Cashing in on cannabis culture

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Retailers making a killing on marijuana inspired clothing

By Frances Cowley

It’s illegal to smoke it, roll it or sell it, but one college student is cashing in on it.

It’s marijuana, and it could be worth a fortune for Kevin Nielsen, who has joined the ranks of other companies such as Spliff, and Blunt, in capitalizing on marijuana’s appeal to young people.

TOK WEAR, a small clothing line made up of hats and t-shirts is the brainstorm of Nielsen,  a 21-year-old student from the Ontario College of Art.

Nielsen spends every day searching for new ideas for TOK WEAR, which he started selling in the summer of 1994. 

“I started off just selling it to my friends,” says Neilsen, who now has his clothes sold in 15 stores across Ontario including the Toronto Hemp Co. on Yonge Street and So Hip it Hurts on Queen Street.

The idea came to him from the back of a kid’s jacket.

“I saw the words TOK WEAR written in pen on the back of a kid’s green bomber jacket and thought it was cool,” Nielsen says.

“I started fooling around with graphics on my computer and thought ‘this is cool’ and took them to be screened onto shirts at Gorilla Graphics [a professional screening store in Mississauga].

After being turned down by Surf Paradise in Burlington and D Day Lounge on Yonge Street, Nielsen eventually started selling on consignment. 

“Now (stores) are placing orders and paying up front,” he says.

In order to make money Nielsen says he has to sell shirts to retailers for $12.50 each, who then double the price to $25.00.

“I wish (stores) didn’t sell them for so much. I don’t even like spending $25.00 on a shirt. It’s a rip-off, so I make less trying to keep the price down.”

Does he mind making money promoting drug use?

“(It’s) not about drugs, but attitude,” says Nielsen. “TOK WEAR is an association. Be more laid back, ‘don’t have a problem with (marijuana) and don’t judge someone because they do it.’ It’s not like I’m pushing heroin or crack.”

According to the American Clearing House for alcohol and drug information (ACH), marijuana can be linked to depression, loss of co-ordination, and respiratory damage. The ACH also says people who smoke pot are likely to move on to other harder drugs.

“I think kids who wear (clothes promoting marijuna) just do it to look cool and to get a reaction out of people,” says Bridget Hourihan, a 20-year-old student from the University of Toronto.

But some think differently of those who wear these shirts.

“When I see someone wearing (clothes with a marijuana leaf) it means ‘I do drugs,” says Jeff Smith, a 19-year old Ryerson electrical engineering student.

Despite that perception, Nielsen says his products are not made to shock or offend people.

“The shirts don’t have huge leaves on them, it’s not an ‘in your face’ kind of message,” Nielsen says.

“When people who (do drugs) see people wearing them they understand and get the idea. My best seller is the ‘Higher Intelligence’ shirts and there is only a small leaf over the i in ‘Higher’.”

Eventually Nielsen wants to produce a line of clothes made from hemp, the plant marijuana is harvested from.

“Within two months I should be selling jackets, hats and back packs made out of hemp,” Nielsen says.

“I’ll be one of the only hemp product suppliers in Ontario.”

Hemp products can be found in Cannabis Culture shops, such as Friendly Stranger on Queen Street, and the Toronto Hemp Co. on Yonge Street.

Hemp has gained respect among environmental groups, as its fibre is stronger than that of most other plants, and one acre of hemp can produce as much paper as four acres of trees.

When asked how much he wants to expand, Nielsen says he would not like to be too big.

“I don’t ever want to become trendy,” says Nielsen. 

“I think the key is to always be changing, that’s why I make a variety of shirts, and not too many of each. There aren’t enough of them to become trendy.

“I don’t want to quote Nike, but you would be surprised how little it takes (to start a business), you just have to go out and to it

“It is so easy,” Nielsen says.

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