Meet Afends: the Australian hemp fashion brand

What's up with weed down under?

The Broccoli Report 
Friday, June 18, 2021
Time to read: 9 minutes, 7 seconds. 1824 words.

Afends shares their fashion-forward look at hemp in this globally-minded Report.

Welcome to the first-ever dispatch of a new, globally expansive series: What’s up with weed around the world? From time to time in the coming months, we’ll connect with creative entrepreneurs located in different cities and countries, asking them all our burning questions about their regional weed scenes, including its rhythms and notable players.

To start, we’re heading to Byron Bay, Australia, home of the cannabis-centric streetwear brand Afends. Founders Declan Wise and Jono Salfield grew up smoking and surfing in Byron Bay and started the brand in 2006, aiming “to bring hemp to the forefront of the fashion industry.” That mission turned out to be more challenging than they expected. In Australia, the definition of hemp varies from territory to territory, ranging from .1% to a whole 1% in THC content. (This is very different from the U.S., where the federal law establishing a .3% THC limit for hemp applies to all fifty states.)  Australian hemp cultivation rules are another obstacle. Some territories totally forbid hemp cultivation, while others permit it only for industrial purposes. All of this has driven Wise and Salfield to get creative and find ways to own their supply chain.

I chatted with Salfied over email to get a better sense of Australia’s weed scene and the future of hemp cultivation there. We discovered similarities and surprising differences between Australian and American cannabis culture right now, and he shared how the 100-acre piece of land Afends recently secured is going to be much more than just a hemp farm. 

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Set the scene for me: What is the legal status of cannabis and hemp in Australia?

JS: At the moment, to grow industrial hemp, you need a license from the Department of Agriculture. It’s about a three-month application and approval process with lots of paperwork. You need a prescription to get CBD, and it is only sold behind the counter at the chemist. If you want legal weed, you can go to your general practitioner; they will then give you a referral to a specialist, and then the specialist can prescribe you medical cannabis. Recreational cannabis is still a distant dream here in Aus. 

Has public opinion towards cannabis changed over the past five years in Australia? 

JS: We have seen a big change. People are starting to understand some of CBD’s health benefits, and it's starting to get more talked about. The stigma in general around cannabis is easing up, but we are still such a conservative country. If we had a referendum in Australia, we would probably get over the line with recreational cannabis, but it takes so much bullshit to that point. 

The vibe of Afends and Byron Bay’s weed scene seems akin to the surf and skateboard-centric, “California Dreamin’” weed culture. Is that the case across Australia? 

JS: Yeah, I think you nailed it. Byron Bay’s scene is probably closest to the California vibe before legalization. Surfers and skaters are pretty invested, but there is a wide range of people vibing to the culture. Byron is about 40 mins from Nimbin, which holds the yearly Mardigrass Festival and is known as the “weed capital of the southern hemisphere.” 

You smell fragrant hints all the time all around Byron. No one really cares that it’s illegal—we all smoke weed in the carpark before surfing, and if the cops catch you with less than 15 grams, they will just take your weed and give you a cannabis caution. But if you get more than two cautions, it could become an issue. 

There are other pockets of weed culture, but most parts of Australia are very conservative and closed-minded, unfortunately. 

Does social inequity come into play in the cannabis/weed scenes at all? I read that in New South Wales, police pursue 80% of Indigenous people caught with cannabis through courts.  

JS: I think Australia and the U.S. are similar in many ways, especially in how minorities are treated. The Indigenous people of Australia do get targeted for weed-related offenses. I personally have not been exposed to that social inequality, but it's an important topic of conversation moving forward to normalize cannabis use and eradicate the stigma equally. 

I’m curious about the CBD scene—are there tinctures in every grocery store and gas station, like they are here in the U.S.? 

JS: CBD only just became possible to buy over the counter in pharmacies as of Feb 1, 2021. It was downgraded from a Schedule 4 medicine (prescription) to a Schedule 3 medicine (pharmacist-only). So that part is definitely nothing like the U.S.! 

CBD has been on the market for pet food, but the CBD boom is still being squashed by legislation. I’m worried that it will be super controlled, to the point that a smaller, cottage-style industry like you have in the U.S. won’t be possible here in Australia. It will be big business only, which is super fucking sad, as CBD should be something that smaller businesses should be able to utilize in their products. 

Have you always been interested in hemp clothing?

