Mario Guzman is in the process of creating the Louis Vuitton of marijuana.
Founder of the rapidly expanding cannabis brand “Sherbinskis,” Guzman knows that high-end, stylish products made with close attention to detail can capture a crowd. Whether you’re selling cars, handbags, diamond rings or marijuana, it’s all the same: make your merchandise attractive with the highest quality goods, and customers will find you irresistible.
It’s this marketing savvy that's ushered in a new era for Guzman's Sherbinskis brand, which will soon be available at Barneys in Beverly Hills in the form of a product collaboration with fashionable cannabis purveyor Beboe. The store-within-a-store, called the High End, will open in Beverly Hills this March, with other locations in California soon to follow.
I caught up with the influential Bay Area cultivator recently to discuss his move into the luxury department-store space and where he sees the high-end cannabis market headed.
“Sherbinskis is known for our culture and respected for our product. We stand out because we built that cachet over a long period of time in a network of influential music creatives, cannabis experts and loyal customers from all over the world," says Guzman. "To see Sherbinskis sold at an institution like Barneys is both humbling and gratifying. It represents where we are today and is a sign of what’s to come.”
A rendering of the Barneys Beverly Hills shop called High End.BARNEYS NEW YORK
While fashionable products and marijuana might not immediately strike the mainstream consumer as two matching tastes, just think about the journey alcohol took post-prohibition. Once cast in a wicked light, current adult beverages are now being endorsed in elegant commercials by the likes of George Clooney and Mila Kunis. We’re not far from marijuana being treated in a similarly chic manner.
“I’ve always been intrigued with fashion and the energy behind it,” says Guzman. “It’s a way of telling a story.”
The marijuana retailer and cultivator now finds himself in the enviable position to relate the story of his sophisticated cannabis collection — and also create a luxury-level cannabis experience for customers — because over the past decade he’s created marijuana products that very much hit the mark for connoisseurs. His varietal line of dessert-titled offerings like Sunset Sherbert, Mochi and the ever-popular Gelato — that last one crowned Leafly’s 2018 Strain of the Year after clocking over 435,000 hours of user search on the site — are just a few of the many contributions Sherbinski has made to the world of cannabis seed breeding.
Sherbinskis founder Mario Guzman in his garden.COURTESY SHERBINSKIS
If the term “seed breeding” isn’t immediately familiar to you, you’re not alone. Marijuana cultivators, akin to master chefs in the kitchen, have for over half a century worked at developing seeds for the creation of new and interesting varietals of cannabis. Think wine and the way vintners bred grapes from Bordeaux to Napa to Marlborough. Cannabis breeders are the sole reason why the menu for marijuana products today is now in excess of thousands of different flavors — and why we currently enjoy a multibillion-dollar marijuana industry in North America.
So it makes perfect sense that marijuana entrepreneurs like Guzman should now be leading the charge for cannabis as a high-end product on par with fine wine and couture clothing.
"Barneys New York has always been at the forefront of shifts in culture and lifestyle, and cannabis is no exception," said Daniella Vitale, CEO of Barneys New York, in a release. "Many of our customers have made cannabis a part of their lifestyle, and The High End caters to their needs with extraordinary products and service they experience in every facet of Barneys New York."
In case you haven’t been keeping track — and many Americans really haven’t been — cannabis is now so popular that the U.S. presently counts 33 states where the substance is legal. The polling numbers perhaps attest to weed’s popularity the loudest, with a Gallup poll showing 66 percent of Americans now support federal legalization of marijuana. Pot lovers are no longer stereotypical slackers clutching murky bongs. Many of today’s cannabis users are sophisticated, cultured and have deep pockets ready to spend. They are CEOs, physicians, paralegals, software engineers, politicians — all the same people who enjoy a nice happy-hour beverage and still manage to show up the next day for work or church.
Appearing in London recently at a conference put on by fashion media company The Business of Fashion, Guzman was invited to talk about his cannabis brand and how it intersects with modern-day trendsetters. He drew a comparison between Tiffany & Co.’s little blue boxes and his “Proudly Loud” tagline and eye-catching orange packaging.
The iconic Gelato line of cannabis products.COURTESY SHERBINSKIS
“When I was at the Business of Fashion VOICES conference I stood in a room where luxury fashion and cannabis came together and showed us all something I’ve believed for a long time, which is fashion can help leave behind the stereotypes of the old cannabis user,” says Guzman. “I see the influence fashion has today and I know it can help deliver our industry’s message. For example, a bright color, rich fabric or well-designed jacket can draw people in, and that gives me the opportunity to share our flower with people in a way we feel only Sherbinskis can deliver.”
Set to open a new retail space on Fairfax Avenue in L.A. this spring — adjacent to the upscale Grove retail and entertainment complex — the Sherbinskis cannabis club will be just a stone’s throw away from the popular Supreme store. A luxury brand influenced by skate, punk and hip-hop cultures, the Supreme brand has mastered the art of urban chic. Some might scoff at their $275 price tags for a basic hoodie — but nobody can deny their effectiveness when the shop drops a new product and the style faithful are lined up around the block at 3am.
Guzman has intimate knowledge of that kind of collaboration with a limited release, after his brand co-created a pair of bespoke Sherbinskis Nike AF1’s that dropped at ComplexCon for $130 a pair. The release garnered a huge buzz and sold out in less than two hours, which caught the attention of Nike executives and confirmed his brand has a robust following in the fashion-minded community.
The bespoke Sherbinskis collaboration with Nike.COURTESY SHERBINSKIS
The cannabis businessman has also managed to parlay his retail flower and merchandising business into a financial concern, recently closing $4 million of strategic seed funding with plans for a Series-A round of funding soon.
Steadily namechecked all over contemporary music, Sherbinskis Gelato is most notably lauded in hip-hop culture. It’s important to note the deep relationship that marijuana has always had with music — particularly rap and hip-hop, two styles of music that also heavily influence fashion trends. From Young Dolph’s album titled “Gelato” to Calvin Harris’s “Slide” to John Mayer reportedly writing songs for his albums while enjoying Mochi Gelato — Guzman is nailing a certain zeitgeist that holds marijuana in very high regard.
With all this attention on his cannabis brand, it's refreshing to see that it isn’t all just dollars and cents for the marijuana entrepreneur. At the crux of his work is an appreciation and admiration for the plant as medicine. Repeatedly during our conversation, Guzman refers back to the people who fought for patients’ rights for safe access to cannabis. Humans have a long history of using the marijuana plant as a cure for ailments, and he wants that to be known as a more mainstream audience becomes greater aware of his products.
“All of us — our parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins — we’re all going to need medicine as we age,” says Guzman. “I hope people will opt for medicine that is integrated into our DNA. I hope people will be open to the magic and the power of the cannabis plant.”