Chem Tales: Upper Playground Launches Pot Line

The Lower Haight streetwear brand emphasizes artists as it gets into the weed game.

There are rules in California that prohibit the production of cannabis packaging that might appeal to children. Though that may mean we’ll never see the likes of Toucan Sam toking up on a (legal) jar of Chemdawg, the artwork used by cannabis brands across the state still runs the gamut from cartoonish to couture.

Upper Playground’s Ludovic Lacourte wants to take things further.

Since the late 1990s, the Bay Area streetwear brand Upper Playground has occupied an important place in the local culture. With a flagship Lower Haight store located on Fillmore Street, Upper Playground has successfully collaborated with numerous artists in the region, including Jeremy Fish, Estevan Oriol, and Sam Flores.

Primarily known for producing shirts, beanies, and other clothing items, Upper Playground has now become the latest brand to align itself with legalized weed. The idea? Put the focus on the artists, not the plant.

“I love working with artists and supporting their development,” Lacourte explained to SF Weekly, “but in the context of cannabis, weed is always the hero. It’s all about different strains and THC percentages. At Upper Playground, the heroes are the artists — not the shirt.”

The vision for Upper Playground’s new “Stoked” line is to celebrate artists by offering them the chance to use product packaging (in this case, a child-proof bag) as a canvas. Longtime Upper Playground collaborator Sam Flores was tapped by Lacourte to design the initial offering: a run of 1,500 bags.

His art, which features a goddess figure with flowers in her hair and a joint in her hand, is not only the centerpiece of Upper Playground’s first limited release, dubbed the “Select” line, but has also been printed onto sweatshirts, totes, and other apparel items.

“It was a lot of fun working with Upper Playground on these new packages for the weed line,” Flores wrote in an email. “It makes perfect sense. Upper Playground has always, to me, meant working on another level or a higher plane of existence or consciousness — the same place where our weed will take you!” 

Upper Playground’s Select line is currently available to purchase by means of a licensed delivery service serving the greater Bay Area. Though that run is limited to 1,500, the brand is complementing the product with two additional strains that they plan to keep regularly stocked.

As an additional bonus, each of the 1,500 bags of Upper Playground’s Select strain also include a baseball card bearing the art of Flores tucked inside. Akin to the past delight of discovering the prize deep within a box of Cracker Jacks, the inclusion of these trading cards is, as Lacourte sees it, yet another way to showcase the artists that have always been at the heart of Upper Playground.

Lacourte confesses his excitement over the trading card idea may have led him to indulge a bit in his perfectionism.

“I got 2,500 of the cards that I threw out because they just weren’t quite right,” he said.

In the case of the cannabis packaged in Flores’s work, Lacourte paired the artist with a grower from Santa Cruz. He now has the artist at work on the line’s second release, which will reportedly feature the likeness of the Statue of Liberty and is due to arrive by July.

The hope, as Lacourte explains, is to continue connecting master growers with Upper Playground’s stable of artists to produce unique, limited-edition collaborations as a means of providing both parties with income and exposure.

Additionally, once a given run of Select weed is gone, the artwork will still be available in the form of hoodies, stickers and more.

“We’re releasing along with the actual seasons — spring, summer, etc. — but it might become monthly at some point too,” Lacourte said. “It will happen as frequently as we can sell out. We’ve also been speaking with Jeremy Fish about whether he would be interested in curating artists for us too.”

What Lacourte is really focused on is returning consumers to the moment of joy he equates with opening something special. He hopes the Select line will reignite a sensation that he worries has yet to be captured by the legal cannabis industry thus far.

“Whether you’re a soda drinker, a weed smoker, or a wine drinker, getting the thing and opening it should be a really happy moment,” Lacourte says. “That’s part of what I was responding to with this idea: the notion that there’s so much stuff out there and it’s all about ‘weed weed weed.’ What’s another conversation we could have? Let’s talk about artists.”

Upper Playground’s “Stoked” line is available at upperplayground.com/collections/stoked.

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