A decade ago, the London-based skate brand Aries met resistance when it introduced a Batik-inspired print emblazoned with cannabis leaves.
“Many of the stores didn’t realise what it was,” remembers Aries founder Sofia Prantera. “But the ones that did realise wouldn’t buy it.” Ten years later, Aries is putting its ‘80s-inspired, lo-fi graphics directly onto packages of pre-rolled joints to be sold in MedMen’s California dispensaries.
The joints are being produced by Pure Beauty, a Los Angeles-based cannabis company that has distinguished itself in part by resembling a fashion brand. Pure Beauty collaborates with artists and brands including Sterling Ruby, M Missoni, and Garrett Leight; promotes its products with cheeky editorial-style campaigns (one recently featured Timbaland, an investor, as a model), and employs the fashion-focused public relations firm KCD for representation.
In addition to selling jars of flower, cannabis-infused beverages and pre-rolled joints via California’s dispensaries and delivery services, Pure Beauty also sells a selection of tees and sweatshirts, accessories, vinyl, and one-off glass bongs and ceramics on its cannabis-free website, Pure Beauty Drugstore.
As of today, the Drugstore’s selection includes an Aries x Pure Beauty collection of shirts emblazoned with both brands’ iconography and the word “gateway,” which will also be carried by the Venice Beach boutique LCD.
The Gateway name, Prantera says with a laugh, represents a “wormhole to a better, funner world.”
A New Era
The gateway between the worlds of fashion and weed is opening. The majority of US states now enjoy some form of legal cannabis — either medical or recreational — and New York’s recreational opening is around the corner. Revenue from legal sales in the US was $25.8 billion in 2021, up 31 percent from $19.7 billion in 2020— and more than double the $12.8 billion netted in 2019, according to estimates from the research firm Brightfield Group. Gen-Z women accounted for the fastest-growing cohort over the last two years.
Cannabis has the potential to reach a growing, influential market that’s primed to spend on experiences. Fashion brands can serve as powerful ambassadors in the normalisation and de-stigmatisation of the plant. And so long as cannabis remains federally illegal in the US, fashion also offers powerful workarounds for companies that can’t legally advertise on platforms such as Instagram, or even take their cash to the bank.
“This is a completely new and wild industry that is incredibly limited by what you can actually do,” said Pure Beauty’s cofounder Tracy Anderson. “We have a lot of folks in New York, for example, that engage with us or purchase products from our drugstore that are non-cannabis. But we can’t advertise anywhere there, not to the extent that it would make any sense.”
With New York’s recreational rollout on the horizon — the state’s Cannabis Control Board expects dispensaries in summer 2023— more fashion brands are likely to see the opportunities in cannabis. The many fashion companies headquartered in the city will finally be able to reap the benefits of collaborative partnerships and events with cannabis companies in their own market, and cannabis companies will be able to tap the city’s forward-thinking consumers.
“When luxury consumers in New York are able to walk into a store and buy cannabis with their friends, I think that’s going to change everything,” said Emily Paxhia, who consulted for brands including Ralph Lauren and Luxottica before co-founding the cannabis investment firm Poseidon in 2014. “The demographic set of cannabis [consumers] is not what people used to think it was. It’s a lot of people with actual resources that they can allocate towards their lifestyle, and for a specific aesthetic.”
Pure Beauty, with its pre-roll packs as printable canvases, demonstrates the marketing potential for one-off collaborations with like-minded partners: Aries gets a presence in LA dispensaries, while Pure Beauty gets exposure to Aries’ London and online fanbase. In addition to Pure Beauty and its partners, brands including Edie Parker, Barneys, Beboe, Mister Green, and Miss Grass — along with publications such as Gossamer and Broccoli — have been exploring the overlap between fashion and cannabis for some time now, and the playbook is rapidly evolving.
Fashion companies on the path to becoming lifestyle brands might also consider cannabis a category for licensing, not unlike beauty or optical. That’s how Brett Heyman has structured the cannabis wing of her Edie Parker line of handbags and home accessories, which first launched in 2019 and includes smoking accessories as well as flowers.
“It is like any licensing deal,” Heyman says of her partnership with Ascend Wellness Holdings, a multi-state operator that produces pre-rolled joints of Edie Parker Flower, which are sold in Massachusetts and Illinois. “We provide creative, marketing and digital support and they make the product.” (Her husband Gregory Heyman runs Beehouse Partners, a firm that invests in cannabis companies including Ascend.)
These sorts of white-label deals are common in the cannabis industry. Because federal prohibition makes shipping products across state lines illegal, partnerships allow brands to expand without setting up vertical operations — which is to say, costly cultivation in states where licenses might be limited — across the country.
Even Pure Beauty, which takes pride in its own water- and electricity-efficient growhouse in Sacramento, announced a five-year partnership in 2021 with the Detroit-based operator Gage to grow, process and sell Pure Beauty products in Michigan.
Selling the Lifestyle
Another of Gage’s partners, the San Francisco Bay Area-based Cookies, offers an ambitious model for cannabis-fuelled clothing brands.
Founded in 2010 by Gilbert Milam Jr., the rapper better known as Berner, Cookies has more than 40 dispensaries across four countries (as well as 11 storefronts of its spinoff brand Lemonnade), standalone Cookies SF clothing stores in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and more than 1,000 stores across over 250 retail partners, including the chains Mainland Skate and Zumiez selling its streetwear. So far in 2022, Cookies’ new collaborations have included an exclusive cannabis strain with Wiz Khalifa and a Cookies x Starter streetwear capsule.
“Not everyone understands how normalised cannabis really is right now,” says Berner, who has been in the business since before it was legal. “There are people wearing the clothing who don’t even know it’s a cannabis brand. And for us, that’s a huge billboard.”
Berner adds that while Cookies’ clothing revenue is a small fraction of what his company nets annually from cannabis, its real-life ramifications have been huge.
“Clothing is bankable revenue and cannabis is not,” he adds. “I’ve been able to do things for myself, like buy homes and have credit cards and legitimate money from clothing, which you can’t really do from cannabis.”
Berner attributes his early commercial success to firing on all cylinders when he started the Cookies brand in the early 2010s — right around the same time as Instagram, he notes. It was the launch of a true lifestyle brand.
“I was making hella music. I was all over the internet showing off weed. I was wearing my own clothing,” he says, adding that he then sold hoodies in editions of 150 for $100. “The weed was fire. People just saw that shit and I documented every step of it. So people watched it grow, and they’re still watching it grow.”