The fashion crowd has had a longtime affinity for cannabis. Mara Hoffman sprinkled her Spring 2015 runway collection with a green leaf print that looked an awful lot like a weed plant. “I think cannabis is a beautiful plant,” Hoffman tells Style.com. “I am all for its medicinal love and think it should have been legalized years and years ago.” Jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche is currently hawking a range of marijuana leaf pieces, like her mini Sweet Leaf pavé diamond ear jacket selling at $2,190 a pop. A few years back, Jeremy Scott also created a pot print motif for his Adidas collaboration collection, which was later spotted on Sky Ferreira, A$AP Rocky, and the designer himself. And, though Scott didn’t directly reference cannabis in his most recent Spring collection, his hippie-dippie runway show was certainly a nod to it, among other festival drug favorites. His jewelry collaborator, Miley Cyrus, has made her penchant for pot quite well known to the world—she’s blazed onstage several times.
“As long as cannabis continues to break out from behind closed doors, the stylization of its brands will continue to evolve.”
“Both industries, cannabis and fashion, attract extremely creative people,” says Zac Cohen, a former New York brand and marketing expert who has recently relocated to Denver and swapped high-fashion clients for High Times. Cohen, founder of brand incubator and digital agency Blank Space, says, “You go to fashion parties in New York and there are a lot of people smoking [weed]—it’s standard. They use it as a creative tool and for relaxation.”
Still, few people are as upfront about it as Cyrus. However, with its legalization in several states and those old-school taboos surrounding weed disappearing, that’s all changing. More and more pot growers, dispensaries, and cannabis-related accessories companies are enlisting the talents of PR/marketing/branding strategists to give their products a high design makeover. Everyone is seeing massive dollar signs and an untapped lifestyle industry with potential growth projections set to outpace the smartphone industry.
“As long as cannabis continues to break out from behind closed doors, the stylization of its brands will continue to evolve,” says David Goldman of Ed Rosenthal Select, a Sacramento-based premium cannabis soil brand that recently enlisted the services of a branding expert. “Recreational users and cannabis patients are seeking the highest-end products that suit their individual lifestyles. I read an article just last week comparing the design and build-out of a new marijuana dispensary in Aurora, Colorado, to an Apple store.”
The crux of cannabis marketing right now is reaching a different audience than it has in the past. “No disrespect to the hippies and the hairy armpits and all that, but that’s not me,” says pot entrepreneur and branding expert Cheryl Shuman, who landed on the cover of Adweek as the first pot marketer. The peppy blond from Beverly Hills adds, “I don’t want to be associated with pot’s negative image. I am a highly functioning, corporate woman who runs a multimillion-dollar company, and I was looking at all these great women in my social circle, like Cameron Diaz and Fergie, and everybody loves marijuana. Why should we have to be in the closet?”
She’s trying to change weed’s image with her Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, which sells “designer” pot targeted to women that runs for $700 an ounce and comes wrapped in gold foil. To go with it, she’s created a range of $15,000 pavé diamond vaporizers (“why not make it a luxury fashion accessory?”), plus she’s got a series of 420-friendly, Soho House-style hotels and a Stiletto Stoner clothing line in the works. She must be doing something right—she’s about to take her company public, and it’s currently valued at over $1 billion.
In Denver, San Francisco, and the Pacific Northwest, cannabis brands are focusing on the product’s high-tech design, with Whole Foods-style messaging (premium, organic strains, handcrafted, farm-to-table, local, hand-processed, no toxins, artisanal, fair-trade) for their carefully curated selection of cannabis chocolate, kombucha-esque beverages, and beauty products.
“Look at a brand like Apothecanna—an immaculate topicals brand—they are on the cutting edge of cannabis branding,” says Cohen of the Denver-based body cream company. “Their products are clean, fresh, and would fit right in at something like Equinox.”
Or, take the newly launched QuickDraw triple action vaporizer (starting at $100 each). The packaging is so minimal and sleek, you expect Tim Cook to announce its release. “Our product is a high-tech lifestyle accessory,” says QuickDraw CEO Jason Barrett, who has a background in consumer electronics. “Using one reveals something about your personality—about how you choose to relax, socialize, and express yourself. They should be beautiful; they should accent the way you present yourself to the world.”
Sounds familiar. Are we talking about a Céline bag, or a vaporizer? This is where fashion designers looking to enter the market might find the best opportunities. “The biggest moneymaker in this industry right now is vaporizers—it’s already a billion-dollar industry because it’s an ancillary product and it’s safe for investors and fashion companies,” says Shuman.
Cohen, who is dreaming of the day when Alexander Wang wants to do a collaboration with one of his clients, says, “Wait until Chanel does a vape pen and Michael Kors creates a lifestyle collection around it. I can’t wait to get, like, a blunt in Ralph Lauren’s mouth the next time I see him on a horse on his ranch—that would be historic.” He rethinks his answer and then says, “OK…maybe not Ralph.”