THTC is a brand that has been trying to change the public perception of hemp for over 20 years. We sat down with founder Gav Lawson to learn more about the brand and find out what the future holds.
Tell us about you and your brand?
THTC was set up by myself, my brother and a friend called Dan Sodergren in 1999. THTC was preempted by a university society in Hull called Hempology, which my brother and a bunch of his mates set up to run alongside a couple of student club nights and hand out display samples of hemp, in all its forms available at the time and information. Everyone who joined the Hempology society would be given a card which gave them a few pounds off for the club night and it really started as a way to talk about cannabis.
It became the second biggest society in Hull after the Football Society pretty quickly so it got this real traction. I’d been studying advertising at UWE in Bristol and we decided to set up THTC as a means to bring hemp to the high street. Essentially we wanted to raise awareness of hemp and shed its hippie image so we decided the best way to do this would be to launch a clothing brand.
Because hemp is expensive we figured the easiest and most cost-effective way to build the brand was to put big prints with advertising on the front of t-shirts and give them to musicians, DJ’s, MC’s, actors, comedians. From the first 8 designs that we had one or two of them were pretty political. One was just ‘Burn, Bu$h, Burn’ which became our best selling t-shirt by a distance. We came up with a ‘George Bush family butchers’ print soon after that, which outsold everything else by about ten to one. So we really focused on politics and political prints. Hemp is a political plant anyway, anyway, so that kind of became our niche.
How different was it back in 1999 and the early 2000s, when hemp was even more of a political plant, then as it is now?
We were pre-social-media so we had to make a bit of noise, we got quite a lot of interest from the press because of it. Channel 4 commissioned a documentary on us called ‘The Power Of Choice’ which you can see on Youtube which was a big, big break for us. We managed to get into Virgin Megastores, we were the first ethical hemp product to be stocked in there and, soon after, TK Maxx.
When the Hyde Park and Brockwell Park cannabis legalisation marches and protests were kicking off, we were embraced by people like Mark Thomas and Rob Newman, you know, comedians and that type of ilk, they really got behind us and pushed us. Our brand just seemed to hit a chord with a lot of people. Not just because of the politics or because of the fact it was hemp. We wanted to shed hemp of its hippie image but any time we had a feature in any kind of magazine or newspaper they would link hemp to weed, the headline would always be weedy. We avoided putting weed leaves on our branding, we wanted people to look at the weed leaf and see a hemp leaf and not think of it as just weed but think of it as the most useful plant on the planet and ask questions.
All the other hemp companies out there that we saw would be very outspoken on their opinions about cannabis legalisation. We went on the weed marches but we tried to disassociate the two within the THTC branding. We wanted professionals to be able to wear our brand without feeling judged by other people’s opinions on hemp and cannabis.
Now obviously 20 years later the law reform has been so drastic that cannabis no longer carries so many negative connotations. We’ve come a long way. You can now treat a kid with cancer with cannabis, so it’s harder for the Daily Mail to spread their mistruths. People’s minds have started changing. There are a lot of hemp brands and hemp products on the market these days. CBD has changed things. Cannabis is still a highly politicised plant, but for different reasons.
Your roots establish themselves alongside club nights – was that luck or strategy?
We appeal to the same sort of ideals as most skate brands or surf brands – an outdoorsy nature kind of vibe. We needed to align with something we all love which was music and although we tried to disassociate smoking with hemp most people who go raving smoke weed. So it was kind of an easy sell. Generally quite political as well, for example, hip-hop, we like the ethics and values of original hip-hop culture. So really, the scene accepted THTC to such an extent when I’d met one or two artists in that, for example, a lot of the jungle MCs in Bristol, they were very forthright with their contacts. We were sending stuff to Goldie, Mickey Finn, Randall, Stamina MC and MC GQ. And then all of a sudden it kind of escalated. It was a pretty easy and a fairly logical progression to then really focus on music, particularly reggae, hip-hop, jungle, which is the music that I love.
People were very excited about this brand and it was powerful seeing other people’s excitement at what we were doing. I’ve very rarely reached out to someone with a T-shirt that actually said “No, that’s not for me” – even if they don’t smoke weed – they believe in environmentalism and all the positive points cannabis brings to the table.
