With ambition and vision, Georgina Wilkinson & Gary Roger from Margaret River Hemp Co are the hardest working couple in hemp – or at least in Western Australian Hemp. Running not just one but three hemp companies, they are tireless ambassadors for cannabis and hemp, with a wild entrepreneurial spirit and an endless supply of ideas & inspiration. We get the distinct impression that they’re sativa lovers…
Regardless of their energy source, budding cannabis entrepreneurs would do well to consider how they may avail of Georgina & Gary’s passion and wisdom. Read on to find out what they’re doing & why they’re doing it.
Hi Georgina – thanks so much for taking the time for a chat with us. So, tell us all about “the story so far” with Margaret River Hemp Co?
Margaret River Hemp Co was opened by a local couple at its current location in 1995. My parents bought from them shortly after, as a lifestyle change from the UK. They had visited me, after I had finished my trip around Aus, and had finally settled in Margaret River. I bought into the business a couple of years later. With my husband Gary, we are now the sole owners. Hemp Co had, and still does have, a lot of potential.
The biggest change to the business, at the time, was to move towards a more organic and locally produced skincare range. Working out our own, hemp skin care formulas were one of our biggest challenges, and getting Australian grown Hemp Seed Oil took a while.
Getting customers to believe in the properties and products of Industrial Hemp has been an educational journey and still is! We definitely aren’t just a sales company, more of an education hub, and we can talk all day long! I love to see people’s faces when the penny finally drops, one customer at a time. We did a survey recently and 20% of the people that filled it in still believed that hemp seed foods had THC in!
Slow starting for Hemp Co, but in the last six years things have been moving quite quickly for us – especially with the use of hemp in the building industry. My husband Gary has been a registered builder for many years, and we had been watching and learning about the use of hempcrete in Europe for a long time. Hemp Homes Australia was born 6 years ago. This was a game changer for us, as I’m sure for many other people. Sustainable, healthy living homes, minimum footprint, carbon sequestration, the list goes on. Also, the average build of a 3 x 2 house, can have up to six skip bins of rubbish going to land fill, whereas building with hemp reduces this to one. We banned all plastic pallet wraps from our job sites when we realised 16km was being used PER WEEK in our local hardware alone!
The raw material for hemp building supplies is called hemp hurd. This is obtained from the inner core of the hemp plant. We started DecorCo Hemp Processing in 2018 together with David, a broadacre farmer, who we’d introduced to growing hemp a couple of years earlier. We realised that if we really wanted to vertically integrate, we needed this processing facility. The processing facility is set up at the moment for mainly building products and we’re looking at new products for hemp bast fibre and dust.
We really need companies / start-ups that can come up with innovative new ideas around what to do with it. Hemp fibre is mainly used around the world for textiles but as there is no real textile manufacturing here in Australia, what can fibre be used for to replace other non-sustainable industries? I think it’s really important for Australia – especially in our current climate – that we begin to depend on and manufacture our own products rather than depend on other countries.
May I ask where you get your hemp oil and other raw materials from, and how they’re processed – is it all homegrown / home processed?
Although we have been growing for about four years now, the yield for hemp seed has been very low – mainly because of the “28 parrot” who loves it, for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!
Because Gary is a registered builder, we decided to go down the “Hempcrete” direction, which is totally the opposite of what most hemp companies here in Australia (and overseas) are doing. As you probably know, hemp food is the quickest and cheapest way to go, first up. We have gone down the most expensive way first!
Our hemp food comes from Tasmania at the moment, and has done for a long time. It took me a while to realise “Hemp Foods Australia” was Chinese seed. I was so pissed off with Paul Benheim when he finally told me.
There is no hemp food processing in Western Australia yet, but I have heard that one may be ready before this Christmas.
For the building products, hemp hurd, we were getting from NSW, but the mill has now closed, so that’s why it is really important fro us to get our processing up and running for this growing season this October.
What are your goals for Margaret River Hemp Co – is there a “finish line”?
Our goals for Hemp Co change continuously, and sometimes it can be very hard to focus on one thing. There are so many things you can do with this plant, it honestly truly amazes me. The finish line looks a long way off at the moment, we love what we do and are very passionate about it.
We hope to see hemp used in peoples’ every day lives, from wearing it to eating it, living in it and self-medicating by growing it in your garden! A future dream! Hemp has been grown for over 10,000 years. It was a necessary part of the lives of our ancestors and was banned for purely monetary reasons by the USA. In Canada today, only 4% of the country actually consumes hemp seeds and they are the biggest hemp food producer in the world!
“I think with the global situation at the moment, it’s so important that we all work together. Businesses that aren’t transparent or take advantage of the current situation will be remembered in the future; good communication is the key. ”– Georgina Wilkinson, Margaret River Hemp Company
There are many different approaches to business but a huge part of the progression depends on one simple thing: cashflow. How did you guys finance getting started and are you still privately held by the same initial owners? Is the intention to seek external investment or is it all about self-funding?
