Legalization meets sophistication: 5 questions for Beboe’s Clement Kwan

Todd Traina (center) joins Beboe co-founders Clement Kwan (left) and Scott Campbell (right) at a San Francisco launch party. SOURCE: PHOTO- Devlin Shand for DREW ALTIZER Photography

Five questions for Beboe co-founder Clement Kwan

Sure, Clement Kwan likes to use marijuana once in awhile, but there’s something that gets him even higher. The UC Davis economics major — who worked in mergers and acquisitions in Silicon Valley before a stint in fashion at Dolce & Gabbana and online luxury clothing retailer Yoox — is now one of the driving forces behind Beboe, the Los Angeles luxury vape pens and candies .

If that sounds like an oxymoron — who puts stoners and high style in the same context? —Kwan says it’s not. Now that eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana use, he and business partner Scott Campbell, an artist and tattoo artist to the stars, are bent on creating cannabis products that don’t carry a stigma, are beautiful to behold, easy to use, and come with a meaningful story. Beboe gets its name from Campbell’s grandmother, who fed his mother pot brownies to ease her nausea when she had cancer during his childhood.

If the story is comforting and folksy, the products fulfill the promise of a luxe experience. The rose gold vaporizer ($60, about 150 puffs) looks like an elegant pen straight out of a Mont Blanc boutique, while the apple spice pastilles (25 5-mg THC candies, $25) come in a pale peach tin decorated with elegantly scrolled line drawings by Campbell.

Kwan and Campbell met on a business trip in Detroit, and discovered a mutual admiration for marijuana, centered around the wellness and leisure aspects of the plant. The company was in development for more than a year. Its products became available in San Francisco and the Bay Area this week — at Harvest, Harborside, Octavia Wellness and Eaze dispensaries.

In town for the National Cannabis Industry Association Summit in Oakland and a launch party hosted by investor Zak Williams (son of entertainer Robin Williams) at a private Pacific Heights home, Kwan talked with GreenState about Beboe’s roots and his hopes for the company’s future. The interview was condensed for brevity.

GreenState: Where did you get your start?

I grew up in east Los Angeles. With financial aid, I went to UC Davis to be a veterinarian and thought I’d be working with puppies and kittens. I never thought it would be about livestock, but it was all about horses and cows. I switched from animal science to corporate finance, and had to take classes at UC Berkeley to finish my major. I’d take the Amtrak to Berkeley every other day. At Berkeley, through a friend, I met a hippie studying business who also grew [weed] and he taught me to grow. I needed to pay my way through school. We grew indoors. My first grow yielded six pounds. We had 10 containers and four lights. It was Skunk #1, and took 62 days. The hippie told me, “I will teach you to grow — the only payment you will give me is your first harvest. You keep the knowledge.” I kept growing and expanded by teaching others at school how to grow and I took equity in their grow operations. After graduation, I went into mergers and acquisitions at a company in Silicon Valley. I was heartbroken when I had to stop growing. I always thought I would get back into it. I like the wellness aspect of the plant, the leisure aspects — and it’s still federally illegal. There’s a mystique. And there’s an excitement when you harvest.

How does your fashion background play into Beboe?

When my parents divorced, my mom was a single mom and took me shopping with her when I was a kid. She’d ask me what looked good on her, what color to buy, and how the fit was. I left mergers and acquisitions to go to New York and get into the fashion industry. I begged Andrew Rosen at Theory for a job. He gave me a job in the showroom, bringing lunch to the retailers. I went from making more than $100,000 a year to $30,000 a year. I moved into production planning. I went to Diesel in 2003 and worked for three years repositioning the brand, and then to Milan, to work with Dolce & Gabbana, and then Yoox.

Clement Kwan. Photo: courtesy of Beboe

Do Italians smoke weed?

Hash. It comes from Morocco.

How did Beboe happen?

I moved back to New York and helped Yoox merge with Net-A-Porter. At the end of 2014, I was helping [watch brand] Shinola’s Tom Kartsotis with some marking and e-commerce. Tom brought some weirdos on a plane to Detroit, people whose opinions he trusted, to help with a project. Yes, I was one of those weirdos. That’s where I met Scott. My first impression of him? He was cool, a very cool person. Cool, and warm. Scott and I became friends, and somehow, started talking about marijuana. He showed me his marijuana Christmas trees in his apartment in Brooklyn. We bonded over that and thought we’d like to change the shape of the industry. We were thinking: Should we do a grow operation, a farm? open a dispensary? buy a brand? In the end, we decided, ‘We’ve got to do it ourselves, in California.’ I’m from California, Scott always goes there. We just thought the landscape and the market was big and sophisticated. The California cannabis market is half the total cannabis market in the United States, and it’s also the sixth largest economy in the world. Right now it’s a $6 billion crop, as a whole, and $3 billion from a legal perspective. We wanted something that was more social, something that could be enjoyed during dinner party or a cocktail party — which is where we spend an inordinate amount of time, in art and fashion. And every time we would be at these parties, we would see people using cannabis in an unorthodox way, an unstructured way. There were no brands. It was just, ‘I’ve got something from my dealer here.’ People would go outside to smoke and smoke a joint. or, someone would have a vaporizer and not knwo exactly where the oil was from. They’d eat an edible that maybe was from out of state or made by someone in Brooklyn. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason. We thought it would be a great opportunity — since we know this dinner party culture, we’d build something for that. Our products are tested for pesticides, solvents and foreign matter inside the cannabis. If it doesn’t meet the cannabis guidelines from the state of California, it’s thrown out.

Who would you most like to see using one of your vaporizers and where?

Warren Buffett — probably at a dinner party. It would symbolize legitimacy. He’s a solid human being. He has an incredible network of friends. Aside from money, he’s a very intelligent person. If he chose our product, it would be the ultimate compliment. Scott and I are doing this as our platform for advocacy. We believe that if you make something beautiful, you can send a stronger message. Because of the way Beboe looks, it has opened a conversation and brought many people to the table who wouldn’t normally have been at the table. The more sophisticated people you get into the industry, the more the federal government will see the need to change the laws. This is not an economic play. We want to shape an industry. We want to make people feel it’s OK to consume. It’s OK to have a job in the cannabis industry. And telling a story with a brand in cannabis is important.

Carolyne Zinko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

SF Chronicle & reporter keeps an eye on high style, from cannabis to luxe living & fashion. Read all about it!