An Eco Depot

Photos by Martha Busse

Admit it. you’ve always wondered about Hempen Goods. Owner Rich Ray says many customers tell him they’d driven by his Willy Street store for years, wondering what was inside.

“Most people that are stopping in now have heard positive stories on hemp,” says Ray, who also maintains that hemp has gotten a bad rap in the past not only for obvious connotations but because most people think hemp is a burlap-type of material. In fact, he says, it’s softer than cotton, breathes as nicely and is much more durable. Customers will find softer-than-soft clothing (shirts, pants, socks, even underwear), messenger bags and backpacks, bath and body products and more-all made out of hemp, organic cotton, bamboo or bamboo/cotton blends.

Ray opened Hempen Goods ten years ago when going green simply wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. His eco-friendly and socially conscious store concept was clearly thinking ahead. “It’s finally here-I’m only fifteen years ahead of the curve. It’s exciting for the green movement,” he says.

That movement has made leaps and bounds in not only technology but the sheer amount of earth-friendly products now available. Organic denim, bamboo bedsheets and recycled glass countertops don’t seem that out-there anymore. Ray notes that clothing styles and color selection have improved since he came into retail. The women’s organic cotton/bamboo long-sleeve Ts and cowl-necks in lime, grape and cherry displayed in the store vibrantly illustrate his point.

One of the challenges Ray faces is finding that next big thing; after all, he is limited in what he can sell because of the store’s ideals. But like the majority of small retailers, he’s passionate about the merchandise and eager to educate customers so that his products speak for themselves.

“It’s great that people are aware, but unfortunately it matters to compete,” he acknowledges. “But once I get people in the clothing—they’re sold on the comfort.”

Price range: $1–$220 Owner’s Picks: Hooded sweatshirts, $55–$72; Minawear roll-up hat, $24; hemp seed-oil soap, $3.95; hemp T-shirts, $12–$24. Editor’s Picks: Screen-printed hemp T-shirts, $24; Sweetgrass Natural Fibers bamboo cowlneck, $56; Of the Earth organic cotton long-sleeve T-shirt, $48. Verdict: Ray’s shop is a resource for those looking to go green and educate themselves in eco-friendly clothing. It probably won’t take much convincing once you try on a pair of the uber-soft lounge pants or a comfy cotton tee.

Hempen Goods: 911 Williamson St. 287-0410.

Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.

Madison Magazine - April 2008
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