The Hemp Trading Company, aka THTC, has revolutionized eco-friendly fashion.
The London-based company brought hemp to the high street two decades ago with the launch of the brand’s sustainable clothing line comprised of garments made from hemp, organic cotton, and other sustainable materials.
THTC merges music, art, and activism. The clothing line features T-shirts designed by artists such as Mau Mau, whose urban artwork is known for its cultural commentary.
The company grew from a college-run business to the award-winning global brand it is today. Musicians and celebrities like Woody Harrelson, Redman, Method Man, members of UB40, Ed Sheeran and world Beatbox champion Alexinho are just a few of the personalities known to have supported THTC.
Some of the THTC’s earliest and most popular prints include: “George Bush & Son Family Butchers (Est. 1989)” – originally released in 2001 – and “Weapon of Choice,” a T-shirt worn by artists and activists for over 16 years.
Not all designs are politically explicit; other prints showcase collaborations — like “King David” and “Born Free” — between THTC and organizations including the World Land Trust, Born Free Foundation, and The Refugee Community Kitchen.
THTC’s founder, Gav Lawson, talks exclusively to us about building the award-winning eco-fashion line, and the company’s newest collections.
The Beginnings of Something Sustainable
Lawson founded the ethically driven streetwear brand alongside his brother, Drew, and friend Daniel Sodergren in 1999 while they attended universities in Hull and Bristol respectively. Together they formed the campus hemp awareness societies called Hempology, which became the basis for THTC.
“It took a few years for the brand to gain traction,” said Lawson, who is now the sole owner. “I didn’t know if the company would take off. We were so ahead of our time; ethical or organic clothing was not really a thing in the 90s.”
Almost four years ago, Lawson was joined by digital marketing expert Ashwin Bolar, who has vastly helped transform the company’s online strategy and boost their social media presence.
“Ashwin has been a great help to THTC,” said Lawson. “He is a very talented digital marketer and brings a lot to the table. Since he joined, our number of Facebook followers has more than doubled to almost 55,000. He also creates THTC’s graphics.”
THTC made its move into the mainstream when it became the first ethically minded clothing brand to be carried in Virgin Megastores.
“That was big for us,” Lawson said, “It had always been our aim to bring hemp to the high street and Richard Branson gave us that first opportunity.”
TK Maxx (the U.K. version of TJ Maxx) also started to carry THTC garments in more than 80 of its retail shops.
“THTC became one of their most popular t-shirt brands and we were the first hemp product to be stocked in their stores,” Lawson said.
“Ethical Consumer Magazine” ranks THTC as the U.K.’s most ethical independent menswear brand. British newspaper the Observer’s annual Ethical Awards also recognized the company as runner up for “Best Fashion Product” in 2004. In addition to its many accolades, Lawson earned a PEA award – the UK’s “biggest green awards” – for his achievements.
THTC recently paired up with Colorado-based Hoodlab Store, who is now the brand’s official U.S. distributor.
Finding THTC Brand Champions
When asked why THTC found success as an eco-fashion brand when others did not, Lawson credited it to years of networking, brand champions, and his small staff.
He spent more than a decade promoting his brand on the club scene, giving away T-shirts, and sharing his passion and vision for THTC. Through this experience, he said, he found champions of the brand, or people who wear THTC products “[…] because they are proud to.”
“People are often too busy in their own lives to worry about trying to save the world,” Lawson said. “They don’t know where to start, or that wearing one t-shirt made from organic hemp compared to conventionally grown cotton can save up to 2,500 liters of fresh water.”
THTC customers feel empowered just by wearing a T-shirt, a term he described as “armchair activism.”
“It becomes infectious,” Lawson said.
Making Sustainability Stylish
THTC revolutionized sustainable fashion by taking it from boring to trendy.
“Most environmentally friendly brands lead with their environmental credentials,” Lawson said. “We wanted THTC to be design-led, so we focused on creating strong designs and a cool brand that people would be proud to wear, whether they are environmentally minded or not.
