Papers. Culture. Music. Philanthropy. Is there anything RAW Rolling Papers can’t do? Close your eyes. Imagine a brand whose existence lives somewhere between mainstream acceptance and slightly taboo fringe. Now, picture that same brand whose innovative papers and lifestyle products lend way to incredibly charitable donations and life altering philanthropy work. Still Taboo? Sure, RAW’s ingenuity has lead to the creation of brilliant products like organic cones, glass rolling trays, loaders, a new line of RAW Black which are about 25% thinner than the original papers, and an organic hemp wick that uses the most sustainable source of beeswax preserving the insect’s endangerment. RAW has done major collabs with Wiz Khalifa, Berner, and Odd Sox to name a few and possess one of the more recognizable brand names among smokers and non-smokers alike. With all of that in focus, the actual triumph lies within Josh Kesselman’s (RAW’s founder) RAW Foundation and his vision for a charitable reciprocity that allows the consumer to feel a sense of community, while enjoying themselves and simultaneously giving back. RAW is lifestyle. RAW is culture. It’s those very ideals that allow for what transformed a rolling paper company into a brand which not only pushes the bounds of innovation, but effectively bridges the gap between smoking and pop culture in the most natural way possible. We had the chance to catch up with Eli Kamerow, the RAW rep for the D.C. area. Eli’s wealth of knowledge and coalition skills are systematically hipping people to the ins and outs of the brand, therefore continuously connecting and educating about products, events, charity, and so on. Since the commonality between RAW and Hip-Hop is so vast, Eli’s newest effort, “RAWlife Presents: Up Next D.C.” is a cypher-like collection of some of D.C’s talented and burgeoning artists which he hopes to replicate across other major cities. Regardless of age, demographic, ethnicity, or smoking preference, RAW’s mission and destiny thrives in it’s effort to further culture, tear down stigma, and give back in major ways. RESPECT. talked with Eli and RAW about products, music, The RAW Foundation, and the company’s exciting future. Come to find out, they’ve really been on a roll.
RESPECT.: Let’s start by discussing RAW’s origin and the brand as a whole.
Eli (RAW): “So RAW Rolling Papers is 12 years old now. Our founder Josh (Kesselman) invented the paper after creating other rolling paper brands Elements, Zen, and Juicy Jay’s. Having already been a successful entrepreneur in the rolling paper industry, he was really on a quest to make the best rolling papers. Over the process of some years, Josh’s quest for ingenuity is what lead to the development of RAW and making organic hemp papers that are unrefined and in most people’s estimation, the best rolling papers in the world. What makes RAW so unique is that it’s so much more than just rolling papers, it’s a full lifestyle brand. That’s why you see people in our shirts and hats, and also why you see people with a RAW tattoo. It really is about living an unrefined lifestyle in the sense of being natural, honest, true to yourself, the world, and just generally attempting to do good.”
RESPECT.: What are some of the more popular RAW products?
Eli (RAW): “We’re so fortunate in the fact that we not only have a lot of products, but a lot of POPULAR products. (Laughs) We always keep innovating and coming out with new things. Right now we’re really leaving the way as far as cones. We invented the natural cone and although others have lamely tried to copy, they aren’t even close. We have about 20-25 different varieties based on size, classic vs. organic, etc. They’re constantly fly off the shelves. We just came out with a new pack of organic Artesano papers. The Artesano pack comes with the papers, tips, and foldable rolling tray all build into one. We actually have this all new line of paper called RAW Black, we haven’t talked about it too much, but basically they’re about 25% thinner than RAW Classic it’s some expert leveling rolling! (Laughs) Just released a new magnetic rolling tray with attachable beanbag that contours perfectly to your legs. Just partnered with a new hemp wick supplier, not only to make sure we pay a fair wage to the people who are making the products, but also to make sure we are using a sustainable source of the beeswax since bees were just put in the endangered species list. There’s so much other stuff in the pipeline that I’m not at liberty to discuss yet. The reason the brand stays innovative is because Josh (the founder of the company for anyone late to the read) continues to search for better and more efficient ways to do things. We’re in the trenches, RAW isn’t some group of people sitting in their ivory tower looking for ways to monetize from a popular trend, we’re always in the trenches.”
RESPECT.: What elements separate RAW from other lifestyle brands?
