Discover more from Sticky Bits by Lauren Yoshiko
There is only one luxury cannabis brand.
Defining luxury beyond buzzwords.
The Broccoli Report
Friday, May 20, 2022
Time to read: 5 minutes, 58 seconds. 1196 words.
What does it mean to be a luxury cannabis brand—or industry?
Let me tell you the story of a brand. Devambez started in the 1800s as a fine paper printer making royal stationery and early Hermès ads. Later, Maison Devambez served as an art gallery and printed art books, like a celebrated tome cataloging the legacy of Goyard, the legendary luggage-makers. In 2017, they debuted a line of rolling papers at famed Parisian boutique Colette. In the years since they have continued to elevate the humble rolling paper into something rare and exquisite—their papers are made with French hemp by paperiers with over a century of experience, packaged in 100% cotton cardstock from one of Europe’s oldest paper mills, and assembled by hand. They just dropped a true watercolor pre-roll, each hand-painted with dyes Audrey Louise Reynolds made from foraged plants. And yes, they’re expensive—$20 for a simple pack, $88 for the Imperial pack of 32 papers and accompanying crutch tips.
When I wrote about Devambez’s watercolor pre-rolls, I was struck by how special their brand feels—it’s truly a unique combination of legacy, expertise, care, and materials. In a word: it’s luxury.
Luxury is a slippery concept—famously, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined porn as “you know it when you see it”, and the same could be said of luxury. Our read on what’s luxurious is highly personalized. This doesn’t stop marketers eager to claim a little luster. And the market opportunity is there—luxury sectors saw growth over the past couple of years. The notion of luxury is having a pop culture moment, too, as the world reopens and the youth makes up for lost time with glittery, anti-minimalist fervor. So it’s no surprise that the language of so-called "luxury" is everywhere in marketing, from crappy apartments (ahem, “luxury studios”) to actual crap. And boy, do we use it a lot in weed. I get it—besides the allure of claiming a higher price point, there’s the assumption that high-end branding not only legitimizes a brand but also works to destigmatize the plant. And what brand doesn’t want to be rapped about like Louis Vuitton?
But the concept of luxury is not an unalloyed good. While benefits could come from getting it right, there are real problems with this whole conversation.
Economic theorists identify five key components of luxury: rarity, tradition and history, excellent quality and craftsmanship; aesthetic beauty; and costliness. While something doesn’t have to have all of these elements to be a luxury, most do. Devambez has all five. And inspiringly, the brand has its own notions of how a luxury brand comes to be. The current team—who remain anonymous as a branding choice—had this to say:
“Historically, no traditional luxury house was ever started by a person claiming to be luxury. You have to march to the beat of your own drum to make something truly exceptional, so when creating high-end branding, the worst thing you can do is imitate.”
These are words to live by. I love to encounter a founder who is true to who they are, despite what the rest of the room is doing—that shines through in what they create and makes it interesting. That singularity—that specialness—is rare, and it is deeply appealing.
Process is important here, too. A tremendous amount of care goes into each step, from sourcing the materials and crafting that product to getting it into customers’ hands. Doing things with that degree of care costs money; paying artisans fair wages costs money, so the end product is inevitably more expensive. The time-consuming process means a low supply and thus rarity. Something mass-produced cannot be luxurious. It’s about doing the opposite of optimization for speed and profit.
Thinking about these two elements—rarity and craftsmanship—is a reminder that luxury is not just about a price point. Anyone can make something expensive, but not everyone can make something special.
The cannabis industry’s fraught history complicates notions of tradition and “legacy,” a word beloved by luxury brands that our industry increasingly leans on to describe folks active in the days before legalization. To my mind, legacy farmers—particularly the award-winners—are probably best positioned to become the industry’s true luxury brands. The old-school “I have a legendary story about how I got this seed” growers, who have often grown for years simply for the love of the plant, have rich, irreplaceable histories and generations of expertise passed down with care, and those traditions are the rootstock of luxury.
For the industry to develop true luxury brands, it’s imperative these craft growers endure. They are our strongest foundation for legitimizing craft prestige and the holders of our history. However, to survive, cultivators will have to find a way to successfully organize and legitimize a pedigree system that demonstrates quality in an accurate, trustworthy, and broadly understood way to demonstrate higher value—all of which will take time.
Weed-adjacent brands have less of a slippery hill to climb. Cannabis themes can easily infuse established sectors—for example, luxury cannabis jewelry already exists—while it’s only a matter of time before rising brands get a little luxury shine through partnerships with bold-face luxury brands, like weed-friendly fashion houses. And brands can use established craft cultures to add depth to their offerings, like working with fifth-generation ceramicists to fashion beautiful bongs.
But I think there is another way to think about luxury, one with wider implications for the industry.
It’s About Time
I’ve written before that we stoners deserve nice things, and I believe it. Yet, something about the marketing of luxury in the cannabis realm can feel insincere, even gross—less of a cultural advance than a gesture toward mirroring a deeply problematic mainstream marketplace where certain brands exist merely to signify wealth. Instead of replicating this reality, cannabis could upend it.
Craftsmanship, quality, rarity, and history all involve time, which in the endlessly scrolling, always hustling 21st century is one of our greatest luxuries—yet one anyone can claim. We’ve all got the same number of hours in a day. While the notion of luxury may be in flux, time will always be precious and finite. And enjoying cannabis is about claiming time—time to relax, to be silly and goofy, to be alone, to be with friends, time for yourself. By honoring that and by treating every aspect of the experience with care—from the way the plant is grown to how we make the tools we use to enjoy it—and by fighting to make sure everyone has access, we can build an industry that is inherently luxurious but not exclusive.
Luxury is, after all, mostly a story we tell—a story about what’s valuable. But value is not just a price point. I want more brands like Devambez—brands that care about every aspect of what they make and follow through. I want legacy growers to be celebrated and honored like the legendary artists they are, and I want to see them thrive. I want our industry to be craft-focused, conscious, and thoughtful so that cannabis is legitimized for the right reasons. The plant’s worth it.
Valuing each and every one of you,