If you’ve found yourself thinking that your local cannabis dispensary seems to have more in common with a Louis Vuitton store than the headshops of yesteryear, you’re not going crazy — you’re just an astute observer of the growing overlap between the worlds of cannabis and fashion.
In an effort to stick out in an increasingly crowded marketplace, many of the world’s top cannabis brands are turning to veterans of the fashion industry. With luxury CBD products and high-end cannabis accessories comprising one of the most promising segments of the fast-growing cannabis industry — some analysts estimate that demand in the U.S. alone could be worth $50-60 billion already — it’s primetime for premium brand building.
One of the most notable names to make the leap from fashion to cannabis is Clement Kwan, who went from roles with brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Diesel Jeans to co-founding Beboe, a Los Angeles-based luxury cannabis brand that the New York Times once dubbed “the Hermés of Marijuana.” As Kwan told Forbes, “[We’re] proud to have pioneered a part of the industry that didn’t exist … We are selling a dream, not just a product.”
He’s not the only former fashionista to enter the world of cannabis, however. The cannabis mega-brand MedMen recently hired three ex-fashion executives to help run their marketing and communications departments, as reported by WWD. In June, the Ohio-based cannabis company Green Growth Brands announced the hire of former Victoria’s Secret CMO Jann Parish, who joined an executive team that already included veterans from brands like American Eagle Outfitters, The Limited, and DSW.
Few brands (or their leaders) illustrate the connection between cannabis and fashion quite like the Sundae School, a New York apparel brand that has recently branched out into cannabis products. The brand’s co-founder, Dae Lim, told the Los Angeles Times that he was inspired when he realized the strategies used to market the company’s “smokewear” — high-end garments featuring cannabis-inspired designs and even dedicated storage compartments — could be used to market cannabis itself as well.
“Fashion and apparel is where you [currently] see the highest forms of branding You go to the Chanel show or the Y-Project show, and they’re exuberantly telling their stories,” Lim said. “That sort of brand development and narrative development hasn’t really been taking place in the cannabis industry because it’s a new, growing industry. What we’re most excited about is the branding landscape in cannabis.”
Cannabis companies are hoping that the branding lessons from Lim and others can help boost sales in what has been a surprisingly sluggish start to the legal cannabis era. While a great deal of cannabis-related branding has focused on making the plant more appetizing (and socially acceptable) to “soccer moms” and dads who wear wide-seated Dockers, younger people are still far more likely to use cannabis than their older relatives and friends — according to 2018 data from Statista, around 24 percent of Americans between 18-29 smoke cannabis, nearly double that of the 30-49 demographic (13 percent).
These young users are also far more likely to make fashion purchases. In 2018, research from the business outlet Payments found that millennials made twice as many annual apparel purchases as boomers.
In an effort to lure in would-be cannabis consumers of all ages, some iconic fashion brands are even opening dedicated spaces to showcase their luxurious, plant-inspired wares. In May, Saks Fifth Avenue launched a CBD Beauty Corner in its New York flagship store, and Barneys New York recently made waves for its “The High End” cannabis lifestyle concept in Beverly Hills.
As the company’s CEO said in a news release, “Many of our customers are incorporating cannabis into their lifestyle, and The High End meets this new need … It’s an experience they can’t get anywhere else.”