- Margaret River Hemp Co: self-funded but the bank own a bit; still owned by Gary and myself – Daring Pty Ltd.
- Hemp Homes Australia: self-funded; Daring Pty Ltd.
- DecorCo Hemp Processing – joint venture between Hemp Homes Australia and Karingal Farms, self-funded at the moment.
Gary and I are not farmers and we realised early on that to get this industry off the ground, and able to scale up, we needed to work with a broad acre farmer to justify the processing facility, so we got Karingal involved. Broad acre was the way to go. I worry about the amount of small hobby farmers who have an Industrial Hemp licence and love the idea of growing hemp/cannabis, but have no idea what they are going to do with it once grown.
We are always open to joint ventures, but really need people that will bring something to the table. There is a lot of big talk going on in the industry, and we’ve stopped listening to a certain amount. We are focused on our own abilities and strengths, and sticking to the plan!
When did you figure out that you could make this your “real job” and not keep one eye on the job seekers listing!?
Haha, quite a while! My hubby runs his own company, plus his new start up, we both definitely still have to work our separate jobs. I run Margaret River Hemp Company full time, and have a team of eight to run our two stores. Gary runs his building company separately and has changed over to hemp building only in the last 6/7 years. We both work in the Hemp Industry full time now.
What’s different about your brand and how you do business?
Our brand is unique. The hemp plant has the most amazing properties and thousands of uses. You can build your home from it, furnish your home, dress yourself, feed yourself and use organic skincare products – all from a plant which is totally sustainable.
As a company, we are honest, transparent and great communicators with first rate customer service. We prefer to phone and connect via social media channels to our customers if there are any problems, or if there is a need to chat about something. Our staff have been with us for years, as they love what they do and believe in the products they sell.
Our skincare and food range are 100% Australian grown and produced, and we are consistently adding new products. We only use natural and organic ingredients, manufacturing in small batch runs. Because we grow ourselves, we have been able to play around with certain parts of the hemp plant that can be used in skincare and food. Wouldn’t it be nice to use the leaf and the flower! One day, hopefully sooner rather than later. We have R&D day once a week, so we can keep moving forward.
Millennial & Gen Z consumers are more conscious than any previous generation about who they’re giving their money to; how do you guys feel about transparency and is it something you personally find desirable in the businesses you support?
Totally transparent, I’m constantly getting emails, phone calls from young people wanting to get involved in the industry, or have some great idea that they would like to start in Australia. We try to point them in the right direction and help where we can. As you know, hemp can replace lots of items that we use everyday, so I’m seeing start ups working on these ideas.
I think with the global situation at the moment, it’s so important that we all work together. Businesses that aren’t transparent or take advantage of the current situation will be remembered in the future; good communication is the key.
Some brands try to provide the lowest cost, others try to provide the highest quality. The interaction between both defines where you are on the value scale between budget and luxury. Where do you situate MRHC and why did you choose to set up camp there?
We want our products to be used by everyone, so we see ourselves as affordable luxury. Because we manufacture and quality control ourselves, we can keep the prices down to sustain this. I see some products in the market that are extremely expensive. Then I read what’s in the product, and there’s nothing special in it at all – total rip off! Customers are smarter these days. It’s all about respect and doing the right thing.
What’s your biggest challenge in terms of making MRHC the best it can be? If you had a magic wand, what barrier would you remove?
- Removing Plastic – we’re trying hard by using mainly glass, recycled plastic & tin at the moment. Looking at cardboard & corn starch, but you do have to be practical too.
- Facebook shits me to no end – ‘the bane of my life’– it’s very hard to get around, what’s wrong with the word ‘cannabis’ & ‘hemp’? It’s beyond me.
- Would love to use the leaf and flower, why not!! Most other countries around the world do.
- Customer perception can still be hard work in the hemp industry, 20% of Australians still believe they can get high from hemp seed!!
- Education is the key – there are a lot of misconceptions around hemp. Having a trusted brand is important to us.
“A sustainable future to us, is where people can meet their needs without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their own needs. We can do well by doing good”Georgina Wilkinson, Margaret River Hemp Company
Who is the community that surrounds MRHC? How involved are they – active, passive, a mix?
Very active! The Australian Hemp Community is where I put most of my energy into, though I’m also involved in helping an organic food company here in Margaret River now, doing delivery and drive-thru fruit & veg. It’s important for it to keep running, as it supports nearly 200 families.
My volunteer work:
- Chair Industrial Hemp Association of WA
- Vice President Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance
- Committee member for the Australian Industrial Hemp Conference – 2020 was a great success like the previous one in 2018, great to listen what is happening around the world. Hemp is now seen here in Australia as an emerging industry.
