Jungmaven Is Out To Make Hemp The New Cotton
ONE MAN’S QUEST TO MAKE THE PLANET BETTER ONE HEMP T-SHIRT AT A TIME
Menswear designer Robert Jungmann had a rude awakening in the mid-2000s when his outdoor apparel line, Manastash, ceased production. Disillusioned with the design industry, Jungmann questioned the amount of waste that comes with manufacturing in the fashion industry. "We wanted to show the world that you could make anything with hemp," says Jungmann. "And then one day I looked in our warehouse and we had a million dollars of dead stock."
With a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to streamline the bells and whistles of the fashion industry, Jungmann returned to the market with Jungmaven, a line of chill lived-in hemp t-shirts. Staying true to his earth-friendly ethos, Jungmaven boasts a decidedly simple aesthetic. The line is designed and produced in Los Angeles, CA, where indigo and vegetable-dyed hemp is cut and sewn into hoodies and henleys. Riding the same cozy wave that has buoyed brands like the CFDA-winning line The Elder Statesman and (even) Kanye West’s dystopian-chic Yeezy, Jungmaven dispels the crunchy hippie connotations that are often associated with hemp apparel.
But more than just raw material for comfy lounge wear, hemp has proven to be a way of life for Jungmann, who says that the industrious plant has taught him respect for the earth in profound ways. "Here's a textile that we can wear to enjoy the outdoors and also keep our natural playground alive," says Jungmann. We spoke to Jungmann about the global politics behind industrial hemp production and how embracing the plant can be stylish and sustainable at the same time.
How did you first get turned onto hemp as a material for your designs?
In 1993 I was going to college in WA state and had a professor say that we could stop cutting down all of the forests if we started growing and utilizing industrial hemp. That was my ‘ah ha moment’. At the time, hemp wasn’t grown in America, but luckily for me there was a hemp import business that emerged with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic were making and growing industrial hemp for canvasses for the Soviet Military, but there were no customers there. So a bunch of American doctors and lawyers went over there, started importing the hemp to the US and I had a contact for fabric.
I was an outdoorsy mountain guy—really big on mountain biking and climbing— so I started making rock climbing bags, camelbacks, jackets and pants. I basically made the stuff that I wanted to wear, eventually it caught on and people wanted to wear it.
I like to think of the Earth as our playground. We love taking care of it, so that we can continue to enjoy it. Nobody loves rock climbing, hiking or even mountain biking in a clear cut forest. With hemp we thought, here's a textile that we can wear to enjoy the outdoors and also keep our natural playground alive. You want to try to be doing something that gives back and hemp just naturally does that. It's a great textile for helping the soil and the earth.
Hemp is a pretty giving plant in terms of its myriad uses. Why do you think it’s been so under-explored as a resource in America?
It's really easy to go back in time and wonder why would this happen. It just seems crazy. I think it goes back to the whole saying of when you don't like the way something is working, don't try to fix it, try to make something that will make it obsolete. America is a capitalist country, here's this natural resource that’s in abundance that can provide so much. The thought process back then really boggles my mind. The great thing about today is that it’s taken from a different mindset and we're facing now noticeable changes in the environment and it's on the tip of everyone's tongue. It'll be interesting to see how sustainability and the environment plays out during the coming elections. I really hope that it’s a big factor because if there's anything the government should be doing, and us as a society, it’s trying to make this a more beautiful place for the next five generations. If we took that mindset and went forward, everything would be so much more beautiful.
Is it difficult for you to source hemp for your shirts?
We import our hemp from China, primarily for the knitwear. We used to import a lot from Europe. It's gonna be difficult for the US to compete in textiles. It'll be interesting to see. I hope we're able to make some clothing that has been grown with hemp here in the US. But realistically it doesn't seem that that would be the most viable common sense product to build out of the gate with hemp.
Hemp has a crunchy, hippie connotation around it. Is that something that you strive to step away from in your designs? Have you tried to make things more fashion forward?
I've just been designing for myself for the most part. My first line was Manastash, we made everything from coffee filters to golf bags and skateboards to jackets and pants. We wanted to show the world that you could make anything with hemp. It was so exciting! And then one day I looked in the warehouse and we had a million dollars of dead stock. I didn't want to get pigeonholed like I did with Manastash. So with Jungmaven, I streamlined everything and decided to just make a quality t-shirt and always have it in stock. I realized that t-shirts are walking billboards. Basically, it's the easiest way to get hemp on everyone's back. What we're selling with Manastash was so limiting. Our shirt line isn't for hippies or snowboarders or gardeners or librarians, it’s for everyone. That's the beauty of it.
I feel like it’s almost in style to opt out of fashion and stick to a uniform. Do you think the style world has come around to that?
I've definitely noticed that uniforms are on the rise. People seem to find who they are and they find their niche. I think that when we had the tough times with the economy in 2009 to 2011, people started taking a close look at themselves and deciding what's valuable here, what do I need? I can fit my whole closet into a decent-sized backpack: five jeans, four pairs of shorts, 10-12 t-shirts, some dress shirts and a sweater or two. People want to love everything that they own, instead of just liking a bunch that you don't care that much about. I really feel like this is the new future. Everyone wants to know where everything is made, and who is making the product and what they care about. I feel like now it’s so important to have a story about your line. Millennials are now voting with their dollar. They want to know what they're investing in. That's beautiful.
Do you think that consumers want to the values behind the brand to align with them as well?
I think companies that just hire someone to come in and crank out designs are really soulless. It reflects in the brand and you can tell. People are starting to not be totally driven by price because that's so empty. I'd rather pay a lot of money for something that has a beautiful story and quality. Fashion is a statement of who you are and who you want to be. It also protects the largest organ on your body: your skin. We're becoming more educated about what you put on it and what you're touching.
I was asked at our last trade show, if we're afraid that people will start copying our hemp t-shirt idea. I'm like, it’s so simple. Yes, please copy it everyone. That's the only way we'll get everyone in a hemp t-shirt. That’s our complete goal. We're trying to make a really cool thing that everyone wants to emulate and be a part of. We'll take the compliment and not look at it as competition. When you hear the word t-shirt right now, you just naturally think cotton. That's what most shirts are made of. We want that to change, so by 2020, you’ll think hemp.