Balancing Act

Entrepreneur Allison Vaillancourt is growing a brand that’s seeing green.

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Allison Vaillancourt is an empire builder. She founded locally based Ignite Models while still in college and built it into a respected firm, then launched BLNCD as its creative director, working with esthetician Daniela Serra and herbalist Andrea Frey and a chemist and lab team to develop tinctures, topical salves, and aromatherapy, and grew that into food and beverages. Now, BLNCD is available on the shelves of more than 500 retailers and the brand continues to expand at a breakneck pace as Minnesota legislation evolves. Here’s what she had to say about building a brand that’s pushing into a new frontier. 

Many of us knew you first as the founder of Ignite Models—what led you from that world to this one? 

I founded Ignite Models in college and spent 15 years working in the fashion industry, developing and managing talent, working with clients, and producing events and ultimately working with partners in the major fashion markets worldwide. This experience exposed me to some of the biggest companies and campaigns and ultimately inspired my aesthetic and thoughts on building a lifestyle brand and reputable business. Founding Ignite gave me the entrepreneurial experience of growing a company from zero. 

Starting BLNCD really has been a manifestation of my wellness journey that began in my 20s and grew deeper in my 30s. As many do, I began to take care of myself more—less drinking, less sugar, less processed foods, etc.—and consider the impact of the products I was putting into and onto my body. Spending more time in nature, becoming more conscious of ingredients, holistic health, and ultimately my mental and spiritual health. In 2017, I completed my yoga and meditation teacher training and started feeling drawn in a different direction. 

Cannabis has always been a lifeline for me. In different ways and for various reasons over the years, but always been a part of my story. Whether it was helping ease the stress and anxiety of college, social situations, or life in general, helping to shut my brain down so I could sleep, or just being able to relax and unwind, encouraging my creativity and ability to see the world differently, cannabis has been an incredible healer.

When I first entered this industry, I didn’t see many brands that spoke to me as a consumer. I found the stereotypical branding and products designed for “stoner” bros or something that looked “homemade” in someone’s kitchen. I felt our mission was to elevate the category in terms of formulations, design, and inclusive messaging for the modern cannabis consumer. I wanted the brand to feel trusted, premium-quality yet accessible, and most importantly, something that my mother or grandmother would feel comfortable grabbing from the shelf. 

We have been able to create inclusive wellness and beauty products that are ethically sourced, well-designed, and contain innovative, plant-based formulations. We focus on USDA Organic and GMP processes. Working within an unregulated industry, we needed to prioritize transparency, quality, consistency, and education. This approach has allowed us to bring our cannabis products mainstream to help so many more people in our communities.

I think building BLNCD has been a beautiful marriage of my prior career, love for cannabis, and my deep dive into alternative wellness.

Then came THC legalization, which as we know hangs in the balance as of this printing (pun not intended) with the current legislature. How is that going, how do you stay involved, and what is your current outlook? 

We have been very involved in legalization efforts here in Minnesota. I sit on the board for the MN is Ready Coalition, and my 

husband is a board member of the MN Hemp Growers Co-op. We each spend roughly 10-15 hours a week working with these organizations and other advocacy groups like The Great Rise to get the most equitable cannabis legislation bill passed in Minnesota. 

We are actively working with legislators and lobbyists on the current bill going through the legislature, recommending amendments, and testifying in front of various congressional committees to make the bill the best for Minnesotans as possible. The goal is to preserve the low-dose hemp market and support a local, craft, adult-use cannabis program. We feel very optimistic about this bill passing at the end of this legislative session.

We started the brand in 2018, right after the farm bill passed, and have been involved in the hemp industry in Minnesota since its inception. Over the past five years, we have seen the local industry grow, innovate, educate, and help thousands of people. Since July 1st, this growth has increased tenfold. 

Our products are sold in almost every retail channel, including grocery stores and co-ops, salons and spas, gyms, wellness shops, chiro/pt clinics, bars and restaurants, independent boutiques, and soon, national.

Our business and our retail partner’s businesses have seen tremendous growth. What was once a small side passion project has grown into an operation that employs more than 30 people in a 15,000-square-foot facility. Our team has doubled since July and our sales tripled in 2022.

Over the years, I have had the honor of hearing powerful stories and being a part of the healing journey for many people. Since July, we’ve had many individuals come forward who have not felt safe speaking up in the past. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, educators…People like you and me. People from all walks of life are looking for plant-based healing alternatives to opioids, prescription medications, and alcohol. 

Since July 1, Minnesota Consumers have gained access to not only a diverse assortment of products but products from Minnesota consumers. Legalization would allow the state to put manufacturing and testing standards into place that would enable customers to access safe, tested products, and prohibition only limits that access. 

We also know that cannabis laws are disproportionately enforced, ruin lives, and waste public resources. Right now, we can create a diverse, local craft industry that supports an equitable, safe and innovative cannabis marketplace. Legalization is good for local businesses, the state, and the people.

What do you see for the future of BLNCD? 

We have an exciting national partnership launching this fall and will continue to expand on our THC offerings, including new cannabis and adaptogen beverages and edibles launching this summer!