What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana? These are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are very different indeed, especially in the eyes of the law. Marijuana is a recreational drug, whilst hemp is considered a superfood and an extremely durable and sustainable material.

So why does hemp still get such a bad rap?

And how did today’s guest end up being visited by an international police force when trying to promote awareness of this very versatile and powerful plant?

This is episode eight and what better way to celebrate than by speaking to the founder and CEO of 8,000 Kicks, a company that produces sustainable hemp sneakers, accessories, and apparel. Now, the best way to think of this episode is a discussion in two parts. In the first, Bernardo explains the difference between cannabis, marijuana, and industrial hemp, the latter being what his products are made of. We talk about the origins of his company, how a crazy pipe dream of a thought shared by some friends turned into a fully-fledged business.

Bernardo also walks through the benefits of hemp as a sustainable material, its history, and peels back the curtain to explain in detail just how they make their unique products. We definitely got into the weeds there. Pardon the pun. The second half of this conversation details the crazy story that unfolded when Bernardo and his team decided to embark on a guerrilla marketing campaign to try and raise awareness for industrial hemp, one that landed him in front of a judge in a foreign court.

Full disclosure, I have a pair of sneakers from 8000 Kicks, and they are awesome.

Special offer: New Ways listeners can get 10% off their own dope sneakers by using our link and code AMR at checkout.

Oh, and Bernardo and I don’t recommend that you smoke these shoes. Well, not the hemp ones anyway. More on that in a bit.

Okay, this is my chat with Bernardo Carreira, founder and CEO of 8000 Kicks. Let’s go.

The transcript of this episode has been lightly edited for clarity.

Bernardo, it’s good to see you again. Welcome to New Ways.

Bernardo: Hello, hello! How are you doing, Russell? It’s been a wild year.

Yeah, I’ve been keeping up with the news and pretty… let’s say, “bold”, activism efforts from you and the team at 8000 Kicks and all the recent fallout of those actions, which is part of the reason I wanted to speak with you again for this episode. But before we get into that, for those who may not have heard our first interview, can you tell me a bit about your background and the story of how your rather unique company came to be?

It all started in 2019. It started with me and some friends. We were all a bit drunk, having fun, and I was back in the day, I was looking for a new project. I just quit my job in London. I was moving around a little bit, testing new ideas. And one of my friends was like, Bernardo, why don’t you do a Cannabis shoe? And we were like, What? This guy is crazy!

What started as a joke actually was a crazy moment of serendipity.

But actually, I was thinking about it because I’ve seen wallets and backpacks made from hemp. So maybe we could just try to do some hemp shoes. Back then, I didn’t even know there was such a thing called hemp. I didn’t know, isn’t it all cannabis? Eventually, I came to learn that hemp is one of the planet’s most sustainable and durable fibers. What started as a joke actually was a crazy moment of serendipity. And we were like, wow, this is a game changer.

I came to the person that I knew, that knew more about textiles, and that was my grandmother. My grandmother has been working for over 50 years in textiles and making clothing. And it was like, if there’s one person that’s going to help me here, it’s going to be my grandmother.

I came to her and I pitched her the idea. She was not very happy at first. Obviously, many people her age and many people my age, they don’t know the difference in what’s going on. I had to educate myself so I could educate her. I ordered some fabric. I showed her and she was very impressed with the quality. Immediately we start going to factories.

Well, obviously, most things didn’t go well the first time. We had to do many prototypes. We had to pick different factories and different factories. This was all like a journey. Until we get product stability, it took us almost two years, with a Kickstarter in the middle. So, it was a very lengthy, complicated process.

And even now, we keep improving the product every day. All these improvements brought hemp to the 21st century. We have been achieving really massive milestones. We now close to being as good as polyesters, nylons, and all yarns that have been developed in the last century, in this century. What we’ve been doing is bringing hemp to the same level of technology as we do for those yarns. And people recognize our quality and that’s why we’ve been hitting amazing results on Trustpilot.

Funny fact, we are the most… The shoe brand out there with the better reviews on Trustpilot. We have a 4.7. You should check other brands to see how much they do. And we are really proud of our quality.

Hemp sneaker on a box.
Light weight, feels great.

