Women of the Year 2021: Shauna Levy Built MADGE & MERCER to Help Women Rediscover Wellbeing
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
Founder, MADGE & MERCER
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Shauna Levy: I’ve seen far too many women suffer from symptoms (hormonally-induced and otherwise) that can be easily helped through accessible and natural alternatives. I want to provide them with self-care tools that can be easily integrated into their wellness regimens.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Shauna Levy: For seven years I lived with undiagnosed chronic pain. During the same period of time, I met with an untold number of doctors both here and stateside, tried numerous medications as well as experimented with multiple treatments and therapies. When cannabis was suggested as a potential aid to manage the pain, my initial reaction was an emphatic, “NO.”
However, once I overcame my initial hesitation and found my suitable dosage (high CBD with a micro-dose of THC), as well as delivery format (an oil), my symptoms became manageable for the first time without side effects, and I regained control of my life.
This experience, and an awareness that other women in my age group (I’m 53) were experiencing similar challenges and needed effective, accessible solutions without side effects coupled with a reticence to try cannabis among this demo, sparked the idea to create a brand to specifically address the wellness needs of women 40 and over. There was clearly a white space here that no other cannabis brand was adequately serving.
I’m excited to think that we’re now providing education and knowledge to empower these women; the safe space to engage and share wellness solutions and journeys, and products designed to provide relief and self-care.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Shauna Levy: Generation X women are generally neglected by the consumer packaged goods industry and in particular, by the cannabis industry. However, we’re an educated cohort, we have disposable income, and we’re brand loyal—especially when the brand is coming from a place of authenticity and sincerity.
We’re creating a wellness community in which their voices can be heard, providing free resources for self-education and products that are designed to help with the wellness challenges we face when we enter into this new stage in our lives.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Shauna Levy: We’d like to empower women 40 and over, to seek alternative wellness options. At this moment, we’re hoping to dispel the stigma around CBD cannabis wellness for a demographic who can potentially derive great benefit from it.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Shauna Levy: At times, I feel like David shadowed by Goliath. The Canadian cannabis industry is primarily dominated by monolithic licensed producers. They can afford to spend millions of dollars on retail marketing, creating a domino effect of unsustainable margins by dumping loss leaders onto the market, and frequently without a particular demographic focus or target. I often have the impression they believe that if the packaging for a female-focused brand is pink and the product name is emotive and ethereal, that’s more than enough to appeal to women. I suppose it’s also no surprise that their boards and senior management teams are primarily men.
Whereas, MADGE AND MERCER is headed up by a female founder with an intimate group of committed investors and a small but mighty team, who are 95 percent women. I’m 53 and I suffer from chronic pain and anxiety. I understand my customers and moreover, they can relate to me. The why of our brand is well-defined and our authenticity is clear and distinct.
Our products are designed inside and out to appeal uniquely to women 40 and over. For example, our focus groups and research revealed that women in this age demo using cannabis for wellness didn’t like the taste or smell, so it’s masked with natural ingredients. For our initial product launch, we opted for an oil, a disposable vape, and facial serum, rather than a smokable flower as these delivery formats were preferred.
We have designed a women’s wellness brand where every aspect is considered—both form and function. We use minimal ingredients ensuring that all are natural and purposeful, working with medical, food, and cannabis experts. We provide a robust library of free research available to the public that backs our formulations. And all of our products are high CBD with a micro-dose of THC.
Ultimately, MADGE AND MERCER is a women’s wellness brand first. CBD cannabis is just one of the natural alternatives that we believe in, with many others to come.
By the way, we all know what happened to Goliath…
Why is your work important?
Shauna Levy: Women’s health is often misunderstood and the usual medical recourse is prescription medication—be it for sleep, pain, inflammation, or anxiety. However, there are other natural options that don’t have negative side effects that can also be as, if not more, effective. Wellness is a $3 trillion industry in North America. Women are turning to yoga and mindfulness, plant-based diets, and functional foods. CBD cannabis is a natural extension.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better?
Shauna Levy: Following 25 years in the design industry (as co-founder of the Interior Design Show and former CEO of Design Exchange), I was approached by Lorne Gertner (co-founder,Tokyo Smoke) to develop a cannabis lifestyle concept. Eighteen months later, I went on to create MADGE AND MERCER. The trifecta of using medical cannabis to manage my chronic pain condition, the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, and this earlier exposure to the industry led to my move from the design world to create MADGE AND MERCER.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve led your company?
Shauna Levy: Despite the lessons, I believed that I had learned from my past positions as well as the moments of deep reflection during the pandemic, I still haven’t succeeded at attaining a healthy work/life balance. I suppose most founders will say the same!
What has been the most challenging part of building the business?
Shauna Levy: Navigating a government-regulated industry coupled with being a small start-up where manufacturers’ MOQs are high and options for terms or credit is extremely limited.
What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?
Shauna Levy: Receiving unprompted emails and direct messages from women claiming that they’ve never slept better or felt calmer. Each message further assures me that what I’m doing is worthwhile.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Shauna Levy: To coin Simon Sinek, What is your WHY?
In your experience, what do you think is the quickest way to get people on board with your mission?
Shauna Levy: In an industry where DTC (direct-to-consumer) isn’t permitted and marketing efforts are heavily regulated, it’s really more of a groundswell. It’s a dedicated and hardworking grassroots approach where you tell two friends, and then they tell two friends, and so on…
What is your mission? The bigger picture?
Shauna Levy: At the core of our brand is an authentic desire for women 40 and over to benefit from CBD cannabis and other natural wellness alternatives.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Shauna Levy: There are different kinds of success, whether it’s our relationships with our partner, children, family or friends; social recognition; or financial wealth. I wouldn’t have created MADGE AND MERCER if I didn’t feel that it had the potential to be a successful business. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t fulfill me or was negatively impacting the relationships that are important to me. It all goes hand in hand.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work?
Shauna Levy: The importance of brand authenticity is critical to the success of your business—to create loyal customers and committed team members but also for your own sense of self.
If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Shauna Levy: Whether you push yourself to 150 percent or to 90 percent, you’ll probably achieve the same results. The only difference will be the impact on your own personal wellness.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire? One that has been a mentor, confidante, and general source of support and inspiration? Why?
Shauna Levy: Kathryn From. Kathryn joined me as an investor and board director with MADGE AND MERCER. She is an incredible asset to the business as she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. Leading her own female investment fund that supports female-founded early-stage start-ups, she complements my skills and has offered unlimited support and advice.