By Jaime Lubin
C.K. Dunson is the founder of The Garden District, a family of lifestyle and wellness brands that includes Bouqé, a line of hemp rolling papers. Committed to grassroots efforts and sparking change from within local communities, C.K. shares his insights on what it takes to “Roll the Revolution” and why the Washington D.C./Maryland metro area is a truly uplifting place to feel the power of the plant. We spoke with him for the Let’s Talk Hemp Summer Solstice digital magazine – Full issue available online.
HONEY POT: What made you interested in becoming a hemp entrepreneur? What do you love most about your business?
C.K. DUNSON: It was a combination of things that led me to becoming a hemp entrepreneur. I first became interested in hemp after learning about its vast history and how versatile the crop is (it can produce paper, concrete, beauty products, textile goods, medicine…etc.); on top of that, the crop can have a positive impact on the environment if cultivated properly. Secondly, I wanted to become involved with the cannabis industry, so producing papers made out of hemp was a natural progression.
What I love most about our business is that we really get to touch the people and influence the culture through our grassroots efforts (that’s how we were introduced to Honeysuckle). Those personal connections have allowed us the privilege of collaborating with up and coming artists/creatives. I also love the community-building aspect of our business; seeing it grow from scratch is truly amazing and gives such a rewarding feeling. The feedback from our community gives us the added motivation to keep grinding and develop our business further.
How did you get inspired to create a line of hemp rolling papers? Your tagline “Roll the Revolution” is especially fitting right now – what does it mean to you?
The impetus to create the brand Bouqé came from the desire to be a part of the cannabis industry. After facing rejection from more established businesses in the industry, I set out to do my own thing. I wanted to prove that you don’t have to start off with millions of dollars, and connections to make it in this industry. But with a strong vision and ingenuity mixed with the right hustle, you can create your own lane and build a brand that can truly compete in the marketplace. Additionally, I’m a brand guy, I like what they represent and the cultural impact that they carry. So given that, I wanted to build a brand of my own that represents the culture.
Our tagline “Roll the Revolution” seemed so fitting since our goal is to help destigmatize the cannabis industry and disprove all of the negative stereotypes that exist to describe cannabis users, especially users of color. With all of the turmoil we seem to be experiencing right now, our motto is a little bit of a double entendre — Bouqé is for the cannabis enthusiast who handles their business and likes to roll up while doing it. We represent the people who are bold enough to fight for the change they want to see in the world, whether those changes are societal, medical, or environmental.
How has COVID-19 affected Bouqé and The Garden District, and what are your longer-term goals for the businesses?
COVID has definitely been an interesting time. Looking back on the past few months, I’d say our team has responded well to the challenges that COVID has presented. It has revealed to us some of our strongest assets to be our ability to innovate as well as the strength of our community. Even in these trying times, business has continued to grow, which says a lot. Hopefully this momentum will help us double down on our efforts to build a full 360 hemp business that touches many aspects of one’s day to day lives.
What opportunities does hemp offer for Black entrepreneurs and the larger Black community? Conversely, what are the greatest obstacles?
Hemp offers Black entrepreneurs a chance to get in on the ground floor and become stakeholders of a new industry in various ways. The economic opportunity that has the potential to positively impact generations, and provide people with the ability to create generational wealth but when there’s significant earnings to be made, there are always hurdles you have to overcome. For example, the research about the plant still being in its infancy stage and ambiguity in hemp and cannabis policies from the government are barriers that see no color and impact everyone. But for black people specifically, I think access, whether it’s to funding, information or other resources are the biggest threats that inhibit us from making progress in this industry.
We’ve noted, as have so many in the community, that the hemp industry has even greater problems with racial disparity and social equity than cannabis does. How do you think the hemp industry should confront its hypocrisy when discussing “social equity”? How do we bring more Black representation across the board?
In order to create real social equity in the hemp industry, I think general education about the plant and industry can be extremely beneficial. The funding of nonprofits/organizations in our community whose missions are to educate and teach our community how to succeed in this industry like Uplift Maryland and Marijuana Matters DC. Additionally I think there should be some regulation that designates a certain percentage of funding and business loans to black-owned businesses, a certain amount of acreage is designated to black manufacturers and so on.
What advice do you have for people looking to get into the industry?
Get outside and get involved with your community/industry. Networking has a lot of value. This lyric I wrote pretty much sums it up:
“In the game when you hustle/
You get bruised, you’re going to fall/
But in the game you got to hustle/
if you want to scoop the loose ball”
Other advice I’d give to people looking to get into the industry is to collaborate with other brands in your space that have an aligned vision and build or find a team to be a part of.
While I’m here I wanted to give a big S/O to the Bouqé team as well as S/O some businesses that we have been able to build with:
*A version of this article was previously published in the Let’s Talk Hemp Summer Solstice digital magazine.