They wish they had a 4.7, right?

They wish. I mean, it’s not as easy. There is a lot of complications with it. But the fact that we put a lot of effort and investment into making it good, we return it on this quality and we get it back on these amazing reviews and people buy again.

You’re doing things right to be getting that feedback. You’ve now grown to include a whole range of hemp products, accessories, hats, and backpacks. But for those who might be curious, why use hemp over other sustainable materials like organic cotton or even traditional materials, polyester and the like? What’s the benefit there?

Yeah, it’s a great question. That, once again, was a moment of serendipity because I didn’t know that hemp could do this. It was a joke when I started, but the same way I allowed myself to be educated about it. Now I’m pitching everything that I’ve learned over the last years so that people understand it as well.

Hemp is also being used in Chernobyl, for instance, to absorb and extract radiation and purify contaminated soils.

But basically, hemp is a weed. It grows organically on the fields. It doesn’t need water. As people know, weeds are used for resting the soils. So hemp is actually used to restore the nutrients in the soil. Imagine you’re cropping potatoes in one year, you’re cropping tomatoes the other year, and the third year, you’re going to just leave it to rest or just plant weeds or just let it grow organically, whatever, so that the soil can rest and restore its nutrients. So hemp is used for that. Hemp is also being used in Chernobyl, for instance, to absorb and extract radiation and purify contaminated soils.

I did not expect you to say that about hemp.

Yeah, it’s a funny fact. But hemp is also much more than that. It’s more than the sustainability. It’s also capturing CO2 and it’s also a very durable and resistant fiber. It was used by the Portuguese sailors, the English. Everyone was using hemp ropes, ship sales. The fabric is also extremely durable. This was why Henry Ford even built a car of it, which is an interesting curiosity. There is a video on the internet, on YouTube, where there is a guy hitting with an axe on Ford’s car and the car wouldn’t dent.

The car is made from hemp?

Yeah, it’s a compound. It’s a compound of hemp, a few other materials, but hemp is the main one. But it was a bit of an expensive car, but still, it was quite impressive.

For those listening at home, please don’t try and hit your car with an axe. Leave that to the experts on YouTube. Now, a moment ago, you mentioned that hemp is a weed, and it’s common knowledge that weed is one of the nicknames for marijuana, the recreational drug. My question then is, what’s the difference between hemp and its industrial applications, cannabis and marijuana? Can people get high, addicted, or test positive from contact with hemp products?

The answer is no. I really discourage people to smoke a shoe. It doesn’t seem like a good idea.

A young man and older woman sit on a couch, facing the camera. They are both smiling. Behind them is a bookcase with books, around them are hemp products, including a backpack and a shoe.
Bernardo and his grandmother, Otilia. Image: Supplied.

Don’t try and buy a pair of hemp shoes thinking that you can somehow, I don’t know, turn them into a joint and smoke them. Not a good idea, right?

Smoking a shoe, this is definitely not a good idea. Let’s get back to basics. Cannabis is the whole thing. People commonly call cannabis to every single plant that has a leaf, that looks like cannabis. The thing is you also have different subtypes of cannabis. You have the feminized cannabis, which is more commonly known for flowers. Basically, the plant is optimized without getting into different types of varieties. Cannabis that grows in length to create a huge bush, the bigger the bush, the bigger the yield of flowers. And flowers is literally what you smoke, not the leaves, I mean literally the flowers. The flowers grow next to the leaves. This is what people smoke.

What we use instead is something called industrial hemp, which is a subtype of a subtype of a subtype. So this grows in height. It grows up to four or five meters tall. And the trunk is the trunk of the tree, because it’s literally a tree, a small tree, grows very thick and with very long fibers. So the fibers are long. So polyester grows in… Sorry, cotton grows in very small bulbs. Hemp grows in huge trees, which means that the fibers, the cotton fibers are like one centimeter, two centimeters long.

While hemp fibers can be up to theoretically, they can be up to four meters long. And this is one of the reasons why hemp is so durable. The fiber is already durable, but the fact that it’s very long, it makes even more durable. That’s why it was such a great fiber to make ropes, because it would take a lot of strength to break it. And we go to a lot of trade shows, we have fiber, we give it to people, and now we ask people to break it and they can’t break it easily. They need to put a lot of strain.

