Life Off the Grid: Just Add Hemp
With dreams of living off the grid, growing their own food, and living a chemical-free life connected to nature and animals, Qeanu Wallner and Quo Yong Fu Quo Yong Fu left their city life behind and set out for a remote part of British Columbia to start anew. That was in 1995. Cut to 2018, and their homesteading lifestyle has turned into Rawganique, purveyors of 1,200 organic cotton, linen, and hemp clothes, footwear, and lifestyle products. But Rawganique is much more than a brand. It’s a reflection of Qeanu and Quo Yong Fu and the purpose-driven life they’ve created.
It takes two hours and a few ferry rides to get to Denman Island from Vancouver. When Qeanu and Quo Yong Fu first went to visit, they fell in love with the island before even stepping foot on it. “Approaching it on the last leg of the trip, it was just so green, relaxed, natural, harmonious. Exactly what we had been craving after years in cities,” says Qeanu. They had been looking for a place that would allow them to grow food year-round, rescue animals, generate their own power, connect with nature, and build a chemical-free, all natural home. And right then and there, they knew Denman Island was the place.
Qeanu says “our stars were brightly leading us the way to a homestead in remote rural B.C.” — and it would seem that the stars haven’t stopped shining down on them since. Going from the city to homesteading is full of many surprises, but what surprised Qeanu most was how natural it all came to them. “I was shocked how natural the progression is once you make the move. When we arrived on Denman, the project just seemed to take on a life of its own, and nothing was really insurmountable.”
Hemp and Denman Island are both equally woven into the story of Rawganique. For it was on Denman Island that Qeanu and Quo Yong Fu learned how to create everything they needed for their home with their own hands. Everything. Using traditional methods and fibers like organic hemp and cotton, they created curtains, terry cloth towels, clothes, shoes, ropes, and more. Both chemical sensitive, all of their creations were free of chemicals, dyes, and synthetic fibers. Readers of their blog took notice and began asking where they could buy similar products. And the rest is Rawganique history, as it were.
Keep reading for a Q+A with Qeanu Wallner, co-founder and CEO of Rawganique and learn which part of your house is most important to purify and how you can be more “off-grid” no matter where you live.
SVN Space: People who were following your blog started to ask about your clothes and curtains. Were these items that you were designing and sewing by hand yourselves?
Rawganique: We both created all of the 1,200 products that you find on Rawganique.com, from our own daily use and needs. For every real product there’s a heritage solution, because toxic chemicals are a relatively recent invention, and for hundreds of years before humans had perfectly natural solutions to clothing and shelter needs. We love connecting to traditions, learning so much about cultures of natives and early homesteaders, in our quest to learn how they solved their practical needs in those areas. For example, we took simple natural fiber yarn made of hemp or flax-linen and crocheted it into super-absorbent towels, without need for any big machines, making super-soft terry material. We made our bedding without any chemicals whatsoever, because that is the most important area to purify, as we spend a third of our time in direct contact with the skin and inhaling from it.
How has Rawganique transformed over the years?
We have learned and followed the needs of our community of supporters, broadening our vision beyond our own ideas. And the Rawganique team has grown, forcing us to learn how to organize our work more efficiently. But at the heart of it, we’re still the same small group of people super-excited about the endless possibilities to lead a truly fulfilling, sustainable, natural, ethical and cruelty-free life.
What was it about hemp that drew you to it as a fiber?
Hemp is appealing to me on different levels. On a rational scientific level, its hollow core creates an air layer in the fabric that insulates and enables the skin to breathe. It regulates the body’s external temperature far better than artificial fibers or cotton. This air layer keeps the body warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. On an emotional level, hemp was the plant made into clothing in many ancient civilizations around the world. Especially in Europe, the most widespread plant fibers used for clothing are hemp and flax. Its history goes back thousands of years! It’s a central part of my ancestors’ culture, they grew it and made it into clothing for countless generations.
On a political level, so many problems are caused by mass-produced conventional cotton garments from sweatshops in poor countries - the answer predates this problem by hundreds or thousands of years: renewable, ethically produced plant fibers garments, especially hemp and flax linen. On an ethical level, every little choice we make matters. Do we support and feed the problem, or are we part of the solution? Hemp clothing, towels, sheets, socks, shoes, and rope are real, pure, ethical. It’s meaningful clothing that connects you with our cultural past, with the earth, with everyone else who shows they care by wearing hemp.
