May - September 2017 - Vital Hempnewsletter
It’s been four months since I wrote a monthly newsletter. This is a record for being stuck in performing what I used to feel was one of the most enjoyable tasks of running Vital Hemp, and one (with my Berkeley Ph.D. in English) for which I felt most suited. Some counsel me to keep the newsletters light and breezy; but running a company isn’t always flowers and rainbows. Sometimes it’s mud and stormy rain. And I’d be doing a disservice to the truth if I pretended otherwise.
I believe the lag in writing has to do with precisely this feeling of not wanting to share the muck in which I found myself. This muck began with a profound feeling of betrayal, and a perfectionistic tendency with which I still struggle. I’d like to address both here, because they also relate to ways of moving beyond those limiting ways of being into ways that will surely create more vitality for Vital Hemp and those who feel the warm spirals of our offering.
Several months ago, I found that a close associate, who I had trusted for years, had betrayed me. Ironically, I discovered this on Earth Day, the day I founded Vital Hemp (back in 2003), with a mission to participate in the healing our wonderful, life-supporting planet. The discovery sent me into a state of despair. Over the course of weeks, I went through all the stages of grief that one feels when losing a loved one.
Simultaneously, there was much to do: people to hire and train; styles to refine and move into production; a website to update…you can imagine the drill. Although I had thoughts of packing it all in, I went through all the motions, doing my best to keep optimistic, to keep looking toward a future I wanted to share. I taught my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels, and experienced a peak moment as I ran behind her, yelling “keep peddling,’ before letting go of that seat and watching in teary joy as she rode into the expanse of her afterschool playground….
So, about that betrayal: it has taken months to get over that feeling. I decided not seek justice, but instead to communicate. And after a while, to communicate again. To share the feelings, and to listen, to be curious, to attempt to understand, to seek resolution and forgiveness. In the end, I found that I was not the only one suffering. My associate also suffered. The nights I spent unable to sleep, he shared. And though I initially considered myself a victim, in the end I realized that I also participated in a kind of betrayal, a betrayal of my own vision for the company.
Vital Hemp was never meant to be a hobby or a casual job that afforded me time to go surfing. I admire Yvon Chouinard’s story Let my People Go Surfing not because he privileges this great activity above all else; but because the freedom to surf when the waves are great reflects jobs well-done at Patagonia, and a healthy respect for a work-life balance that transcends the punch card clock.
In this time of reckoning between the Jewish New Year and our Day of Atonement, my process of being “at-one” includes taking responsibility for the ways I “missed the mark.” In the little bit of world that comprises Vital Hemp, I have not achieved even a fraction of what I hope to for the company, its employees and customers. I stretched myself too thin, taking on responsibilities that would have been better delegated to others—COO, Designer, Production Manager, etc…. I can rationalize this arrogance by claiming we didn’t have enough money; but then, we could have sought and accepted investors or partners. In the end, I ran a loose ship with too few crew, and a direction that zigzagged across the horizon in search of a paradise that will forever elude us if we don’t chart a better course. OK, I could continue with the chest-pounding (and still do so privately); but even more, I forgive myself and commit to a better year ahead. If I have let you down in some way, will you forgive me?
I want to move onto the next mortal peccadillo: perfectionism.
Just as a form of perfectionism has kept me from publishing a newsletter for months, it has also at times curtailed the flow of production. “The Women’s Anywhere Pants could be better,” I say to myself, and delay production as we go through yet another round of sample/fit/modify pattern/sample—only to learn that I might have gone ahead with it, and it would have been fine…and meanwhile, the Summer passes, along with those customers who wanted the light, breezy pants in their color and size!
I delay the wholesale line sheet because we need new photos, and delay the photo shoot because I want to shoot the new line…you know, the new line that was delayed because it wasn’t perfect. I imagine this cycle plagues many businesses.
Sometimes, this tendency has yielded beautiful results, as when, after a year in development, I finally put our Von Furstenberg-inspired wrap dress into production. Each time a woman tries this on and falls in love with it, I feel as though the vision of Vital Hemp takes a few more elegant steps forward in the world. Gone the baggy, shapeless designs of hippies and pirates; welcome the future of hemp fashion! Nothing’s perfect all at once; but if we keep the flow going, we approach the paradise we envision, little by little.