But this demonstrates the durability of the fabric. While cotton is very easy to pull apart. Industrial hemp does not grow any flowers. It doesn’t have any… I mean, flowers is what people can extract, the THC, Delta-9, CBDs, whatever. Since industrial hemp has nothing of that, it is basically not a drug at all. I mean, it’s just a tree. The difference is the tree has plants that look like cannabis because it’s from the cannabis. But I would say that this plant has been optimized to grow in height so that we have more fibers instead of growing in length to grow flowers.

I doubt people are going to go to the forest and start licking trees to get high, right? They would definitely not get high if we make a shoe out of a tree.

And this is one of the reasons. So the fact that we extract the fibers from the tree trunk also means that… I mean, it’s a tree trunk, right? I doubt people are going to go to the forest and start licking trees to get high, right?

I hope not!

I hope not. But this is the same principle. So people are not going to go in the forest to lick trees. And so they would definitely not get high if we make a shoe out of a tree because it’s literally that. Basically, what we do is then we extract this fiber, we shred it into fibers, and then we spin it to make a yarn. We weave it really hard using modern machinery, and then we make our shoes.

Thank you for that deep dive, especially all the detail there. I feel like our audience just got a master class in hemp. What’s really interesting, though, from a commercial perspective, is that the yield appears to be greater versus other plant fibers. It sounds like this would be a much more attractive crop as compared to cottons and things like that. Why aren’t more farmers and textile makers turning to hemp as their crop of choice?

Yeah. The only issue with hemp is that, for instance, cotton comes in already like bulbs, white bulbs. It’s ready. Polyester is also ready. It’s a perfect tube, so it’s just ready. Hemp is an amazing fiber, but you have to separate the actual fiber from the tree. And this takes a lot of power, and electricity and machining and processing. So that is a drawback of hemp. It requires a little bit more processing. And this is one of the reasons that makes it expensive. Another reason is that there is not economies of scale to do it. So it’s very expensive for us to actually do it ourselves and stuff.

Once this thing hits a critical mass, when enough companies get on board, are you saying that would logically drive down the cost of production? That you’d have the benefit of the whole end-to-end process being faster, less expensive, and presumably that customers would benefit with greater choice, availability, and lower prices?

Yeah, exactly. So that you get an idea, for instance, we can source cotton. I don’t want to exaggerate, but let’s say, three to five dollars per square meter. Hemp, you can source it for 15 to 25 dollars per square meter. So yeah, big difference, right? And this is one of the reasons why it’s very hard for us to make it. It’s expensive. They’re more obviously, they’re more expensive, fibers like silk and stuff. But obviously, this is not where we’re trying to compete. Europe has almost no processing for industrial hemp. North America has even less. Almost all of it is in Nepal, India. India actually, no. And then China. But Nepal machinery is very archaic.

While in China, is the only country that actually never stopped making hemp. While the rest of the world banned hemp, China was still making it. So it was huge for them. And they are the country that we buy the most because they have the most modern machinery. But still it’s still not leveled up to what it could be. We’re pushing for that, working with better factories. But it’s very hard because the demand is not huge that the factories can buy the most modern machineries.

This is a chicken, egg problem, right? Without the demand, they don’t buy factories. Without the factories, we can’t sell more. Yeah.

And has that eventuated? Has the increased demand for hemp products had a positive impact on your production processes?

We’re already spinning the circle, but still we are way, way more advanced than when we started. So in four years, so that you understand how far we reached, we started with very thick canvas. Now we have half the thickness of the canvas with three times more durability, more breathability, more waterproofing. So the shoe-upper is half the weight, more durability, more breathable, durable, and also much cheaper. And this allow us to make backpacks as well because backpack was an idea I always wanted to do, but we couldn’t because we couldn’t afford to put such thick hemp on the backpacks because there would be no margin.

Yeah, and it would be quite uncomfortable to use or wear products with such stiff, inflexible material. But it sounds like you’ve really mastered that. Being able to deliver premium goods that are still durable but are, how would you say, much more flexible and comfortable as a result of everything you’ve learned.

