c.2014 New York Times News Service
c.2014 New York Times News Service
Hip-hop artists like Wiz Khalifa rap about them regularly. If you pay attention, you’ll see one tucked into the palm of a passer-by’s hand on the street. Whoopi Goldberg wrote fawningly about hers, and shortly after, The New Yorker posted an article titled, “Vaping for Yuppies.”
The vaporizer market, now rife with discreet and stylish instruments from companies with innocuous names like Ploom and Firefly, is like any other technology market: competitive. Pens must be as fashionable as they are functional.
With that, and with the appeal of a celebrity endorsement in mind, one vaporizer company has taken a page from the fashion industry’s playbook. Grenco Science, whose product is called the G Pen, has become more accessory than paraphernalia through a series of brand collaborations.
Chris Folkerts, 32, founded Grenco in 2012, and since then the company has co-branded with artists, musicians and clothing and lifestyle companies. Their best-selling product to date is a collaboration with the rapper Snoop Dogg ($84.95), a blue and white pen, covered by a street map of Long Beach, California, or “The LBC” (an homage to some of Snoop’s old stamping grounds).
Folkerts cut his teeth in the music industry as a concert promoter and tour manager, so collaborations with rappers and bands that, along with their fan bases, are outspoken smokers have been a natural fit. In June, they sponsored a series of free concerts for the punk rock band Trash Talk to coincide with their album and branded pen release.
“Snoop was my No. 1,” Folkerts said. “We wanted it to be more than a licensing deal, we wanted a lifelong partnership.”
G Pens aren’t the only vaporizer pens touted by musicians. The company Trippy Stix has a similar aesthetic and has brand ambassadors in the rappers 2 Chainz and Juicy J.
But beyond the celebrity testimonial, Grenco has allowed artists and established lifestyle brands to redesign and customize their pens and packaging. A year ago, the company got in to the Agenda trade show, where lifestyle brands exhibit their collections for retailers to peruse before deciding to stock them in their stores. They began showing alongside surf, skate and street wear brands. Now Grenco pens are no longer relegated to smoke shops but are sold in brick-and-mortar and online boutiques.
The Los Angeles skateboard shop Dope carries them, as does Pharmacy Board Shop in Las Vegas. The pens are stocked as accessories by stores like Dr. Jays in New York, and in the Home and Tech section of the online street wear retailer Karmaloop.
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Community 54, a boutique in New York that prides itself on selling stylish collectibles, stocks a pen accompanied by a patent-leather clutch bag designed by the New York-based graffiti artist Claw Money ($69.95). The online store for the fashion web magazine Hypebeast stocks a pen by the lifestyle brand Clot that matches a limited-edition run of Nike Air Max sneakers ($80).
“The pens have definitely become a fashion accessory of sorts,” said Tim Patenaude, vice president of G-Life, Grenco’s lifestyle division.
When discussing a collaboration with the hat company Official coming this fall, Patenaude said that Official’s designers highlighted for Grenco what a hot commodity the pens are. “We suggested a hidden pocket inside to hide a pen, and they told us we had it all wrong and that it needs to go on the outside. The pen is the thing to show off.”
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Like any great accessory, a flashy vaporizer pen can be a conversation starter. But if you pull one out, be prepared to share. “When you get a compliment on your scarf, you don’t say, ‘Oh, here, try it on,'” Folkerts said. “But with the pen, people are saying: ‘Oh, you like it? Give it a try.'”