On March 31, New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis. New Yorkers ages 21 and over can possess up to three ounces of concentrated cannabis. They can smoke it anywhere they can legally smoke tobacco, store up to five pounds of product, and grow up to six of their own plants. It will be some time before we see dispensaries and other legal retailers hit Manhattan or Ithaca—but the fashion and beauty industries aren’t sleeping on getting in on the Mary Jane game.
The New York market value is estimated at $4.6 billion, with market growth and demand projected to hit $5.8 billion in 2027. It will be the second-biggest market after California. Given the economics, it’s not a shock that there is interest from all sectors—including fashion and luxury. Some are longtime stoners looking for a second venture with solid growth; some are fashion people who never really smoked at all but saw the economic potential, a more secure future than luxury fashion in an era of market supersaturation; others couldn’t care less about making a profit beyond a sustainable level. These are the creatives looking to expand and reimagine narratives around cannabis culture.
There’s been some nascent fashion-weed crossover already. In April 2019, Barneys Los Angeles hosted High Life, a luxury weed pop-up offering $1,575 grinders and concierge delivery. Last year, Los Angeles–based serial fashion entrepreneur Armen Gregorian, the executive behind A.L.C., launched Mae, a beautifully crafted cannabis accessories and product line branded for a more discrete and feminine smoking experience. Then, there are the editors and influencers getting into CBD (or cannabidiol), like L.A.-based Courtney Trop, a.k.a. @alwaysjudging, whose CBD line, Stevie, features minimally designed body salves, bath salts, and pre-rolls.
Central to legalization is reckoning with the systemic violence of criminalization toward Black and Latinx communities, which represent more than 90 percent of convictions despite consumption being equal regardless of race. With legalization, criminal records for marijuana-related convictions will be expunged, and 40 percent of tax revenue will go back into Black and Latinx communities. You can’t talk about the future of cannabis without owning the history and present. This is a conversation that extends to the private sector. Overlapping with inequities in criminal justice is the lack of Black and Brown ownership in the growing legal business; the conversation needs to extend beyond consideration of harms into who now benefits. Who has ownership over legal cannabis spaces? What are the hiring practices within new cannabis businesses, and whose voice is being centered? Are practices and internal structures enough? Can they ever be? What is the impact of massive, multistate operators on independent Black, Brown, and minority-owned businesses?
Below, we speak with some of the new voices in cannabis—New York creatives leaning in to weed, some hoping to be the DuPont or Veuve Clicquot of cannabis, others with different ambitions—to get their stories, from brand concept and product to how they reckon with the deep inequity of this space.
Farnsworth Fine Cannabis
Who: Art Director Alexander Farnsworth and his partner, designer Adam Lippes, known for his minimal, feminine apparel beloved by the likes of Oprah Winfrey. Farnsworth has been developing the cannabis line and shop, which launched in late March, for eight years; Lippes is still designing his ready-to-wear label full time—he’s preparing to shoot his resort collection when we speak—but got involved in Farnsworth Fine Cannabis at the start-up phase.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” Lippes, who is involved in a range of new businesses, says. “Day to day, I’m in the studio designing my collection. That is where my passion lies. But every once in a while, I’ll pop in [and work in the shop] or hop on a phone call.”
What: A luxury dispensary in the Berkshires inspired by early Italian apothecaries, stocking vintage accessories, like a lighter that belonged to Jack Kerouac; a line of apparel designed with Laure Heriard Dubreuil of the Webster; alongside an in-house line of cannabis cigarettes available in three strengths with long filters designed for a smooth hit. “It’s a total New York, New York, product,” Farnsworth says. “I hope to see it in every bodega in the future.”
On how that first joint led to Farnsworth Fine Cannabis: “I was 16 years old. I was supposed to be in film class, but I was with my friends, with the sunroof open, driving around the foothills in Salt Lake City,” Farnsworth muses. “For me, growing up in a very conservative Mormon community in Utah, it just felt like cannabis gave me a place that was an escape and that was safe and that was interesting.”