So if I can reach someone they’ll usually put a THTC t-shirt on, which is something that a lot of brands don’t have. I feel humbled when I’m at Boomtown for instance and there’s a guy on stage shouting ‘THTC’ in front of 5000 people. Nike doesn’t get that unless they pay through the nose for it, so THTC does appeal to a lot of people because there’s something in it for almost everyone. Even if it’s treating your workers fairly or living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. We can all change our buying habits to make the world a slightly better place.
You’re more outspoken on Social Media than most brands. Do you find yourself getting into any trouble?
My brother left the brand in 2008 and Dan had left a couple of years before that so for many years it’s just been myself. I was joined by a friend who came on board and took over our social media and he really helped to build the Facebook page from 20,000 to 80,000 followers, over 5 years. He’s more radical than I am, we sometimes had fallouts and arguments about how we speak to people and the content – we usually agree on what’s being said but not necessarily on how it’s being said.
I still think the best way to change somebody’s opinion is not to shout at them or insult them but try and to build bridges to open a dialogue and seek to understand their point of view. That even goes for racists. People aren’t born racist – they end up becoming racist because of the people and media they are surrounded by.
I am the first to admit that our social tone is over-aggressive, sometimes. As many people as we lose from our outspoken views, a lot of people actually love us because of it, because we’re not afraid to call out companies like Primark or BP who put profits before people and planet. But when it comes to people it becomes a bit more personal. So I’m trying to make sure the voice and the tone are more accepting. But yeah, sometimes it does get us into trouble!
Do you think we are close to legal adult access cannabis, or will politics make it about personal profit?
If there is an opportunity to thrive after Brexit, there’s no better industry to get behind than cannabis. We do have an opportunity. It’s been proven in the US that it can work and you can make serious tax revenue from cannabis production. Now places like Jamaica and Thailand, even Malaysia, countries that you never would have thought would have decriminalised or legalised cannabis are doing so. I think the UK is well positioned to make money out of cannabis if it’s done right. I’d be much more confident if we didn’t have the Tories in charge at this particular moment, but there are opportunities, so let’s see what happens. In terms of just allowing people to freely grow cannabis at home – I think we are a long way from that and that’s what I’m behind – complete and absolute legalisation. If you want to grow your own medicine then you should be able to do so.
What’s 2021 and the future looking like for THTC?
2020 started with me planning to take a sabbatical from the actual branded THTC products so I decided to take some time out to reassess. So I went on tour with UB40 as we did a lot of band merchandise. Obviously, that plan changed in February! At first, I didn’t want to make face masks because I didn’t want to profit off of COVID but then I realized that this wasn’t going away and all of these single-use masks were being dumped in the sea. So I decided to make hemp face masks and donate £2 from each one to the refugee community kitchen.
I’m going into business now with a seed bank called Seedsman who is a British company that has a Spanish wing. They’re giving me access to their staff which is great because I have been doing this on my own for so long.
I want to go round the trade shows and offer my private label because there’s nothing worse than going to a CBD expo and seeing their work on Gildan t-shirts. So I’m trying to make hemp as affordable as possible. I’m going to be stocking a lot of basic hemp products so that people can come in and print on them.
What music is being played in the THTC office?
Lazy Habits are one of my favourite live bands, Too Many T’s are a UK hip hop band that are doing some really cool stuff. Chinese Man Records is a brilliant independent French hip hop label. Also, High Focus Records are pretty much running the UK hip hop scene. And then the beatbox scene – THTC sponsored the UK Beatbox Champs 15 years ago and have been very involved in the scene since. The quality of beatbox across the world these days is absolutely staggering.
Finally, whats are your hopes and dreams for 2021?
My main hope for 2021 is that the green revolution that Biden is looking likely to push is actually going to be a real thing and not greenwash. Another thing COVID has done is knock Extinction Rebellion completely off the agenda. Their movement is more important now than ever. We need governments to take environmentalism more seriously. Global warming is the main threat to all of our lives and we need to stop burying our heads in the sand. I believe that saving the world has become a middle-class issue, by which I mean if you’re struggling to put food on the table and clothes on your kid’s backs then saving the world is not likely to be top of your agenda. If you have the money and can afford not to go to Primark or McDonald’s or use Amazon then we have a certain amount of power, as people can boycott the brands and the companies that are doing the most harm.