Local brand is blazing through the fashion world, but a fight over who invented what clouds the future
As with most televised award ceremonies, a central fascination with what the stars are wearing often eclipses those other important details, like who the star in the smokeable suit is, and whether or not he was nominated for anything.
Wait, smokeable suit?
Yes, at this year’s Grammy Awards, local clothing company Hood Horkerz got some red carpet time and a shoutout. As the media reported on Taylor Swift in an Elle Saab dress, Bay Area hip-hop artist Rappin’ 4-Tay stood out from his entourage in a custom all-white suit with black trim, and the sly smirk of someone who was about to demonstrate why his made-in-Santa Cruz suit can definitively be called “home-grown.”
From underneath each lapel, 4-Tay draws a silicone, tubular “string” wrapped in fire-retardant material. The right string is tipped with glass and a breathing hole, the left ends in a glass bowl packed with a familiar green plant.
“I’m the first rapper to blow one at the Grammys, just like this,” he says, before lighting the pipe on the left string and drawing a thick cloud of smoke through the silicone tube on the right string.
So, what is 4-Tay wearing this awards season? “Hood Horkerz!” he shouts.
“When I told 4-Tay I was going to make a suit for him, he thought I was high!” laughs Sean Oliver, the 29-year-old Santa Cruz native and creator of the first smokeable clothing line in the U.S., Hood Horkerz.
“I came up with the Hood Horkerz idea in 2011 while living in Vermont,” says Oliver. “We went to my buddy’s snowboard shop, where we always smoked, and he didn’t have a pipe. I yanked on my sweatshirt and realized it would be a good place for one.”
Unlike many stoners who think up brilliant ideas and then forget them to the smokey ether, Oliver immediately drove to the hardware store and bought the materials for his first prototype.
“Later that night, I went to a party and it was a hit,” he remembers. “So I decided to see what I could do. I probably went through 20 or 30 designs that I still have in a box.”
In 2012, Oliver returned to Santa Cruz and met up with old friends Brian Collier and Chip Miller—now HH’s graphic designer and shipping manager, respectively. They originally thought about selling apparel to different smoke and clothing outlets around town, customized with each business’ logo. But it wasn’t until a fateful meeting with the late Bob Hernandez (from rapper Kurupt’s crew) at a Los Angeles trade show that Oliver was cut into the world of fashion design.
“He was one of the nicest, coolest dudes I ever met,” Oliver reminisces. “He wasn’t one of those dudes who’d help you and want something back. He just wanted to see people succeed.”
With Hernandez’s music industry connections, Hood Horkerz became its own brand, making custom hoodie designs for musicians and celebrities that don’t hide their love for the sticky, green bud, and embrace the idea of being able to keep it in their clothing. Since then, musicians like Method Man & Redman (of hip-hop godfathers Wu-Tang Clan), Tech-Nine, T-Pain, Warren G, RBL Posse, E-40 and many other heavyweights in the hip-hop world have worn or been pictured with the brand’s hoodies—often with their own customized “HH” logo.
But not all is chill in the world of smokeable clothing.
Almost 1,300 miles away in Denver, Colorado, where marijuana legalization has been in effect for over a year, another clothing company sells hoodies you can vaporize from—think an e-cigarette in the drawstring that a user can “vape” liquid nicotine or concentrated hash oil with.
“I saw Sean’s bowl and thought ‘This is pretty dope,’ but there is something you can do better,” states VapRWear CEO Elvis “Papi” Edwards. “Vape is so big that I thought, ‘I’ll come up with my own idea—a vape hoodie—and sell it.’”
Oliver and Edwards met through a mutual acquaintance last year at an April 20 Cannabis Cup celebration in Denver, sponsored by Hood Horkerz. And that’s the only thing both kingpins agree on, right down to who threw the party that brought them to together. But the real question burning at the center of this feud: Who made the first vape hoodie?
“Within two weeks of making my first pipe hoodie, I thought of doing a vaporizer,” argues Oliver. “I mean, if you show the hoodie to anyone, the first thing they say is, ‘You should do a vape one’ … We even had two or three prototypes in Denver [at the Cannabis Cup].”
But Edwards denies Oliver’s claims that he did bring a prototype—or at least that he saw it. “I’m the one who came up with the vape idea,” he says.
It’s an argument that probably would have dissolved in laughter or smoke rings—except for one thing.
“I have the vape patent, and Sean has the bowl,” says Edwards.
And that’s where the stems and seeds still need to be separated: Hood Horkerz filed for patents on their bowl hoodie and a vaporizer counterpart in April 2013. Both of those patents are still pending. Under U.S. law, Hood Horkerz’s patents are not protected until they are granted. VapRWear claims to have a patent on their “dlo3” technology (filed in August 2014, according to Edwards), but GT’s requests for the patent number were denied.
“It’s not unusual [for patent granting to take time],” explains local intellectual property and patent lawyer Patrick Reilly. “The patent office is totally overloaded. I’ve got patents that get issued in a year, and applications I haven’t heard anything about in three years.”
A somewhat nebulous patent outcome is not going to stop Santa Cruz’s smokeable-clothing entrepreneur from hustling forward, though. After the Grammys, it seems only natural for the brand to expand into higher fashion, and Oliver says Hood Horkerz plans on dropping a new line of clothing this fall at New York Fashion Week. No matter how big they get, Hood Horkerz will never forget their Santa Cruz roots, which run deep.
“We started out small and made all of this,” Oliver concludes. “Now I just want to help people [succeed].”