“Coming from a background of luxury apparel and luxury retail, it was really about approaching this—the development of our space and our cannabis brand—no differently than the development of a luxury apparel collection and, of course, store,” Lippes says. “How do we make the experience as elevated as the product itself? What is the cannabis lifestyle? How does clothing fit into their lifestyle, and what do they want?”
Also key to brand identity is the fact that Farnworth Fine Cannabis is one of the first LGBTQ-owned operators in the industry. “It was very important for us to have representation, not only from the LBGT community, [but also] from women, minorities, veterans, and it just felt like—of course, I’ve been working on this for eight years, but there have been people that have been suffering and have been fighting for legalization for decades,” Farnsworth says. The two have pledged that at least 65 percent of business staff will be LBGTQ+, POC, women, and veterans.
Who: Imelda Walavalkar, a longtime New Yorker with a background in sustainable catering, criminal justice reform, and human rights; Irwin Tobias Matutina, an art director and creative director who has worked in fashion and lifestyle in New York; and Tracy Anderson, Walavalkar’s husband and a branding and marketing specialist with experience in sectors ranging from cannabis to music and fashion.
Pure Beauty, the group’s boutique cannabis brand, came together organically—Walavalkar started exploring weed and food during her time in the food world, and when a friend approached her for a cannabis business that didn’t pan out, the seeds of Pure Beauty were born. The three started their own cultivation. Now, they’re aligned with KCD, the fashion PR, branding and production firm representing everyone from Alexander McQueen to Tom Ford to Maison Margiela. Next up? Bringing the brand to New York, “the ultimate dream,” Walavalkar says.
What: Minimal, beautifully modern pre-rolls, Babies (mini joints), and the newly dropped Little Strong Drink (a cardamom, grape and live resin cannabis drink for a strong, near-psychedelic effect). Plus, graphic tees, old-school mixtapes and industrial design objects in the “Drugstore.” Think the Glossier or Dazed Beauty of cannabis if Glossier was also sustainable, POC owned, and human rights centered.
“We see Pure Beauty almost as an art gallery where whoever we work with is allowed the freedom to express themselves truly,” Walavalkar says. “Our approach has been to not have any preconceived ideas about what it means to be a stoner and to fully embrace all the nuances of being stoned and how that feels and what that means.”
Why cannabis? “I remember the first time I experienced the profound impact weed can have on your mind. It was like falling in love where you know your life will never be the same and that you now have something that helps you engage and connect with other people and the world in deeper and more interesting ways,” Walavalkar muses. Pure Beauty came out of a search for a creativity-infused weed brand that brought in music, filmmaking, art, fashion, and photography—something the founders couldn’t find.
On what makes marijuana companies beholden to larger social responsibilities: “I think all businesses have a responsibility—as participants in and beneficiaries of the global market—to acknowledge and address intersectional inequities,” Walavalkar says. “As cannabis businesses, we have an even greater responsibility given the systemic racism perpetuated by the war on drugs and incarceration policies including the disproportionate rates of incarceration for, specifically, Black and Brown communities.”
This inequity—in criminal justice, social equity, and lack of diversity in the most capitalized companies—is something Pure Beauty addresses through hiring (the business is female and minority owned, and the staff is more than 65 percent female and minority), apprenticeship programs, and ongoing financial contributions. There is also a very serious environmental consideration, which is not often seen in the business. “All of the water used in our cultivation is collected from the air, we pull no water from California tap,” Walavalkar explains. “So, for example, a single cannabis plant needs approximately 150 to 250 gallons of water to reach its flowering state. So we are saving millions of gallons of water a year, in a state where water is gold. Our cultivation has no runoff. Even safe fertilizers and nutrients will contaminate surrounding water supplies making life uninhabitable for indigenous species. We also use bugs like roly-polies, earthworms, and nematodes, along with friendly bacteria, fungi, and protozoa to create a soil food web, which helps naturally prevent disease and plant-eating predators by working with the plant to provide nutrients and protection. And we donate all of our soil to public parks.”
