As the cannabis industry braces for the impact of legalization, a new chapter in the retail sphere is already well underway.
What began on Etsy as a few whimsical ceramic pipes and hand-painted rolling trays has evolved into a high-end consumer experience focused on elegance and style.
Leading the charge is Hiku, one of Canada’s first cannabis brand houses. Armed with a small but growing portfolio of companies, it is taking a sophisticated approach to both ending stigma and seducing the modern consumer.
“We believe in creating from the product out,” says Trent Kitsch, president of Hiku and cofounder of Doja, a cannabis-lifestyle brand and licensed producer based out of the Okanagan Valley.
Hiku’s brands share the common goal of creating socially responsible, immersive retail experiences with a focus on providing a new level of luxury. The brand house operates a network of retail spaces, from storefronts and coffee shops across British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario to online hubs touting everything from hemp facial serums to 24-karat-gold rolling paper.
The key is to genuinely care about the consumer, says Alan Gertner, Hiku’s CEO. He says he hopes these products will play a much bigger role in global legalization.
“The whole [organization] from the ground up believes in the opportunity to fight stigma and drive normalization,” says Gertner, also a cofounder of Tokyo Smoke, a cannabis brand and coffee chain with several locations in Toronto and Calgary.
April Pride, founder and CCO of Van der Pop, agrees. While it’s hard to believe a cherry wood rolling tray or an Italian-leather stash bag is more than a costly ornament, Pride says it might be what it takes to bring cannabis-curious naysayers into the fold.
Based out of Seattle, the female-focused digital digest and high-end product line recently published a survey exploring North American women’s relationship with weed. The data revealed that 70 percent of respondents still feel stigmatized by their cannabis use; that number stays consistent for women even in jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized. This is a problem that Pride feels can be addressed with accessories tailored to their customers’ lifestyles.
“Products are the real gateway,” Pride says. “If what you’re seeing looks like it works in your life, your mind does open just a little bit.”
After the merger of Doja, Tokyo Smoke, and Van der Pop in January, the company changed their name to Hiku and began expanding its collective of heavy hitters. All three brands have garnered international recognition, resulting in a potential retail powerhouse. Its first acquisition, Quebec-based company Maïtri, is an up-and-comer with a strong social-media presence.
“We fight hard to find people that uphold the same values that we do and the same vision that we do regarding the way that the global cannabis revolution will happen,” Gertner says.
“One thing that runs deeply between all of us is a sense of authenticity and a sense of building community.”
Both Gertner and Kitsch say their drive to fight for cannabis came from a personal journey of discovery, and neither is fond of the social perceptions that still cling to their lifestyle.
“The [stoner] stereotype is not correct,” says Kitsch, who felt compelled to change the way the world views cannabis after learning from Rastafarians while living in the Caribbean region.
“We look forward to changing the picture of what cannabis is in people’s minds.”
Though both Gertner and Kitsch are keeping plans for future expansion into Vancouver under wraps, they share equally in their excitement about introducing Hiku to the city down the road.
“We recognize and respect the incredible role that Vancouver has and continues to have in building and defining cannabis in Canada and the world,” says Gertner.
“We would love nothing more than a chance to be a part of that.”