Men in the U.K. are one of the hardest demographics to sell ethical fashion to, said Lawson; “generally speaking, they couldn’t give a damn about saving the planet.”
That’s why the company focuses on marketing itself as a fashion label before being a political one, Lawson explained. “We try to be the first ethical purchase for people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily think about sustainability.”
Rising From the Ashes
One of the biggest struggles in the company’s history came shortly after the economic crisis in 2008. A few years later, in 2013, a fire occurred at THTC’s screen-printing facility that destroyed their screen-printing machine and 12 years worth of screens, costing them thousands. As a result, Lawson put on an event at South London-based venue, Electric Brixton called “Re-Grow.”
The event featured a very impressive line-up comprising of many of THTC’s supporting musicians who came along and performed for free, said Lawson.
“I was overwhelmed by the goodwill from the people,” he said.
Another challenge, and a point of pride for Lawson, is keeping THTC products affordable.
“I’ve always kept prices as low as I can — the cost of producing sustainable, truly ethical fashion is astronomical compared to cheap, throwaway cotton,” he said. While shops like Primark (equivalent to a Forever 21 in the U.S.) “pay peanuts for a t-shirt, we’re paying around £8 [more than $10],” Lawson explained. “We screen print all of our designs in London, usually with water-based and discharge printing processes.
The price of hemp, and other eco-friendly fabrics are already expensive enough, he said, “We try to make our products as affordable as possible.”
Transparency Through the Production Line
Lawson recently visited China, documenting his visit to the two facilities that produce their hemp clothing. THTC is currently editing a mini-documentary about the experience which is being produced by THTC’s video creator Spelt Productions.
The moment people hear about production in China, “They assume you’re working with sweatshops,” said Lawson. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The factories producing THTC garments are small, with between 12-20 staff. They are not exposed to harsh chemicals due to the nature of the products made, and a shared commitment to sustainability. They work from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and take regular holidays.
Lawson is quick to remind others that poor working environments occur everywhere. It is countries like China, he asserted, that need ethical production facilities more than anywhere.
“Plus,” he said, “hemp has been in Chinese culture for thousands of years. They’re way ahead of the game in terms of how the fabric is manufactured.”
For those reasons, he is proud of how and where THTC clothes are made.
Lawson is focused on transparency and sustainability throughout the entire production line. The company has produced ranges with upcycling businesses such as My Only One, and Good One, turning old garments into new styles.
Future THTC Fashions
THTC just released their spring collection this April, which includes new prints such as “System of a Mau,” “The Missing Peace” and “Get Back to Your Own Country,” as well as reprinting 16 past favorite designs such as “Get Rich or Try Sharing”, “Just A Ride” and “Plastic Fish.”
THTC is preparing to launch a line of THTC accessories that includes socks, underwear, wallets, belts, flexible ball caps, and more.
In the near future, Lawson also hopes to expand into the white label market, and create prints for dispensaries or other companies who are seeking sustainable merchandise.
Visit their website and enter CANNABIS-AFICIONADO-15 for a 15 percent discount on everything in the THTC range excluding charitable collaboration designs.
Jason Washington: Creating a Global Cannabis Kulture
Jason Washington is a successful entrepreneur both in and out of the cannabis industry. He is also the second person in U.S. history to face a jury trial proceeding on a state-licensed medical marijuana case. His story is a powerful reminder that the most dangerous thing about the cannabis plant is the grey area that surrounds its legal status.
In 2011, Washington’s Big Sky Health dispensary was the largest legal operation in Montana. And despite medical marijuana being legal in the state since 2004, the Feds raided him. At trial, he was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cannabis and possession with intent to distribute. His judge deviated from the mandatory minimum sentence guidelines of 10 years, instead sentencing the former University of Montana Grizzly quarterback to two years in federal prison. In October 2014, his original sentence was reduced from 24 to 21 months, with the judge ordering Washington’s immediate release.