Eli (RAW): “Innovation, ingenuity, and philanthropy. We’re always striving to create new and intriguing products and those products allow us to give back in a major way.”
RESPECT.: You mentioned philanthropy, which is a staple of importance to the brand and you personally. Tell me about the RAW Foundation.
ELI (RAW): “Our founder Josh who I previously mentioned also started the RAW Foundation which is the name of the philanthropic arm of RAW. We’re so grateful for our customers because they allow us to do a lot of philanthropic work. We have saved over 100,000 lives and single handedly funded large water projects for both of Mother Theresa’s hospitals in Ethiopia. There’s often times a stigma around smoking whether it be tobacco or otherwise, but as a direct result as their activity, there are people that are benefitting and really being helped all around the world. We have even created special products where 100% of the profits go directly to charity. There were the WAR papers, (War On Hate) the RAW Dog Chew Toy, (raised money for animal welfare) RAW supernatural deodorant, (raising money for cancer and climate alike) and much more. At Cannabis Cups we donate ALL of our time, money, product, and all costs; so that 100% of what is sold goes directly to Wine To Water. We don’t even cover our product costs, literally, every penny people spend at our booths goes directly to Wine To Water. It’s incredible!”
RESPECT.: When did you become involved with the brand and as an ambassador, how do you continuously advocate for the brands growth?
Eli (RAW): “Yeah so I got involved with the brand right around the time D.C. legalized marijuana, so like November-December time frame of 2014. At the time I was doing a lot of freelance marketing stuff and I had a bunch of smaller local clients and heard that RAW was looking for some marketing help in the D.C. area. So we got in touch and since then my role has really evolved allowing me to do so much cool stuff. As of right now I’d say I work with them in a marketing/consulting capacity, which has allowed me to grow in incredible ways. Truly honored to be a part of such a movement.”
RESPECT.: Let me interject because that’s a perfect transition to my next question which is what’s Hip-Hop’s and music’s overall involvement and impact on the brand and vice versa?
Eli (RAW): “So here’s one of the things that’s really interesting to think about when you look at RAW’s involvement already in the music world. If you look at the companies that are leading the way in the cross-marketing space you see companies like Red Bull, Scion, Mountain Dew, Adidas, I think PUMA is also doing music stuff as well. So really, these are billion dollar companies that are making these plays. Yeah we’re a growing company and definitely the largest rolling paper company, but we’re nowhere near the size of those companies. The reason I bring up the comparison to those brands is it’s amazing to see the progress that we’ve made in the midst of such other giant names with enormous budgets. Recently for example we’ve been working on this really cool new video series called ‘RAWLife Up Next D.C.” We’ve got some of the best up and coming artists in the city (Lightshow, Beau Young Prince, Innanet James, etc.) together, put them in the studio, and made a dope track and video. We’re going to replicate that in other cities as well. The Venn diagram of smokers and people who make music has a pretty heavy overlap! (Laughs) We’ve done a full rolling paper line with Wiz Khalifa. We’ve done collabs with Curren$y, Berner, Kottonmouth Kingz, B-Real from Cypress Hill, etc. Josh (again, the founder) loves Hip-Hop so it’s organic to the culture. There’s always been a close correlation between musicians and smoking from Bob Dylan and The Beatles to even before that. It naturally makes sense that musicians want to be a part of it. Music is in the brands DNA.”
RESPECT.: RAW seems to eliminate any residual sense of Taboo rendering it as close to mainstream culture as possible. How was the brand able to do that?
Eli (RAW): “I’m rally glad you made that point and wanted to expand on it earlier. It’s still on bit on the fringe and a small amount of stigma attached to it, but if you’re a person who can truly identify yourself to the culture of the brand and have done the research, you’ll see the philanthropy side of things. You’ll see the natural ways in production, the impact we have on our customers, etc. It forms a positive sense of community and people want to be a part of that.”
RESPECT.: Describe your future plans for RAW and where you ultimately see the brand.
Eli (RAW): “As far as the future we have so many interesting products and projects coming out this year. Like I mentioned earlier we did the “RAWlife presents: Up Next D.C.” Hoping to continue with that project pretty quickly and replicate it in other cities so we can continue to build culture between music and branding. We’re just going to continue to do what we do and take everything to the next level. New products, new and exciting partnerships, and just continue to be the market innovator when it comes to rolling papers and this great and free culture we’re a part of.”