I’d like to explore that a bit further, though. In terms of the price difference, when you consider the quality and durability of hemp products, does that offset the marginally higher cost over time due to their increased longevity? I’m just thinking about the sustainability angle here in terms of buying something that will last you longer instead of having to buy multiple versions of the same product when they wear out every other year.

Yeah, that’s also true. When we started hemp, it was not as durable as the one we have now, and we’re still improving the one we have now, but it’s pretty good now. We do test, we compare it to a lot of other fibers, and it does pretty well. I’m sure if you scroll our Instagram feed, you’ll see all these videos of us shredding the fabric left and right and up and down and breaking the shoes. We spend thousands of dollars on making all this stuff.

The real question then is, can I take an axe to these hemp shoes just like Mr. Ford? Or is that something you don’t recommend that I try?

(Laughs) It will definitely break! I mean, come on. This is a fabric, it’s not Kevlar.

I won’t try that then. Bad idea.

Yeah. If you try that, make sure you take your feet from the shoe, aye?

Alright, let’s jump forward a bit. You’ve been in the hemp business for four years now. You’ve grown this thing from an idea into a flourishing business, refined your products, built out several product lines, and over that time, your marketing and approach to spreading awareness of the benefits of hemp products has changed as well, right?

Going from that audience of one, of convincing your grandma that this would be a great business to get into, to convincing the public through crowdsourcing and now industry representation via trade shows. You’ve also made a big splash on social media, which is where I’d like to go next.

I’ve been following the company on social since our previous interview about a year ago. To be honest, what you’ve been up to recently took me by surprise and made me want to reach out again to see what’s going on.

I was wondering if you could tell the story about your recent international escapades and your guerrilla activism efforts, which, well, I’ll let you tell the story to our audience. How did all this begin? And is everything cool with the cops now?

We’re a startup, we don’t have anything to lose. How can we make an impact?

Yeah, sometimes we get a little bit aggressive, but we’re a startup, we don’t have anything to lose. So we’re just like, fuck it, let’s do it. But basically, what happened was how can we make an impact? How can we punch the table and call attention for what’s going on? Because it really sucks. Every time we’re talking about hemp, people stop listening because, oh, isn’t hemp cannabis? No, I’m out. I cannot buy this. This is evil. I’m going to die. I’m going to get arrested by the police. It’s too dangerous. I’m like, come on, it’s a shoe. We’re not selling drugs here.

We decided to take things a little bit different. And well, one of our key markets is Germany, especially Berlin. Berlin, I’m not sure if you’ve been there, but it has a very underground, open scene, a lot of very alternative people, a lot of alternative concept shops. So what we decided to do is to create a huge campaign in Berlin and make it green. I knew a farmer in Germany and I negotiated with him to get part of his hemp production. It was industrial hemp, so it was grown in the open.

It was not like weed or it was not like flowers, cannabis. It was industrial hemp, which was grown in height. We went to him. We put a lot of plants in vases. We rented out two trucks from Sixt. We went to the farm, we filled up the trucks with plants in vases. We went downtown Berlin. We filled up Berlin with a lot of plants, in total 500 plants, I think over 500 plants actually.

And we started spreading the plants all over Berlin. Every plant had some hand tags. This was very important for us to communicate. The tags would say something like, although you think it’s actually not weed, it’s industrial hemp, which is used to make our shoes. So why are we using cannabis to make our shoes? Because it’s sustainable, because it’s durable, and we want to spread awareness for this plant. If you want to learn more, and then we had a stall in downtown Berlin where people could come talk to us, we show the products, we explain people what was going on, how this is not evil or you’re not going to jail or come learn about this plant. We made a lot of fuss about it.

Suddenly we were looking around, plants all over the place. People were running with the plants, taking the plants home.

They took them? They just took them? Okay, wow.

Yeah, it’s a cultural thing also in Berlin that if you leave something in the open, people can take it.

What are they going to do with that, though? As you said, you can’t smoke industrial hemp. Are they going to start their own hemp company, 9000 Kicks or something?

