When Atlanta-based CBD entrepreneurs Danielle (“Dani”) Gray (on left) and Brandé Elise met nearly four years ago, it was strictly business. Elise, a voiceover artist and red carpet event correspondent, explains that she first connected with Gray, a marketing expert who worked with a roster of high-profile clients, simply to help give her career a boost. But it wasn’t long before chemistry took over.
“At the time, I was just trying to get my brand back together because I was getting out of a relationship and I was just like, OK, it’s all about me,” recalls Elise with a laugh. “Voiceover work is what I do mainly, and I needed help marketing myself…. This was before I had an agent and was just trying to figure some things out, and she was really helpful—but I didn’t expect that it would turn into anything else! It was kind of cool—it was like, She’s brilliant, she’s beautiful. I was like, ‘Yeah, thank you!’”
From there, a strong friendship developed, which eventually blossomed into more once the two women finally found themselves single at the same time. But how did this adorable duo go from business associates to friends to lovers to being business partners in the CBD cannabis industry?
“We were quickly becoming best friends, so we talked about everything,” says Gray. “She was doing the voiceover work…and she has tea all the time and so she had this idea, like, ‘I don’t want to be high right now but I would love to kind of lower my anxiety, but I can’t smoke.’ She has to really protect her voice. So that’s where the thought came about [for their first product, CBD Honey]…. Marketing is my calling…that’s like my love, and so when she said that I was like, ‘Ooh! We can do something with this!’”
“And the people responded,” says Elise. “They loved it.”
Since both women already had other successful businesses of their own, the interest in CBD started as more of a fun passion project— until “the entrepreneurial spirit” took over. Today the couple’s company offers a full range of THC-free CBD products, including some for pets, with their new brand, Unoia (pronounced u-noy-uh), the Greek word for “beautiful thinking.”
Though Unoia’s products do not contain THC (the psychoactive element in cannabis that makes you “high”) and perceptions around cannabis and its uses are shifting, the entrepreneurs admit they were a little nervous about entering an industry that is ripe with stigma and stereotypes, especially for women and people of color.
“We’re in Atlanta, so the stigma is pretty high in the South still,” says Gray. “And both of us, we were late bloomers of even being interested in cannabis at all because we both played college sports— Brandé played tennis and I played basketball—and so we weren’t even interested…. So when we approached cannabis later in life, it was kind of in a more mature way of going about it, because you have things to do. I can’t just like, you know, veg out…. We had to come out of the closet as cannabis users.”
They had to figure out the best way to market their CBD products in Georgia, where THC-containing cannabis is still illegal.
“We wanted to stay within that market, at least to start [but] we can’t do cannabis right now, full-on THC, so what can CBD do for us?” Gray says. “So it was more than just the health benefits that everybody kind of just throws around—it’s like, no, this is good for our mental health, this is good for mindfulness, our self-care, in a holistic way. CBD is only an assistant. You still have to mediate, you still have to take care of yourself, and all those things, but we found [CBD] does makes it a little bit easier.”
Elise and Gray admit that the turbulent events of 2020 have made it difficult at times to maintain the positive vibes of Unoia, even in their own lives.
“It’s definitely very close to home,” says Elise of the racial justice movement. “Especially being in Georgia, where a few things have happened around the block from us—there’s some days that it’s very hard for us to work or to even stay motivated, and our brand is about positivity. We try our very best to really uphold that and…we just want to share that with everyone especially during these trying times.”
“And be as authentic as we can,” adds Gray. “You know, we’re hurting [too], and we take days off because this is hard for us. Some days we feel a little defeated…. But in the same breath, [it’s also] what motivates us…. Maybe while the world is quiet [in quarantine], we need to have some quiet time with ourselves. And chill.”