Thanks to positive legislative changes when it comes to cannabis production and usage in many countries around the world, the idea of ganja as muse and meal ticket in the world of high style is flourishing. And yes, women are largely at the forefront.
A Newsweek article rolls it up perfectly: “It seems fitting that a plant called Mary Jane could smash the patriarchy. After all, only female marijuana flowers produce cannabinoids like the potent THC chemical that gets users buzzed. Pot farmers strive to keep all their crops female through flowering female clones of one plant, called the Mother. And women are moving into the pot business so quickly that they could make it the first billion-dollar industry that isn't dominated by men.”
In the US in September last year, Project Runway star, Parsons School of Design student and fashion designer Korto Momolu’s cannabis-inspired clothing range caused a sensation during New York Fashion Week.
Korto, who was born in Liberia (where marijuana farming and use is still illegal) had worked in partnership with Women Grow (the cannabis industry’s biggest network of women producers) to create a collection made mainly from hemp fabric. Covered by publications like Forbes, The Guardian, Hollywood Reporter and WWD, in the moment that the models walked and vaped down the runway, Women Grow hoped that it would help to normalise not just people smoking it up or extracting its essence to help with aches and pains but also elevate hemp to haute couture and help educate, empower and inspire women on all the opportunities available from its harvest.
Women in South Africa especially in regions like Pondoland in the Eastern Cape have long led the field, having grown and harvested intsangu for over 200 years. When the men in their families were forced or unable to work in mines or other jobs around the country, the dark green crops became their greenbacks. But they have yet to reap the benefits of a shift in thinking which saw the Constitutional Court ruling in 2018 decriminalise the private use of cannabis in the country.
Since times in the past when their farmlands were often torched and sprayed with herbicides because it was and still is illegal to grow to sell, things may change for the worse or the better. When everyone can grow and enjoy their own product, the demand for the small-scale growers’ cannabis may decline but this could be offset if budding CBD-related companies and fashion brands support them in switching things up to grow hemp. This does though present other problems as hemp should not be grown in the same area as marijuana because cross-pollination ruins both plants. And a license to grow marijuana legally, even for medicinal use, will set you back R23 000 in provinces like Kwa-Zulu Natal, according to an IOL article. It’s important that when our highest court next speaks on revised or new laws, protecting vulnerable farmers is a top priority.
According to a Fortune Business Insights report, the global cannabis market size reached almost R200 billion in 2018 and is set to reach around R1750 billion within seven years. The UN says South Africa produces “2300 tons of marijuana annually - making the country the third-largest producer of the plant and related products in Africa.” While that presents a massive future turnover for SA, the buzz around cannabis is already helping other international designers with their fortunes.
As laws relax around the world, the ‘holy plant’ has turned the heads of tastemakers like the US’s Jonathan Adler, who helps celebrities transform their mansions into monuments of style. He recently designed a range of porcelain coasters, glossy trays and treasure boxes, all with black enamel-glazed pot leaves or a more discreet smoking red lip design, for his Hollyweed clients.
And when it comes to cannabis’ influence on couture, beyond Korto’s high-profile show, we saw a model walk in a lime green gown emblazoned with “Amsterdam” and a giant cannabis leaf graphic on her chest, in Viktor & Rolf’s spring/summer show last year.
Popular LA-based designer Jacquie Achie whose marijuana-motif pave diamond pendants got the nod from Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, now also sells a denim button down with the seven-pointed leaf patched on the back in snakeskin, which you can shop online. Jacquie’s Sweet Leaf hoops were even flashed by Vanessa Hudgens on the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet in 2015.
Also ahead of the curve have been Vetements with a weed-grinding necklace and Alexander Wang who dedicated his entire autumn/winter collection to Mary Jane - both debuted in 2016.
Bvlgari recently jumped in on the action with an 18-carat gold necklace with marijuana leaves set with pave diamond.
Back in SA, CBD skincare and wellness offerings have quickly gone luxe, but only a few brands are moving hemp from hippie to sustainable higher end fashion. And that’s where the gold is. There are a few like Hemp Love - a local company started by women that produces resortwear type garments - who say they hope to create job opportunities using hemp cultivation throughout Africa. Pichulik featured hemp linen dresses in their autumn/winter 2019 collection. Christa Dee’s eco-luxe brand Christa & Louella have wide sleeve hemp shirts for sale. Christa says she wants "to place womxn and people of colour at the core of the creation" for making fashion for a sustainable future.
According to Business Day, though it is still illegal to cultivate hemp in SA and only authorised for research and under special circumstances, “government is looking at ways of establishing a hemp industry”, since “hemp can be used to make more than 25 000 consumer products, from hemp clothing and accessories to houseware and cosmetics”.
Perhaps those like Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa, who’s already said that he’s experimenting with local hemp, will also light things up in the luxury space, both in his new home decor range and iconic textile and knitwear brand.