If you’ve been paying attention to the top-shelf landscape over the past few years, it seems the largest problem plaguing our industry today is consistency. Sure, you can pop off a new cultivar and make some noise for a little while, but maintaining the pressure is difficult, and very few players have managed to stay on top for even a season, let alone a full year. You need to have all your t’s crossed, and your i’s dotted, all the time. While there are more competitors joining the game every day, none can touch the bar that The Ten Co. keeps pushing higher.
The Ten Co.—formerly Team 10 Extracts and the purveyors of the hyper-viral Zushi brand— have proven that maintaining relevance in this space isn’t impossible, it just takes hard work. And, given the tear Ten’s been on, the rest of the market should be taking notes.
While both The Ten Co. and Zushi brands have been increasing in popularity and notoriety over the past few years, thanks primarily to the strength of Staks’s cultivar curation, in 2023 the brand exploded to a new height not just for themselves, but for the industry. Hosting two of arguably the biggest brand activations our culture has seen, in two of the biggest markets in America (New York City and Los Angeles), the brand has amassed such a demand that they’re now able to pop in to your city and make more money selling merch than most are able to selling their top shelf.
Before we get into the details of what they’re doing, and where they’re headed, let’s go back to the beginning.
Founded by Staks in 2011 (or ’12), Team Ten’s origin began far from California, all the way across the pond in Europe. A British-born Cypriot raised in a musical household in London, Staks was exposed to the ins and outs of the counterculture from a young age, thanks to his adjacency to the entertainment industry.
“I’ve been in love with cannabis since I was probably 11 years old,” Staks explains. “Around 15 I set up an LED light in my boiler room cupboard. Mom found out and went crazy on me.”
Through the time he spent writing music when he was young, he unintentionally honed an understanding of how the cannabis market worked, and developed a vast network of relationships with celebrities.
“I had a huge passion for hash. Making isolate or bubble hash… I used to go to Amsterdam regularly—like every two to three weeks—and got involved in different techniques of hash production,” Staks says. “I was obviously very limited in London at the time, so that’s when I decided to move to Spain, back in 2012. This was when the BHO market was booming, we were really the first to bring that to the market. We were Team 10 Extracts back then.”
He glazed over an important milestone there, before moving to Spain, Team 10 Extracts was officially founded, and had already begun winning awards. They are cited as hosting the first-ever infused dinner party in the U.K. Earning his first recognition before he left his home court, in total, the brand had received over two dozen accolades before the eventual move to the U.S., but we’ll get there.
“The technique was the secret,” he says. “Once the technique was dialed in, we didn’t really think about branding that heavily back then. In Europe it’s more about the quality of the product rather than the brand, even to this day you’ll see the best weed unpackaged, unbranded. They don’t care about the bag and stuff, they want to see the product.”
Gaining notoriety now, Staks eventually began to enter Team 10 Extracts into some of the largest competitions in the world. Eventually, in 2015 he signed up for the Secret Cup, which held events around the world as qualifiers, and then held a world-wide grand finale in California.
“I entered this competition, against people who… were like idols to me because being from overseas I could only see these guys online… and we came in first place. It was mind-blowing to me. It was the Headbanger by Karma, still one of our favorites to this day,” he says proudly. “I always considered myself a connoisseur in the space, so this was very validating to me, but winning this competition got us placed in the finals in Los Angeles the next year. That was my first time coming over to the states.”
This was around the end of 2015/start of 2016.
“I flew out here and that was the first time I met Cali Kush Farms, through Karma, and they were kind enough to let me have some of their space to make some fire,” Staks says. “This was another huge, huge competition at the time. There was great names, great product in the competition. I thought I had no chance. And then we placed. We came in third place in LA. And I just remember my IG growing by like 20,000 in a week or two. I had made my mind up, I [was] moving to America to chase my dream.”
In 2017 Staks officially moved to America, just in time for the rise of rosin and the crash of the BHO market. Recognizing the shifting landscape, Staks decided to shift things around in his new home. He dropped the “extract” from his brand’s name, and The Ten Co. became the core focus, a high-end flower brand that would allow him to focus on his first love. Shortly after he aligned with Gerry, a creative director originally from San Jose, and created what would become the foundations of Zushi.
“Zushi is like a strain brand,” he says. “I made the logo myself, and I don’t consider myself a designer in any way. Prior to meeting Gerry my whole goal was to find the dopest guy in the game that can make the product sick… and the way we met, it was just crazy.”
When Staks Met Gerry
While Staks operates the flower side of the business, things took a, let’s call it “branded” turn, once he met Gerry. With a long history of creative expression and development, including a stint with the internationally celebrated World Star Hip Hop, Gerry has become something of the secret weapon in Ten’s arsenal. Before we get into his specific contributions to the company, here’s a bit more background on who he is.
“I fell in love with design when I was young. At 5 years old I started drawing art and just always kept with it. Fast forward to when I was about 18 or 19, my uncle asked me to draw a T-shirt…” Gerry tells me. “I didn’t even know what vectoring was at the time, so I just went to Google and started looking. I found out about digital art, and through that I felt like, ‘Oh shit, I could actually spread art to the masses rather than just have one piece.’ So I took myself to YouTube school, and I learned all the software by myself… Illustrator first, then Photoshop, and just kind of combined the two.
