Vancouver is probably universally known for three things: its proximity to the ocean, its proximity to the mountains…and weed. Understandably so. The latter is not least of all owing to an overgrown landscape of dispensaries branded for a 4/20 crowd that had its design sensibilities frozen in the 90s.
Enter local lifestyle company Studio A-Ok. A trio of young Vancouverites – Darcy Hanna, Patrick Campbell, RJ Hunt – are filling a much-needed niche for design-forward branding that appeals to the discerning cannabis consumer and non-smoker alike. More than just good looking grinders, cheeky but stylish clothing and minimalist accessories, their concept extends to their parties, which aim to showcase the potential of cannabis-related events. We recently got the chance to chill with Studio A-Ok as they prepared to release their second collection at a pop-up shop that runs from September 21 – 23 (kickoff reception here).
Let’s start with the basics. Who is “Team A-Ok”? What are your backgrounds/educations? How did you meet?
Darcy Hanna: University of British Columbia, M.Arch, B.A.
Born and raised in Toronto. Moved to Vancouver 15 years ago for school and the scenery and never looked back. When I’m not helping out with A-OK, I spend my time co-running the design studio &Daughters.
Patrick Campbell: Grew up in the burbs skateboarding. Moved to the city to attend Emily Carr. Worked in fashion and contemporary art for the last 10 years. When I’m not at A-OK I’m scouring the depths of the internet looking for furniture and design curiosities.
RJ Hunt: University of Victoria // Political Science major, Business minor
Born and raised in Calgary and moved to Vancouver 6 years ago. I spent a decade in the Energy Industry before quitting in 2017 to pursue A-OK full time.
RJ and Patrick met through Tinder (lol). They bonded over finding furniture on craigslist which inevitably led them to start the Instagram account and website Craigsbest.
RJ and Darcy met in Vancouver and were married in June last summer.
What was the idea and/or conversation that sparked the A-Ok brand?
We had our “uh huh” moment about two and a half years ago. The three of us had gotten back into smoking weed after taking a hiatus for several years and we needed to re-up on our supplies like a grinder, rolling papers, a pipe. So, we stopped by the local head shop and when we walked through the door the idea hit immediately.
All the products in the shop looked exactly like they did when we were 15 years old even though Canada (and many states in the USA) were on a path towards legalization. We couldn’t believe how few consumer options there were, especially in terms of aesthetics. In that moment we decided to approach cannabis paraphernalia and lifestyle goods through a design-focused lens, creating the products that we wanted to see because they didn’t exist.
What does being “A-Ok” feel like? What does it sound like?
Being A-OK feels like sitting in your favourite chair, with your favourite strain, on a Sunday afternoon.
Being A-OK sounds like Blue Dream by local producer D. Tiffany.
What bums you out?
It bums us out that there are some cannabis industry traditionalists who say that companies like A-OK are culture vultures and are trying to “kinfolk” cannabis. We feel there is more than enough room for everyone?
Other than that – the traffic at Main and 2nd and trying to find a car2go in the West End also bum us out.
Who designed the brand logo?
Most of your designs are very minimal, but intuitive. What is a design challenge that you haven’t tackled yet but would like to with A-Ok?
We would love to design a dispensary and have our hands on everything from the room, to the customer experience and merchandising. That would be a dream.
We are hosting an A-OK pop-up shop on September 21 and 22 in Vancouver to release our latest collection. The vibes of that room will be a great indication of what we’d love to see the modern dispensary or head shop to look like.
You’re about to release your new collection in September…what’s the inspiration for the new line?
Let’s just say it will feel like if Mies Van Der Rohe went to Woodstock.
Although this will be our second collection, we haven’t really had a chance to show the world our entire brand vision yet. Our pop-up will finally give us the chance to showcase what A-OK is all about and we will be dropping over 20 new products.
Who is the A-Ok customer?
Luckily enough the A-OK customer in 2018 is exactly who we wanted to it to be when we started in 2016. They are people who seek out unique products and believe in the details. They want each product they buy to tell a story and look great in their home.