Who: New York–based, Seoul-born Dae Lim, a Harvard grad with a background in applied mathematics and time logged at VFiles; his sister and cofounder, Cindy Lim, a Wharton alum who has since left the company; and Dae’s best friend, Mia Park, who came from McKinsey. Sundae School started as a streetwear label in 2017 and has since ventured into cannabis.
What: “Smokewear”—i.e., cozy apparel to wear while smoking, or to get you into a creatively expansive state of mind. Plus, Tiny but Mighty—the brand’s signature mini joints —and THC-infused Mochi Gummies in flavors like lychee and sour yuzu. “We really drew inspiration on the flavors from our childhood,” Lim says over the phone from Seoul. “The world doesn’t need another generic product.”
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Why cannabis? Sundae School started out as a fun project, an energy you can still see in the brand that celebrates the intricacies of Korean- and Asian-American identities and weed culture with humor, puns, and storytelling.
“We didn’t mean to start a cannabis brand actually,” Dae Lim says. “We just wanted to imagine a world where God is Korean and smokes weed every day.” Lim immigrated to America at age 13. “When I was growing up, people who I looked up to were Korean, and they looked like me and it was very natural to dream big,” he reflects. “When I came to America, that started to shift. I started to hate that I was Korean. I was acting white and all these adolescent-pubescent things of lack of self-esteem and identity. But then, when I got to college, it was really through cannabis as ironic and maybe slightly moronic as it sounds— it was really cannabis that helped me realize that I am the highest form of being that I can be. That’s when I really started to dive deep into my cultural heritage of being Korean, my identity as an Asian-American, and really started asking myself the hard questions. We really look into that for inspiration.”
The brand developed organically as a concept project. It started as hoodies and T-shirts sold on a school bus, at a bodega, at the Soho House in New York, basically anywhere they could find a place to stock for free. As the community grew, the clothing developed, and Sundae School was picked up by Barneys and other luxury retailers. “We were asking our community, ‘Hey, what should we drop next?’ We thought it was going to be like puffer vests and, like, bombers or shoes,” Lim says. “The majority of the answers were cannabis.”
Where Sundae School feels the AAPI community fits in with justice reform: “A lot of our stories come from our community, which, I think, is an underrepresented community as a whole,” Lim says. “I think this market expansion beyond the market opportunity, socially speaking on a fundamental human level, it really highlights the injustice of the justice system, and what’s crazy is that these laws that white people set, white men especially set, are most perpetrated upon Black Americans, upon Hispanic Americans, upon minorities. I could be holding 30 pounds of weed on me in my trunk in Nebraska, and no one would search me because I’m Asian. But if my friend who is Black did that, the chances of him being incarcerated are huge.”
For Sundae School, the responsibility is twofold. “One is spreading awareness that this is a fundamental systemic issue that plagues our society and there are still people in jail for smoking weed or for selling weed. Yet we are out here selling weed,” Lim says. “It’s just ridiculous. So awareness is number one.
“And two, in order to truly make a change in a place like America, it is a capitalistic society, so we got to put money where our mouth is. So, for instance, obviously we are a start-up, so we’re not making huge dough yet, but we donate 1 percent of our revenue to charities that we care about, that our customers can choose, actually. One of them is cannabis justice reform. Right now, [another is] AAPI issues, because our identity is in peril.”
Edie Parker Flower
Who: Brett Heyman, known for her colorful, retro acrylic bags at Edie Parker. Launched in 2010, Edie Parker features midcentury-inspired clutches, housewares, and since 2019, Flower.
What: Pastel-shaded gram and eighth jars, glass floral pipes in matching dreamily nostalgic color tones. “Everything is a little surprise,” Heyman says. “When you open our little pre-rolls, they’re in the shape of a flower.”
Why cannabis? Heyman was always thinking about where Edie Parker could go next. Bags led to a home collection, which evolved into cannabis accessories as her small team contemplated their own lifestyles.
