Another drizzly morning and we head up to Seattle. There’s plenty to see there as Seattle has kind of become the hemp-metropolis of America. A big-league city with an awkward mix of high-tech, red-neck, enviro-activism, loud guitars, gearhead REI yuppies and an international dose of everything else.
First off, we find the Beemis building on the shady side of the Kingdome. Apparently this classic building used to be a paper bag factory and it now houses artist and professional loft/suites. There is a neat Vespa out front and a intimidating freight elevator inside. We head up stairs to visit Earth Goods.
Earth Goods is the international business run by two guys named Dave or David which isn’t surprising as I’ve been meeting a lot of guys named Dave recently. The focus of Earth Goods is to make contemporary high-end fashions from naturally dyed hemp. No use dumping chemicals on a piece of organic cloth they figure.
The selection of garments for women and men are made and dyed in Thailand, overseen by another guy named Dave. The idea however, was conceived while were living between Boulder and then Japan where they heightened their sense of aesthetic and marketing.
The duo had just returned from European travels, styling in Venice where they showed off their fancy threads on the same runway that Giorgio Armani was pushing his own hemp designs. While they have been working hard to reach the public, they welcome the competition and figure any expansion of natural standards is to the net benefit to the Earth and the vitality of the industry.
Things are really starting to move for this sharp company as they create a solid niche with their hemp/silk, softened hemp, and hemp/cotton fancy/casual clothing line. They make especially nice vests.
Enjoyed talking about Japan and learning natural dye names in Thai, spent a nice morning in the Beemis building. Unique view, a sort of backdoor look of the city from giant windows. High ceilings, so high that a guy from the Sonics lives right up stairs.
So we head across to the University district to check out Rob Jungman and his new Manastash store.
Rob started with an idea for a small wallet that you wouldn’t loose even after a rough day on the beach and rougher night on the town. After a roadtrip brainstorm, the “Chenga” became. After a few batches of those, Rob made up some bigger packs, accessories and gear. All designed for action sports and having fun.
After spreading his line around the US, Rob took the show to Japan where he is hooking up all the hempster gearheads over there. This is particularly interesting to me as I research the history of cannabis culture in Japan. The possibilities of selling hemp in that massive consumer market is head-spinnin and Rob has got the goods to do it.
Rob headed out on Hemp Tour all summer. Traveling the land with a couple vans to concerts, mountain bikes races, rock climbing comps., festivals and wherever. . . letting athletes and adrenaline junkies test out his gear and put hemp to the test.
Instead of taking it easy when he returned, he decided to make a store right on Seattle’s infamous University strip. The store is loaded up with gear from a variety of hemp makers so we had a chance to preview some upcoming hempen road filming stops.
Business seems brisk both at the store and with getting the line of Manastash Mountain Products on the rack at outdoor stores. The horizon sees a couple new stores opening in Japan and new products coming out real quick.
As for the Manastash products, they are made across town at Panther Sports which Rob operates with his partner Khampy, a textile production designer from Vietnam. They run a nice facility, comfortably employing a rotating staff of about a dozen.
As part of a government job training program, the factory helps new immigrants learn a trade, make a fair wage, work in good conditions, improve language skills and gain positive work experience. Most move on to higher paying jobs at bigger factories after they are experienced. This is all part of the process and it certainly looks successful as we laughed and goofed with the sewers who were lucky enough to have hooked up with a great organization. The Manastash products are made with care in a local, international community atmosphere , a real working model of positive production and what is a great alternative to synthetics made in deplorable sweat shops both here and abroad.
By the way, Manastash is the Yakima tribe’s name for a mountain range in eastern Washington which translates to New Beginnings.
Dale the Weaver helped us out with the segemnt by provided random inspiring comments and hairstyles to urge us along. He is quite a motivator, ol’ Dale, and he is weaving and knitting some nice potholders and Christmas tree ornaments.
So after exploring the neighborhoods and eating some interactive Thai food recommended by Christian at Crop Circle clothes who we didn’t get a chance to hook up with cause he was in Las Vegas wooing a client. Right on, I can see Wayne Newton in a hemp tux. Christian seems to have the marketing and promotion game down and I hope to check out his products down the road.
That evening we were hosted again by the Dave duo at the Beemis Building. A exclusive gathering of hempsters, business people, store owners, buyers and friends sharing Christmas cheer and tasty beer.
Upstairs, some new friends put us up for the night in their loft which was decorated with some exceptional acrylic on plywood paintings.
The next morning we spent some time filming the curious community of Fremont. You know, it is the center of the Universe. Rocket ships, walking pizza, statue of Lenin, and Fremont Hemp Company. Run and designed by Cory Brown, entering the Fremont Hemp Co. shop is like leaping into a spendy magazine spread. It is exquistely detailed with luxurious items. Body care products, household accessories and dried flowers. It really is something different than Joe Q. Public’s perception. I expect to see Ralph L. and Laura A. models posing in the corner.
Not surprisingly, Cory’s background is in retailing and related arts. Everything down to the wrapping paper is done just the way he wants, no compromise. Beauty and functionality are tucked comfortably in together.
The building itself was once a Gas Station and the transformation is complete as Fremont built it up from a blank canvas. Spiral staircases go up to a loft and give a view of the courtyard out front. The design is slightly manic and comfy at the same time. A huge Masonic painting and a statue of Vlad offset the elegant yet utilitarian garage facade. A row of large letters along the top, tell you where you are. Fremont center of the hempiverse!
If Fremont is center of the Universe, than Belltown is center of Universal Hemp. Universal Hemp is the new enterprise of several experienced hemp industry workers. These are the men and women who have been pulling the weight at other companies in Seattle and have now jumped into making the new Belltown Hempery.
It is certainly not a regular hemporium, its more of an outlet for independent artists, crafters and makers to market their gear. There is a wide variety of stuff but its not the same as you’ve seen around.
One of the difficult things about trying to build a business is finding a decent, fair outlet to vend your product to start generating operating capital. Consignment generally doesn’t work, wholesaling doesn’t fit for home based, small time operators and winter is a lousy time to be out hustling at arts and crafts fairs. Ask me, I know. I wish I could’ve found an outlet like Belltown about 4 years ago when UncleWeed backpacks and dog collars, hempy sacks etc were being made in a tent and sold on street corners and festivals.
While it is a new business, there is plenty of room to expand. Plans for papermaking workshops, soap, candles, dyeing. Basically if it can be done to hemp on a workshop scale, they’ll be doing at one point or another. With space, enthusiasm and a plan, a lot can happen.
I tried on a fine hat and a fleece/hemp jacket and we hauled a little rolling sign to Pike Street market to explore the Seattle city center and check out people’s reaction as we walked around with our hemp clothes and mobile billboard.
Pike street market must of been brilliant about 50 years ago. It is still super cool, just a whole load of humans and not enough hemp. If you like salmon, get there.
We finished off with a few 16mm shots of the harbor and sailboats and actually even with all the concrete, it’s still pretty. Water, trees, mountains, sigh.