maybe it's just the sativa I was vaping in the parking lot before I got here. Other activities I love to do include hiking. I just think it feels really good to get off the grid and just connect with nature. Smoking a joint at the very top of Mt. Pilchuck at sunrise - you don't feel any more connected to the earth than that. Also, just hanging out with friends! You know, smoking a bowl and going out to dinner or cooking dinner or catching up. I love doing that. Actually I just did that last night. I had a couple of girlfriends over, and it was just BOWL BOWL BOWL DAB DAB DAB, okay now let's go get some Thai food.
What's your most memorable high story?
Oh gosh, okay there are two. Well actually, there are three. The first is the first time I ever smoked weed and got high. I was in high school, I was smoking with friends, and I remember just being so stoned at this party. It was a friend's going away party (he joined the military.) And I gave my friend my car keys because she wasn't smoking, and I was just like "You gotta drive." We were going back to my house, and I felt like I was on the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios, where the windshield is actually a screen and it felt like everything was in a movie. I remember getting back to my house and tiptoeing to the kitchen to get ice cream, and she's like "What are you doing?" And I said, "Shhhh they'll hear you." And she said, "Who's they?" and I replied "The audience!" The weed was good. My other two most memorable moments have been the first times that I smoked with both of my parents. In college, when I smoked with my mom, she had actually found weed in our martini shaker after we had deweeded the house for mom's weekend. A couple of tequila shots later, we had convinced my mom to tell us where she hid the bag of weed that she had found. We got all of the moms to smoke with us. I got a really good photo from that night that I'm probably going to post for Mother's Day this year. The one other moment that I hold near and dear to my heart is when my dad and I smoked together for the first time. We participated in the Strange Buds episode where my dad was always very anti-drug, even though he encouraged me to get into the industry. So smoking with my dad for the first time, and having it on camera, and then it going viral was beyond an amazing experience.
What is your favorite high food?
I love candy. Like borderline, the amount of sugar I can consume when I'm high is probably not healthy for me. Haribo gummies, the cola gummies, the cherry gummies - sometimes I'll just go to Fred Meyer and just browse the candy aisle where they have all of the boxes for a dollar and look at sour patch kids, dots, mike and ikes, hot tamales, sour punch straws - I LOVE SWEETS WHEN IM BAKED. Don't let me go near the candy aisle if I'm stoned.
What's the best piece of life advice that you've ever received?
This is a funny one. When I lived in China and I was new there and just trying to find myself and figure everything out, because, you know, I'm in this city of 20 million people, what am I doing? One of my coworkers told me, "In China, everything is possible but nothing is easy." That kind of applies to life in general. Things aren't easy. Anything really is possible though.
If you really want to do something, if you want to make a difference, if you want to create content - anything is really possible with enough dedication, resources, commitment, time, anything is possible.