Well, you have to ask this probably 500 people that took the plants home (laughs). Well, it’s funny to have a plant at home. And if the plant is not illegal, then even better. Right? Well, some of them probably thought it was bullshit that actually these people, this plant would grow flowers, but, well, got disappointed to see that the plant actually it’s what we said it was (laughs). Yeah, but we continue pushing and then we had this crazy idea as well on day three, I think, Let’s push it even more. I negotiated with some people and I got some UPS suit, like delivery people.

Like the uniform, UPS uniform?

Yeah. I dressed up as a delivery guy. I went to the Parliament with some plants, covered up plants, and knock, I said, I have a delivery. I fake the UPS label. I went to the Parliament. They let me in to the upper reception. I went to the elevator. We filmed it, more or less. We had to improvise some parts of the scene. It was crazy. We just went up to the Parliament and dropped it over there.

That is absolutely wild.

Yeah, things were going crazy. A lot of people were very excited. Everyone was like, whoa, what’s going on? These guys are crazy. But at the same time, what we didn’t know is we’re getting a lot of attention, the good and the bad. So a lot of people started calling the police and saying there is these people that they are doing this, this and that. They have to stop. They have to be stopped. These guys are doing… I mean, we were expecting some problems, but we didn’t know what was coming.

At the same time, what we didn’t know is, we’re getting a lot of attention, the good and the bad.

So suddenly one of the last days of the campaign, I mean, last days, because we had to finish it a little bit, the police knocked on my door. I don’t know how they found my address, but they knocked on my door. Well, they said, are you Bernard? And I said, yes. So, you have to come with us. It was a little bit hardcore because they were all having the masks and balaclavas and stuff. And I was like, I knew they were from the police. And I said, all right, sure. So they handcuffed me, they put me and they took me to the local station.

They literally treated me like some bad ass dealer, I guess. I went to the station and I was like, okay, let’s see what’s going on. I didn’t do anything wrong. So what are they going to accuse me of? Giving weed for free? But I didn’t put any weed.

Eventually, everyone starts chilling a little bit. They asked me, od you know why we’re here? And I said, probably because of the campaign we did (laughs)! You can see them always smiling. They were like, yeah, you guys pushed it a little bit too much. But we were aware of what you were doing, but a lot of people were calling us, complaining, and a lot of people were accusing you of doing things. So we had to intervene and understand what was going on.

They took some of our plants that we had in the apartment. I don’t know if they did the analysis, but I think so. And they realized, okay, this is all good. This is just industrial hemp. So it’s just trees, small trees. They were not big, otherwise you couldn’t take them in the truck. So eventually I went to… It was not really jail, it was just a police station.

And then the police was loosened up a little bit. They were talking with me and they said that they like what I was doing. But the law was the law and it’s illegal in Germany to have weed, but I was not doing weed, so it was a gray zone. I went to the judge and he said, Okay, you cannot do this again. But I understand what you’re trying to do. You just go outside, you clean up all the plants that you put in Berlin, and that’s it. Don’t do it again.

What a crazy thing to have experienced from people in full tactical gear arriving to take you away to the judge, essentially giving you a parental punishment of clean up your room. After all of that, though, it sounds like they were on your side in the end, or at least understanding of what you were trying to achieve, right? Especially with the minor punishment of just cleaning up the plants you’d placed around the city, or rather the ones that weren’t stolen.

Yeah. Okay, so they could have charged me with littering, they could have charged me with anything. They could have made up anything. But here’s what they did. Oh, here’s a guy that is raising awareness for environment. Well, that’s everyday Berlin. There’s a lot of activations and campaigns for everything in Berlin. Well, I didn’t exactly follow the rules, but I didn’t break them either. Then there was like, okay, we have more important things to do. When we do this campaign, we can’t really look at all the small rules and stuff. Otherwise, we end up not doing it. If we think too much, we don’t do it.

Exactly. You would have talked yourself out of it. It probably helped, though, that Germany is one of the more progressive places in the world.

The thing you have to understand is, the thing is there is a legalization process going on in Germany. So the police is closing an eye on everything, right? So if you go downtown Berlin at night, there’s a lot of weed and stuff around. This is something you wouldn’t see. I mean, for instance, there is a huge festival called Mary Jane in Berlin. And on the earlier days, the police will literally be outside. And if you had weed on you, they would take it from you and sometimes they would fine you. But this year, the Mary Jane, everyone was selling weed and everyone was carrying weed and everyone was smoking weed. Then this was police and everyone knew in town knew about this. They put up posters and 40,000 people appeared. It’s a transition period. This was the right moment to do it.

