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Can a Cannabis Brand Sell High Fashion?

With its hit fleeces and edibles, Sundae School has made a name for itself as a “smokewear” label. With its first runway show, the brand is looking to establish itself as a fashion force, too.
Sundae School sells streetwear inspired by Cannabis and Korean culture.
Sundae School sells streetwear inspired by Cannabis and Korean culture. (Sundae School)

Sundae School is aiming high.

The brand, which is known for its cannabis-inflected apparel — dubbed “smokewear” — and most recently, its cannabis products like edibles and pre-rolled joints, on Thursday – 4/20 – held its first fashion show, in New York.

Hosted in the upstairs level of the interactive museum The House of Cannabis in Soho, models paraded down the runway in clothes that paid homage to the city they were being shown in. Looks included a cropped version of an FDNY jacket, garments featuring maps of the New York subway, an ensemble centred around a hot dog (a New York street cart delicacy), and a collage of t-shirts with a New York knicks jersey even at the centre. One model even wore a teal-coloured ensemble carrying a torch with a multi-pronged crown on her head, a nod to the Statue of Liberty.

There were, of course, plenty of cannabis references — it was 4/20, after all. Throughout the show, puffs of smoke rose overhead, and the pungent smell of cannabis swirled in the air. One model wore a translucent bikini filled with flower, another a clear skirt covered in pockets for Sundae School’s mochi edibles. For the closing look, a model wore a voluptuous black ballgown, paired with a black graduation cap and a purple stole embroidered with the words “Sundae School.” As she reached the end of the runway, she pulled a joint and a lighter out of her pocket, lit the joint and took a hit before walking off.

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But amid those winks to New York and cannabis were plenty of fashion-forward moments: A multi-tiered tulle skirt in light blue, a metallic corset worn over a slouched Oxford shirt, a brown, fluffy puffer jacket (a coming arrival to the brand’s collection of outerwear), suits with Korean-inspired details in a fusion of leather and wool and more.

It was something of an expansion for a brand that is best known for its fleece jackets, which come in a variety of bold prints and colours and have been spotted on a slew of celebrities, including Kaia Gerber, Pete Davidson and Jacob Elordi. Now, Dae Lim, Sundae School’s founder, creative director and principal, says that the brand wants consumers to come to them for more than sweats and fleeces. It’s also grown its focus when it comes to cannabis products: It now sells its mochi gummy edibles in 250 stores across California.

Sundae School is perhaps the most visible brand in fashion that’s hitched itself to cannabis’ wagon. Weed merch, as it’s often called, is a space that has grown in size and popularity as the legalisation of cannabis has spread across the globe. There’s the true merch labels like Mister Green and Cookies, which sell graphic tees, hoodies, hats and more featuring weed references and images. Then there’s fashion-first companies like accessories label Edie Parker, which rolled out a Cannabis-focussed sub-label, Edie Parker Flower, in 2019, which sells items like pipes shaped like a balloon, a leather clutch with a built-in lighter, pre-rolls and rolling papers.

Sundae School, however, wants to bridge the gap between the two — be a full-fledged fashion brand that has cannabis as well as Korean culture, at the centre.

“They really are thoughtful about building out a brand world for the type of people who want to buy and wear their clothes,” said Verena von Pfetten, the co-founder of cannabis-centric publication Gossamer.

Sundae School's first runway show paid homage to New York City.
Sundae School's first runway show paid homage to New York City. (Sundae School)

From Smokewear to Streetwear

The idea for Sundae School first came to Lim while at home in Seoul, South Korea, in 2017, then working as a management consultant. The name is a nod to Lim’s strict Christian upbringing, and the brand tries to be subversive with religious texts. The theme of its show, for example, was “Let There Be Light,” and even the name “Sundae School” is a reference to religious education.

“We want to play with the gravity and the levity that cannabis brings in our minds,” said Lim.

From the start, the common thread in all of Sundae School’s garments was comfort, clothes that someone could wear when they were high, loose enough to accommodate the “munchies.” It started with sweats, and most notably, its fleeces, which became a viral hit. Today, Lim said, the fleeces still make up over 50 percent of its revenue in the fall and winter.

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The brand mostly remained in that space in part because “we were so limited in what we could do,” Lim said. The design team was small, and Lim himself didn’t have a technical fashion background.

In 2021, it launched actual cannabis products — a natural next step for the brand, though a space that was harder to break into, for both regulatory requirements and the fact that despite the history as a cannabis-adjacent brand, many in the industry didn’t take them seriously, said Lim. But time in the space, he said, has helped build their credentials. Selling actual cannabis products, too, helped further legitimise its cannabis-inspired clothing.

Now, it’s turning its attention to building a capital-F fashion brand. It hired Jonathan Lee as design director in 2022, with the aim to broaden what the brand was able to create in apparel. That led to the creation of garments like matching sets with floral-sequin appliques, or cargo pants with a waist tie inspired by Hanbok, a traditional Korean garment, or a leather jacket with cinching at the chest, another nod to Korean fashion.

Keeping Korean culture at the centre of the brand is another priority, almost as deeply rooted in Sundae School’s ethos as cannabis is. The goal with an expanded cannabis and clothing assortment (it’s launching vapes later this year) events like last night’s show is to bring fans further into the brand’s world.

“We’re able to make more of these innovative pieces that have a taste of our Korean American culture,” said Lim. “The next step is how to view it all together and tell a holistic story.”

One look at Sundae School's show included a translucent skirt with pockets for the brand's edibles.
One look at Sundae School's show included a translucent skirt with pockets for the brand's edibles. (Jason Crowley/BFA.com/Jason Crowley/BFA.com)

The Cannabis Clothing Category

Sundae School’s own trajectory mirrors what’s happening at the intersection of cannabis and fashion at large. For cannabis brands, fashion has been a way to expand their assortment that’s relatively simple compared to the minefield of cannabis regulations.

“In cannabis specifically, it’s a business that cannot sell a product outside of a specific state or outside of specific stores within that specific state,” said von Pfetten. “Merch, clothing, collaborations are all a way for that brand to have a far bigger reach.”

But even though regulations remain complicated, the changes that have occurred so far — plus growing cultural acceptance — has meant that for fashion brands, cannabis is a newly-opened avenue to connect with consumers.

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Von Pfetten, however, warns that brands hopping on board the cannabis train should be wary of feeling too much like a gimmick. For consumers to buy in, it has to feel true to the brand’s overall vision. She pointed to Seth Rogen’s House Plants brand, which sells cannabis-inspired homewares, as another example of a brand that’s successfully tapped into the market, because of the actor’s long-standing stoner reputation.

“When someone just throws a leaf on something or a designer does it for a single collection, and it ends up just feeling very like one off,” she said.

She added that the relatively slow uptake of cannabis legalisation has meant that some consumers have already tired of the trend. Von Pfetten said she’s already seeing some brands start to experiment with the next frontier of sorts, psychedelics.

Further Reading

Why a Handbag Brand Is Betting on Cannabis

Red carpet-regular Edie Parker is betting handbags and fashion-forward cannabis can sell side-by-side, as founder Brett Heyman plots fall expansion for her ‘Edie Parker Flower’ line.

Cannabis for the One Percent

Retailers are vying to be the Net-a-Porter, Goop and Sephora of CBD, seeing the cannabis-derived product as the next big thing in luxury beauty. One obstacle: CBD is still not entirely legal.

About the author
Diana Pearl
Diana Pearl

Diana Pearl is News and Features Editor at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and drives BoF’s marketing and media coverage.

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