Welcome to Outside-In with DCN where we interview upcoming startups and businesses in the cannabis industry. Each interview you will get to meet the founders taking a leap into building a business they believe. Gain knowledge of their services, their mission and what makes each of the unique.
On this Outside-In, with DCN we spoke with Tomas Rohal, CEO, and Founder, Bohempia.
DCN: Tomas, I was so excited to learn more about Bohempia, to kick this off, can you please share with our readers a little bit more about yourself.
Tomas Rohal: Hello, my name is Tomas Rohal and I am founder and CEO of company Bohempia, based in the Prague Czech Republic. Graduated from Textile Machine Design at Liberec University, but at that time textile industry was in really bad shape so I worked almost 13 yrs for corporations in industrial gases and waste-to-energy industries. But a few years ago I was not very happy with “corporation life” so I decided to work on my own and started Bohempia as cannabis/hemp was my long time life passion.
DCN: Would you like to share anything about your team members?
Tomas Rohal: Our core team is Simona, Margareta, and Jan, they are responsible for retail store and e-shop operation. As well as Dan who is our wholesale manager and product development. Klara is responsible for marketing and social media, Tonda and Ondra care for the financials. And then we outsource various activities such as graphic design, PR, fashion design.
DCN: Can you share the backstory of Bohempia?
Tomas Rohal: Hemp fashion was not the direct choice, I wanted to work with hemp. (Rec or Medical MJ was not legal few years ago in the Czech Republic). I used my experience from the previous career and made a scorecard spreadsheet where I evaluated various hemp business opportunities as fashion, food, cosmetics, CBD, construction… and hemp textile was the clear winner for me also with respect to my education background. Bohempia name is a combo of Bohemia as the old Latin name for the Czech Republic + hemp.
DCN: Why hemp? Can you share with our viewers why hemp was your ideal choice?
Tomas Rohal: Hemp is greatest plant on Earth with multiple uses, there is no other plant you can use for textile, food, medicine, construction, fuel, plastics and many many more. In textile, there are many benefits of hemp over cotton, which is the dirtiest agricultural crop. Not only all the environmental benefits of growing hemp compare to cotton-like the 4x higher yield of fiber per acre, 50% less water, 95% fewer agrochemicals but also all functional features of hemp textile – strongest natural fiber, moisture wicking, thermoregulation, UV adsorption, antimicrobial.
DCN: What have been the challenges launching a company focused on using hemp as the source of the product?
Tomas Rohal: The biggest challenge was to get access to hemp fiber with respect to quality, volume and price. We wanted to use as much as possible local sources. As we are in Europe we didn’t want to source hemp from China because sustainability is very important for us, we didn’t want to ship the fiber or yarn around the globe from China to the Czech Republic. Another big challenge was to secure the textile production supply chain, as we wanted to produce everything locally within the Czech Republic. It was hard work and success.
DCN: Your team searched for over 2 years testing out different hemp qualities, can you share a little background on what that experience was like?
Tomas Rohal: When we started the research we found out that almost all fashion textile hemp came from China and in Europe, you can get only industrial grade hemp fiber which is good only for construction and automotive industry. Sourcing from China has many risks as big minimum order quantities, long lead times, quality, advance payments.
You also meet a lot of cheaters on your way as the hemp/cannabis industry is very attractive now and people want to make quick money. Many products only look like hemp are made from other materials. We spend a lot of time meeting the local textile producers (spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, washing dyeing shops…) and asking them to make hemp sample for us.
DCN: What makes your product line unique? Can you describe your product line?
Tomas Rohal: Our products are unique as they are made from hemp, made in the Czech Republic and not in Far East Asia. Our sneakers are PETA certified, we offer a full collection of hemp shoes in term of style and colors and not making only one hemp model out of many conventional models. Also, the vulcanized shoe construction with many functional benefits is unique compared to conventional glued sneakers.
Our main product as you already know are hemp sneakers in a couple of styles and colors – slip-on, low & high tops, urban boots. Then we have hemp socks which are great for its moisture wicking and antimicrobial properties and are very good match with shoes. And we have a collection of basic t-shirts.
DCN: Do you make shoes for men and women?
Tomas Rohal: Yes, we make unisex shoes for both men and women, but we also produced few models for girls only like ballerina and sneakers with pink outsole for example.
DCN: Did you or the team have any cons for launching a cannabis product?
Tomas Rohal: Fortunately, we didn’t face any cons as our products are made from legal hemp and we didn’t have to deal with “marijuana-specific” problems. We only have to deal with above-mentioned issues with sourcing the fiber and finding the production supply chain.
DCN: Is there any insight into the future of Bohempia? Any new products you may look at developing?
Tomas Rohal: For 2018 we are going the broaden the hemp textile upper color selection for our sneakers and preparing barefoot line for spring. A new product this year will be underwear.
DCN: Can you ship internationally?
Tomas Rohal: Yes, we can ship internationally.Currently, we sell internationally on Indiegogo platform and work on programming brand new global e-shop with improvements in global shipping and payment methods. Currently, people can buy our products not only in the Czech Republic but also in stores in Germany, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, France, Austria and New Zealand.
DCN: We noticed you had a Kickstarter campaign, how was the experience?
Tomas Rohal: Kickstarter was a great experience and we learned a lot especially on social media marketing. It was like 3 months of really hard teamwork before we launched the campaign, working with influencers to promote our sneakers, setting the properly targeted Facebook campaigns etc. This was a really big learning lesson for us in a positive way. The Kickstarter project is actually a really complex task and also cost a lot of money not only to prepare but also to run it during the 30 days of the campaign and there is no space for mistakes.
DCN: You raised 248% more than you were asking for, how did that feel?
Tomas Rohal: We felt happiness and satisfaction for our hard work. Also, we felt the responsibility to deliver the product to backers.
DCN: What will the funds be spent on?
Tomas Rohal: The funds will be spent on the production of the shoes for the backers, of course, and then dyeing the new fabric colors as it requires quite a big piece of fabric to dye, improvements of the production tooling and finally the development of new shoes and styles.
DCN: As we all start fresh for the new year, what is the best piece of advice you would like to share with your fellow entrepreneurs?
Tomas Rohal: Spend time on development of the ideas before you turn them into a product or service, discuss it with your friends to get the feedback, pick the right people for the team. Learn, learn and keep learning new things within your business. And last but not least, prepare well for your financial plan.
DCN: Some readers may not realize how important hemp is, what is one thing that you would like to share with our readers about hemp that they may not know?
Tomas Rohal: One new thing we learned about hemp is the unbelievable antimicrobial and antifungal properties of hemp fabrics to kill a wide range of bacteria and other bugs including staphylococcus, e-Coli, pneumonia, fecal and many more.
DCN: Tomas, thank you for sharing with us more about Bohempia and your journey.
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