Washington returned to his home state of California where his natural aptitude for business saw him start several successful companies, including Ignite with Matthew Morgan and Dan Bilzerian.
Fueled by his desire to help those who had been wrongly incarcerated like himself, Washington went on to found Kulture, a full-service cannabis agency with a twist — you have to have a proven legacy with the plant to make the cut. The company has cultivation, extraction and manufacturing operations in five different states: Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to Washington about his loyalty to legacy operators, his advice to newcomers to the industry, and his plans for a global cannabis network.
CA: What sets Kulture apart from other cannabis agencies?
Jason Washington: One of the mandatory stipulations for being accepted or invited into the Kulture family is that you have to be a legacy operator. And a legacy operator suggests basically that you have a proven track record of 10 plus years in the cannabis space. You’re someone that was in this when it wasn’t just the latest “cool” business venture for Ivy League grads.
My directors of indoor cultivation are Bill and Jeff Levers aka the Beard Brothers, who are legacy operators. We’ve been running together for over two years — longer than Kulture has been established. Our philosophies and ideologies align. In fact, their commitment to helping veterans inspired the backpacks in our new clothing line; these are based on tactical gear as a salute to our veterans.
Why is this so important to you?
The pioneers of this industry have not been able to participate in the new legal market. A lot of people have made a lot of money off the backs of those who are now deemed criminals. Guys like me — those with weed felonies or federal felonies — aren’t looking for handouts. To be honest, I don’t know how to solve the problem. I just know that the problem exists.
Tell me more about your new clothing line and how it’s helping to change the stigma around cannabis?
Some very successful brands started with clothing in emerging markets just for brand awareness. For me, it’s about establishing normalcy like any other brand. In California, Prop 64 means we have been able to normalize the use of cannabis as a recreational drug. And as a very beneficial medical alternative to pharmaceuticals and other forms of pain management. Cannabis is becoming more and more acceptable, and it’s one more facet of people’s lives.
I’ve been in the cannabis game for a long time, so for me, the clothing line is new and exciting. Normalizing cannabis is the main reason I’ve launched it. The style is influenced by what my cultivators wear when they’re in the facilities. It ties into the Kulture lifestyle and appeals to a lot of different demographics.
What are your expansion plans for Kulture?
Here’s the thing, cannabis doesn’t only help people in America. There’s a whole world of people that need this plant and our help and expertise. We have to focus on more than just America and more than our little micro-environments. I see Kulture as a 300-person global agency with offices in America, South America and somewhere in Europe or Africa. I see it as a combination that brings together the best cannabis talent in the world. Where the brightest minds come together under one roof to provide the best cannabis for everybody to enjoy.
What’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when people are talking about cannabis legalization?
The conversation around inclusion needs to be further expanded upon. There’s still a lot of people that are in jail for this plant.
Another problem is people riding social equity but did not serve a day in jail or have never been prosecuted or raided. People get pushed to the front because they say, “I grew up in this neighborhood or I grew up in that neighborhood.” But those who were affected or who served time are not able to obtain a license. For example, I live in California, but my charge is federal, is in the state of Montana. So I can’t get an equity license in California because my charges did not originate in California. I’d have to go back to the state of Montana to participate or to be a license holder.
Look, I understand why states have said that in order for you to be an equity applicant the crime or the charge has to have been committed in that state or jurisdiction. I totally get that. But it’s keeping guys that went to federal prison for cannabis-related crimes shut out. They’re kept from participating from a licensing standpoint because their charge originated in a different jurisdiction than where they reside. Most federal indictments are brought in different jurisdictions than your home state.
How do you think the cannabis industry can be better?
The biggest thing is if all these new executives and people coming into the space entered with more knowledge. They can’t get the experience, I get it. But at least the knowledge and understanding of what so many people have sacrificed for so long and went through. Understand the culture. Don’t completely strip cannabis of everything it’s been for so long and turn it into spreadsheets and mass production. Because that’s not what it is.
