I recently saw an Amazon movie called One Night in Miami, about a fictionalized encounter between the football star Jim Brown (of the Cleveland Browns), Casius Clay (aka Mohammed Ali), Malcolm X, and the musician Sam Cooke. They discuss the past, present and future of being black in America, and what roles they can play, or are playing in the ongoing struggle. At the climax of the film, Malcolm X confronts Sam, scolding him for writing innocuous songs that appealed to white audiences, when he could do so much more with his gift. Though he earned millions crooning about love, he didn’t address the injustice in the lives of his brothers and sisters.
Powerfully, at the end of the film, having listened to the Bob Dylan song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Mr. Cooke composes and performs his version of “A Change is Gonna Come.” That moment in the film brought tears to my eyes, because it relates to a struggle that most of us face in life in one way or another: how do we balance taking care of ourselves with taking care of each other? How do we rise to the occasion, using our gifts for justice and the common good?
Discussing the topic of this newsletter with my marketing team, one person suggested I write something about hemp. For example: "Five ways hemp heals the planet." She had read my previous newsletters, and was surprised and moved by the enormous potential of the plant. I said, “That’s a good idea!”
Though as I write, I still feel that this moment calls for something more. I want to address our national/international/existential dilemma. Is that too much to ask of a newsletter? I understand: some of you haven’t been reading my newsletters for years. So for you, if you want to learn about the virtues of hemp and hemp clothing, visit our Environment page.
For the rest of you, here are my thoughts about the role of Vital Hemp, and my role in particular moving forward. As many of you know, after eighteen years running a brick-and-mortar store (that for the first two years was more of a booth on the Venice Boardwalk), I closed the Vital Hemp store on Santa Monica’s Main Street in March of last year.
The move was bittersweet, because the store had been a kind of community hub, a place where we could show documentaries, such as The Vanishing of the Bees, or host groups, such as the Holistic Chamber of Commerce and their guests. We threw parties with live music, produced fashion shows and offered workshops with hemp materials. Most vital, we hempjucated the public--people from all over the world--about the history, uses and benefits of the industrial hemp crop.
Now the store, like so many stores and gathering places, sits empty, awaiting a time when others might re-vitalize it for a new purpose. Nevertheless, the closure freed up time and resources to focus on family, neglected projects and the e-commerce business. Among all the other losses resulting from the pandemic--in lives, jobs and health--the loss of culture, of places to gather and converse, dine, dance, learn, make or appreciate music or theater--have affected us in immeasurable ways. How can we calculate the effects on a child of not attending school in person?
While I remain grateful for the technological adaptations, I also wonder: how has the move to a life mediated by electronics affected our minds, our bodies, and the body politic? It’s clear that social media has brought out the worst in some of us, preying upon the credulous with dangerous narratives of stolen elections and Intergalactic Covefederations, shielding us from responsibility as we bully, harangue and demonize others, seemingly without consequence….
As the son of a scientist, I’ve been on board with the majority of experts who still believe that social distancing and wearing masks--particularly in indoor spaces--is vital to controlling the spread of the virus. That’s why a friend and I started making One World Hemp Masks, to provide a healthier hemp alternative to the disposable masks or conventional cotton or polyester masks that dominate the market. We made a small run, sold out of some styles, and are ready to produce the next round--as much as we wish we didn’t have to do so.
The practice of social distancing so divided our intensely individualistic and social nation, that early on, I came up with the idea of “connecting with distance.” I didn’t like the ways people were avoiding each other, turning away, like we were all zombies, subject to contagion if we shared even eye contact. I began taking walks and hikes with individual friends, at a distance of six or more feet, on breezy afternoons, realizing that such a practice allowed us to connect socially--a primary need--while also being safe. This wasn’t the same as “opening up” bars, concerts and venues for political speeches. This was just humans adapting safely to still-dangerous circumstances...taking care of ourselves and each other.