In the same way, we’ve participated in, and witnessed the positive change in laws governing industrial hemp in the USA, cheering as each state legalized the crop, and as our Federal government passed a bi-partisan Farm Bill that changed the Oil-Petrochemical and Timber-made prohibition laws that never served us in the first place. Now farmers in thirty-three states can now grow industrial hemp, albeit under strict conditions. Soon, we will treat this crop as any other (soy, corn, cotton, tobacco), except that we will reap the many benefits—economic, technological, ecological--without the need for the damaging aspects of GMO engineering, intense pesticide use, or massive water consumption. Our growing industry will continue to persuade Congress to act positively for our farmers, our health, and our economy; and to legally challenge the DEA to de-classify hemp, removing the antiquated, irrational classification (and penalties) of Schedule One, the same class as cocaine, meth- and heroin).
The industrial hemp industry is evolving alongside this legislative evolution. We don’t need to change the building industry all at once; but hemp companies now produce hempcrete, that is healthier, stronger, lighter, more insulating and mold-resistant than traditional concrete. Think it’s just a granola-permaculture thing? Check out “hempcrete Marks and Spencer” in Google images to see what a hempcrete building looks like.
Hemp bioplastics haven’t replaced even the tiniest fraction of disposable, petroleum-based plastics on Earth; but BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi are currently using hemp-based bioplastics for the interior body panels of their high-end models. Why? Because the hemp-based bioplastics are stronger, lighter, and don’t off-gas. Plus, the parts can be composted at the end of their life-cycle.
When we co-create a world in which we replace plastic with hemp-based bioplastic, we will also replace the material source of immense dead zones in our oceans with plant-based matter than composts! Rather creating pollution to process the dead petroleum into dead plastic, our future transforms hemp, a living, breathing crop that is the most effective industrial crop for cooling the globe. According to Patagonia, for every ton we harvest, hemp sequesters 1.62 tons of atmospheric carbon. By growing hemp, we cool the globe!
This, Vital Ones, is the future we want to see, a future that is now happening in the USA. Earlier this month, I travelled to Lexington, Kentucky for the annual Hemp Industries Association (HIA) Conference. As impressive as the talks on how hemp-derived CDB products replenish our very own endocannabinoid system (look that one up, Curious Ones) with measurable healing effects, the highlight of the trip was a visit with hundreds of hemp businesspeople to the hemp fields of Kentucky!
These were no backyard grows, but full-fledged, productive farming operations (with processing machinery onsite), run by old tobacco farming families, who saw the future of tobacco going down, and the rising future of hemp. With generations of expert knowledge and research conducted by the University of Kentucky’s agricultural program, these farmers are sowing the seeds of a better future for all of us. And what a crop! Standing at the edge of an American industrial hemp field, gently pulling a stalk down, and breathing deep the sweet and slightly-pungent fragrance of these majestic plants as I smiled into the wide-smiling faces of my companions, constituted a peak experience for me, and many who have been working with imported hemp products for more than a decade. Another great moment came when longtime Canadian hemp producer/entrepreneur, Shaun Crew, accepted the HIA Lifetime Achievement Award wearing one of our forest long sleeves.
When I started Vital Hemp in 2003, I did so with a mission to be a part of the movement to re-legalize the cultivation of this useful, valuable crop in the USA. I don’t know what part I’ve played (or will play); but I do know, it’s hempening! I thought the project would take no more than ten years. We’re now in year fourteen of Vital Time, and not done yet. And Vital Hemp will continue to clothe and equip our citizenry with the best hemp products we can make, changing attitudes that will support our common goals—because it’s really hard to demonize a plant that made your favorite t-shirt. And if some people say it’s a perfect t-shirt, we won’t complain…. This process is painful at times, imperfect, and doesn’t happen all at once; but we’re on the way, and to quote some old hempsters, “What a long, strange trip it’s been….” Thank you for being a part of it with us.
Thanks for being vital,
~satisfy your hemptations~