I get bringing a more professional business environment to the space; more legitimacy, more scientific data and more research-based products to market. But at the same time, don’t forget those who have given you this opportunity. Don’t forget how you got here and the sacrifice that was made to allow you to participate in this industry.
What do you wish you knew when you first started out in cannabis?
The power of the federal government and what substitute asset forfeiture meant. Haha.
What are the three qualities you need to be a successful cannabis entrepreneur?
I think perseverance is one of the biggest. I’ve been in it for 12 years and I’ve seen people come and go who don’t have the character and the stamina to fight through all that you have to fight through — whether it’s local municipalities, competition, or failed crops. You’ve got to be an innovator. You’ve got to be someone who is a survivor and a fighter.
Do you have a career highlight?
There’s one thing that really sticks out to me to this day and it was when we opened the first Montana dispensary. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% sold on the medical benefits of cannabis at first until one particular firsthand account from a mother. I was her son’s caregiver; her son was 13 or 14 years old and was epileptic. She came in one day and broke down crying because she didn’t have to go to the streets for cannabis anymore. She said, “You have no idea how much I admire and respect your courage and how much you helped my son. You guys being here and taking care of us has been like God answering my prayers.” It was very heavy and very emotional.
Hearing those kinds of stories and testimonials gave me the strength to stand up for what I was doing and believed in at the time. It still does to this day.
Believe it or not, I don’t look at federal prison as the worst thing that ever happened to me. It gave me the opportunity to sit back, reflect and learn from the choices and decisions that I’ve made. Maybe mistakes, maybe not mistakes.
Any advice for anyone that’s thinking of getting into cannabis?
If you’re thinking about getting into it now, you need to position yourself and prepare yourself for the long haul. You’re only warming up after five years in the space. This is a daily education. Cannabis is unique in a sense, it’s not like any other businesses. You can apply past experiences from other businesses ventures. But the hands-on education that you get on a day to day basis is like no other.
Brett Stevens: Lighting the Way for Indoor Cultivators
Brett Stevens of Fohse is on a mission to make his company’s name synonymous with hi-tech LED grow lights for the cannabis industry.
At Fohse, meeting the challenges faced by indoor cannabis cultivators with superior lighting solutions is the prime directive. It’s a niche that co-founder and CEO Brett Stevens says is rife with opportunity for those with the talent to innovate. A serial entrepreneur with several successful exits in new and emerging markets under his belt, Stevens is now firmly focused on the cannabis industry.
“I originally got into the farming side of it, and I could definitely see where at that time, five or six years ago, there were so many holes that needed to be filled. It was kind of like, pick a side and go with it,” Stevens told Cannabis Aficionado.
The sector he believed had the most potential to impact the cannabis industry was engineering, and Stevens had kept his ear to the ground for tech opportunities, specifically for cannabis. So, when an engineer friend shared his design for advanced LED lighting, he saw a chance to bring value to a nascent industry.
For Las Vegas-based Fohse, the vision is to continually expand the tech in the cannabis industry, and Stevens is proud and unapologetic about the company’s focus.
“We’ve pigeonholed ourselves into the cannabis industry. We didn’t create the light for any other plant,” he explained. “We are sold on the plant. We’re sold on the medical purposes of the plant, and we really want to be there as the plant is more readily explored.”
In order to be true innovators, Fohse doesn’t settle for the services of outside engineers. Instead, the company has its own in-house engineering team creating cannabis lighting solutions from the ground up. Stevens touched on SolidWorks, a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) program, that Fohse’s engineering team uses for their technical drawings.
“We do all our material science, and we do all of our material engineering to make sure that the materials we’re using to dissipate heat or to project that photon where it needs to go [are sound]. We’re doing all that in-house.” he explained.
A Company Driven by the Question, “What If?”
Stevens noted that he’s not one to micromanage his executive team though. Instead, he said that his leadership style is to assemble a solid corps of professionals and let them go to work. And as inspiration, he encourages his engineers to continuously ask, “What if?”
