2017 was a tough year for Tara Jane Forrest. She’d suffered a terrible accident that literally broke her back, resulting in a complete separation of the L4, L5 and S1 vertebrae in her lower back that also caused her to lose all feeling in her left leg. The only option on the table was major surgery, and with it the promise of painkillers.
“I had never undergone never had any major surgery of this nature before and was very scared of what I knew about pain management and the potential addiction to opioids,” begins Forrest. “Since I was already familiar with the medicinal use of cannabis I decided to use hemp derived CBD for pain management. It was the only legal option available to me in Georgia: 100% Hemp Derived CBD with 0% THC.”
Lo and behold, Forrest recovered from the procedure without having to rely on opioids, a fact which many could argue is a miracle in and of itself. She’d taken something else from the surgery, too, which was a swift kick of inspiration that would eventually form her company Sensi Luxury Vapes.
“During recovery, I purchased approximately five vaporizers from different companies due to the fact that each one either stopped working or was not working consistently,” continues Forrest. “I was in tremendous pain on the days that my vaporizer was not working, and it was at that time that the idea of Sensi Luxury Vapes was formed. I started to think of features that I would want a vape pen to have and how I could improve my own vape experience.”
This little nugget of inspiration inspired Forrest to dig in deep to the vape market. Her search—conducted over sixteen months with six months of intense product testing—yielded some interesting results. Many vape pen reviews were littered with negative comments about models that would fail in a variety of ways, for instance. From burnt out coils to acrid-tasting smoke, intermittent battery lives and beyond, it seemed as though consistency was key to Forrest’s vision.
“Our goal for Sensi Luxury Vapes was to bring a luxury vape pen to the market that was safe and reliable,” she adds. “We also wanted a strong customer centric team to ensure no issue went unresolved which seems to have been a common customer complaint with other vape companies.”
Born to Jamaican parents who relocated back to Kingston at an early age, Forrest’s journey as a businesswoman began long before her work with cannabis. She studied at Campion College in Kingston before relocating to Atlanta, GA to study Actuarial Science at Georgia State University. Forrest remained in Atlanta after completing her studies to begin a career as an actuary in the insurance industry.
The study of financial risk would prove to be an invaluable tool for Forrest. She funded Sensi from the ground up, a nearly unheard of feat especially as it pertains to women in the industry.
“As a female entrepreneur, embarking and executing my own business plan was scary to be honest,” confides Forrest. “Building a brand is not an overnight success.”
“The banking restrictions in the US as they pertain to cannabis related businesses makes obtaining funding through traditional means impossible,” explains Forrest. “Accessible investment capital is crucial in order to expand and bring diversity to this industry. I strongly believe that companies in the cannabis industry should be more inclusive in their marketing strategies to create more opportunities for women and people of color.”
Forrest understood all of the risks involved in starting a business. She knew, for instance, that Sensi may not turn a profit in the first three or even five years, but kept chasing her dream all the same. It didn’t stop her from turning to everyone she knew in an effort to crowdfund from the ground up.
“Securing loans from financial institutions, friends or family creates an external pressure which may cause you to launch prematurely in order to create a cash flow to pay those loans,” continues Forrest. “If possible, seek loans from friends and family first. It is always best to work within your own comfort zone and not to extend yourself financially if it puts your financial stability at risk.”
Forrest was successfully able to self-fund Sensi, and decided to make Sensi even better by enlisting the aid of an all-female team.
“I believe women have a silent struggle of always needing to prove our worth,” says Forrest. “My team constantly supports and motivates each other to be the best version of ourselves. Our communication is more open with fearless feedback. By not creating a hierarchy in the organization, everyone feels comfortable suggesting ideas to resolve issues. Everyone feels included and contributes to our success, and our customers benefit.”
The powerful all-female team is a rare unicorn in an industry traditionally dominated by white men. It’s a unicorn made even more powerful thanks to the fact that Sensi is devoted to sustainability. Their luxury vape pens come with a refillable tank, allowing users to customize their vape pens to their heart’s content.
Sensi’s also currently developing a reusable alternative pod in response to the wasteful Juul pods sweeping the market right now. “Very few companies are investing in product development for new vape technology for customers/consumers,” says Forrest. “The industry as a whole needs to be more sustainable from seed to sale.” She’s also developing a new line of ceramic tanks that are 510 thread compatible and use medical grade glass that’s designed to be programmable for microdosing.
“We want to see more options coming to market that support medicinal dosing and innovation that enhances the user experience whether by function or design,” adds Forrest.
Whether it’s creating products that are light years ahead of the market or by achieving success in a traditionally male dominated industry, Forrest has made it clear that passion is her guiding force. She’s a devout ally to many non-profits and spends her time volunteering at places like Chastain Horse Park with her favorite four legged friends. Forrest also donates a portion of Sensi’s funds towards a variety of nonprofit organizations. “It’s rewarding to give back to the community,” says Forrest proudly.
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Originally appeared in: https://hightimes.com/culture/people/sensi-vapes-founder-tara-jane-forrest-sustainability-diversity/