Chameleon Glass was ahead of the times in 1991, when the Phoenix-based glassmaker opened for business. It would be another five years before California became the first US state to allow medical marijuana, part of a trend that would send the company’s sales through the roof and usher in a big bong boom.
Glimmers of that golden era are still on display at Chameleon. Callers put on hold are serenaded by the counterculture jam band The Grateful Dead, a longtime musical mascot of the cannabis community, and every pipe and bong is, the company’s website says, “100% American Made.”
That label, said founder Ken Kulow, is one he’s long staked his reputation on. Yet in today’s market, it’s becoming more and more rare.
“There’s very few of us left that are actually making these items,” Kulow told Leafly. “Most of the ‘local’ glass sold by stores these days is actually Chinese.”
At its peak, Chameleon Glass employed 75 people. Today his staff consists of just 15.
As legalization has spread, the business outlook for glassmakers has grown increasingly volatile. The market is more crowded than before, price competition has fueled outsourcing, and the unrelenting popularity of the vape pen has stolen market share from flower. Together, the forces to threaten the viability of Chameleon and other companies like it.
“At a certain point in time,” Kulow said, “whether I love glass-blowing or not, this will cease to be a viable business.”
To learn more about the fate of America’s glass market continue reading.