“What if we could do ten pounds a light?” he wondered aloud. “What if we could do four micromoles per joule? How would we do that?”
“We’re consistently thinking, ‘How can we be more efficient, and more powerful?’ And I think that’s what drives me,” he added.
According to Stevens, the combined talent and drive at Fohse are producing the most advanced LED lights available to cannabis cultivators. And that’s not just an assertion. It’s a claim that is backed by the company’s research.
“We are literally the most powerful and the most efficient light in the world right now,” Stevens said, adding that Fohse has done grow ops where they have bought and tested every single competitor’s light.
“There’s no question,” Stevens states confidently. “We will outgrow anything on the market.”
Creating an Industry Standard for Indoor Cannabis Cultivators
When his company entered the business, Stevens says the light manufacturing industry was racing to the bottom, with everyone trying to produce the cheapest lamps that would still grow cannabis. But Fohse took a different approach altogether.
“We looked at it more like, ‘What if we put massive power supplies and 5,000 diodes in a light?’ and ‘What if we could replicate indoor sunlight?’” he explained, adding that they focused closely on grams per square foot.
“Because in the end, that’s what it comes down to, right?” he asked. “If you have a finite amount of space, the more you can grow in that area, the more productive and the more successful you’ll be.”
Constantly striving to increase productivity and efficiency for indoor cannabis cultivators is what the team at Fohse is all about. And that drive, Stevens says, will become increasingly evident when the company’s products are known as the industry standard.
“I think that we’re hungry, that we’re always advancing. We will not stop until we will reach the absolute pinnacle,” he pledged.
Michael Trzecieski: The ‘World’s Coolest Bong’ Design Director
Every now and then, a game-changing product comes along that tempts us to throw all other gadgets and glass out the window. The Stüdenglass gravity bong is one such product. Chances are you know of the bong through the viral video showing contemporary stoner icon Seth Rogen gripped by a coughing fit after one hit — cementing the bong’s place in counterculture legend.
The original product was conceived by ex-Apple alumni Tracey Huston, who filed the patent back in 2016. Recently, Stüdenglass was acquired by one of the most innovative — and coolest — cannabis companies, Grenco Science. Shortly after, Michael Trzecieski, founder of Vapium and tech-designer extraordinaire, took up the challenge of refining the state-of-the-art mounted gravity bong for top-shelf aficionados.
Cannabis Aficionado caught up with Trzecieski to talk about the synergies between weed and tech, how the Stüdenglass has improved, and, of course, that Seth Rogen video.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.
Michael Trzecieski: Growing up in Canada has afforded me many opportunities but there are two that have been the most formative — the first was becoming a Roboticist and the second was to witness and experience a country who showed true compassion toward cannabis as medicine. I was allowed to see the power of the plant without shame or indignity.
My journey as a Roboticist started in fibre optics, engineering micro-robotic toys. At the same time, Canada was making enormous strides towards full legalization. The timing, coupled with my desire to support the medical cannabis consumer, allowed me to shift my focus and passion — making a different kind of robot to support the people who needed it most. With this goal in mind, I took my years of experience in safety and controls (from toys being so heavily regulated) and applied this to making our first haptic vaporizer back in 2012.
Can you share your thoughts around the synergy between tech and cannabis?
Tech allows users to titrate their cannabis experience so they can choose to consume at various levels. Traditional methods of consumption are not always effective for all patients, and innovation is paramount for harm reduction and efficiencies. It is essential to have clean air intake, temperature stabilization. Temperature stabilization allows the vaporizing device to toast the leaf material instead of combusint it using a closed-loop temperature stabilization feedback system. At lower temperatures consumers can experience improved terpene profiles while at higher temperatures they may enjoy stronger effects.
What were the things you set out to achieve when designing the Stündenglass gravity bong?