“It became clear to us that nobody was treating [cannabis accessories] in the same way they were treating their luxury accessories,” the designer says. “It was either head shop by NYU, you could buy a colorful bong, or things were super masculine, it felt like an old apothecary, or like medicinal. We wanted to make cannabis accessories that were meant to help destigmatize cannabis, things that you could proudly display, that you could gift. That was the space we wanted to play in: Cannabis by women for women.”
Heyman was quick to embrace high-end weed as the direction Edie Parker would move in. “As cannabis becomes legal in more and more states and hopefully at a federal level, brands will matter,” she relates. “We are first movers in this space. We really feel like this is the future of our business.”
On how Flower reckons with the ongoing impacts of criminalization: “You can’t talk about cannabis legalization without criminal justice reform,” Heyman says. For Flower, this takes form as the Edie Parker Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that gives to social programs supporting women and children harmed by criminalization, like the Women’s Prison Association, The Last Prisoner Project, The Bail Project, and since the pandemic, food banks and other basic needs providers.
Who: Artist and tattooist Scott Campbell, known for his work on Marc Jacobs, Courtney Love, and design collaborations with the likes of Louis Vuitton and Berluti; and Clement Kwan, an East L.A. native and former Dolce & Gabbana and Diesel executive who paid his way through school growing medical marijuana.
What: Elevated cannabis products like a rose-gold, “socially dosed” vape pen and pale pink, 5 percent THC pastilles labeled by The New York Times as “the Hermès of Cannabis.” As Campbell says, “We made luxury weed a thing.”
Why cannabis? The origins of Beboe go back to Campbell’s childhood in Louisiana. The brand is named after his grandmother, who infused what was a very dark period—his mom was battling cancer, in and out of chemo and bedrest for eight years—with warmth, love, and a feeling of safety. She used to head over with two sets of brownies every week—only later did he realize why his mom’s box was so guarded.
“I wanted to have [the brand’s] life parallel my relationship with cannabis,” Campbell, who links weed to his own creative process, a theme for many artists, says. “[I wanted to] start it with her, and then bring it into what I want,” he explains. “The products were designed and evolved to accommodate my own needs. It was something I wanted, but I didn’t see out there. The cannabis landscape was very collegiate. People were creating products assuming that people were like, ‘I have 20 dollars, and I don’t want to remember my name.’ I’m not that. The way we dose the products is really mild and very precise, so you really have complete control over what you’re getting into.”
Packaging was also important, with letters and symbols with meaning in Scott’s childhood. “Coming from the fashion world and New York, there is a lot of trust that is earned through aesthetics and consideration and presentation,” he says.
On what New York legalization means and how it connects to criminal justice: “I think culturally and legally New York is definitely the biggest domino to fall after California,” Campbell says over Zoom. “If Wall Street is smoking weed, it’s going to get legalized [federally] real fast. GTI [multistate operator Green Thumb Industries, which acquired Beboe] just took over this whole prison and are converting it into a processing facility. It’s a simple real estate move, but it’s so symbolic. I [initially] had this fantasy of, ‘Oh, we will hire people who have cannabis felonies!’ But legally, we can’t hire people with felonies on their record. I really do think once it’s federally legalized, so many obstacles are removed. … Thirty to forty percent of the tax revenues from weed will go back to communities that have disproportionately been affected by cannabis conviction.”
On moving from the underground into the mainstream: “Beboe has been such a reflection of my personal journey. I can’t help but notice the parallels between the life of this brand and my life,” Campbell says. “I grew up in the South in a blue-collar community. I remember getting pulled over when I was 17 in Texas by a cop and basically having to eat all the roaches out of an ashtray before the cop got to my window, because it’s a felony offense.
“I have friends whose lives are totally derailed for having a couple joints in their pockets. They have a felony on their record. It affects the schools you can get into, everything. To go from that little scrappy tattooed kid smoking weed and running from the cops to a career through tattooing and designing a collection for Louis Vuitton and working with Marc Jacobs and Berluti … I went from this seedy underworld to really feeling accepted and celebrated,” Campbell explains. “Now with this brand, we launched it at the brink of legalization, and now there’s a Beboe store in Barneys Beverly Hills. I remember thinking, What is happening?”
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