Western fashion, cannabis and plant love: Colorado trends that went big in 2020
The state’s culture, once slow to change, stayed active through the pandemic
By John Wenzel, The Denver Post Dec 25, 2020, 6:00 am
Glued to our screens and barred from publicly gathering indoors for most of the year, Coloradans imported and exported their culture differently in 2020 than any year prior. The terrain, though flattened in some ways by digital streaming, offered plenty of peaks and valleys.
“I started off the year thinking it was going to be great,” said Ietef Vita, a.k.a. Denver rapper and eco-activist DJ Cavem. “I played shows in Montreal, New York and California right before they shut down.”
The shutdown left Vita with more than 42,000 branded seed packets — which he had planned to distribute for the “Biomimicz” album release on his #plantbasedrecords label. So Vita and partner Alkemia Earth, a plant-based-lifestyle coach, recruited organizations to mail the seeds (more than 20,000 packets so far) to urban farmers in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Chicago.
“We were able to take the album and have it distributed in the form of grown kale, beets and arugula,” Vita said of “Biomimicz,” the first album released on USDA certified organic seed packets (via a download code). “Last month we started a pilot program flipping bodegas in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx (called Plantega) where we subsidize vegan products.”
Amid all this — and his gardening, streamed cooking classes and social-justice work during summer’s Black Lives Matter protests — Vita was named one of Thrillist’s Heroes of 2020. He also got a shout-out in People Magazine this month when Oscar-winning actor Natalie Portman included his Sprout That Life seeds in her holiday 2020 Top Gift Picks list.
“I think Mark Ruffalo, who’s a friend of hers (and who donated directly to Vita’s GoFundMe campaign) shared it, and it got a lot of support from Cardi B, Cedric the Entertainer and other people on social media,” Vita said. “We were so grateful for it.”
Here are three other trends that Colorado exported, or shared, in 2020.
After a 2019 filled with resurgent country looks — thanks, “Old Town Road” — and egged on by brands such as Dior and Ganni and the “yeehaw agenda” (Black fashionistas adapting Western wear), the Rocky Mountain West’s iconic ranching/mountain style was ready to claim the spotlight in 2020.
“It’s a new fashion frontier, y’all,” Glamour magazine wrote in January’s “How to Wear the Western Trend in 2020.” In February, E! Online offered a guide for checked shirts, denim, fringe jackets and “bandana print” T-shirts.
March put a stop to that.
“This was supposed to be Colorado’s year. All the Instagram girls — Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner — were wearing cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats,” said Esther Lee Leach, publisher of the Cherry Creek Fashion magazine. “But nobody paid attention to spring/summer runways this year. I really hope it comes back so we can have our time in the limelight.”
“Luxe lounge wear,” which Coloradans had already perfected before the pandemic, was quite the opposite. The state’s famously casual fashion sense became the default for scores of people commuting and meeting digitally. Given the headstart that Colorado and California had on yoga pants, “elevated fabrics” were easier to find, mix and match this year.
“It was about fabrics that feel good against the skin,” Leach said. “That and outdoor wear, which became the uniform of socializing. Outdoor jackets and hiking boots instead of heels. It’s all about walking and talking. Either way, Colorado’s general, everyday fashion was going to become what the world wore this year.”
With an emphasis on comfort, Boulder-bred Crocs also made a comeback with celebrity partnerships and a new emphasis on younger demographics and artistic prints. “Priyanka Chopra Wore the World’s Most Highly-Debated Shoe With a Fancy Gown,” InStyle reported Dec. 11, adding in the article: “We can’t argue that this has been the quarantine shoe.”
Thanks … we guess?
Deemed essential early in the pandemic, cannabis continued its path toward normalization with diverse products amid what some companies viewed as a new frontier of weed-curious customers. Despite statewide safety mandates and a global pandemic, Colorado sales are set to crush the 2019 record of $1.75 billion. People embraced cannabis and hemp products not just out of stress, but also health, industry watchers say.
“The availability of products and the ease of combining them — not just THC, but CBD products — played a huge role in people turning to cannabis for wellness,” said Katie Shapiro, who covers cannabis for Forbes, The Aspen Times and, in the past, The Denver Post’s Cannabist site. “That meant businesses were still able to expand.”
Colorado companies may not have started any national trends, but several California and Oregon brands made their debut on dispensary shelves, including Cookies, Dosist and Wild. Local, high-quality flower strains and edibles took off thanks to companies like Veritas Fine Cannabis and Coda Signature. Sales of marijuana chocolates and gummies, in particular, skyrocketed, Shapiro said.
“It’s twofold: People are obviously being sensitive about smoking, but also edibles are just getting better,” she said. “Fast-acting edibles is something I’m also seeing more brands turning to.”
Artists had little choice but to go online in 2020. There, the lack of in-person feedback, diminishing emotional returns and technical challenges frustrated and, occasionally, held over performing-arts nonprofits that had been robbed of indoor shows. Stages moved outdoors, breaking new ground in the process.
Weather, changing health mandates and nervous, socially distanced crowds further challenged performers and producers to adapt. But Denver audiences flocked to these open-air experiments from dancers, theater companies, stand-up comics and string quartets, selling out shows weeks in advance. Artists found ways to create — and, sometimes, get paid — while giving us new things to look at and listen to.
Indie-rock band Wildermiss rented a flatbed trailer for mobile, on-demand concerts along the Front Range. The Catamounts launched “The Rough,” a play designed to be viewed from your personal golf cart at Westminster Legacy Ridge Golf Course. History Colorado’s “The Lost Book of Astrid Lee” wove mystery and history into a citywide scavenger hunt. Japanese Arts Network’s “Yotto” employed yokai (Japanese ghosts) to revisit a dark past of redlining and segregation in Five Points and Capitol Hill, by car.
Vehicles became mobile party units and living rooms, chairs and couches. With its usual staging area closed to the public, Denver Film’s wildly popular Film on the Rocks returned to Red Rocks’ parking lot with the state’s largest inflatable movie screen. Drag queens performed in mall lots, and bands played at drive-in theaters. But perhaps the most pioneering experiments coincided with Halloween.
“No Place to Go,” a queer haunted house that explored the horror of the binary, used a smartphone app and later, virtual reality, in a “drive-to” (as opposed to drive-thru) experience. Designed pre-pandemic, then radically reimagined with site-specific installations, it was a triumph for fast-rising creators Frankie Toan, Serena Chopra, Kate Speer and their artistic collaborators. Rainbow Militia, Amber Blais’ circus-arts company, customized an abandoned house for surreal, room-to-room shows with their own themes, performers and ventilation, including the spooky, elaborate “Death’s Unraveling.”
“It is amazing how many people keep asking me if this is going to be a yearly thing,” artist Toan said in October. “I’m like, ‘It took us two years to make this one!’ ”