The new Stündenglass glass gravity bong was designed for aesthetics, precision machining and cleaner vapor. We also wanted to provide a more comfortable user experience. Through the kinetic motion activation, vapours are sucked into an upper chamber and as water rushes from the upper chamber to lower chamber, the vapor percolates through the flowing water stream and offers vapour filtration as well as vapor cooling.
Tell us about the materials and why you chose them.
The materials chosen for the Stündenglass were predominantly glass and metal.
Glass offers a supreme taste, it is easy to clean, and it does not attract vapor and oil particles.
Stainless steel was also chosen as one of the core elements in the device because of its cleanliness as well as its ability to be precision-machined and for its high wearability in the valve portion of the device.
Anodized aluminium was also utilized for its durability and longevity.
What’s your favorite thing about the Stündenglass gravity bong?
It’s magical. The kinetic motion activation allows the device to both suck vapour as well as expel vapor at the same time, and provides percolation and water vapor filtration. There are also many magnetic components because magnets are also kind of magical.
Stündenglass was recently acquired by Grenco Science. Can you tell us details of how this exciting acquisition came about?
We first got to know Tracey Huston, and it was immediately apparent that there was a synergy between the brands, with a shared goal of innovation and improving upon the user experience. We recognized the ingenuity behind Stündenglass and understood how we could help by bringing this product into Grenco Science’s global expansion plan. From there it was a natural next step to bring Stündenglass into the Grenco Science umbrella.
How has the device evolved since its initial prototype?
The initial prototype was a very functional and utilitarian type unit. The design was since improved for its aesthetics, robustness, as well as the modularity. Furthermore, the percolation was an added feature and an improvement over the first model.
Subsequent models have allowed for modularity. The modules may be removed and taken apart, cleaned and accessorized, as well as replaced with other future potential attachments and improvements. A wall mount was also provided.
The viral video of Seth Rogen with his Stündenglass put the gravity bong on the wish-list of every aficionado, cementing its place in cannabis culture legend. How did it come about?
It was very organic. An early prototype was given to someone in Seth Rogen’s family, who then gave it to him. It was his own idea to create the video and share the experience online.
What tech trends do you predict for the cannabis industry over the next five years?
The bigger tech trends in the cannabis industry include dosing and data. Many customers want to be able to monitor their dosages as well as have data associated with their consumption, like what a Fitbit tracker does for fitness. This will allow producers to develop more meaningful formulations for their consumers as the data and dosing science evolves.
How do your products help shift the stigma about cannabis?
Our products help the ship the stigma on cannabis by bringing technology to the industry. This tech comes in the form of improved heating technologies, industrial design, safer material choices and temperature stabilized heating control loops.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when talking about cannabis?
That cannabis is a medicine. We are only beginning to uncover its real potential as legalization around the world grows.
How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?
Accountability. One of the major issues in the industry at the moment is a lack of accountability and a lack of safety and testing standards. There are still some operators that are looking to make a quick buck from unassuming consumers, and last year’s vape crisis was a direct result of that.
The cannabis industry is just in its beginning stages and needs to evolve. With this evolution there will be added accountability and more rules and regulations to ensure it’s safer for all.
What do you wish you knew when you started out in cannabis entrepreneurship?
I wish I knew that it was not going to be easy, and this holds true for any entrepreneurship. Finding the right people and putting together the right team is really important. It took us years to finally find the right partners and the right people to work with. This allowed us to evolve from a smaller operation to a larger entity.
Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?
I would say the first thing is creativity. You have to be full of ideas; you have to understand how to change the game; and how to make a difference, not just fit in. As the industry quickly evolves with ever changing rules and regulations, you need to keep your head in the game. It’s an industry for sharp minded entrepreneurs who know they can make a difference.
You’ve got to be tenacious, never take no for an answer, and keep on pushing for what you want to achieve going forward. No one’s going to do it for you. You need to drive your creativity home to others and have them believe in you.
You need to show up and be present in order to know what the industry is about. You need to be present at trade shows, events and gatherings where you can meet the right people in order to develop the right relationships.
Follow Michael Trzecieski on Linkedin.