Am I “poser” if I buy/wear your clothing and accessories…but don’t smoke?
Hell nah! In fact we love that and encourage that way of thinking throughout our design process. We make a concerted effort to ensure that our products also have non-stoner appeal and can have multiple applications.
“Places we’d like to smoke” is a recurring theme on your Instagram. What are your top three places to smoke in Vancouver?
Pat: Anywhere we are before eating Golden Era burger…just depends if you can find him.
Darcy: Queen E pitch n’ putt.
RJ: The Clark Drive Entertainment District.
Where do you go to escape?
The Gulf Islands or Sunshine Coast.
What’s your neighbourhood haunt?
Pepino’s Spaghetti House & Federal Store.
Three things that you’d like to see change about Vancouver?
Pat: Like everyone, we’d love to see Vancouver become more affordable. It’s hard enough to live and survive in Vancouver let alone try and finance a small business. If the city was more affordable we’d see more “passion project” type shops open which would give the city the character it’s craving.
Darcy: We’d love to see the relaxing on some of the City’s antiquated liquor laws. The red tape, curfews, and food primary permits lead to a lot of potential cool venues never getting off the ground.
RJ: We’d love to see the City of Vancouver openly embrace the legal cannabis market and make Vancouver the top destination in the world for weed tourism that we believe it can be.
Three favourite things about Vancouver?
Pat: Dim Sum.
Darcy: Dim Sum.
RJ: Dim Sum.
A-Ok seems to have quite a wide-ranging yet cohesive and tight knit community around it, including people involved in food and music, to name just a couple of industries. How do your collaborations come together? What has been your experience in finding or building a community in Vancouver?
Our friends are doing some cool things around the city and we are just lucky to be around them. Most of our collaborations happen organically through these relationships when and where it makes sense. Making a Stoner Sandwich of the Year with Say Hey Cafe just made a lot of sense ya know?!
People say Vancouver is insular and cliquey…and it is, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t out there supporting, hustling and building community. It’s hard enough to make things happen in Vancouver and it takes a tightly knit community to do it. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by those kind of people.
What has been the biggest learning curve with A-Ok?
Building our supply chain from scratch. Finding vendors that will do low quantities, make prototypes, and work on various design ideas has been hard when you don’t have deep pockets. Realistically it’s taken two and half years to get that figured out and we are now happy with who we are working with. Local MFG in Chinatown have been amazing because they are so versatile that they can help us on numerous fronts. We are proud that the majority of our products in our second collection were made in Vancouver.
What has been the biggest and/or most surprising part of creating A-Ok?
The most surprising thing is the response we’ve had to A-OK from all around the world. It’s been amazing! We’ve now shipped numerous orders to Japan and most of our online sales go to New York or LA.
What is your biggest design pet peeve?
When design is hyper-aware and the use of too many materials.
What aspect of art or lifestyle would you like to venture into in the future?
Pat: I want to become a winemaker in my old age….and I also want to learn how to make cheese.
Darcy: I want to learn how to fly a plane.
RJ: I want to collect weird chairs.
How, if in any way, do you think that new regulations regarding marijuana will effect A-Ok?
One of the reasons we structured A-OK the way we did was to limit our exposure to the politics and legislative timelines around cannabis legalization. We wanted to focus solely on the experiential side of cannabis but not touch the product directly. We don’t foresee the new regulations impacting us at all as the majority of our products are not cannabis specific.
What is your least favourite word for “marijuana”?
Honestly, we like them all and some of them are so funny! How often do you get to say things like “Cheeba”, “sticky icky”, and “Reefer”? We do have a favourite though… JAZZ CABBAGE.
Who else is doing creative things in Vancouver that you are excited about?
Say Hey Cafe
Acid Sweat Lodge
Where do you see A-Ok in the next year? 5 years? 10 years?
Next year: We are working on expanding our studio and we should be in there by sometime next year which will be exciting. We want to host a big 420 party and we’ll start working on our third collection after our pop-up in September.
Five years: A-OK storefront in Vancouver, select stockists around the world, and running a beautiful dispensary.
10 years: brb