Yeah, good to do it at the right place at the right time. Here in Australia, to the best of my knowledge, it’s still not legal at the national level, though there might be some jurisdictions and certain use cases that are legally permitted. I don’t know that the Australian police would have been as happy or not happy, but you know what I’m trying to say, about the campaign that you ran.

Then there’s other places that have legalized it. I went to Canada a few years ago and they had just legalized it. That was a whole new experience for someone coming from a country like Australia, where it was always frowned upon from the legal side of things. Yet in Canada, I could walk the streets and smell marijuana. I could see people smoking marijuana. People sold marijuana in stores, in the dispensaries. And you know what? The world didn’t end. Everything was okay. Of course, that’s marijuana, and we’re talking about industrial hemp here. But still, the two are so interlinked, as you yourself know all too well.

Yeah, but if something happens in… Obviously, each country is different, but imagine that suddenly Australia starts legalizing CBD and weed and stuff. I mean, it’s in the process. They’re about to push the law. It’s been a whole process for two years. As you can expect, the amount of budget that the police is going to put on getting all these people that are smoking weed on the street, it’s like, okay, fuck it, we’re not going to spend all this money. We’re going to put budget to someone else. What’s the point? It’s being legalized. Why are we spending money and having all these officers on duty to arrest people? They’re going to be to solve problems. They’re not going to be a problem anymore in six months.

That’s Germany, Canada is there, Australia is on the way with regard to legalization. But what you’re doing, that’s helping to redefine the thought process around everything and helping make sustainable solutions like hemp, culturally accessible. I mean, 10 years ago, I couldn’t get hemp seeds, wear clothes made from hemp, but now I’m currently wearing a hemp shirt as we speak. I’ve got some great hemp sneakers from a company you may have heard of, 8000 Kicks, get yours today. But I’d like to understand the flip side of the argument, or at least what you’ve experienced. What are then some of the anti-hemp people saying? What’s their argument in all of this?

The case against hemp is… I mean, people were educated on how bad this was. The first thing that… it’s misinformation, it’s the fear. So a lot of people would be, out of plain fear, they would refuse to touch the shoes. They would refuse to think of buying one. Every fear, legal, health fear. I’ve had the argument that I’ve seen all these people laying on the floor in the middle of the street. And I’m like, come on, that’s heroin, not hemp. Hemp is what we’re talking about one fiber that we make clothes with. And you’re talking about heroin that comes from opioids. The talking about the sun and the moon. But we’ve heard that argument and you wouldn’t believe how many people flag our ads on Facebook because they think it’s not proper content. Yes.

Just… wow, okay.

It’s a reality. You wouldn’t think so. But also you go on our ads or our posts on Instagram and you would count how many people. Actually, now it’s way better. But you would count how many people would say, is this for smoking? Some of these people are just jokes. But when you have so many people asking it, there’s quite a few that actually, yeah, so many people asking, can I roll one after the shoe is used? Can I do this?

Even if you could, would you want to? I mean, who wants to smoke something that’s been on their feet, out on the ground, on the street? That’s a bit odd, right?

Yeah, but, well… it’s their shoe. They can do whatever they want with their shoe (laughs).

Okay, another PSA for our audience. Please don’t smoke your shoes. But back to hemp, what’s your view on how things are trending in terms of breaking down the stigma of more mainstream acceptance? You’re out at trade shows, campaigning, spreading the message. In your opinion, are things heading in the right direction or not?

All these small things actually help out a lot to destroy the stigma. We’re starting to see progress.

Yeah, definitely. We see already there is a lot of education coming up, not just us, but everyone in doing similar stuff. Obviously, we’re not the only ones doing stuff like that, but we see that a lot more people are aware of what is hemp. At least we get smarter questions on our socials (laughs) and people are more informed about this. Definitely something is going on, either us or other companies, but we’re still far from being where we want to be. The fact that we’ve been on TV a few times, the fact that we have very big influencers like Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson and stuff like that.

