Who is that rocking a Comme des Garcons pullover and Rick Owens shoes, waiting in line to buy cannabis, looking very fashion forward?
It’s hard to tell anymore; since everyone loves weed, there are so many possibilities. If they’re wearing a navy Italian wool suit, does that mean they just left the accounting, law, or banking firm? Does a denim jacket and V-neck suggest bartender or venture capitalist? Sometimes it’s easy. If they’ve still got the white coat on they’re probably a pharmacist or lab tech.
But if they’re that well dressed? Then most likely it’s cannabis style icon Ophelia Chong.
A visual species
Ms. Chong is the founder of Stock Pot Images, a photography company that provides realistic portrayals of cannabis users to media outlets looking for visuals more diverse than those usually employed by mainstream press. She started the company because she knows that no matter how hard we might try, we make our initial evaluations based on empirical evidence.
“We are a visual species, we judge on first looks, we determine whether it’s flight or fight, love or hate.”
When searching for accurate representations in the media of the cannabis users she knew, however, Ms. Chong was disappointed. Most stories were happy to lead with the traditional images of tie-dyed smokers lying on the grass, images that might seem harmless at first, but actually reinforce outdated ideas counterproductive to ending prohibition.
“We also use stereotypes to put people in compartmentalized boxes out of fear, and because we really don’t want to know who they really are. The majority views users of cannabis as ‘stoners’ or ‘potheads’ because they were fed that line of thinking; it was a way of keeping cannabis users in line, to keep them from ‘coming out.’ My mission is to de-stigmatize the public’s view by providing real and true images of the cannabis community.”
Mom-and-Pot Urban Outfitters
On Portland’s riverfront, Saturday with Mary Jane brings that fashion philosophy to the retail space, where storeowners Alex Liberato, Brielle Linna, and Sarah Jane Gallegos and have curated products based on their own very on-trend taste. High-end eco friendly ‘Art as Activism’ t-shirts, classy socks, and custom wooden iPhone cases line the shelves of this hip downtown boutique. They don’t sell any cannabis, and they don’t look like anything like a dispensary. More of a Mom-and-Pot Urban Outfitters, which might be why they get so many customers who have never purchased the plant before.
Far from tucked away in an industrial park on the outskirts of town, Saturday with Mary Jane sits proudly on the Riverplace Harborside Marina, surrounded by four-star restaurants and upscale hotels. Along with keeping the emerging cannabis community looking great, they host weekly podcasts and serve as a cannabis concierge for the curious tourists who wander in after a day spent shopping at Michael Kors or Anthropology.
It’s an obvious entryway for new users, people who might not feel comfortable stepping into a dispensary on their first day in Portland, but who recognize and feel safe in a classy boutique. Once they’ve been properly attired and informed, they can take the next step, with some help from Mr. Liberato: “We send a lot of people to the dispensary down the street.”
High culture & counter-culture
Options like Saturday with Mary Jane, for the fashion focused cannabis lover, are multiplying, another indication that we’re choosing high culture as much as counter-culture. This transition will certainly impact the way the external world views the cannabis community, because style does more than merely satiate our vanity. It can demonstrate preferences and priorities, communicate essential messages about identity and values.
Mainstream society is starting to understand what we’ve always known: cannabis use shouldn’t be hidden; it should be celebrated. The more nonusers see people they recognize benefiting from medicinal or recreational cannabis, the more they see it as an option for themselves. We are a “visual species.” Fashion has a role to play in this movement.
Ophelia Chong, both effortlessly supercool and a vocal supporter of the cannabis movement, advances her agenda by running a successful company that injects real change in the world. She knows, though, that a small part of that work starts each morning in her closet.
“My favorite designer is Yohji Yamamoto. When I am meeting new people, they see me and how I am dressed, and I say ‘I use cannabis.’ From that moment on a prejudice is dispelled.”