“I was posting on Instagram, and at the time I was big in the sneaker community. We would take pictures from our knees down, and I started doing that with cool captions that matched with like Jordans or Nikes. I started posting time lapses of my art, and then I got picked up by Worldstar Hip Hop. Q, the owner of Worldstar, found me before there was even DM’s. He wrote like on the comment ‘Yo email me at Q@worldstar and delete this right after.’”
The relationship with Q opened a lot of doors for Gerry, and things took off quickly from there. Eventually, in 2019, a favor for a friend led to a fateful meeting.
“My friends were selling this record, a Lil Baby and Gunna track…” Gerry says. “I met up with this person to actually get paid out for the tracks, and it was Staks. And he mentioned like, ‘Oh, I have Zushi, and I heard you’re a designer. We should link up and see what we can do.’ I just thought that the name was cool, and a million ideas started coming.
“At the time I think I had seen what was already done, and I just tried to 2.0 it and not really give my take on what I would visually do. But when we rebranded the font… that was like the first thing I had on my iPad when we linked up again.”
“The bright colors, the vibrance. This cool, hip [look], no one had that in the space at that time, so we just started dialing characters and they just started coming to life,” Gerry says. “Blue was born first, and at first he looked way too cartoon-y. We’d both give feedback and we would be up until like two, three in the morning every night for like months. After a while we just started getting into a flow.”
That flow created a cultural tsunami.
“Being a part of hypebeast culture ourselves, we know what that can do once you attach the branding and the marketing with the great product. That’s what creates the whirlwind of greatness, you know?” Staks explains. “Gerry is a unique character, you know. Guys like him ain’t really that easy to come by. To lock in, and have full concentration on that project. That’s what he showed me, his loyalty to the brand, from the beginning, where he was turning down other work and we were just executing every single idea to a T.”
Today the brand has five distinct characters within the Zushi-verse: Blue, Yellow, and Pink Zushi, Wasabi, and Zoy. Each has dedicated product lines, but also a seemingly endless merchandising potential. This potential is probably best visualized by the success of their Nozu launch.
On the Nozu Wave
Comprised of the best batches they cultivate from each of their strains—the choice packs, if you will—The Ten Co. recently introduced the Nozu line, named in homage to Nobu, the popular high-end restaurant they frequent.
“At the time we were getting specific batches that would come around and they would just stand out,” Staks says.
Now while people would be lining up for access to the most premium packs a premium brand offers to begin with, the Nozu line came with a lot of bells and whistles. While by this point people had been dropping branded boxes with their products, they rarely went further than pretty cardboard and maybe a grinder. The first drop of Nozu arrived in the form of what looked like a to-go champagne bag from Nobu. It obviously didn’t have a bottle of champagne, but a Miron glass jar filled with an ounce of their highest end flower, as well as branded napkins, chopsticks, and a rolling sushi mat. It even had a Nozu receipt, and it commanded a $1,000 price tag. Next they released a surf and turf collectors box with packaging that looked like lobster tails and steaks, and a jar of “truffle butter” rosin. Most recently they’ve taken Nozu on the road, and held merch pop-ups in both the New York and Los Angeles Zalympix events.
“With Nozu—well with everything, but specifically Nozu—it was bigger than just throwing in some cute extras,” Gerry says. “We’re creating ecosystems within the brands. We’re building worlds, lifestyles. It’s deeper than just unique packaging. We brought in sushi rolling chefs…It’s been in the works for I would say like two years. We had to perfect it just how Staks perfects the flower, the same thing had to go for the apparel. Printing those characters is super difficult. There’s tons and tons of colors. We must have tried like five different manufacturers. It just wasn’t it, and then recently we finally felt like, ‘OK, now it’s time.’”
“We’re creating a storyline, and it’s started coming to life,” Staks says.
This demand is probably best expressed by their first Blue Zushi rosin launch, which included just 76 jars, and saw a market that was willing to pay $500 a gram. So willing, in fact, that it was nearly impossible to find, and I’ve seen people taking their jars around the world, popping up online from Japan to Barcelona, despite it being released in Los Angeles.
“We’ve been talking about dropping Zushi rosin like, forever, and just never got around to it. I think the anticipation made it special,” Staks says. “Massive thanks to West Coast Alchemy, they did a great job. Thanks to Bobby Trill, that’s my homie.”
Today the future’s bright for the entire Ten enterprise. With a new solventless line coming, along with the debut of their 10Pen, a proprietary vape they have been developing, the brand is actively pursuing new business areas, while doubling down on what they do best. Not only that, but for all those who missed the pop-ups, a worldwide merchandise release will be dropping online in time for the holiday season.
“Everything is pretty much under one roof at the moment,” Staks says. “We don’t really have any partners. I have the team now, pretty much built from the moment I got here, so everything’s in house, single source. We just ran a 200-, 250-seed hunt of seeds I’ve been collecting over the last maybe 10-15 years that I brought over with me from Europe. We’ve just got those in rotation now, so we’ll be going through selection [soon].”
If their past is any indicator, this wave won’t break anytime soon. It hasn’t even hit its crest yet.
This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.