Hemp, hemp, hooray By Oona Woods A new store is rolling up to open in the village in mid-November stocking hemp products and items made from other renewable resources. But before the visions of Hemp B.C. and pot paraphernalia cloud your mind, take note of their mandate. "We have no political ties," says co-manager of Fiber Options Gord Johns. "We are impartial on the marijuana issue. Our focus is on sustainable man-made products. We want to promote a really healthy outlook. We have biodegradable pens made from vegetable oil not petrochemicals, tree free paper, banana paper, products made from hemp like clothes, dog collars and bicycle lube, flax, bamboo, kenaf, and lots of organic cotton. Fifty per cent of the pesticides used in the U.S. are used to grow cotton. We also want to promote people to use second hand clothing and organic food and to educate consumers to support local stores wherever they are." After doing a lot of research on demand for renewable resource products Johns opened a sister Fiber Options store in Tofino six months ago. His partner for the Whistler venture is local Pete Skeels. "We have been working on opening a store in Whistler for over a year. The concept and store was created in the spring of 1997, one that truly reflects the lifestyles and goals of many on the West Coast. After living in Tofino, split up by a couple of great winters in Whistler, I always wanted to return with a business which would be a positive addition to the community," says Johns. "Pete and I have been friends since the winter of 1994 and share many of the same ethics and morals and concerns in regard to the environment... I wouldn’t move in to the area if I didn’t have the local presence of Pete. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to businesses in the area and everyone has been really supportive. It’s helped us turn the edge." Johns and Skeels are aiming to support locally made products and sustain manufacturers through their buying power. "Hemp clothes last longer, three or four times longer for a shirt. But the manufacturers are only making, say 1,000 pairs of jeans a year, compared to the three million of their competition. It’s tough being an independent company. All the manufacturers are small companies, young people struggling to get by. We’re hoping being involved in Whistler and Tofino we’ll be able to buy with other stores and drive the costs down." Fiber Options will be supplying lines of products from Hemptown and Of the Earth and dresses from the Grown Garment Co., all from Vancouver. They will also stock Ashira Golf Apparel, Grungear clothing and hemp T-shirts and clothes from Grand Forks, B.C. Other predicted top sellers are Great Canadian Shirts and Sprint Stream Jeans (Ontario), as well as Hemp Club and Calico (Montreal). There will be a range of biodegradable body care products from Sister Sativa’s (Tofino), Pacific Soap Coast Works (Victoria), Tall Grass (Vancouver) and Cathy Anne (Nelson). "We’re also hoping we can promote local artisans." Artists are encouraged to come forward with designs to put on tree free paper cards and organic cotton T-shirts. They will also stock furniture and art created from wood and recycled works. Johns was working in a bank and on his way to Hong Kong before he decided to put his entrepreneurial skills towards the common good. "It’s all about global consumer directions," says Johns. "The way the world takes is in the hands of the consumer. You can blame big corporations but it’s really in the hands of the consumer. The corporations will follow suit. That’s our goal. To educate as well as supplying options." It has been hard to balance the business marketplace with ethics says Johns. "For myself I’m not a big consumer. It’s quite tough to be in business because it doesn’t really represent what I’m about. With environmental products you’ve go to see economic viability. It doesn’t gain any credibility in the business community until you prove the economic viability. So it’s a grass roots thing, the local forest sectors are taking a beating and there are opportunities in this field. But you have to start small and make it a success first at this level. With local products you don’t have the money leaving the area through transglobal corporations." A business bonus for Johns and Skeels was the recent repeal of the ban on growing hemp in Canada. "B.C. is a great growing area for seed production. Farmers will be using it now as a rotator crop. The crop seeds with low THC levels fall under regulations. Sixty years ago the government outlawed the growth of hemp. In 1993 they changed the regulation. In 1994 the first trial test lot was given permission to grow up to four hectares of hemp. This progressed to the first trial licence granted to a farmer in Grand Forks B.C. This year, in March, Allan Rock changed the law so that you can now grow over 10 acres, or four hectares. This is awesome, it promotes opportunity," says Johns. "At Fiber Options we want to promote the local harvest of hemp and other organic crops, as well as the use of recycled goods." The Tofino store is located at 5, 120 4th Street. The location of the Whistler store is under negotiation.