Joe Biden… actually one thing that he did recently was to release a lot of cannabis prisoners. So all these small things actually help out a lot to destroy the stigma that was created in the ’70s. Part of this thing was created by anti-CBD pharma groups that want to keep hemp out of the shelves so they can sell their stuff, also the paper and wood lobby. So we’re starting to see progress, all these small bits moving in the right direction. And that brings a lot of things, a lot of information and knowledge to people that translate into less problems, less people denouncing our ads on Instagram or Facebook and eventually more informed people.

And you’d think that would translate to change within the industry itself. I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, and this might be a presumption, but it may also have some legs, so hear me out. But you see less and less people smoking cigarettes these days. There was a time when you’d have a smoking section at a restaurant on a plane even, and now all of those types of things are gone.

Smoking appears to be on the decline. Sure, there’s the rise of e-cigarettes, but I believe on the whole, the industry is still in decline. If I’m a farmer with a tobacco crop and I’m seeing this harvest, the demand for it gets smaller and smaller each year, surely you’d be looking to hemp at marijuana even as more lucrative crops to be planting and harvesting?

Yeah, it is. But not just tobacco farmers. A lot of farmers are turning towards hemp. The issue is that a lot of the farmers in Europe, in the US, unfortunately, there’s not a whole range of applications that they can use hemp for. A lot of them don’t make such a good amount of money because a lot of appliances are not… The industrial and the supply chain, it’s not built. So seeds is very easy. You grow the plants, you collect the seeds, that’s it. For textiles, you need a whole supply chain, a whole industry around it. It’s very complicated. For oil, but that’s a different plant, but that’s also easy. But you see what I mean? In many cases, it’s hard to build. So hemp, the more we use it, the more we create demand, the more appliances, the better the money is going to be associated with hemp.

Can a single plant be used for multiple applications? Can you harvest the fibers, seeds, leaves, and such all from the same plant? Or is that not a possibility?

The thing is, for instance, a lot of the plants that are used for seeds are not the best for textiles, but the trunk can still be used for other appliances, for instance, for making fiber. It’s not premium fiber, but it still can be used for making animal beds or making insulation. They can compact the fiber and put it behind the wall to create insulation. So, it’s not a premium fiber. It’s never going to be used to make textiles, but the same plant that they cut the top of the leaves, they collect the seeds, and then they cut the trunk, the roots, and they can shred the plant.

Oh, and the trunk in the middle can also be used to be to make hempcrete, which is a cement that is mixed with water and lime and that can be used to make construction. So there’s a lot of applications that can be used, but for instance, you wouldn’t be able to use it for textiles because the fiber is not the best quality, but you can use it for other things.

Throughout our conversation, we’ve spoken about the many varied applications of hemp, and there’s a bunch I learned of today, like hemp being used to build cars, hemp as concrete, where it feels like, why isn’t this everywhere? It seems like such a universal, flexible, and most importantly, sustainable material.

What advice would you give to people who want to make that a reality? How can people incorporate hemp into their daily lives and become better hemp activists or advocates themselves?

I would say the first thing, the first important, is to test it, like you did to buy some pieces of clothing of hemp. People already spend a lot of money on buying clothing and shoes and stuff. Just get a bunch of hemp stuff. And first you feel it, you test it, and you understand. I mean, try to buy from good brands. You understand the quality and you show the quality.

Suddenly you are doing the exact same thing that I’ve been doing here. You’re an ambassador and you’re evangelizing for sustainability.

And then the funny thing is people are going to ask you, oh, what are those shoes? What is that shirt? Because it has a different feel. And you said, actually, this shirt is made of cannabis. So immediately, because it’s such a niche thing, immediately just by buying clothes that you already buy every day, but now you buy a bunch of brands from hemp, immediately by buying this and people are going to ask because it looks different, you already became an ambassador because you’re explaining people, no, it’s hemp. It’s sustainable. I buy this from this brand that they’re only using hemp to make shirts or shoes or backpacks. It’s really cool. I like what they’re doing. Did you know that hemp is very sustainable? It can be used to clean the soils, like in Chernobyl.

And suddenly you are doing the exact same thing that I’ve been doing here, but you’re doing to all your friends. And that’s it. You’re an ambassador and you’re evangelizing for sustainability. And this is the first step.

