What is LOOP/POOL? We Asked Founders Ian Kwechansky and Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace
In 2018, LOOP/POOL founder Ian Kwechansky, a marketer with a background in the music industry, looked around the cannabis space and was largely uninspired by the brands he saw—particularly those leveraging celebrities and musicians.
“I felt like people were going for a lot of the low-hanging fruit,” he says, referencing early deals between cannabis companies and acts like Gene Simmons and the Trailer Park Boys.
At the time, he was working alongside cannabis retailers and recognized a common thread between that group and musicians in Canada: both seemed “equally crippled” in their ability to market themselves.
Kwechansky wondered if rather than trying to market its products, a challenge considering federal cannabis regulations, a brand could instead create its identity around a completely different conversation: one that centred Canadian musicians.
“If we can’t evoke lifestyle, then can we be social-forward, and can that just be our identity,” he asks, “instead of each artist attempting their own thing? Here’s a compliant way we can work with retailers, and here’s a completely different message beyond the product.”
That is the idea behind LOOP/POOL (pronounced “loophole”), a new cannabis brand founded by Kwechansky and partially owned by a collective of musicians including Our Lady Peace, Blue Rodeo, Stars, Roy Woods, dvsn, Felix Cartal and Kiesza. Kwechansky is CEO while Our Lady Peace lead singer Raine Maida is a co-founder and the company’s director. Each act holds an equal share in the company.
Taking LOOP/POOL to Dragon’s Den
If you think his approach to building a cannabis brand may seem a little out there, you’re not alone: Kwechansky appeared on an episode of Dragon’s Den and while he was able to secure funding from venture capitalist Manjit Minhas to the tune of $400,000, other dragons were not as receptive to his pitch.
“I thought this was a cool way to launch the brand, and a great way for us to tell the stories about how we were out there raising capital,” he says. “I wanted to put LOOP/POOL on the map… it was a very calculated gamble.”
Looking back, he describes the experience as “super cool and absolutely terrifying.”
“I was actually really glad they busted my chops on it a little bit, because I wanted the world to see the level of detail and strategy that had gone into this,” he says.
Kwechansky references existing brands like Red Bull and Beats by Dre, whose marketing campaigns don’t centre around products but around people. Red Bull has “organically integrated themselves into lifestyle and culture,” he says, something he hopes to do with LOOP/POOL.
How The Brand Plans To Support Musicians
So where does the brand’s support for musicians actually come from? A percentage of sales of LOOP/POOL cannabis products (which will include dried flower, pre-rolls, and edibles) will go towards POOL/FUND, an accelerator-type program for independent musicians in Canada.
“We want to make sure that we’re providing funding to artists who may not have been able to get access to grant programs,” he says. “It can be very difficult because they’re very heavily oversubscribed.”
He added that while funding is obviously a major part of the initiative, LOOP/POOL will also offer a platform and connections, as well as opportunities for live shows. (Kwechansky has worked with several companies including Warner Music Canada, and the calibre of musicians in the collective speaks for itself.)
Due to the pandemic, “it’s kind of scorched earth out there right now for artists, it’s been over a year now with no shows,” says Maida, who notes he doesn’t smoke cannabis but swears by edibles when he needs an optimal night’s sleep on the road.
How exactly funds will be doled out is still undecided, but Maida says that is part of what makes the company attractive.
“I think there are big gaps [in funding for Canadian musicians], and I think LOOP/POOL is going to be able to fill some of those gaps in a really profound way,” he says. “One of the benefits of this company is the ability to be agile, because there is no bureaucracy. It’s a very small table of people that get together and are able to direct where these funds should go, and I think that’s an asset in terms of what we can provide.”
While LOOP/POOL branded products are not yet available, Kwechansky says the company has signed a deal with a licensed producer and is hoping to have them in stores soon.