Well, generally. The 5-pack of white undershirts you buy while shopping for a garbage pail or plastic cutlery at Target (or whatever you actually get at Target), those flimsy shirts with strings and open seams hanging out of the collar band (which will most definitely “bacon in the wash” despite the claims of Michael Jordan) – those suck. The shirts that get shot out of a cannon at you by the mascot at Knicks games – those suck. The sad, roughed-up shirts you find dangling on the sale racks of off-price warehouses – those suck. So, in general, t-shirts suck.
Thankfully, there’s a man in the t-shirt world who shares some of our frustrations with sucky shirts: Rob Jungman, founder of Jungmaven. Made in the USA from organic cotton and hemp, Rob’s Jungmaven shirts are sturdy and incredibly comfortable – garments that are built to evolve with wear, much like your favorite pair of jeans. Whether you want an earthen-colored solid henley, or a hand-splattered tie-dyed tee, Jungmaven is the answer to those terrible t-shirt woes. Added bonus: they’re also immensely beneficial to the environment. Think of them as a sort of sartorial crusade for the world’s mistreated soils and trees.
We recently sat down with Rob to talk about his process and ideology, so we could share it with you, but after learning the story behind these beautiful shirts, we immediately realized that Jungmaven was a no-brainer for our own shop — so, we’re geeked to announce that we are carrying 5 different styles for spring/summer! Consider your summer uniform decided. You’re welcome.
BKLYN Dry Goods: How did Jungmaven begin?
Rob Jungman: My first company I started, in ‘93, was called Manastash. Manastash’s logo was a raven, and the name comes from a mountain biking spot right near the middle of Washington state, where I’d bike almost every day in college. The name means ‘new beginning’ because Manastash is where the spring snow melted first, and Native American tribes could plant their first crops. I didn’t know that when I first started it – I just thought it was a great mountain bike ride – but it fit perfectly. Now, if you take Manastash’s logo – a raven – and put it together with the name Manastash, you get ‘maven.’
At the time I was reading the book ‘The Tipping Point,’so I sold Manastash and moved to Costa Rica – I was there almost 5 years – where I worked at this bed and breakfast on the beach. My old Japanese distributor called me up and asked if I could design a line, so I decided to go with ‘Maven.’ I went to trademark it, but some gentleman in the World Wrestling Federation had apparently already taken it.
I had this other line at the time called ‘Jung’ – after my last name, Jungman – so I put the two together, and it was just too bizarre for anyone to have. That made it super easy to trademark, get the website, and there you go. You have Jungmaven.
BKDG: So, you’re originally from Washington?
RJ: I’m from Seattle, and Jungmaven’s a Seattle corporation.
BKDG: But you’re based in New York now?
RJ: Well, the factories we work with are in LA, but the showroom and main sales offices are in New York.
BKDG: Did you start Jungmaven with a couple of friends, or has this just been your own thing?
RJ: Yeah, I started it, and I ended up meeting this couple up in the Humboldt area who had a little operation going – working with fabrics and waxes – and we all just started making shirts for Jungmaven. There’s no hand-on at this point; after about six months they went on their way. So since then, it’s pretty much been a one-person operation – aside from the sales and showroom team in New York. And the team in the factories. It’s pretty small.
BKDG: On your website you say your goal is for ‘everyone to have a hemp shirt by 2020.’ Why make shirts from organic hemp and cotton? How can this help both us as consumers and the environment itself?
RJ: Well, the ‘hemp in 2020’ thing started around 2010, and at first everybody kind of thought it was a joke (laughs). With the amount of t-shirts we have to produce, it can be kind of hard, but what we’re really trying to do is change the t-shirt mindset; the paradigm of shirts. When you think of a t-shirt, you automatically go to ‘cotton’ – we want people to start thinking of hemp.
Cotton is one of, if not the worst, abuser of pesticides insecticides used on crops. It’s also one of the worst abusers of fresh water, which is quickly becoming a natural resource of high demand. If you look at the areas where cotton is grown – the ‘cotton belt’ – those are areas which are facing heavy droughts; they’re becoming deserts quickly. The best example is the Aral Sea in Russia – once the fourth or fifth largest body of water in the area – which has been completely drained of water, 90% of it because of cotton.
RJ: Yeah, just a classic example of abuse of a natural resource. Hemp, on the other hand, uses practically no pesticides or insecticides – the small amount of THC within it (which you actually can’t smoke) acts as a natural repellent. It eats up a ton of carbon dioxide, it has a huge biomass (it’s one of the fastest growing plants on Earth), and its root infrastructure is off the charts as far as helping soil. It used to be a rotation crop in America just for that reason – it would loosen up the soil for other plants.
Cotton is the complete opposite – it needs to be flooded and irrigated, therefore using tons of water. It’s root infrastructure is also super shallow, so it does very little for breaking up soils and putting nutrients deep inside.
So, all around, hemp is just a way better crop for helping not only farmers, but our air, water, streams, oceans, food supplies…and on. There’s just so much you can do with hemp.
BKDG: Is finding quality hemp or organic cotton difficult?
