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Meet Desiree Gonzaga De Paula of Uni We

Today we’d like to introduce you to Desiree Gonzaga De Paula.

Hi Desiree, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
In my mid-twenties, I was well into my career as a master chef but had difficulties focusing and managing my energy. At twenty-five, I was diagnosed with ADHD. My doctor explained the available medications and side effects, but seeing friends overdose or become addicted to prescription medication made me unwilling to take those risks. I occasionally consumed cannabis but hadn’t yet explored its medicinal potential. After my diagnosis, I learned about managing my ADHD with cannabis instead of prescription medication. My choice to self-medicate was greeted with misinformation about how cannabis was the “gateway drug”, but I pushed on. I saw the clear need for a new conversation about THC/CBD and the positive effects they can have on our lives and so began UNI WE LLC, a clothing brand with a purpose. Our fashions are designed to be chic but attention-grabbing and attract allies in our fight against cannabis stigma. Our slogans (e.g., “Living high above the stigma, to infinity and beyond”) mirror my own cannabis beliefs—our industry should be most focused on building community and improving customers’ lives with the best products available. There was a lot of doubt and unknowns when I first decided to start my business and quit my career as a chef.

Before I fully committed to my new vision, my best friend/business partner (who currently helps me run this business) really had to help me look within myself and help me trust that I could do this. I wasn’t even sure of the multiple steps required to begin a business in the beginning, but thanks to her help and massive support, my dream slowly began to emerge. I legally registered and started the business around the tail end of 2018. All of our sales and building of our brand was through market events and pop-up events throughout downtown LA and New York. I frequently traveled to LA to learn more about cannabis and to connect with other allies in the market, bringing shirts, hats, and lots of stickers to promote our name and mission. But then the pandemic hit. Lockdowns and social distancing orders pulled me back to New York while I was working on an uptown marketing event in LA. Cooped up with my business partner, we decided to adapt to the situation and create our current website to keep up our branding since the pandemic stifled our original plans for opening a storefront. And, of course, we’ve also continued our cannabis-related advocacy during this time through social media. My business will always be a safe space and community for the cannabis consumer and supporter who wants to live above the stigma.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Going into online marketing and maintaining sales online during a global pandemic hasn’t been easy; for instance, limited inventories and long shipping/handling times makes clothing manufacturing much more difficult. Still, we have continued to adapt. We shifted to replicating some of the magic of going to pop-ups and market by focusing on building our Instagram presence and connecting with the community that way. In May 2021, I finally was able to return to the Grand Central Market and table an event for the first-time since the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend some smaller events along with many virtual events. As the pandemic situation continues to fluctuate, however, we will continue to adapt. Plans, while pushed back, are not thrown away; they just may look different or take more time. But I think more people are learning about the importance of alternative medicine and self-care during this pandemic—especially those of us who have lasting wounds from the past few years. So it is more important than ever to keep the conversation going and breaking down the stigma around cannabis (and looking fly while we do it).

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Uni We?
All of the designs and logos are created by things that inspire me. I take my ideas and think “how can I grab someone’s attention?” so they feel invited to ask me what I’m wearing or what it means. That kind of invitation is crucial to our cannabis lifestyle brand. We also focus a lot on dispelling cannabis myths as well as sharing a lot of my personal story to challenge dominant ideas of who does this kind of work. The pandemic has also created a lot of motivated people willing to start their own businesses and take control of their labor; our last two releases were made by a small Black-owned clothing manufacturer.

We are very excited that we were approved to vend at the National Cannabis Festival in DC this April 23-24. All of our first orders include a free gift and a copy of our mission statement on a sticker; this is something we’ve always done and we’ve continued to keep that practice alive, so we’re looking forward to showing people what UNI is really about in DC. However, the biggest accomplishment so far has been someone sending me a video of people in Brazil wearing pieces of our clothing. While the brand is still small, the connection we make with every customer and supporter (even without purchase) is important to us, so them showing love in the place I spent my first four years of life really means a lot to me.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
So much good in one city: the diversity and acceptance can be felt no matter where you come from and what you do. There are so many people to connect with who, like me, have switched paths and are now unapologetically living their lives. You can meet someone at an event who may have formerly been a teacher but then became a baker and then a CBD advocate and that’s the coolest thing. It’s a city filled with so much life—very similar to New York, just without the bad weather and lackluster landscape. However, the cost of housing in the city continues to be a cause for major concern. There are so many houseless people who have been exposed to incredible amounts of hostility and precarity due to the city’s housing situation and it doesn’t seem like even the pandemic has caused any structural level change in that regard.



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