Robert Jungmann has a bold mission: to see everyone in a hemp t-shirt by 2020. Why? As he learned camping in the Pacific Northwest woods at a young age, clear-cutting poses a major problem to life on earth, and hemp is the powerhouse solution that we need to turn it around now. On the heels of our limited edition collaboration with the brand, we talked to the man behind JUNGMAVEN about how he was inspired by nature, his hope for the future of hemp and why he chose plain t-shirts as the vehicle for his activism.
KF: When you first saw the impact of clear cutting in the Pacific Northwest woods, what made you turn your sights to hemp? Did you research any other plants or materials around that time?
RJ: We moved up here from Phoenix in 1984, but we would come up every weekend and we loved it – the volcanoes, water, trees – there were 4 kids in my family, and we moved up here when I was a teen. So I’m from a big family and growing up we came a lot, we’d go back every year. Around that time there was some massive clear-cutting in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1991, a professor of mine said we could stop cutting down trees if we grew industrial hemp in Washington. And at that time I didn’t know you could do anything with it aside from smoke it, so that was my a-ha moment.
I started making rock climbing bags, camelbacks, jackets and pants and, we made our own version of things to carry water in – I started making stuff I just wanted to wear. I called up the outdoor retailer show and I said I have a product that can help save our playground – the environment. That’s how it all began.
So I love outdoors, surfing, skiing, and all that, that was my main thing from the very beginning. This was, we’re talking ‘93 / ’94 – so quickly I was like, this is insane (hemp) isn’t legal, we need this plant, we should be using this. It uses hardly any water to grow, it’s good for the soil, so areas that are drought-ridden, like central California right now, could grow it. The more you read the more you’ll discover, like, they’re building cars and homes out hemp of Europe. It’s amazing.
KF: What was your personal relationship with hemp before you started JUNGMAVEN? What was the first hemp product that found its way to you?
RJ: There was a company called American Ember – around ‘93 or ‘94 in Seattle, they were a group of doctors and lawyers, they had the same ideas about hemp. When the fall of the Berlin Wall happened, they were growing and using hemp in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, but Russia wasn’t buying. So this group went to Romania and imported it back here. In the 90’s though, there wasn’t really anything that was like, ‘this is an amazing hemp product.’
My background was zero in fashion, I just knew what I liked to wear. I wanted to play around with (hemp). It’s a hearty, rugged fabric, so I started making tote bags, coffee filters, shorts, and that gave me the capital to start doing what I wanted to do on a larger scale. It was cool, I got to be close with the fabric supplier at the same time I became one of their manufactures. I was 23 and in college, I graduated and opened a retail store by the university in Washington.
We were lucky with that one – we grew in Japan quickly, this is at Manastash, my first company. I sold that in 2005 and started JUNGMAVEN at the same time, I tried to keep it real simple, because I tried to make everything at Manastash – shirts, coffee filters, etc. – you name it, I made it. It was fun, we wanted to show people you could make anything out of hemp. With JUNGMAVEN I wanted to become specialized. Like, a t-shirt is something, in my mind, that everyone wears. It’s a way we can introduce this textile to a lot of people.
KF: What kind of fashion research inspired JUNGMAVEN, if any?
RJ: In ‘93 I didn’t have any previous experience. I started taking courses in college but found it was kind of pointless. Now I have 25 years of experience doing this, I’ve worked with factories on a few continents.
I looked up to what Patagonia in the beginning. It was more than just slinging product, there’s a back story to it, a mission – I liked that. It opened up my eyes, it can be more than just clothes. My tastes always change, I skateboarded everywhere in Phoenix and Oregon. I always has hand-me-downs from my cousins, I was brand-oriented even though we couldn’t afford it – my mom would sew the OP brand on my shorts. I just knew what I liked.
When I started Manastash I went to Goodwill and looked for old cool stuff I wanted to make fresh and new. That’s how it began. Luckily when I opened my store the most famous used clothing store was across from me. I’m always looking for new ideas.
KF: Who’s someone you’d love to see in a JUNGMAVEN shirt?
RJ: We get a lot of celebrities, like Harrison Ford, we sent him some. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter who wears it, we’re stoked to see anyone in a hemp t-shirt. A lot of people want to put your stuff in grab bags and stuff, that doesn’t make sense to me.
That leads me to dispensaries. I go to a lot of dispensaries – Cali, Washington and Oregon is my playground, and we sell to one dispensary. It’s unbelievable that so many are supporting the industry that doesn’t want to see them legal – cotton. They’re just going for the cheap t-shirts.
Who goes into a dispensary and says ‘I want your shittiest weed?’ You don’t want to go into the store and get a shitty cotton tee that might shrink, or it wouldn’t be a good tee in a couple washes. I hope that changes. It’s surprising to me that the weed industry hasn’t embraced the hemp clothing industry. Both these industries are going after to the same end results. We support the weed industry always, so I hope it changes.
KF: What’s your vision for the #Hemp2020 campaign?
RJ: It was 2010 and the economy around the world was pretty much not going well – we were in a recession if not worse, and I wasn’t selling many t-shirts. I was trying to put myself ahead, I wanted to create what seemed like an absurd goal and (I thought) if I make it that crazy it might be something people want to get behind.
It was like, well we do t-shirts, if we grow more hemp and if we do more t-shirts, it’ll gobble up the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, etc. I was thinking, how do I set this up so people feel like they’re part of the solution? It seemed like everyone was depressed, it was a real downer time – so how can we get people pumped up on something?
I was like, let’s try to improve on the environment by doing something in a capitalistic way, but if we do a good job at it might be one of the cogs in the wheel that helps save us from extinction. That was where it came from. I was watching a lot of TED Talks at the time. It seemed like people needed a carrot.
We get a call or an email every week from someone saying they want to be a part of it and that they’re doing their part, and here’s our order. Soon 2020 will soon be over and we’ll have to think of what’s next. It’s so crazy, people will say, but it didn’t say everyone in a JUNGMAVEN t-shirt, but by 2020 you could just think hemp instead of cotton and that would have a place on the top shelf, that’s what we’re trying to do.
KF: What really excites you about some of the innovation we’re seeing with hemp these days? Any companies / products inspiring you right now?
RJ: We have new line coming out, new material, more 100% hemp fabrics. We also have new 100% hemp sheets and pillowcases that are kind of unbelievable. It’s a game changer. It’s like getting a giant hug all night. You wake up and your skin is like, ‘oh this is what I’m supposed to sleep in, this is what I slept in 1000s of years.’ Polyester is like is sleeping in oil, because it is oil. Your skin will be thankful for it.
KF: Any thoughts on the upcoming legalization of cannabis in Canada?
RJ: Congratulations to Canada legalizing marijuana this year. I hope it helps make weed more transparent so that people can make better informed decisions. We hope it bolsters industrial hemp production in Canada and gets more hemp in the ground.
Do your part and experience the magic of the hemp tee by shopping our limited edition collection of WDBX x JUNGMAVEN graphic hemp tees.
We’re celebrating Canada’s legalization the best way we know how, sustainability, style, and a bit of fun.