JS: We have always been interested in weed. Growing up in the Byron and Nimbin area, we always had hemp-related products around us, but mainly at the local markets or torched alternative hippie-style stores. We always made tongue-in-cheek weed-related t-shirt graphics, but in 2015, we decided to try and make some shorts from hemp. We made this pair of psychedelic-looking swim shorts that were by far the coolest thing we had made to date. After that pair of shorts went to market, we decided to spotlight hemp and haven’t looked back. 

How hard was it to find a hemp supplier?

JS: When we first started making hemp clothing, we didn't know exactly what we were looking for, other than 100% hemp surf shorts. We struggled with sourcing quality hemp with a few of our factories, but when we found our main factory—which focuses on hemp-blended fabrics—it opened our eyes to the potential of hemp in fashion. 

What does the chain of production look like between the actual hemp farmer and Afends?

JS: Basically, after the hemp has been harvested, the farmer will decorticate the raw hemp stalks, separating the herd from the fiber. The farmer then sends the raw fiber off to a degumming facility, where they break down the fiber to be ready to be spun into a fabric. Our hemp factory spins all their own fabrics and also constructs the garments. 

Once hemp was solidly part of the Afends brand, how did you decide to bring in more cannabis messaging and imagery? Did it feel like a risky move? 

JS: We have had a lot of pushback with hemp/cannabis marketing—Facebook didn’t let us pay for marketing if the word “hemp” was in a caption. A few of the mall stores we stock were told to take down any marketing campaign imagery that featured a hemp plant in the background and the campaign words “Afends Hemp Revolution.” Also, multiple mums complained, saying we are promoting drugs. But we feel hemp is starting to get perceived differently now, as a lot of people are becoming more aware of the positive health and environmental impacts the plant can have on the world. 

It’s crazy how hard society makes it for hemp-related companies. We try to fly under the radar. We just purchased 100 acres of land to grow our own hemp. If we had told the bank our intentions, they wouldn't have given us the loan.

Ooooh, tell me more about that!

JS: We have been dreaming about owning a hemp farm for a long time. The land is amazing; it has natural streams running through the property and some high elevated areas with good soil health.

Our plan at the moment is to put the first fiber crop in the ground in October 2021. [Editor’s note: Remember, the seasons are reversed down under 🙃] The first crop will be about five acres, and we aim to grow about 10–15 tonnes of fiber. We want to see if we can make end-to-end clothing. Hemp is still not really a viable crop for farmers in Australia. The industry isn’t set up yet—there is only one decorticator in Australia (the machine that separates the herd from the fiber), and there isn’t a facility to degum the fiber. So it’s all just learning at the moment. In the future, we hope the property will be a place where you can stay in an eco-cabin nestled in the hemp field and learn about cannabis.  

Do you see Afends remaining solidly in the fashion scene, or do you have dreams of running a weed brand once Australia legalizes? 

JS: Haha—I’m pretty sure we will stick to fashion, but collaborating with cannabis brands would be fun! I’m pretty sure Australia won’t roll out cannabis like the U.S. did. If you want to grow, it will be extremely controlled and will cost a lot of money to set up the infrastructure that the government will require. So, we aren’t holding our breath, but it’s definitely on our minds as a consideration. 

Do you have a community—in Byron Bay and/or beyond—of weed-adjacent businesses like yourself?

JS: There are businesses in our shire making hemp pet foods and skincare, other fashion brands using a lot of hemp, plus a lot of CBD business that isn't legal at this stage. We have collaborated on hemp-related events, pulling together panel discussions on cannabis and various other things; worked on a few creative short films. Business growth around cannabis will be huge in the Byron Shire. All the main people in the Australian industry seem to live in the area—it’s ready to explode once the legislation changes. 

How would you like Australia’s cannabis industry to evolve? 

JS: I would like to see cannabis grow as a cottage industry and keep big pharmaceuticals out of the picture. What makes cannabis so special is its many uses, and there are so many industries that could use it. Imagine how good it would be if small start-ups could sell what they grow. If just the big companies are able to grow and sell, it will take the soul out of the industry. 

What makes our Sleepy Hollow Farm project so exciting is the combination of the different subcultures and creating a place for the community to do everything from growing organic veggies to setting up skate ramps and art projects. We will be able to bring people into our world and hopefully educate more people about the wonders of cannabis while they’re here. 

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If you are a creative cannabis or hemp entrepreneur based outside the U.S., let us know! Our international reporting is only just getting started. I’ll be back on Monday with the latest news and inspirational ideas in cannabis and hemp. 

Until then,
Lauren Yoshiko