You can spot Vada jewelry around the neck of Texan Leon Bridges, on the Instagram of Outdoor Voices founder Ty Haney and inside the local luxury boutique ByGeorge.
Katie Caplener, 31, founded the Austin-based company "kind of by accident" in 2013, she told Austonia. Since then, Vada has become her full-time job, grown its team to four full-time employees and expanded into eyewear. "Austin is such a good place to grow because the quality of life is great," she said.
Caplener moved to Austin in 2012 after graduating from the University of Arkansas. "It was the closest big, fun city that I could escape to post-college," she said. Once in town, she began working at the ByGeorge store on North Lamar Boulevard, starting as a sales associate before moving up to stylist and then building the company's website and breaking into digital marketing, events and branding.
While there, Caplener started selling vintage jewelry from her personal collection and designing her own heirloom pieces, which became Vada's first collection. A local goldsmith made them, and she sold them at ByGeorge. "They did really well," she said.
Caplener's love of vintage jewelry runs deep, like in a generational sense. Vada is named for her maternal grandmother, Vada Joy, and its sensibility is influenced by her paternal grandmother, Dot, whose vintage jewelry she inherited. Dot collected pawn shop gold and would melt it down to create new pieces. "She would probably not call herself a jewelry designer, but I think anyone else would say she was," Caplener said. "Just not for profit."
Caplener's style continues to reflect Dot's influence. "I would dress in really crappy clothes and then put on my grandma's costume jewelry," she said. "That's still my style. I'm pretty casual other than all the gold I like to put on every day."
Now Vada is producing small batch, made-to-order jewelry inspired by vintage pieces. "I like the artisanal side of jewelry," Caplener said. "I don't want it to look like it was printed out of a machine."
Since launching at ByGeorge, Vada has outgrown its initial garage apartment studio as well as a small duplex space on South First Street. Its pieces are designed and produced in an East Austin studio that backs onto the Colorado River. "I try to keep my studios located in places that make it fun to take little breaks and stuff," Caplener said, citing Barton Springs Pool, Lake Travis and McKinney Falls as regular escapes.
Vada's pieces are heirlooms like the ones that inspired them. (Katie Caplener)
Last March, Vada launched an eyewear collection that was designed in Austin and hand-crafted in Japan. At first the timing seemed bad because of the pandemic, which shut down most retailers, but it turned out to be fortuitous, with so many people seeking solace outside. "That part luckily worked out for us," she said.
Nearing a decade in business, Caplener splits her time between Los Angeles and Austin. But her loyalty is undivided. "People from Austin are very loyal to local Austin brands, and they're constantly seeking out brands made here," she said. "I'm pretty loyal to Austin."
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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