SF's woman-founded Session Goods touts stylish bongs and pipes for grown-up stoners
The San Francisco–based luxury smoking accessories brand combines functionality with high-minded design by Ideo creatives.
Esther LeNoir Ramirez, like many of us, is a klutz—think the Muppets' arm-flailing Swedish Chef, knocking things over with reckless abandon. "It's stressful for most people to watch me interact with new things," she says, laughing.
However, a tendency for knocking things over didn't jive well with her affinity for elegantly crafted glass smoking accessories. Ramirez had been working at Billowby, the (now-defunct) luxury online head shop she co-founded in 2014, and was ultimately disappointed with the stark dichotomy of the products on the market. Smoking accessories were either mature, sophisticated, and incredibly fragile or clunky, tacky monstrosities designed for maximum efficiency.
So, she set out to solve her own dilemma by creating a line of smoking accessories that would be both functional and suitable for a person of style (who also has a tendency for dropping things). Enter Session Goods.
"Esther was going through all the things that she wanted in a bong, and we were like wait, yeah, why isn't anybody doing this shit?" says Samuel Bertain, a design lead at SF's Ideo and one of Sessions' four cofounders, along with (former Ideo) industrial designers Vinh Pho and Camden Foley.
Today, Session Goods makes the most high-minded bong and pipe on the market, with glassware sleek enough to pass for midcentury-modern sculpture. Each piece is crafted in a simple cone shape and comes with thin, interchangeable silicone accents that serve both as protection for the glass as well as fun pops of color. The brand's two smoking accessories are grown-up but not stuffy, while still being functional enough to suit the pickiest of smokers.
That functionality is achieved via an obsessive attention to detail. The bong, for example, has a curved indent on its front side that perfectly cradles a lighter so that you can pass all your smoking tools to a friend in one hand. Silicone caps allow you to seal the bong like a water bottle so you can fill it up with cleaning detergent and shake it without spilling. Best of all, the bowl piece for the bong comes with a silicone handle that never gets hot and can be adjusted to use as a stand so the bowl doesn't fall over on a tabletop when packing it.
The Session Goods hand-held pipe, on the other hand, comes with a silicone sleeve that allows users to keep a fully packed bowl on their keychain, and an ash-catching indent to catch any particulate, so-called "scoobie snacks," before they reach the lungs. Because of its atypical shape, it's also very discreet, even if hanging from the belt loop of your jeans.
The team spent two years sketching out different designs, organizing informal focus groups, and enduring the finicky process of finding a decent manufacturer overseas. Every element is crafted with painstaking detail—the silicone perfectly thick enough to prevent any cringeworthy clanking when you set the bong down on a table, for example, and the bowl perfectly shaped for scooping cannabis out of a grinder so you don't get any stuck under your nails.
"During the R&D process, we went through every moment a stoner has with their piece and asked 'how can we design something to make that moment seamless, or beautiful, or easier?'" explains Bertain.
Ultimately, they partnered with glass blowers in China, where a person strapped into a machine that looks like a multi-arm humanoid robot hand-blows nine bongs or pipes at a time. They're made from the same, durable glass as a Pyrex dish and, despite their fine design, are priced very reasonably compared to such competitive brands as Iladelphs and RooRs.
"Classy," "modern," and "permissible"—all buzzwords Session Goods uses to describe its wares online—doesn't mean boring, however. The founders are well aware of how people in the cannabis industry sometimes use these words as code for taking the Cheech and Chong goofiness out of smoking herb, and stress that this is their last intention.
Rather, Ramirez compares upgrading to a Session Goods piece with the evolution of her taste in home decor. While once she decorated her apartment with posters, she's recently become enamored of oil paintings. In the same way, the water bottle she once crafted into a mini gravity bong too embarrassing to have out in front of non-stoner guests) has made its way to the recycling bin.
"Someone's bong becomes a celebrated part of their family, the way they ritually smoke out of it, the way they name it, and the way that, knowing you might break it at some point, you have to respect it," she says. "All we hope is that the love and passion we have translates into that experience."
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