The mysterious new brand that was behind various free events around Canada including Toronto Artists Killy, CMDWN, Yung Tory, Anders & Uptown Boyband to name a few, while also bringing notable international names to Canada such as MadeinTYO and Sheck Wes to their events.
However, leading up to this not much was known about the brand, having hosted some more low-key events around Toronto venues such as RIFF Noir at The Coterie, where they were able to bring some of their artistic ideas to life. RIFF keeps a mysterious element to their brand evident in their website URL whatisriff.com.
“What is RIFF?”
RIFF is a Cannabis brand that goes beyond just cannabis, co-created with the CO.LAB – a collective of artists and creators. RIFF and CO.LAB bring together a fraction of like-minded individuals that are engaged in growing the creative community in Canada through authentic creative projects. Unparalleled by any other Canadian Cannabis brand there’s a clear urban sense of style and design that goes into everything RIFF and CO.LAB creates.
“We have an opportunity to do things different, and I wasn’t gonna take a playbook that I was doing 5 years ago to do a cannabis brand” – Chris Marmion
RIFF has been in the public spotlight since this Summer 2018, however they have been working hard to network in the Toronto creative scene long before that. Bringing together creators across many disciplines to create something special.
A big date for the unique cannabis brand was the October 17th legalization date, leading up to that day RIFF organized an entire session of events with high caliber artists.
At the Toronto Sessions XL (Flagship event featuring Sheck Wes, Yung Tory & Uptown boyband) on October 16th we were introduced to Tony Kwon, associate brand manager at Aphria. Tony showed us around the event giving more details about the various inspirations around the event including the bodega inspired gift shop that was filled with apparel, accessories and home goods created by local Toronto designers, as well as the short film by local filmmaker Christo that was playing on the wall.
We were later introduced to Chris Marmion, the Director of Brand Marketing for RIFF and Aphria, for a more in depth conversation about the RIFFxCO.LAB brand.
There’s a lot of mystery behind what RIFF and CO.LAB are. What is the story behind RIFF and CO.LAB and how they came about?
Chris: “First and foremost, you guys being in the city, you’ve probably seen how there certainly are a lot of cannabis brands out there and right from the start. Tony and I, and the [rest of the] team, we always felt like there’s a huge opportunity for a brand to stand for something more than cannabis.”
RIFF first and foremost is a brand that happens to sell cannabis, the way it comes to life is the way in which we have different moments of inspirations for collaborations and the way in which we bring artists to life through the various touch points, bringing the brand to life.
Whether it comes to the merch that we’re selling at our shows, the events we put on, even like strain names and all. But everything that is kind of drawn from the creative community and the housing we wanted to have for that creative community is the CO.LAB.”
Tell me a bit more about CO.LAB?
Chris: “The CO.LAB is a platform that we bring artist together for the purpose of collaboration, whether it be together or whether it be through the brand. The reason why we stopped in the long term, is that they had to stand in distinct entities, for one reason just to be completely transparent, obviously our industry is pretty regulated, and we do have certain perimeters we have to manage. But also in my 10 years of being on the brand side, I definitely seen what happens when you don’t allow artists and creatives to have a certain amount of autonomy and freedom, and not to be overly prescribed by a brand’s narrative and so we felt like that kind of degree of separation is a way in which you really allow true, organic content to come to life and in a way which is really representative of the artist’s vision.”
An example of that is [when] we partnered with Christo (christoanesti) from Kid Studio to create a brand video, which was actually playing when you guys were on the set. If RIFF were to put up the video, that video would have to meet a certain set of mandates from a regulatory perspective that we don’t have to get into. But because it can exist under CO.LAB, the artist has conceived artistic parity in their output and then we can leverage some of that output for our brand and it’s a really beneficial scenario. That’s the reason why we took that approach […] we have an opportunity to do things different, and I wasn’t gonna take a playbook that I was doing 5 years ago to do a cannabis brand. I think it needs a new category and new industry, it merits a different way of doing things.
What would be 1-3 words that would best describe RIFF or CO.LAB
Chris: “Collective, authentic and discerning.”
Those are words that can mean different things to different people, and certainly are used by other brands but in terms of collective we really do stand for the purpose of bringing creatives together and really serving that higher purpose of collaboration and then I think on the discerning side it’s not about being elevated in a discerning sense, it’s more just picking just like picking our lane and sticking to it, and then on the authenticity side it, it’s just staying true to our vision and bringing things to life in the RIFF way and I think that is obviously critical in everything we do.”
What are some of the main inspirations you personally had behind RIFF and CO.LAB that was going on through your mind as you were coming up with the brand?
Chris: “We always felt like in order for us to build a brand that we want to build, there had be a certain sense of fluidity to the brand, and we felt like creativity and collaboration was the vehicle for that fluidity to come to life, so were not too precious about our brand were willing to push the limits a little bit more, like in a way which we did with the team at Swim Club and coming up with an entire new logo for our merch, we felt it was important for us just to be inspired by the people we partner with, and allow for that fluidity to take place. That’s the whole mission of a RIFF, this is the reason why we named the brand what we did. It’s creativity, it’s for the moment and if that’s true to the name then that’s true to in which the way the brand comes to life.”
Who are some of your favourite creatives to collaborate with in Toronto? And who is a creative you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Chris: “In terms of who we collaborate today, we’ve done a lot of events with Smolik (@thatlosersmolik) . He’s a local Toronto based artist that we took across Canada, and has been doing live art installations throughout all our events. He’s got a really great style, actually, Tony ended up getting a tattoo of some of his art, if it goes to show how much we like the guy. I haven’t gone that far yet but his arts been great and it’s been cool to allow him to have a platform to come across Canada and showcase everything he’s been doing. We partnered with Paul Jackson, he’s out of Toronto now, originally from Brighton UK. We partnered with him at the Coterie event that we put on a couple of weeks back now. In terms of future artist that we’d like to partner with, I know on Tony’s radar, well see where we get, there’s a photographer named Elie, and then there’s a musician and creative director named Teddy Fantum that’s been making waves.”
What would be one take away message that you would like some of the readers to get from this interview?
Chris: “We’re completely different than what’s out there and we stand for something that’s larger than cannabis. We’re community first and we’re all about collaboration and allowing that platform for up-and-coming artists to get their time.”
Working together RIFF and CO.LAB are a strong force in the artistic community working alongside creatives in Toronto (and around the country) to push boundaries further. Their emphasis on autonomy and authentic creativity allows them to take the brand to another level unmatched by other cannabis brands in Toronto so far. After experiencing the type of event they put on at the Fermenting Cellar in Toronto and talking with Chris and Tony I have high expectations for what RIFFxCO.LAB team has in store for the creative community in the future.