Victoria businesswoman offers natural loungewear options through Minawear
May 19, 2012 at 12:19 a.m.
• It is currently illegal to raise industrial hemp commercially in the U.S.
• Hemp production began in Central Asia thousands of years ago, but came to North America in 1606.
• Production had a place in the U.S. during the 1800s but ended with the 1938 Marihuana Tax Act. It made a brief comeback during World War II.
• Hemp fiber is used in products such as cigarette paper, bank notes, tea bags and more.
• Hemp plants grow between 6 and 15 feet tall and an acre of hemp yields an average 706 pounds of grain.
Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center website
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Mina Hegaard's clothing company, Minawear, is an international endeavor.
Hegaard designs the clothing from her home office in Victoria and sends the specs, along with sewn samples, to the manufacturer in China.
"They at least see my intention," she said with a laugh about her poor sewing skills. "But from there we go back and forth until it's right."
The hemp is grown and processed in China, Hegaard said, explaining it's the only place that creates a just-right blend.
Most places have new, faster machinery, she said, that doesn't handle hemp's coarse, inconsistent fibers well.
Her manufacturer's slower equipment allows for someone to stand on guard, watching for tangles, and climbing in to fix the problem.
"It's very labor intensive," Hegaard said. "But it makes more sense for me."
To learn more about Minawear or to purchase clothing, visit minawear.com or organicemporiumllc.com, or go to the Organic Emporium, 2918 N. Laurent St.
Hemp is many things to many people. A sustainable crop for some, political rallying point for others and so on.
But for Mina Hegaard, it's all business.
Hegaard owns Minawear, a company that specializes in loungewear made from hemp.
And she said her job is a combination of design, marketing and basic education.
Hemp is a natural plant with a variety of uses, from food to paper and, in Minawear's case, durable fabric for yoga pants.
Still, some confusion surrounds the fibers.
A member of the cannabis family, hemp is often confused with marijuana, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council Inc.'s website. While the leaf shapes are similar, the site said hemp contains no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
It is currently illegal to raise industrial hemp commercially in the U.S.
Hegaard said she typically finds that Crossroads residents don't know much about the material. They don't liken it to marijuana, she said, but do ask what it is.
Of course, there's still a jokester or two out there.
"I have people ask if they can smoke the clothes," Hegaard said with a smile and shake of her head. "I tell them they can do whatever they want after they buy them."
The fashion bug bit the California native early in life.
Hegaard recalled decorating her walls with clothing and magazine ads as a child and feeling inspired by the designs.
"I was kind of a weird kid," she said with a smirk.
As her passion continued, she developed her craft, creating custom items for rock stars and working in clothing stores.
Her views of the industry, however, wavered.
Hegaard said she didn't like the ever-changing trends that had people constantly buying new things. The industry was also hard on the environment, she said, and was wasteful.
She learned quickly that people didn't appreciate her dumpster-diving for fabrics to create hats.
"People got mad but I wanted to ask them, 'Why are you throwing this stuff away in the first place?'" Hegaard said. "It was just there in the trash and they weren't using it. I didn't get it."
She found solace in a Los Angeles hemp clothing store, a place that shared her creative dream, but in a way she said was more environmentally friendly than other places.
Hegaard educated herself about hemp, got fired up and joined on as partner.
It wasn't until 1998, with funding from her brother, Kenyon Gibson, that Minawear was born.
Starting up and staving off
The road to business ownership wasn't always an easy one.
Hegaard said it took time to find just the right fabric for the clothing, since some wore holes quickly and others shrank. Even after, her work meant daily trips to downtown L.A. to check in with cutters and dyers.
Still, word caught on and business grew.
In 2003, she opened a showroom, Nirvana Ranch, in Venice, Calif. Customers included celebrities such as Nick Cassavetes, Woody Harrelson and Christian Slater. Two years later, company GeoMio caught wind of Hegaard's endeavors and, in 2007, the company bought her out.
While she stayed on as designer for a while, she and her family later relocated to Victoria to be near family. It was a healthy break, she said, explaining she was glad to be free from California life and the industry that began to jade her.
"I just needed to get away," she said.
Away from the business, Hegaard filled her time working in the Victoria College ceramics department, employing her creative side and enjoying a break from fashion.
Still, when Minawear beckoned again, she answered the call.
The business' owners went bankrupt, Hegaard said, and returned the company - trademark, inventory and all - to its founder in summer 2010.
In the months since, Hegaard said she worked to slowly bring things back.
She reconnected with former clients, she said, and developed a social media presence. She booked festival booths and worked to get her product on store shelves.
Just this week, Victoria's Organic Emporium began stocking Minawear, said Angie Briggs, the emporium's manager.
The business already sold hemp products for its health benefits, she said, noting it's high in protein and omegas. Thus, Minawear seemed a good fit.
"We just decided to take a shot at it and see how it does," said Briggs, who owns some Minawear herself. "It's a little pricey, but it's an investment. It's good, organic stuff."
Minawear ranges from about $44 to $88 per piece.
The small-business owner said she's happy where things stand, and enjoys calling the Crossroads home. Life runs at a more relaxed pace in South Texas, she said, and it's a good chance to develop a niche in Victoria, rather than be just another business in a different market.
"Does L.A. really need another hippie or someone else in tie-dye?" she asked. "I don't think so."