Putting It on for Sacramento

How the Yellow Brick Group found its spark, and why they’re lighting the way home.
Sacramento
Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

Of all the cities in California, few get less credit for their contributions to our collective culture than the state’s capital, Sacramento. Long dubbed the “City of Trees,” while it has certainly become a major hub for the cannabis industry, there’s also an incredible art community growing through the cracks that’s quietly powering the more visual aspects of the business. A perfect example of one of these aesthetic wizards is the Yellow Brick Group (YBG) crew. Best known throughout the country for their work with Alien Labs, the reach of YBG actually spans far further than cannabis—especially in the city they call home. 

Founded by a group of long-time friends, Curtis Currier, Damian Lynch, and Shawn Kahan, in the few short years since its inception in 2018, YBG has already run the agency gamut. This includes creating brand identities and designing and producing merchandise and installations, and throwing their own events to support the community and cultures that they love and represent.

When it comes to supporting Sacramento, it’s clear there’s little that these guys think about besides putting on for their hometown. Given the amount of Our Street Night Markets they’ve thrown, it’s all too apparent that any free time (or money) they manage to find goes back toward shining the spotlight on the local delicacies they cherish so dearly, many of which are owned by their family and friends, old and new.

High Times Magazine, September 2023

“Everybody was leaving Sacramento,” Kahan tells me. “So many businesses that I know, that I grew up around, were closing down… Friends, you know, losing their houses… We wanted to create that revolving door where people feel like they can stay here and work on really cool stuff. That they don’t have to leave, to go to LA, or Portland, or the Bay Area.

“I saw this really great piece that said something like, ‘We have just as much talent here as any other place’ or ‘We have just as many important things going on here as other places,’ and we want people to know that. However, if they don’t, we really don’t care. Sacramento, being the state’s capital, you’ve kind of got all of California, right? Whereas like, not all of California has you.”

One of the pillars of the YBG is bringing that mentality to life. Showing the whole state, and the world at large, that the City of Trees deserves its flowers, too.

Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

The Team

The formation of YBG was a lot more organic than you’d expect. Although the team has now grown far larger than just the three of them, it’s still essentially a collective of friends who have a history building together, and figured out how to turn those projects into a real career. Kahan and Lynch grew up in the same neighborhood. They went to middle school together and met Currier later in life. While the team’s cohesiveness now may all seem serendipitous, it wasn’t a plan. In fact, on paper, YBG is an eclectic bunch.

Kahan had entrepreneurial tendencies from the jump, flipping packs and starting a clothing line to make money when he was still a teenager. Quickly legitimizing his first clothing brand after getting kicked out of high school for the aforementioned cannabis association, he scaled that first project up to placements in over 26 retailers both locally and internationally. Eventually he started to help talent, like five-time NBA All-Star from the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins and internationally acclaimed artist David Garibaldi, develop their own brands, alongside the creative pursuits he was exploring on his own within the city. He’s got this almost surfer rockstar vibe, sporting a man bun but typically wearing nice clothing, if that makes sense.

Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

Lynch, on the other hand, has a strong logistical mind and comes across much more straight-laced. Before eventually joining the Air Force, Lynch was throwing some of the biggest warehouse parties in Sacramento. Kahan eventually started helping him with build-outs, and promotions, but fitting the pieces together from permits to zoning immediately made sense to Lynch, and became a sweet spot he would rekindle after his time in the military with his first real career path: throwing healthcare fairs.

Currier—the oldest of the group—grew up just outside of downtown Sac. Skating from a young age—and when there were much fewer people doing it at the time as he likes to point out—he was exposed early to the wonders of art from hip-hop to DJing. His first job was working the front desk at an indoor skate park for the city (which I feel speaks volumes about Sacramento.) He developed a reputation for having parties of his own in high school because he loved to DJ and he didn’t consume cannabis, so the parents of his friends felt that their children were safe over at his house. This is sort of analogous to Currier as I know him—he loves to uplift those around him and is willing to carry the weight of making that happen. When he was working a high-paying engineering job traveling around the country, he would regularly invest his earnings into his friends’ pipe-dream projects just to “contribute to the betterment of what they were working on.” He got good at DJing too—eventually winning Red Bull’s coveted 3Style competition in Sac—alongside earning a design degree from Sacramento State University, where he graduated top of his class.

