FOUNDERS | Mimi Lam of Superette
Mimi Lam is the CEO and co-founder of Superette, a cannabis brand breathing life back into the industry. Since legalization, the cannabis industry has steadily boomed, with dispensaries dotting every street –– especially in the urban core of Toronto. Moving in and out of these shops, you might notice an underlying trend of what Mimi describes as “sterile spaces.” The clean interiors, locked-up products and tech-shop feel certainly add an air of exclusivity to the products but they also alienate the consumers –– pushing cannabis products further into a space of mystery.
The bold colour choices, grocery store feel and community-based approach of Superette all point to feelings of nostalgia. In stark contrast to sterile, Superette is a centre of connections. With Mimi at the helm, the brand is quickly outpacing other local dispensaries and has its sights set on global expansion. We chatted to Mimi to learn more about her successful leadership and her thoughts on the cannabis industry, social justice and effective brand management.
You’ve been passionate about paving the way for women in the cannabis industry. Can you talk about your experience, especially as a female founder? Do you feel like the cannabis industry is more receptive to female leadership than other industries?
I don’t think the cannabis industry is necessarily more receptive to female leadership, so much as females are in a position to identify and approach opportunities that are being overlooked. I also think that representation shows up differently depending on company size and focus. For instance, if you look at publicly traded cannabis companies, or the composition of the institutional funds that invest in these companies, female representation is practically non-existent. But once you look at private brands, products and even retail operators, there are a lot more females leading the charge.
The additional challenge with female founders or any female in a leadership position is that we are put on some pedestal with an expectation that we have it all figured out. One small misstep and everyone has an opinion or is instantly against you. Males are never held to the same level of scrutiny.
Prior to being a founder, I spent years building my self-confidence and self-awareness, as well as strengthening my reputation in the industry. I think these were crucial pieces that allowed me to have the courage and confidence to start something. At Superette, I have always felt empowered to do the things I want to do and I feel incredibly supported by the people I’ve surrounded myself with. Representation is so important in this industry, I am inspired by other females and especially females of visible minority in cannabis. Hopefully we inspire the next generation of female founders and leaders!
How would you differentiate the Superette community compared to the average cannabis consumer?
The people that walk through our doors are so much more than just the “average cannabis consumer.” We used to joke about Superette being for everyone from 19-99, and actually this is less of a joke and more of our reality – we see new adults all the way to more mature customers, the canna-curious all the way to experienced. I think we’ve truly created welcoming spaces that speak to a wide demographic and our team provides a level of service that works no matter who you are.
But beyond our retail spaces, we’ve built a really strong community around our brand. This is a community that cares about the things we care about, such as supporting social justice causes, fighting food insecurity and minimizing environmental impact. We use our platform to amplify causes that we believe are worth attention, and our audience is right there with us.
Superette has a pretty distinctive look. Dispensaries have been popping up left and right in the last few years but none of them have the same, playful aesthetic. Can you speak to some of the design inspirations for Superette’s branding and products?
At Superette, we believe buying cannabis can be as fun as it is to consume it. So instead of neutral-toned sterile spaces with everything locked under glass, we took a playful approach and bold aesthetic to the retail experience. We asked ourselves, “cannabis is normal so why can’t cannabis be sold like any other consumer product?” With that in mind, we borrow elements from innately familiar shopping environments, with our biggest source of inspiration being places like supermarkets, delis, and corner stores. We lean on design cues from all of these normal retail spaces and put our own spin on it, whether that is merchandising products in fridges, or having bar stools at a bar that people can chat with a budtender. Every detail is carefully thought through, all the way down to the colour of the grout on our tiles!
Aesthetics is an extension of brand identity and vision and I believe that we are one of the only cannabis brands, if not the only one, in the industry with a strong sense of who we are and the value we bring to this industry. We don’t just sell weed, but we form emotional connections with every customer interaction and we create unforgettable moments of surprise and delight. We show people that buying cannabis can be an enjoyable experience.
You’ve seen so much growth in Toronto and Ottawa. Can we expect to see your brand in other cities in the future, other countries even?
Of course, we are building Superette to be bigger than Ontario and Canada! However, we are still so young and early in our brand life that we don’t want to rush or overextend our growth. What is really neat is that, already, there are people all around the world buying our lifestyle goods online. When someone is willing to pay to wear your brand, I think it speaks to a deeper level of brand connection and ambassadorship.
Outside of running a successful business, what hobbies and interests take up most of your time?
Movement is a very big part of my life, so I spend my time outside and doing some sort of activity. I like to change things up, but my go-to’s are always biking, yoga and boxing. My partner and I recently got a dog so now we spend even more time outdoors and exploring trails and parks.
People who know me also know that I’m a big foodie. On weekends you can definitely find me experimenting with recipes and playing around with tastes and textures (with wine on the table and good music in the background, of course). And no, I don’t just cook and not bake or vice versa – I love both equally!
We imagine there are some unique challenges in the cannabis industry. Your work has been much bigger than selling products, you’ve been part of some key cannabis policy groups. Why do you feel passionate about tackling issues in the legal cannabis industry? Do you think there is still more work to be done, past legalization?
I don’t think it’s really an option. With Superette, I experience first-hand the impact of the regulatory framework that governs our industry. As a licensed operator, I see what is working or not and I see the issues the rest of my peers are tackling. Over the years, I have learned to find my voice and how to channel my feedback about regulations through policy groups and how to advocate for change. Most recently, something I’m really proud of has been fighting for Ontario retailers to be allowed to deliver to customers during the pandemic, which has now actually been made permanent.
I did not join this industry to simply accept the status quo, nor to look back a few years from now regretting I didn’t speak up. A constant feedback loop is so important for this industry to grow and to succeed.
Aside from policy groups, I am joined by my entire team at Superette to use our collective platform for good. Whether we take on large initiatives recycling cannabis packages, or dedicate resources to support groups like Cannabis Amnesty and the Last Prisoners Project, we are a brand with a bias towards action and our hope is that we can set a good example for the rest of the industry.
There’s so much we don’t know yet about plants with medicinal qualities. As someone so deeply involved in the cannabis industry, we’re sure you know a little more than the average person might. What are some things you’d want people to know about plant medicine?
With plant medicine, the most important thing is to approach it with an open mind and with the willingness to learn about how you respond to the plant and any derivative products. It’s always much easier to just assume that effects are binary and that there is a clear answer to everything. However, the reality is that we are unique beings that react to things differently. Being informed and being open to experimenting is important! And because something like cannabis is so diverse in what it can be used for, being intentional with your consumption and having the right mindset when you try products can go a long way in finding what works for you.
Any future plans for Superette you can let us in on?
So much going on! We have our holiday collection coming out that takes you into your stoner oasis – think collabs with rad creators and comfy merch to ~chill~ in. We also just launched our SUPER REWARDS program to further engage with you all through fun deals and surprises. And of course, we aren’t done with our store growth yet and are excited to open up in the Junction and on Ossington in the coming months in Toronto. Don’t blink because you might see us south of the border oh so soon!