While most of the rest of us were experimenting with sourdough starters and playing “Animal Crossing” while in quarantine, Alaska’s cannabis industry continued to show up to work as an essential service throughout the pandemic. For many, that meant significant changes to cope with health mandates and uncertainty, but also new opportunities as people started to rethink the norms and find new opportunities, and that was no different for the Anchorage-based JKD Brands.
JKD Brands is, on its own, a name that’s probably not known by many customers, but their work on everything from design, branding, custom packaging and supplies can be found on just about every shelf in every store throughout the state. The company’s grown along with Alaska’s cannabis industry, bringing new services—and new faces—to Alaska throughout the pandemic.
Much has changed since the last time that the Alaska Cannabist visited the warehouse space in South Anchorage in 2019. Most notably, the entryway has been transformed to accommodate the health measures, providing a safe barrier between customers who need to pick up their supplies (now with an appointment) and the many employees who handle everything from product design to orders and fulfillment on the warehouse floor.
The walls also now serve as a gallery for the company’s ever-evolving and ever-growing offering of products that range from complete branding and design services to a dizzying array of custom packages. Evolution with the industry has always been part of the JKD Brands’ mission and central to its success and place in the Alaska cannabis industry.
On a Thursday morning, Audrey Chan, the manager of business development and graphic design, showed off the wide variety of products they can produce with everything from traditional screen-printing techniques to high-tech UV applications as well as a variety of custom packaging that ranges from ingenious cardboard storage boxes to custom-designed drink bottles and jars for ice cream.
Chan is one of several new faces at the company who joined during the pandemic. She said after a string of less-than-satisfying jobs, working at JKD Brands has been invigorating.
“The environment is so inviting and welcoming. It fosters this collaborative feeling and a genuine connection with each employee,” she said. “There were so many times I was working in hoity-toity places where I didn’t feel like I quite belonged and didn’t feel like my voice was heard. Whereas here, it’s a completely different environment. That’s how we’ve grown this far. It’s a mix of customer requests for things and also employees coming up with great ideas.”
Chan said JKD Brands can work with customers who range from needing everything from logo design and packaging done to someone who just needs to get an already-designed logo fitted onto a specific product. With a wealth of design, supply and logistic experience on staff, there are few limits on what can be done. She noted that some might find that wealth of services a bit daunting, and said one thing that they’re working on now is to take some of the guesswork out of pricing by offering pre-set packages.
Behind the scenes, the floor is packed and busier than it’s ever been, with a bevy of new machinery to apply labels on joint tubes and other packages, a variety of printers and a corner filled with high-tech UV printing and 3D printer used for making custom-built jigs that help throughout the business. They can design, print, apply labels and package a ton of things in-house and also have partners for just about anything else, such as custom plastic packaging.
The space for designers has also expanded both physically as well as in the breadth of talent. Once a room of graphic designers, the team has added employees with fine art skills capable of whipping out impressively detailed hand-drawn illustrations, as well as folks who specialize in the ever-changing world of website design. JKD Brands’ website has also vastly improved since it first went live in 2019.
Standing in the company’s secondary warehouse—a space where JKD Brands originally opened before moving into its current location that has since been transformed into additional storage for pallets of rolling papers, joint tubes and just about anything else you’d want—Sales and Production Manager Josephine Dyer said one of the keys to success is to make sure everyone who works at the business is getting something out of it.
“We try our best to ensure that the employees have upward mobility or some other experience to expand and put stuff on their resume,” she said.
For some, she said, that might be helping with the logistics of sending deliveries to rural communities like Nome and Bethel, helping handle the supply chain or even driving the forklift (once they get certified for it).
After more than a year of uncertainty, which started with what Dyer recalls being the post-apocalyptic feeling of driving to work on empty streets, JKD Brands is humming along and looking forward to the next big thing in the industry.
Chan’s desk is covered with prototypes and ideas for products that could be coming to the market pretty soon.
“We’ve got such a range of talent here,” Chan said. “We’ve done some really amazing projects and have some more that I’m really excited to come out.”