Once the YBG crew had fully formed, the synergies arose on their own. They were already collaborating, but eventually, sometime in the summer of 2017, Kahan had the idea to take it to the next level.

“It made a lot of sense to me to start an agency,” Kahan says. “But we already had that synergy, you know, growing up, working together. We worked on a lot of different projects. And then, yeah, when it came time to decide what I wanted to do for the next phase of my life, I really wanted to put together an agency, and like, these were the Avengers that I felt would make up the strongest unit.”

Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

The Foundation

With the intentions set, next came putting a name to the mission. While Iinstinctively thought Yellow Brick Group was a play on The Wizard of Oz, like following the yellow brick road to success or something, their explanation is far more thought out.

“Yellow bricks are what people used to refer to for gold bricks,” Kahan says about the city’s rich history in the California Gold Rush. “We wanted to have something that like, had a loose tie back to Sacramento, but we also thought it was an interesting way to kind of be that diamond in the rough.”

Currier explains how the hardest part of the name was actually the “Group.” First they talked about “Creative Agency” and “Design Firm,” but the guys didn’t want to be put in a box. They were a catch-all, and felt their name should represent that.

Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

The Night Market

YBG launched its first Night Market about six months after operation began. Designed to be a platform for Sacramento, they built this for their community to network and grow. The Our Street Night Market is the kind of place where local chefs can try out new menu items and make new fans. It’s where local artists can get their name out there and sell some of their work. It’s how they support their friends’ businesses, and how they give people the opportunity to reach tens of thousands of people. For the first event they didn’t charge anyone, and expected maybe 2,000 people to come out. It cost them around $50,000, but it was an investment in their brand, and in their city. About six times as many people showed up for that first event and they’ve since thrown four more.

“We were trying to collapse timeframes, if that makes sense. We felt that if we could pull that off, people can see a lot of what we were capable of, right? The design, the marketing… you know, event production,” Kahan explains. 

Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

Playing with Cannabis

Now, when it comes to standing out in our industry, we all know the most important thing is the flower, of course. But the next most important thing? That’s the branding, and it’s not just the graphic on your mylar or the logo you’re going to run with. Crafting a solid brand identity is paramount in building a successful company, especially one that’s meant to last a long time.

“Everything has to have a ‘Why’ behind it. I am constantly bringing this up when we talk to clients. I ask them ‘Why?’ all the time,” Currier says. “We question the ideas. But it’s not like a gotcha moment, or to like, be dismissive or whatever, it’s because if you can’t answer the ‘Why’ on something, there’s generally holes in it. Our job is to poke holes to find the fill.”

Kahan believes what makes YBG unique is their strong understanding of cannabis culture.

“It’s either you understand it but you can’t execute, or you can execute but you have no idea what’s going on in the industry,” he says. “There was this idea that moms, or generations of moms, were going to come in and, I don’t know, change the way we understood weed? What do soccer moms know about weed? We knew that wasn’t going to happen, and I think we felt this similar sense of responsibility that we did in our city as we looked at the cannabis industry.”

Courtesy Yellow Brick Group

Staying Home

At the end of the day, no matter the client, it’s clear that what’s most important to YBG is the work they’re doing, and the community they’re fostering.

“We wanted to create that space that we didn’t feel like existed,” Kahan says.

While they definitely take work from outside the city, it’s clear that their passion ignites for locals. Today about 85% of the work they do is either for someone in, or for the city of, Sacramento.

“Now people say, ‘Wow, it’s really exciting that we finally have a local group that we don’t have to go outside Sacramento to get that type of work done,’” Currier tells me with pride. “We feel super stoked on that. Everyone thought—even here locally— that if you want something that’s going to like, upgrade the city, or make it cool, then you can’t pull it from here, because, not cool, right? Nah! If you track it back, there’s so much of us in music, and skate culture, or there’s people from Sacramento that are involved with major fashion and things like that.”

For YBG success lies in building community, brick by brick.

“I think Sacramento in general is a really collaborative town,” Kahan says. “And we look to each other to build things together.”

This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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