Minot, North Dakota — Beth Kjelson and Becky Piehl have quietly been selling products made of hemp for the past four years. Together the duo owns and operates ArtMain in downtown Minot, a store Kjelson says is devoted to quality and community.
Some of the items sold include clothing made from industrial hemp. It’s mostly women’s clothing, according to Kjelson, however, the jeans, shorts and shirts can be worn by both sexes. ArtMain has also handled women’s accessories made of industrial hemp.
The bulk of the hemp products showcased at the store come from Berkeley, California, wholesaler Two Star Dog. The owners of that company, Steven and Allan Boutrous, both grew up in Bismarck. “Two Star Dog believes in the product (hemp) but also style and fashion. It’s a growing company,” Kjelson says. “It’s a nice circle. We wanted to make a statement when we introduced hemp products four years ago and we found these two North Dakota boys who have a first-class facility. We’re not experts, but we felt we just wanted to bring it in, sell it and educate as we go along.”
The statement, according to Kjelson, was to handle an American made product that could be a boon to North Dakota farmers, if and when it becomes a commercial commodity in the United States.
Thus far, she says the most common misconception with her hemp products is they are often identified with marijuana. “Most customers are pleasantly surprised by the feel of hemp. It’s like iron. It doesn’t wear out,” Kjelson says. “It’s a hollow fiber so it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I think the key to hemp is to get somebody to wear it.”
Another misconception consumers now have is that you have to be a teen-ager to purchase and wear hemp products, Kjelson says. “As you can see by these items, this isn’t just for teens. It’s something you can dress up with or wear everyday.”
She says hemp is an issue only if it is made an issue. “Hemp is not stamped all over the product. It’s refined. It’s not that ropey look that is identifiable with hemp. It usually sells itself.”
The price is on the high end, Kjelson admits, however, the quality of the hemp products are unmatched, but she also attributes a part of the cost to having to import the raw material from other countries. That could be rectified, she says, if farmers were allowed to grow hemp in North Dakota.
“There’s a strong possibility for money to be made for our farmers,” Kjelson explains. “With our rural background, we’re concerned for the farmers. We’re also proud that our state was the first in the nation to pass the law to legalize hemp.”
Kjelson says she and her partner will continue carrying hemp products and hopes the market will eventually flourish across North Dakota. Kjelson and Piehl have talked about expanding their hemp product line.
Aside from her business, she believes industrial hemp, even though tightly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency, is important to North Dakota’s future. “They (farmers) should be able to make an honest living,” Kjelson says. “My business will be better off, Minot will be better off and our state will be better off with alternative crops like hemp.”
Copyright © 2000, Minot Daily News. All rights reserved.