--Which brings me back to Vital Hemp. When I founded the company in 2003, I envisioned co-creating a large company, like “The Gap of Hemp,” one that brought hemp clothing back to the masses. With a lot of experience in academia and none in business or manufacturing, I did my best. In 2010, I moved production from China to Los Angeles, finding contractors and managing production myself.
Recently, a customer wrote to me, complimenting the fit of the garments he received, calling the bodies “on point.” That really made me happy, because I’ve paid a lot of attention to fit over the years. I used to joke that it was harder for me to make a good-fitting t-shirt than to write my 296 page dissertation! I haven’t always succeeded; and sometimes, when I’ve failed, I’ve felt like quitting. Several times….
But a larger commitment motivates me, one that I share with so many in the hemp community and in the larger community of vital ones, who understand and appreciate the necessity of creating and consuming more ecologically-friendly products--not just for ourselves, but for the common good. At times, I’ve felt that I didn’t choose hemp...that it chose me.
Through an uncanny sequence of events, I purchased a hemp shirt, felt the plant material on my body, felt more alive and connected with the world, and wanted to share this discovery with others. Over the years, I listened to the voice of the plant, even as I learned more about its beneficial qualities and uses from experts in the field. “Your work is not done,” it continues to tell me.
And yet, with a humble appraisal of my strengths and weaknesses, I clearly understand: I cannot do this alone. Several years ago, I read a book about business that spoke of three basic roles of an entrepreneur: the Visionary (founder/planner), the Engineer (maker, or operations person) and the Seller (sales/marketing person). For most of the last eighteen years, I’ve performed all three roles.
And while I still maintain and refresh the vision, I no longer have the will to overcome my deficiencies in the latter roles. I still love choosing colors, interacting with people in the vital booth at expos or festivals, and inspiring people through newsletters or talks; but these days, especially with e-commerce, the skill set requires so much more.
If I was 27 and not 57, I might know more about hashtags and marketing funnels. I might go back to school to learn about the finer points of garment construction and draping. And yes, I can still learn new things…. Nevertheless, I often challenge myself, like Brother Malcolm challenged Brother Sam: am I using my gifts in the best possible way?
After some early promise, I developed writing skills in graduate school at UC Berkeley, where I earned a Masters in Creative Writing and Doctorate in English and American literature, teaching Composition, Literature and Film History for ten years before discovering hemp. Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, an old friend who now runs a large, public cannabis company, hired me to write press releases. I found the work satisfying for a number of reasons. First, I could vastly improve the releases they were themselves composing. Second, I knew that in promoting the company, I was contributing to their success, that in turn affects all of us.
A few years ago, I visited the hemp fields of Kentucky, and experienced for the first time the palpable revelation of this tall, dense, renewable forest of sweet-smelling biomass. Hemp fields, I learned, sequester carbon more efficiently than many forests. I don’t know exactly how the California cannabis fields in Humboldt, Mendocino or Lake counties compare to hemp in terms of sequestering atmospheric carbon; but I do know those organically-grown plants grow tall and bushy too; and they serve so many healing purposes. Writing press releases for a cannabis company growing hemp’s healing cousin feels aligned with my vision of a healthier planet, and uses my gifts in service of that goal.
Perhaps this is a good time for all of us to consider: What are our greatest gifts? Are we using them in the service of a better life for all?
These are times when I believe we are called upon to work together; so I’m putting this out there--for me, Vital Hemp and a future we want to share: If you have an aligned company or organization, and want some expert writing or editing, reach out to me. My marketing team would berate me if I didn’t also mention the following: if you want to print your company logo on hemp t-shirts, hoodies or totes, please let us know.
Finally, if you want to invest, or become a part or partner in Vital Hemp, send me an email with your thoughts so that we can converse. To grow, we need to work with experts in areas where I lack the expertise, expanding our small, but vital team. I still very much want this hemp clothing business to grow, from adolescence into adulthood, to flourish into its potential, because those of us in the hemp world know, “It's been a long, a long time coming… but we know, a change gonna come. Oh yes it will.”
Thanks for being vital,
~Let Us Hemp You Out!~