Credit: Afends
Last week, we were lucky enough to be invited down to Melbourne QV for the Afends store opening and a chat with co-founder Jonathan Salfield!

If you aren’t familiar with Afends then shame on you! They’re the OG streetwear brand coming out of beautiful Byron Bay that are all about sustainability and ethical production choices. 

We had a chat with Afends’ co-founder, Jonathan Salfield, about the new opening, Covid, hemp, and the future of the brand. 

This is such an amazing store opening for you guys. Your third content store?

It’s actually our fifth concept store, we opened a few earlier in the year but then closed a few due to Covid.

Did the recent lockdowns make it harder to expand your stores? Or did it create more opportunities to look for better locations?

Yeah, for sure. It was kind of easier in a sense I guess, to get a good store in a location like this. I don’t think a location such as this one would’ve popped up if Covid didn’t hit, unfortunately.

I think for us we’re a brand really trying to go more direct to the consumer, so we really want to close that gap. We’ve got the online experience, and then still that visible experience. We want our customers to get the most out of our stores and a feel for the brand.

I’ve been following your brand since 2010 and to see how you’re stores have evolved over the years is really incredible. You originally started as a screen-printing business that specialised in band merchandise and now you’re recognised all around Australia. Was there a turning point for both yourself and Declan (co-founder) where you just thought ‘we can do more’?

Yeah, so when we first started 15 years ago in 2006, we had a screen-printing business, and we were screen printing for a lot of the local and Australian Hardcore and metal bands. We have a lot of them in Byron Bay fortunately. Parkway Drive was one of the bands we did band merch for, and we’re still mates with them.

Your latest venture with Afends, I’m really excited about it. You just bought 100 acres of farmland to grow your hemp so you can process and cultivate your own fibres in your own latest collections? I’ve never met a brand that is so passionate about hemp. Do you feel that it’s really challenging to draw people away from the stigma around hemp and it being associated with marijuana?

I think hemp has had a really hard time to have this stigma behind it because of the association I guess, with marijuana and people not understanding actually how useful a commodity it can be. And also with the fashion element, when you ask most people about hemp, they’ll be “it’s something you get from the markets” or “it’s very coarse, it’s something that you can’t really make into a beautiful fashion item”. But it can.

It blends really well with cotton, and you can even blend hemp with silk. And so, for us, getting the farm and being able to put our money where our mouth is, instead of just saying “yeah, hemp does this and it’s really cool”, we’re able to first-hand grow it ourselves and show people the process.From how much water it takes to grow one acre, whether we used pesticides or not, if any animals eat the vegetation and what we can do to overcome that issue.

We’re expecting out of our first R&D crop – we’re doing one hectare – and we’re expecting about five tonnes of raw material. So out of that raw material, everything gets used. We’ve got a guy that’s going to take all the leaf from the plant and out of the leaf he’s going to process it into different teas. Then we’ll put basically the rest of the plant through a machine called a decorticator or we’ll be doing it the traditional way where it’s actually breaking down fibre off the actual stalk.

Additionally, you’ve got all the fibre that lives on the outside of the stalk and on the inside is the hurd, and the hurd is really useful for building. Basically, you can build the most beautiful houses out of hemp, it compresses into blocks that you use for wall structures. A lot of reports have said you don’t actually need air conditioning in house made from hemp as they work as really good insulators.

Jonathan Salfield (right) | Credit: Afends

Do you feel that we’re in need of more education surrounding hemp and the benefits it can have on society? Do you think it should’ve been done earlier?

History shows, when we first colonised Australia and the Endeavour came across, that it was full of hemp. Australia was going to be a really big country to grow hemp because hemp was a major resource back then. 80% of all textiles we’re made of hemp. Hemp was the thing to farm, it was what everyone did.

It was the most useful resource! It made all the rope, the rugs, and the canvases. It helped in so many ways. Then it really got squashed by association with marijuana, basically around the war on drugs.

So, I think there needs to be a lot more education. Not only just through companies like what we’re doing but also in schools. I think we’ve got this planet and there’s only a certain amount of things we can grow and hemp is the leader in the pack. There are so many more uses with a hemp plant than any other plant on earth. No plant on earth has the basic economic value that hemp has. It’s just in this weird stage but I think it’s starting to change.

Within the fashion industry, there have been massive milestones such as Billie Eilish convincing Oscar de la Renta to go completely fur free. Then also Moncler has been named one of the most sustainable fashion labels in the world. Do you feel that with your hemp farm, you have a responsibility to be more transparent with your community?