And it sounds like it’s an easy first step because there are just so many hemp options available nowadays, especially compared to just a few years ago. Actually, I’d like to revisit something that we touched on a few times during this conversation, and that’s people asking about smoking your shoes. I’d seen recently that you’ve made or are making the world’s first marijuana shoe.

What’s the story there? Did you finally cave to all the pressures of those weird and wonderful social media questions? And what’s the reception been like to this interesting invention?

It’s totally different from our main business. It was more like a joke that eventually actually worked very well. A lot of people signed up for that. We decided just to be innovative and create something totally out of the blue. We impregnated a shoe in actual weed. The shoe is actually just over there. It smells like weed. It is weed. It feels like weed. It is weed. Yeah. And that shoe can be used for if they scratch the surface, they can actually roll a joint with it.

I hate to be that guy, but can you actually smoke this shoe?

Yeah, you can’t really smoke everything, but if you scratch it, you can scratch the weed from the… you can smoke it. It’s also sustainable made with all materials. The difference is that we decided to be a little bit crazy, and well, why not?

Good on you for giving the people what they want, a shoe that they can actually smoke.

Yeah, it was born out of that. Let’s be a little bit crazy. Well, if people are asking for a smokable shoe, maybe we should make a smokable shoe. Here we go, a smokable shoe.

What’s next for 8000 Kicks? Any other crazy future products you’re thinking about?

We have a strong innovation team. Basically, what we are doing is… what can be done? How can we bring the level up? Actually, I’m right now on my feet testing a very interesting new product. I cannot show you, but it’s been in progress for the last two years, actually. We’re pushing performance on hemp. It’s not a performance material, but how can we make it better, like people can use it more and more and more?

How can we make it more breathable, more durable, more contemporary. But still, I can tell you, I can give you a hint that we’re pushing on knitting. Imagine a knit shoe but made from hemp.



Okay. Definitely following the socials to see when that one drops. It sounds like something a bit different, innovative.

Always push, but this is very difficult to do because most machines that do knitting do not allow hemp. But we found one partner and we’re testing the results, testing, testing, testing. This hopefully is going to come early next year.

On one hand, that sounds like a big challenge, especially if the components aren’t there or the machinery is limited, as you said. But then again, that also presents a massive opportunity, especially if no one else is doing something like that, making products with materials in that style.

And really, that’s the story of 8000 kicks in a nutshell, isn’t it? Doing something that no one else was in this style, at scale. You saw the opportunity to create sustainable products with an alternative material and you seized it.

Yeah, exactly. Ultimately, if everyone does it, we have accomplished our mission bringing back hemp as it once was. I just go to the beach, get some caipirinha’s, and celebrate!

Living the dream. Well, let’s bring this one home. How I like to end these chats is with a signature question. It’s something that I’m curious of when speaking with founders like yourself who have their eye set on solving problems in unique ways. And that question is, we’re faced with many challenges today, both for people and the planet. In your own words, what’s a modern remedy for these issues?

My job is to push the agenda of sustainability and hemp because I believe it can fix many of the problems that we created in the past.

That’s a tough question. I mean, every single issue, I guess it needs a different problem, different solution. But I would say that the common thing to all these problems is human people. Humans, we tend to be the source of all problems and we also tend to be the solution. So ultimately it’s up to us, us that created those problems to fix them. But it’s always an issue because those problems were created because of something.

And in many cases it’s difficult to eradicate this something out of the blue, like pollution. Why do we pollute? Because we need to create stuff for us to use. So it’s very difficult to now suddenly stop polluting. We need to create solutions. I guess we are the single source of problems, but we are also the single source of solutions. So it comes up to us to fix our own problems. And my job is to push the agenda of sustainability and hemp because I believe it can fix many of the problems that we created in the past.

I think you’re doing a wonderful job with the products you make, your activism efforts, and the awareness that you are spreading of sustainable and fashionable modern-day solutions. Bernardo, thank you so much for your time. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.

Likewise Russell.

Please be careful with your future guerrilla campaigns, mate.

Let’s do it again in one year or so.

Connect with Bernardo/8000 Kicks

8000 Kicks


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