High Country: How one young entrepreneur turned a college project into a budding cannabis design company
The colorful Z’s Life collection includes rolling papers, tampers, trays and lighters.
My mother, who’s celebrating her 66th birthday this week, is, in my humble opinion, the greatest joint roller in the world. I didn’t know it until after my college years when we started partaking together and still have yet to perfect her quick pinner technique.
The post-legalization lifestyle, where single pre-rolls, electronic cone-fillers and branded packs are easy to find, discourages the good old fashioned ritual of rolling your own. But when Izaak Cohen reached out to introduce me to his recently-launched accessories line, I was inspired to revisit my spliff studies.
Based in Brooklyn, Z’s Life is a cannabis design company “dedicated to the art of developing elegant objects that enhance the overall smoking experience” and debuted in 2020 with a colorful collection of rolling papers (ZBooks), brass tampers (ZTamps), cast resin trays (ZTrays) and lighters in collaboration with Tsubota Pearl (ZFlames).
Cohen conceived his idea in 2016 as a then-18-year-old freshman at Skidmore College. In the four years that followed, he competed in a Shark Tank-like business competition — ultimately winning second place in both his junior and senior years. The total prize money amounted in $20,000, which was enough to get Z’s Life off the ground upon graduation last May.
Now 22 and at the helm of Z’s Life full-time, Cohen reflected: “I will never forget the genesis of Z’s Life. During my gap year, I was working with my older brother Max in his studio (he’s the founder of the leather goods company Maximum Henry). I had just rolled a joint using some OCBs. As I looked around the studio, I was moved by all the attention to detail that went into making a belt and was suddenly hit with a burning question … ‘If I can put so much care into the creation of a belt, why can’t I do the same with rolling papers?’”
Experiencing the creative career path his brother took motivated Cohen to want to do the same.
“Thus the journey began. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of possibility and eagerly sat at my desk for hours drawing, measuring, cutting, folding and assembling prototypes for my first booklet,” added Cohen. “I then went to college to pursue an education.”
Like the Shapiros, cannabis is a family affair for the Cohens.
“I rolled my first joint when I was 16,” Cohen shared. “Max engrained a high standard. If I rolled an ugly joint, he would tell me to re-roll it until it was an acceptable smoke. After some practice, I got it down to a science and one night we even had a joint-rolling Olympics with our mom. I started by rolling an inside out joint blindfolded. My next challenge was to roll a joint completely upside down on her inversion table, which I somehow pulled it off. Ever since I started smoking, joint rolling was more than half the fun.”
Cohen’s family was obviously supportive of his still-stigma-attached endeavor early on, but when he arrived at Skidmore as a studio art major, he did receive some pushback from faculty.
“I was an art student enamored by the art of smoking. This passion led me to create different sculptural objects that enhanced the smoking experience,” said Cohen. “I had some professors who didn’t understand my vision. But their confusion only fortified that I was on the right track. If you’re making people uncomfortable, you might be onto something.”
His conviction was right — beyond its own e-commerce site, Z’s Life is currently carried in 12 stores nationwide including Silverpeak in Aspen and other design-focused smoke shops like Village Grannies in the East Village and Garden Party in Asheville, North Carolina with more stockists on the way in 2021. Cohen also unveiled a permanent “Roll Z’s, Plant Trees” campaign in partnership with One Tree Planted intended to offset the burning of rolling papers during consumption. Z’s Life has already planted more than 2,000 trees in California with plans to expand to additional states as the company grows.
All ZBooks are certified-organic, free of pesticides and include 50 papers with 50 perforated filters — each delicately handcrafted by expert artisans in Europe, assembled and embossed with the Z’s Life logo, then carefully bound together with a gold-plated magnetic clasp.
“I believe it is my duty to give back and raise awareness for climate change,” said Cohen. “Instilling my values into my company with the potential to make a difference, however small it may be, is more gratifying than the numbers on the bottom line.”