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The Cannabis Economy: Marijuana Pioneers Clement Kwan and Mr Sherbinski

As weed becomes legal in more places, the founders of two of the category’s hottest lifestyle brands discuss its global potential.
Left to right: Nick Blunden, Mr Sherbinski and Clement Kwan | Source: Getty Images for The Business of Fashion

OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — For Mr (Mario) Sherbinski, the founder of California-based Sherbinskis, one of world’s fastest-growing cannabis brands, the fact that he was asked to participate in VOICES indicates that the luxury industry is ready to take the business of marijuana seriously.

"Cannabis has its rightful place here," he said onstage at BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate. "I'm here to carry the flag."

Sherbinski was joined by friend and colleague Clement Kwan, founder of California-based luxury cannabis label Beboe, in a conversation moderated by BoF chief commercial officer Nick Blunden that covered everything from their origin stories to their predictions for the future of the cannabis economy. In the past few years, the business of weed has been buoyed by increased legalisation, not only across the country of Canada earlier this year but also in several US States.

Now, Kwan and Sherbinski have partnered to develop a new strain for Beboe, which was called “the Hermès of marijuana” by the New York Times.

Sherbinski and Kwan, based in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, both started growing and selling marijuana in the Bay Area: Sherbinski after first pursuing a real estate career and Kwan when he was still college student.

While Sherbinski’s initial interest in the category was purely monetary, he realised that the substance can help with pain management after selling his first crop to Martin Olive, owner of the famous Vapor Room dispensary in San Francisco’s hippie Haight District. “Through Martin, I learned compassion,” he said. “I decided to put all of my energy into helping people.” Today, his street-inspired namesake label, a favourite among rappers and other entertainers, is often likened to Supreme and was the first cannabis company to be featured at ComplexCon. “I’m a flower brand,” he said. “It has to be high-end.”

For Kwan, the path to pot was more circuitous. After growing and selling, he trained and worked as a banker, moving to New York to pursue his interest in the business side of the fashion industry, working for Theory's Andrew Rosen then spending time at Diesel, D&G and Yoox in the US.

Kwan left Yoox in 2016 — in early 2017, he launched Beboe with tattoo artist Scott Campbell. “I decided that I was going to move from survival mode to thriving,” he said. “This [conversation] is about marijuana, which I love, but…the message that I’d like to say is that you don’t always have to be in survival mode.”

Akin to Sherbisnkis, the Beboe approach was nothing like the crunchy weed brands of the past: It was high touch and high fashion, focused on great packaging and low doses, making it appealing to a wider range of potential customers. “Scott said to me, ‘Let’s do something that’s beautiful; a shiny object speaks volumes.’” (Well-known seed investor Joanne Wilson was his first backer.)

As industry pioneers, both Kwan and Sherbinski are poised to capitalise on the rapid growth of the marijuana industry, which some insiders — including Bruce Linton, chief executive of marijuana company Canopy Growth — suggest is on track to become a $500 billion global market. But there are hurdles to overcome. Most significantly, federal legalisation in the US, which would presumably allow companies like Beboe and Sherbisnkis to sell across states. Only 10 states in the US have made weed fully legal, although about 30 have legalised it in some form.

Blunden asked the duo if they were feeling optimistic about the future. “I have to,” Kwan said. “You’re in it or you’re not; you can’t be in it just for a the money — we can make a billion dollars one day but it’s step by step.” Kwan said that being politically active on a local level — in his case, in California, where he has worked with governor-elect Gavin Newsom — is a start.

As for the luxury industry's role in all of this? Sherbinski encouraged major players not to dismiss the category, especially given its ability to make people feel good. “Be open to the magic and the power of the plant,” he said.

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To learn more about VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.

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