RJ: You know, I used to fight it, when I was younger in the ‘90s. I actually thought it was gonna be legal by 2000.
There’s a system in place that supplies our hemp yarn – what we use to knit fabric out of. It goes through its ups and down of prices, and I hope American farmers are able to take advantage of it. I have – I’ve been on the Hemp Association Board since it began in 1994, where our goal is to get industrial hemp grown in the United States. As a business owner, however, I tell people that it’s realistically not gonna be one of the top 10 things used for textiles in the U.S. It’s hard to compete with China (as far as textiles), but it does make sense in food, in construction, etcetera. But, yes, there’s a system in China where we buy our hemp from and that works just great.
BKDG: So, when you started Manastash and the other companies, was your main focus on environmentally conscious clothes or fashion? There’s a good amount of companies with organic cotton or hemp shirts but their shirts aren’t as nice-looking as yours. To us, at least.
RJ: That’s a great question, I don’t know if I’ve been asked that before. I had this great environmental studies professor when I was going to college, and he told me one day that we could be growing industrial hemp out in Washington, because Washington has its rainforests, deserts… my college was right where those two areas met, near a farmland-like area. I was a big outdoors person – I was rock climbing or mountain biking pretty much everyday, so the whole area was my playground. Now, rock climbing and mountain biking in clear-cut land isn’t very fun, so if I could save these rainforests like my professor told me, I’d definitely want to do that.
Now, in the very beginning, I loved clothes. I’ve always loved clothes since I was a kid, especially altering and changing them. I’d have a lot of fun with it. With these companies, though, I wanted to create something capitalistic that, as it grew, would do really great things for the environment. So as people jump on this bandwagon, they’re helping Earth in a way.
I love clothes, but I’d probably say I’m a conservationist at heart, and I wanted to create something that was primarily doing a good thing for an environment. Saving our trees, and doing all of the other things that this great plant can do. Hemp’s also gotta look good and feel right, though, and I think hemp t-shirts just naturally feel right – they feel good when you wear them.
BKDG: You have such interesting dyes on your shirts – is that done by hand in New York or LA? How does the whole dye process work?
RJ: As far as dyes, there’s this really cool dye-house out in LA we use. We love the hand-to-garment idea, touching each piece and adding something special to it. Stripes are hand-painted on. When you see checkered ones, those are rolled on using wax and paint, which is a pretty long process – you have to hand-paint a lot of the patterns on the shirt – and oftentimes it’ll take 2 or 3 days to complete. They’re a little bit more expensive, but we try our best to keep them affordable. We want everybody to have a hemp shirt, but the unique designs and patterns are also a great added touch.
BKDG: From looking at the shirts, in person and online, they seem to give off this retro-surf type vibe – like what shirts used to be like, or should be like. Has old surf culture or outdoorsy culture inspired you at all?
RJ: I grew up in Phoenix – I lived there from 5 years old to 13 – and I was just this little skater kid. I’d carry around Sex Wax in my back pocket – I didn’t even know what to do with it, I think I tried to eat it once – it was just something you did out there to be cool. OP, Lightning Bolt… these were all super inspirational to me. I’d wear their t-shirts until they shredded – the uniform was OP shorts, t-shirt, and some Vans. Everyday.
I moved to Seattle and realized you could actually wear pants, scarves, jackets… parachute pants were in and I couldn’t figure those out, so many zippers and pockets. My influence, though, was still the Southern California skate scene.
When I started Jungmaven, I was living in Costa Rica surfing almost everyday, so Jungmaven has really sprung from that. I always say Jungmaven’s the Volkswagen van with a mountain bike, surfboard, rock climbing gear, a bag of Goji berries (laughs). It’s really more of a lifestyle – it’s all about living well, enjoying life, taking care of the environment. It’s a soul-driven company that has a real environmental purpose, so we have a healthy one for many, many generations to come. The seed of it is from what we know – surfing, enjoying the outdoors – but it’s really meant for everybody.
BKDG: Finally, what’s your go-to Jungmaven product? If you had to choose one favorite piece you make or own, whether it’s a henley, t-shirt, sweatshirt… what would it be?
RJ: Hm, that’s a good question. The Baja tee is what we’ve been making for the longest – since 1996, with Manastash – it’s heavier weight, 7 oz, more ‘old school.’ That’s probably my favorite piece – it’s the shirts I remember from childhood, ones you wear for 10 to 12 years. I actually have one in my closet that’s been around for that long. Maybe not the best thing for re-selling, but it’s a great product that’s built to last.
BKDG: The classic.
RJ: Yeah, exactly. It evolves over wear… it doesn’t just fall apart over a couple weeks or months like so many shirts do. It’s my favorite product, and it’s been with me the longest.
Unsurprisingly, Rob had to be on his way to a Jungmaven Earth Day event. In case you didn’t understand it already, Rob’s Jungmaven crew is really, truly, genuinely passionate about the state of our environment. So next time you’re about to spend 10 bucks on that Hanes 5-pack, think about what Rob’s said. It’s bigger than fashion, and its bigger than us.
And even if it isn’t bigger than fashion, who cares. These shirts are awesome-looking.
Shop Jungmaven here.