Totally, we try being transparent with everything we do. We try and get certified in everything we do, so we’re certified in recycling and everything organic cotton. But unfortunately, there’s no certification for hemp. We were looking to develop our own certifications but that’s another huge project and another huge process. Most hemp is grown organically, you still can grow with pesticides but for the most part, you don’t really need to.

Did you find any challenges to get approval for your own hemp farm? How were you able to source the seeds within Australia?

It’s just basically a lot of bureaucracy, you gotta fill out a lot of paperwork and you just abide by all the rules. Then it’s very well monitored and regularly tested to make sure it has low percentages of THC. We sourced the seeds from another company we’ve worked with, Hemp Fields Australia, so they were able to help us out. Eco-fibres is another company that sourced our first seeds but with this crop we’ll have our own seeds to use in our next crops.

How do you plan on educating people about your own hemp farm?

So what we’re striving to do with our own hemp farm is to create a destination where people can come out and see the process of hemp. We’re renovating the clubhouse on the farm and turning it into a restaurant/health food store. So you can have something to eat and then walk around the hemp field, at the moment you’re not allowed to do that, the public are allowed to stand and look at it but hopefully that’ll change in the future. It’s all about educating the public at the moment.

Are you trying to bring in more artists and more seminars for people to educate them on the benefits of hemp?

Well, I guess, the hard thing is, is how do you get people really interested in something, especially in demographics, either by 25 or 35, that has been criticised so much. A lot of that age group now are very diverse, and they want to know a nice clean, sustainable brand. They want to see change, they want the environmental emergency that’s happening right now to slow down and change. And so I think we’re gonna get to a point where people will need to be educated more on what’s just happening around them.

You would get a lot of diverse people from where you originated in Byron Bay. Do you feel that being surrounded by the coastal, streetwear culture that you were able to harness it before any other brand in the area?

I think growing up in a place like Byron and being immersed by nature and the beauty of the lifestyle up there it really helps, and when you come here and you walk down the street, it’s all concrete and buildings, so I think you have that connection and they care in Byron, they care down here to but it’s just hard. The easiest option right now is to buy plastic crap that doesn’t last long, you can buy a T-shirt from Big W for $4 that’s mass produced. So we really want to have that point of difference and to just care a little bit more.

Your philosophy seems to be to question everything, do you feel that with the younger generation they are starting to question everything?

I think, now we have that statement, it’s still relevant more relevant now than it was before. If you’re not questioning everything then you’re just blind to what’s going on around. I understand it can be hard and toxic, it’s easy to go with the mainstream but you do need to start questioning everything.

You’ve definitely gone through a lot of trends since starting your brand in 2006 and you’ve also changed the style of your collections in the previous years. So what brings you back to more simplistic streetwear coastal style?

I think the most sustainable clothes are the ones that you enjoy for the lifetime of the garment. We want to try and encapsulate that with Afends, we’re obviously not your Gucci or Chanel but companies like them are actually the most sustainable cause you’d never see a Gucci top in an op-shop. They have them forever. So that’s what we’re trying to do with our collections, design them so they last and use sustainable materials so when they’re ready to be thrown out, it won’t harm the environment.

With Moncler being named as one of the most sustainable brands in the world, do you feel that you have always thought about being more sustainable in your practices? And do you think it’s easier now for brands to make sustainable choices or were the choices always there?

I think the choices might have been there, I think it’s more about education and educating people on their choices. When you start a company, your focus is to get people interested in it and to buy it. Then as you progress, you start to question everything, how the garment is made? What’s the impact on the environment? And I think if you have that conscious, you want to feel proud of the piece that you’re making and what you’re doing. And from there you change.

Your company has been around for over 15 years now and with so many other brands now competing for sustainability and similar trends as yourself, what really makes you different? What really makes Afends, Afends?

We’re a culture that’s evolved into where you are and to where we are now. We’re still completely independently owned and myself and Declan, we still get involved in everything we do. We still come out to our launches and we really get involved with the community as much as we can.

From a company that started as a screen-printing business that did band merch, to building their own hemp farm to process hemp in their collections. You can’t help but be proud to call Afends Australian. These guys are kicking down the mainstream and asking people to question everything and they’re doing it with such style.

Afends Melbourne QV has officially opened and on top of that, their new collection Hold the Line drops tomorrow!

Massive thank you to Jono and the Afends team for inviting us down!