Howard Magazine had a chance to talk with Rob Jungmann, the man behind Jungmaven T-shirts, while he was living for a few months in Ellicott City. Jungmann started making outdoor gear and apparel from industrial hemp in 1993 after graduating from Central Washington University. Jungmaven tees for men and women are sold at Liquid Blue Denim in Maple Lawn and at designer boutiques in New York, Japan and Europe.
Q: What turned you on to industrial hemp as a clothing fiber?
A: I had a professor in college in Washington. He taught a class in environmental education or something like that. I was a communications major, but a friend recommended this teacher. He was always talking about deforestation and things like that. So I thought I would check it out. I started making rock-climbing chalk bags, golf bags, shorts, jackets, shirts, skateboards. At first we just wanted to show the world what you could make with hemp. I was just a poor college student with a dream.
Q: Where does the hemp come from?
A: At first we got it from Poland, but now it comes from China.
Q: It’s illegal to grow industrial hemp in the United States, and you’ve been involved in trying to change that. How’s it going?
A: You know, industrial hemp used to be the way people paid their taxes in this country. Now the U.S. and Australia are the only industrialized nations that have banned it. It’s come up twice in California, both times with Arnold (former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger), and he vetoed it. But I think Jerry Brown (California’s current governor) is going to get it done.
Q: Why did you choose to manufacture in the United States?
A: I wanted as much control over making the fabric as I could get. The key is to keep the least amount of energy, from knitting the fabric to the store. We import the yarn from China, but we knit it and make it in California. Even the dye house is only two blocks down the road.
Q: On your website you make a great case for hemp’s eco-friendliness, and the shirts are really soft. How do they hold up over time?
A: It can’t just be made of hemp. It has to fit right, and it has to wear well. I’m hard on my tees; I wear them to the gym, I overdry them. I wear them every week. It still looks good.
Q: What’s with the whale logo?
A: Every year we have a different animal — a whale, elephants, a giraffe.
Q: Your mission is getting everyone a hemp T-shirt by 2020. Why?
A: It’s capitalism at its greatest. We clean the air, save the water because it takes less water to produce products from hemp than from cotton. The biomass of hemp eats up carbon dioxide like no other plant, so it takes care of the air. It grows fast, and the root infrastructure goes deep into the ground. It’s a great rotation crop.
Q: Any plans for new products?
A: Jungmaven is going to add maybe one new product a season. But our main thing is to add more color. Our basic goal is to always have T-shirts. We’ve added sizes like extra-small and up to 3X. We also are giving our scraps ... to a designer in North Carolina who is using them to make all kinds of clothes. This new line is called Jungmae. So you see everything is reclaimed.