- Reference Group member – Industrial Hemp – with the Dept Primary Industries WA
With the coronavirus pandemic at the moment, it really has brought our Hemp Community together. It’s blown me away, how many emails and phone calls I have received over the last few days from around Australia. People seeing if you’re ok & offering well wishes. I really do believe the Australian Hemp Industry will survive and thrive through the pandemic, and what comes after. It is the industry’s time to shine.
How would you describe the cultural landscape of the cannabis industry? What are we doing well and what do we need to do better?
Here in Australia, the hemp Industry still has a long way to go. We used to joke that the major Hemp Industry players here, you could fit on a mini bus! In the last three years it’s increased quite dramatically, though it definitely will be survival of the fittest over the next few months / years. Thankfully, the government passed the Hemp Foods Act in 2017, but if they had passed it earlier like every other country, we would probably have had a better footing to get through this present crisis.
If only they had passed CBD laws here in Australia and we had an Industry up and running for wellness oils / nutraceuticals, I honestly believe that there wouldn’t be as many people without jobs at the moment. A huge employment opportunity for our future. Alcohol became legal after the 1932 Great Depression…maybe cannabis’s time is soon approaching? I bloody well hope so!
What can we do better:
- Use Australian grown products, seeds, oil, flour, protein. This also includes hemp building materials, hurd and binder, as most of it still comes from overseas.
- Companies need to be more transparent – there is still a lot of Chinese seed sold under the label ‘Australian Food’.
- There are a lot of hemp products out there that have minimum hemp in them, and yet their labelling and marketing says differently. Check the label – if hemp is the last ingredient labelled, there is bugger all in it!
Every business needs to balance “real world concerns” with “ideal world intentions”. In terms of Economic Factors versus Community Factors, how do you find your balance? Would you say you’re 50/50 or is there a stronger focus towards either side?
We believe in an Australian Hemp Industry, especially now more than ever. Companies are still bringing in hemp bedding for animals from overseas. If your horses, chickens and guinea pigs are laying on hemp, it’s probably come from France!
Each community should be able to grow their own hemp, process it in their own town, and use it to feed and house everyone – all from hemp. We are working on this with our processing plant here in Margaret River.
Hemp clothing made in Australia is still a work in progress. We can make clothing here, but the fabric still comes from overseas. There is a lack of manufacturing here, and the quality of Hemp is superior in countries like Eastern Europe and China.
In terms of community, have you entered into any partnerships or co-promotions with other brands who share similar goals? Are you open to this or do you have plans to do so in the future?
We love working with other companies and are always open to collaboration in any way.
- In the past we’ve done a Smoked Hemp Gin, 3 years ago with the Margaret River Distillery.
- We’re working with a major winery here, that is making a Hemp Wine, due to be released before Christmas.
- Hemp is anti-bacterial, so we are now producing face masks for our region with the local sewing group at Spool & Spindle.
- We also have lots of influencers and brand ambassadors that we constantly work with, that have the same ethos as our brand.
How does cannabis enter and leave your ecosystem? E.g., where is it sourced from and what goes into the process while it’s “under your roof” before hitting the shelves?
We only use 100% Australian grown hemp seed. We have a manufacturing facility in Margaret River which is certified food grade for the production of our hemp raw vegan chocolate and hemp foods. Our packaging is also done here.
Our Hemp Skin Care range is also manufactured here from start to finish. Again with Australian grown Hemp Seed Oil. Where possible, we also source Australian grown essential oils.
People are increasingly aware of their footprint in terms of sustainability. Have you been following the potential packaging applications around cannabis and is this something that you could see benefitting your brand?
I’ve seen it in the USA, hemp packaging. Would love to see our products using hemp in this area, definitely an end goal for our company. We have the hurd and fibre from our processing plant. We just need some innovative businesses to take on the challenge!
Have you got any steps planned to improve your sustainability footprint and when do you expect these to be complete?
Our aim has always been to foster a healthy planet. Hemp can definitely do this from the growth stage to the finished products, that’s what makes it so unique. Hemp Co has a commitment to sustainability, from carbon farming from the start to finished products at the end. A few examples:
- Energy efficient lighting
- Corn starch packaging
- Reducing plastic packaging
- Compost and recycle
- Refill available, for certain skin care products
- Carbon footprint for hemp products to a minimum
A sustainable future to us, is where people can meet their needs without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their own needs. We can do well by doing good.
What’s coming next for MRHC?
Well, we have lots of new ideas and products that we are working on. With the climate at the moment, it’s about fine tuning them, ready for release by the end of the year.
Our biggest task is to get our processing facility into full production this winter, ready for the growing season. Hemp building products are a game changer – the way of the future.
Do you have any questions or comments about Margaret River Hemp Co? Let us know below!