It all started on Haight Street.
Prior to forming his own line of ceramic stonerware, Liam Kaczmar was living in the area and in need of a replacement for a broken bong. Over the course of his subsequent stroll through the neighborhood, he recalls a mounting sense of dismay after each new smoke shop he visited.
“I could not find anything that was worthy, to me, of putting into my home and leaving out on the table,” Kaczmar tells SF Weekly by phone. “Bongs are the type of thing you hide, right? As someone who is obsessed with the aesthetics of things, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a minimal, clean, simple Japanese-style bong.”
Kaczmar’s solution? Make the bongs himself.
His brand, Summerland, was originally a clothing company. But in 2011 Kaczmar shifted his focus to premium, hand-made ceramic bongs and pipes. Initially, he started with a pipe designed to resemble an apple (now sold as the “Fruit Fantasy” pipe). In 2015, the operation introduced its first bong. Sales have been climbing ever since.
Made in California, these eye-catching creations eschew the colorful swirls and gaudy graphics so commonly found in kitschy smoke shops in favor of lovingly crafted ceramic that speaks for itself. There are no smirking skulls or stoned skunks staring back at you. That’s not the vibe.
The brand’s offerings now include a bong in four finishes, two pipes, a trio of chillums, and assorted non-smokeware merchandise. Kaczmar designs his bongs by first creating a two-dimensional graphic. He then renders those into three-dimensional models which are ushered into the real-world courtesy of a 3D printer. From there, a mold is made and the process continues from there.
Despite Summerland’s proud status as a local manufacturer, they haven’t been immune to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Supply shortages due to the shutdown of the domestic ceramics manufacturing industry have been notable, but Kaczmar says his business is doing just fine.
“This time has actually helped our business,” he says, “in the sense that people are at home and considering the objects that they have around them a lot right now. They’re interacting with things on a more day-to-day level in their home.”
Kaczmar believes that while cannabis consumers are stuck at home, potentially spending more time with their current bongs, they may find themselves looking to make an upgrade. There are considerations both practical and aesthetic at play. In favor of the former, ceramic is easier to clean than glass and offers hits of greater purity (meaning no gross chemical runoff) when compared with plastic counterparts.
Kaczmar cares about these aspects as well as the look and form of the object itself. On behalf of this latter point, he also makes the argument that people should own items that reflect their own personal vibes.
“I’m creating the kind of things that I want to have around me,” he explains.
As part of his soft spoken mission to rewire the way we think about bongs, Kaczmar further encourages cannabis consumers to stop relying on a “more is better” philosophy when it comes to burning bowls. Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, no one is actually required to take a bowl from green to ash in one fell swoop.
“A lot of people see bongs as a relic from college, for getting as stoned as possible,” Kaczmar noted. “I’m always trying to convince people that you don’t have to take huge, milky rips. You can just take a little bit and it’ll suit you just as well. Personally, I love to smoke only a little bit of weed. I don’t like to blast as much as I did in my younger days.”
While Kaczmar doesn’t feel that Summerland’s products specifically reflect the Outer Sunset environment in which they were conceived, he isn’t fully dismissive of the concept. For him, the idea comes back to putting himself in a position to flourish.
“I live in the Sunset because that’s the type of place where I want to be,” he says. “It’s the kind of life that I want to manifest. Even before the whole lockdown thing, I was a homebody, so my life hasn’t really changed that much. Out here on the Avenues, you have everything that you could really need within arm’s reach. We live in our own little small town, in a sense, so there’s no real desire to escape.”