The things Kyle St-Hilaire saw while visiting Madagascar in 2016 are just part of the inspiration behind his unique Canadian brand of rolling papers. He was exploring the island off the southeast coast of Africa after being offered a job with a mining and pharmaceutical company; only there was no way he could accept it. Not after what he had seen.
“While visiting Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar, I saw what foreign businesses had done to the resources and people,” explains St-Hilaire. “The poverty I saw […] was devastating, and their natural resources have been destroyed. I visited a small lemur reserve and found out how many animals are at risk of going extinct.”
Much of the wildlife that lives in Madagascar is unique to the area and cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. According to the World Wildlife Fund, widespread deforestation has put the island’s habitats at risk, and many species, including lemurs and chameleons, may disappear by the end of the century.
St-Hilaire returned to Canada with a mission to start a social cause company of some kind. A long-time cannabis enthusiast, he was excited by the possibilities the pending legalization of the industry would present. He came up with an idea to fuse that passion with his desire to help solve the crisis in Madagascar.
“When I thought of rolling papers, I was pretty set,” he says. “[As a social cause brand], they’re a nice entry-level product because people don’t have to spend a lot of money to participate so that we can make more of an impact.”
In July 2017, St-Hilaire and his business partner, Olivier Trudel, launched their rolling paper company. They called it HAZO, which means ‘tree’ in Malagasy. For every pack of papers sold, a tree is planted in Madagascar with the help of the Eden Reforestation Project, a registered Californian charity. To date, HAZO is responsible for 30,000 mangrove plantings, a type of tree essential to the ecosystem there. Furthermore, locals are hired to do the work, contributing to the economy as well.
With sustainability in mind, HAZO papers are made with natural, unbleached hemp. The plant is incredibly fast growing, and just one acre of hemp produces up to four times the amount of paper as a traditional forest. St-Hilaire says the impact hemp has on the rolling papers is equally as impressive.
“What you end up getting is a slow, smooth burn so you can really taste the cannabis. We’ve had amazing feedback about the papers, and we’re the first rolling company to have a social cause attached to it.”
As with any business venture, there have been some hiccups along the way, especially with the red tape surrounding the cannabis industry. Before the recreational market became legal, St-Hilaire and Trudel sold the papers door-to-door at dispensaries around Toronto, Ontario, and again around British Columbia before police raids shut the illegal operations down.
But with the cannabis landscape about to change significantly in Canada, HAZO signed on with distributor humble+fume and B.O.B. Headquarters to continue expansion across the country in dispensaries operating legally.
“I always knew I wanted to start a legal company within the cannabis space,” St-Hilaire says about his never-quit attitude. “I just have a passion for rolling papers and the cannabis industry in general. There are so many social aspects to cannabis, and I’ve always enjoyed it.”
In October 2018, the recreational market finally became legal in Canada. St-Hilaire took his entrepreneurial spirit and his rolling papers on a seven-week-long promotional tour that began in B.C. and finished in Montreal, QC. He did it in a 1995 converted dodge minivan almost as old as he is and that he affectionately refers to as “Big Blue.”
“Unfortunately, the government was so slow with licensing in each province that there were barely any fully-legal dispensaries open at the time,” explains St-Hilaire. “It was primarily the grey market dispensaries around Vancouver that I was able to visit.”
Despite the slow government rollout and a few breakdowns with ‘Big Blue,’ St-Hilaire calls the road trip a success. He was able to draw attention to the HAZO brand and what it stands for: sustainable smoking. The company was nominated for best rolling paper at the Canadian Cannabis Awards and is attracting new retailers every week, including the Jimmy’s Cannabis chain in Saskatchewan.
Moving forward, HAZO plans on breaking into the U.S. and European markets; Amazon has even started selling the papers. St-Hilaire’s main focus, though, is getting into all of Canada’s legal dispensaries, including the government-run facilities. Once he can dig ‘Big Blue’ out of the snow, he plans to head east of Montreal and introduce HAZO to the Maritime provinces.
St-Hilaire’s dream is to be a household name in the cannabis industry; one that people know is doing the world some good every time one of its pretty little packs is sold.
“I just want it to be a fun, happy, good vibes brand with a focus on the outdoors.”