Simply put, cannabis is becoming mainstream. As many states, including New York, begin to legalize marijuana, many entrepreneurs are creating new ways for consumers to engage with the plant.
New York City-based entrepreneurs Charlotte Hanna, Geraldine Hessler and Penelope Nam-Stephen sought out a different approach to cannabis through their first-ever cannabis store: Rebelle. What they refer to as the “LVMH” of cannabis, Rebelle is a female-founded, minority-led cannabis dispensary in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (otherwise known as the Berkshires) that focuses on providing an experience for its consumers. Their mission is to create the first luxury lifestyle cannabis brand, and they describe their store as “Apple store meets a luxury spa retail shop.” Not only does Rebelle provide high-quality cannabis products in a variety of forms (flower, pre-rolls, vapes, concentrates and edibles), but they also have a compelling, inviting design and spaces to lounge and enjoy.
“Most markets legalized medical [marijuana] first, and a lot of the medical dispensaries became recreational,” founder Charlotte Hanna tells Forbes. “They still had this old feel and mentality of a doctor’s office visit. I wanted to be a part of making it normal for people and changing people’s hearts and minds about it. What better way to do that, than to design a space that felt very warm, inviting, friendly, and comfortable?”
For Hanna, who designed the space herself, design was a major part of her mission in creating a luxury shopping experience. She was inspired by the Danish concept of hygge, which loosely translates to a quality of coziness and comfort.
“If I can make people feel cozy and comfortable in my space, then they’ll feel comfortable with this new product,” she says.
Rebelle is located in a renovated, 100-year-old farmhouse on half an acre of lush land, which immediately evokes a cozy and historic vibe. Hanna resided the entire building and renovated it into a modern farmhouse style with new construction. The interiors are soft and intimate, with various shades of wood, spacious windows, curved countertops, circular motifs plants, bright overhead lighting and white walls.
“My store is located in the Berkshires, so it was really important for it to feel appropriate to the Berkshire community,” Hanna says. “It’s a destination for people to vacation and go hiking and be in the great outdoors, so I wanted to have a lot of wood and natural elements inside.
Hanna custom-built everything in the store, from the curved countertops to the locally sourced circular wooden sign from Berkshire Products, which has the country’s biggest inventory of live wood. She sourced the wallpaper from Los Angeles company Maison C, founded by an illustrator, who drew beautiful whimsical wallpaper for Rebelle’s store featuring hand sketches of naked women. Hanna picked every single material inside of the store based on this wallpaper, including the custom terrazzo countertops.
“There are a lot of curves and circles in the space because sharp corners feel hard,” she says. “It’s just another way of making people feel comfortable. It’s these small design details that make it into a warm, inviting and approachable space. I wanted it to feel hygge, appropriate to the Berkshires and have a neutral, woodsy color palette.”
Hanna wanted to also create an engaging experience for Rebelle’s customers, which is why they created a terpene experience table to smell the cannabis before purchasing; a rotating selection of merchandise within the store; and an outdoor yurt.
“We have a big expansive lawn so we set up a yurt outside and have programming with different light and music and coordinate that with the different types of cannabis experiences you can have, which we will be launching this summer,” Hanna says. “We’re fortunate to be able to use the outdoors to introduce experiential retail to our customers and cannabis in a natural kind of way.”
The decision to open Rebelle in the Berkshires was out of convenience and to set the foundation for future expansion. The Berkshires is one of the closest vacation destinations for New Yorkers where marijuana is legalized and will allow New Yorkers to become familiar with the brand.
“I thought, let me establish the brand in the place that New Yorkers go so that when I’m able to open my store in New York City, we’ll come to the market as a trusted, recognizable brand,” Hanna says, adding that there are plans to open a New York City location that embodies the same luxury shopping experience paired with the hygge design, though the design will feel true to the spirit of New York.
A long-time cannabis consumer herself, Hanna never understood why the U.S. criminalizes the use of marijuana. Rebelle donates 3% of its net profits towards expunging low-level cannabis convictions in the state of Massachusetts. They also partner with ROCA, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps lift Black and brown men and women out of poverty through programming, job training and more. The non-profit works with young people caught up in the criminal justice system, who in some way have a relationship to cannabis. Cannabis-related convictions are disproportionately people of color, and Rebelle hopes to contribute to ending this cycle.
“Rebelle and our parent company, Community Growth Partners, wanted to make sure we were very intentional about undoing some of the harm that has been done by the criminalization of marijuana,” Hanna says. “ROCA is our talent pipeline. We’ve hired three people from ROCA who now work at our store. What’s also unique about what we’re doing is that every single person working at my company gets equity, even-part time sales associates. I’m hoping that in the long run, we will help by providing opportunities to earn equity for these young folks from ROCA to help them start to build wealth. When I started this business, I wanted to provide everyone with access to the kind of wealth generating opportunities that I know and I’ve had access to, but that not everybody gets.”
Rebelle is now open in the Berkshires.