Closing The Gap

31-year-old mom started her CBD business from home in Hawaii—3 years later, it brings in $100,000 annually

Photo: In Hawaii Photos

From the time she was born, Grace Young understood the magic of plants. 

She spent her childhood on Kauai, one of Hawaii's most remote islands known for its lush, verdant mountains and tumbling waterfalls, ideal conditions for eucalyptus, hibiscus, and other fragrant flowers to thrive. 

Her mother, Lolet, was an accountant by trade but a "healer at heart," Young, now 31, recalls, a certified massage therapist as well as a reiki master. 

Doctor's appointments were reserved for serious illnesses and injuries — everything else, Young's mother believed, could be treated with something in the Youngs' sprawling backyard garden. Sunburns were treated with slabs of aloe vera, bruises were soothed by soaking in a warm bath of comfrey, a bitter, purpley herb.

Decades later, when Young would face her scariest health challenge to date, she once again turned to the healing power of plants — and would turn that experience into a six-figure wellness brand called "'Āina Organics." 

Becoming an 'accidental entrepreneur' while battling postpartum depression

When Young and her partner Keith Andrade-Ka'auwai welcomed their first child, Meleana, in 2017, she expected the first few months after giving birth to be one of the most blissful times of her life.

Instead, Young struggled to get out of bed most mornings. She felt "extreme anxiety and overwhelm," she says, to the point where basic tasks, like showering or making herself breakfast, felt "almost impossible." 

Andrade-Ka'auwai pushed her to see a doctor, who diagnosed Young with postpartum depression. The doctor offered to prescribe her medication to help ease the intense mental strain she was experiencing, but Young wanted to try other remedies first.

A friend recommended she try CBD oil, which is derived from hemp plants, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana. She started taking a couple of drops in the morning, mixing them into her iced coffee or dropping the oil under her tongue and holding it for 30 seconds. 

After a week of regular use, Young says she "felt calmer and less overwhelmed by all of the things you need to do as a mom in a day."

Although there are anecdotal reports that CBD can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, published research on its effectiveness as a treatment for postpartum depression is lacking.

Young is careful to note that ʻĀina Organics does not make any medical claims about CBD, and any opinions she shares on its effectiveness are solely based on her experience. She encourages people to consult with health-care professionals for personalized guidance on using CBD.

Young continued to take CBD oil on a regular basis and welcomed her second daughter, Ho'olehua, in 2019. This time, she says, her postpartum depression was "nonexistent."

Grace Young and her daughters Meleana and Ho'olehua
Photo: Alexandra Masihy Photography

Soon, Young caught herself daydreaming about starting her own CBD business to help other people struggling with anxiety and depression. Andrade-Ka'auwai recently started working at Omao Labs, a local hemp farm, so sourcing ingredients would be simple enough. Omao Labs' hemp flower is certified organic by the USDA.

But she loved her job as a server at the cafe near their house and didn't think she'd have time to run a business with two kids under the age of five. She tabled her half-drafted business plan. 

Then, just a few months later, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and Young lost her job. Launching her own line of CBD products wasn't just a dream anymore — she saw it as a way to "help put food on the table" and support her family.

"I always joke that I am an 'accidental entrepreneur,' because I never expected to work for myself one day," she says. "But it felt like as good a time as any to start a business."

As Hawaii entered its second week of a statewide pandemic lockdown, Young dusted off her business plan and, flanked by her two daughters at their kitchen table, started the paperwork for her LLC. 

Building a business at the start of a global pandemic

Young spent the first three months of the pandemic tinkering with different CBD oil recipes with Andrade-Ka'auwai in their kitchen and designing the logo and website for 'Āina Organics.

Whatever ingredients she couldn't source from the hemp farm where Andrade-Ka'auwai works or a grocery store, she bought from neighbors. A woman down the street with a massive beehive in her yard, for example, sold Young beeswax that she uses for several products.

She also borrowed $10,000 from her mom to cover the start-up costs of the business, which included the hemp flower, product packaging and her website domain.

In May 2020, Young was ready to sell her first product, a CBD oil that blends hemp flower and coconut oil, online. Before she could start selling the oil, Young had to find and hire an independent lab to verify that her products contained less than 0.3% THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects.

'Āina Organics products
Photo: In Hawaii Photos

Hawaii mandates that all hemp products must pass rigorous lab testing, and that test results be available to customers (Young publishes all of the lab results on her business's website). 

Once she got the green light to sell the CBD oil, however, Young had an even greater challenge awaiting her: marketing and selling a product at the start of a global pandemic, when most businesses, and homes, closed their doors.

As Kauai slowly started opening back up in the beginning of 2021, Young decided to try an old-school approach to marketing: She went door-to-door to hotels, boutiques and coffee shops asking if they'd carry the CBD oil and, to her surprise, many business owners were game. 

"Since I was born and raised on Kauai, a lot of the shop owners have known me for 10, 20 years, and were happy to support me and give 'Āina Organics a shot," says Young. "Word of mouth is so big on this island, too, that once I started telling neighbors and friends about the business, I received tremendous support from our local community, which played a significant role in keeping the business afloat."

Now, 'Āina Organics is sold in 25 stores, in both California and Hawaii. A smaller portion of Young's sales are from online orders.

Young's early success inspired her to experiment with making CBD-infused soaps, lotions and body oils, using ingredients from her own garden: Hawaiian chili pepper, lavender, peppermint. 

By the end of 2020, Young estimates she sold about 400 products. Since then, however, 'Āina Organics has experienced remarkable growth: Young sold 2,500 products in 2022, achieving sales of about $101,500.

After deducting the operating costs to maintain the business, Āina Organics's profit stands at about $50,000, according to tax documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. But a significant portion of that, Young says, goes back to the business and paying the two independent contractors who work for her.

"It's crazy to think about how much the business has grown since we started," says Young. "There were so many bad things that happened during the pandemic, but so much good came out of it as well." 

Balancing family and entrepreneurship 

Not much has changed about Young's schedule or routine since she became a full-time entrepreneur three years ago. She dedicates 40-50 hours per week to 'Āina Organics, concocting at least 100 soaps, oils and lotions from her kitchen.

Sometimes, that means working past midnight to spend more time with her daughters, now 6 and 4, to drive them to dance class or take them for a hike. They accompany Young and Andrade-Ka'auwai at farmer's markets on the weekend, helping to promote 'Āina Organics products and telling potential customers which soaps are their favorite.

"It's fun to see how excited they are to help me with the business, and one of the most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur," says Young. "Their support keeps me going on the hard days."

But the best part of running her own business, she adds, is seeing the direct, positive impact her products can have on people's lives, whether it's from her neighbor down the street or a repeat customer who recognizes her on the beach. 

CBD isn't a cure-all, and it's not right for everyone, Young stresses — she just hopes to be a reliable source for anyone curious about trying it, especially other parents who might be struggling with postpartum depression as she was. 

She still adds CBD oil to her morning coffee. "With two kids and a business, I'm always running around like crazy," says Young. "CBD helps me stay on track and not get overwhelmed by the one million things I have on my to-do list."

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