How does someone know if they’re chemically sensitive? How did you know?
Rawganique: There are many symptoms - rashes, breathing problems, congested nasal tracts, headaches, etc. I saw on myself that the purer I lived, the more I excluded chemicals from my daily life, the more sensitive I would become; but I also found that the stronger the whole-body system is, the better I can deal with it. A healthy lifestyle with outside activity, yoga, meditation, enough rest and good friends, locally grown raw and organic fruits and greens, all those never fail to strengthen the entire system, which in my experience is the best way to overcome health challenges.
What sorts of products are the most problematic for chemically sensitive individuals?
Conventional textiles are loaded with chemicals from herbicides and pesticides on the crops, to a long list of potentially toxic chemicals such as dioxin and formaldehyde, applied on garments in the form of dyes, wrinkle-proofing, lint control, artificial fiber content, and so on.
Do you feel like there’s been an uptick in interest for the kinds of products you offer in the last few years?
Yes, more people suffer from chemical sensitivities, and more search for products that are ethically and sustainably made. I see a big increase in awareness, and in response to people learning how food affects their health, how chemicals in their homes and clothes overload their immune systems to the point of break down, and how unacceptably poor working and environmental conditions in faraway places are, they crave purer, real products.
What is your hope for the cannabis/hemp industry?
The cannabis hemp plant has so many valuable uses, and is so easy to grow sustainably without chemicals, that we just have to get out of the way with restrictive laws and regulations to use it again to its full potential. Hemp is such a pillar of many cultures that people everywhere I go invariably get super excited when we talk about hemp. To me, that’s the goal, set it free and people will find great ways of using it.
Why do you feel called to do the work that you do?
I am excited about creating our organic, all-natural, pure and real products to help people who need them improve their daily lives. It is such a privilege to be able to do it, to hear every day from people near and far what big improvement it meant for them to be able to wear chemical-free, often elastic-free, natural fiber clothing made of organic cotton, hemp, and flax-linen. I wouldn’t trade that in for any other opportunity.
As it concerns your work with Rawganique, what are you most proud of?
By making our products the time-honored traditional artisanal way by hand, we also keep those skills alive and teach more people in them. That’s a big part of why we’re creating a new Rawganique lifestyle store in Blaine, WA, to make it into a forum for local artisans to showcase their work, teach classes in sewing, felting, knitting, weaving, spinning, shoemaking, rope twisting, paper making, soap making, and a lot of homesteading and do-it-yourself projects. I’d like to show young people growing up here that there’s a good alternative to conventional industrial sweatshop production imported from places the consumer is not connected with or even know how these products are made. I’d like to stimulate visitors and locals alike to think about natural products they can create at their homes, with their hands and only basic mechanical tools, and create at least a side-income from it. That’s a very empowering part of our work and one I’m very proud of.
What are ways people can live a more “off the grid” lifestyle — even if they’re located in an urban center?
There are unlimited opportunities to purify our lives wherever we live. I remember the City of Vancouver giving out free worm composting bins to people, which is a great way to recycle nutrients and turn a waste product into a source of super-healthy foods. There are often farms located just outside cities that welcome visitors and offer work-stay programs. There’s the buy local movement. And many municipalities have financial incentives to switch to energy saving appliances, heat pumps, and LED. There’s a lot more - it all starts with awareness, questioning, and making basic food, shelter, and clothing choices that are natural, chemical-free, sweatshop-free.
If you could recommend people swap out just one synthetic/conventional item for something you offer. what would it be?
I’d like to mention three places to start, actually. One, bedding, simply because we spend a third of our time in direct contact. The second is replacing a vinyl shower or window curtain with an organic natural fiber curtain to eliminate exposure to the outgassing of vinyl. The third is switching to knit, elastic-free underwear and footwear, for better breathability of the skin in enclosed areas. Any one of those three areas make a huge difference.
When do you feel the most hopeful for the future?
When I see the excitement in people’s eyes when they see and touch and talk about our organic hemp and flax-linen products, and exclaim ‘I never knew you could make all that all natural, chemical-free, sweatshop-free in this day and age!'
Written by: Cheyenne Arnold