Designing for the Future: Interview with Jungmaven Founder, Robert Jungmann

Words by Aaron Gerry
Photos by Jungmaven

From the highway they had seen nothing. It was 1985 and Robert Jungmann, a student at Central Washington University, and his friends were on their way for a weekend of camping. They had been there a year before and fell in love with the land.

It’s amazing what a 100 yards of forest facsimile along the side of the road can make you believe. When they arrived the area was flattened, clear. Gone.

“We were utterly deflated,” says Rob. They had to move on to another location. “Who wants to go hiking and camping in a clear cut area?”

They ran into a common deforestation practice in Washington state in the 1980s and 90s. These were the destructive environmental degradations that Rob was learning about in class, smacking him right in the face.

Clear cutting, non-discriminately removing all trees within a vicinity, can permanently alter the landscape, causing mudslides, changing waterways, reducing biodiversity and increasing carbon dioxide emissions in a two pronged way: Adding carbon dioxide directly to the air and removing the ability to absorb existing CO2. For perspective, if tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions on a yearly basis, behind only China and the U.S., according to the World Resources Institute.

Rob was convinced he had to do something about it. He went on to found Jungmaven, a hemp-based clothing company in 2005, with the intention of creating a more sustainable world. “We did not inherit this land from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children,” says Rob, of one of his favorite maxims. “I want to do my part to leave this planet better off than when I got here.”

We talked with Rob about how he came up with the idea for Jungmaven, how to change the world through apparel, and his goal to get everyone in a hemp t-shirt by 2020.

 

How did the idea for using hemp come about?

I had a professor in college say, “We could stop deforestation if we were growing industrial hemp.” That was my “ah ha moment.”

When I went to go research that, there wasn’t a lot of information in 1993. You had, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which was pretty much the bible for this industry. And it also said hemp could be a substitute for cotton. That got me thinking.

There wasn’t any industrial hemp production in the U.S. Luckily, American Hemp Mercantile opened in Seattle at that time, and they had gone over to Romania and brought back a container of hemp. Russia wasn’t buying anymore. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, all those satellite countries were still producing, but Russia wasn’t buying. That gave us an avenue to get started.

Hemp is a great plant. [From the Jungmaven website: “It regenerates in months, helps maintain clean water and air, anchors and aerates the soil, produces oxygen, and consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”]

It was a no-brainer for me.

You can influence the world in a myriad of ways, why apparel for you?

I grew up in Phoenix and was very name brand focused. I always got my hand-me-downs from my cousin, who was a skateboarder, and who I looked up to. Quicksilver, Vans, whatever it might be.

When I moved to Washington, there was a whole new array of clothing. You had scarves, pants (I had rarely worn pants in Phoenix), hats, gloves, all that.

“Wow, this is fun!,” I thought. I got more into the things you put on your skin. Clothing was always something I liked because it represents who you are and what you’re all about.

There were no hemp t-shirts back then. You actually have to grow the hemp differently for that; tighter rows, thinner yarn. Then in 1996 the first jersey came out, and when we made a hemp t-shirt, I knew right then and there this was a game changer. A heavier, more rugged shirt. The more I wore it, the better it got. Like a good pair of Levis.

I always thought to myself, “somebody could do really well if they just did a t-shirt line focused on that.”

What is your HEMP 2020 campaign about?

The idea is to get everyone in a hemp t-shirt by 2020. But it’s really a campaign to raise awareness around the positive environmental impacts of hemp farming.

It all started in 2010, when I was watching a lot of TED talks. I was trying to think of something crazy, ludicrous, that seemed impossible. But it’s the impossibility of it that makes it exciting.

Anyways, we want for people, when they think “t-shirt,” they don’t just think “cotton.” The cotton industry has owned it for so long, and we are trying to educate the market [about alternatives].

At the end of the day, the more hemp that is on our backs, the more hemp is in the ground growing and sucking up CO2; which it does better than most other plants on this planet.

For me, I think it’s the best way to make change: Rather than fighting it, try to make something better, to make that other thing obsolete. I think that’s a Buckminster Fuller quote? But yea, that’s my belief.

The main objective was to get hemp legalized in the United States of America and that happened on December 20th of 2018.

Rob has combined his passion for the outdoors with his long-term perspective toward protecting our world for future generations. As an adventurous spirit with the visions of a big dreamer, Robert embodies the ethos of WAYWARD, designing clothing that fits his lifestyle and bringing about environmental awareness through his act of artistic creation.

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