Seeds, cultivation, and sales, Archive’s trichome triad is a model for vertical integration.
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Few brands can say they breed, grow, process, package, and sell everything in-house—let alone with their own award-winning genetics and a team of people that could all fit in a studio apartment. Built on a history of 20 years of collecting, preserving, and developing unique cannabis genetics, Archive has gone from an idea to a company that’s grown to encompass every aspect of originator Fletcher Watson’s passion for cannabis. This vertically integrated company was the first seed vendor in the U.S. to have a retail location where you could visit and purchase clones or seeds. Since opening the Portland, Oregon store in 2016, the operation, which now has three distinct working parts, has become a seemingly impossible perpetual motion wheel, continually finding new tricks from well-known favorites, creating new varieties you’ll only find at the shop, and keeping old strains for safekeeping.
There’s a lot of documentation on the history of Watson’s mission to preserve cannabis genetics or his work to promote cultivation techniques during the online forum days when he went by “ThaDocta.” You’ll find more than a few articles on his work with Dosidos, RudeBoi OG, Moonbow, Rainbow Belts, and other strains that hold places on Archive’s wall of fame.
High Times Magazine, August 2023
But this company has done so much more than just cultivate killers. Despite falling prices, competition from well-funded corporate interests, and increased oversaturation, Archive continues to increase its market share and reputation. This story is one of pioneering the sweat equity, vertical integration model. Building off of this history, and crafting careful partnerships, empowered Archive to grow and expand in ways the team could never have seen coming.
What Has Three Legs & Award-Winning Genetics?
The Archive name comes from founder and primary partner Watson’s well-known mission to create a repository for the wealth of genetic diversity in cannabis. The goal of the company, when it started over a decade ago, was to hold on to all these incredibly diverse types of cannabis that were running through the scene, being grown for a couple of years, then fading into the background as the market continued the hunt for that new-new.
Watson’s lifelong dedication to cultivation and community stretches far beyond 2012 when he released the first packs of seeds under the Archive moniker. (Fun fact: those first packs were a strain called #32 that Watson created from crossing Albert Walker and Manic.) Cultivars are sitting in their rotation right now that may never go into retail but have been safely stored since 2003, kept alive so that we don’t lose any history.
The Archive triangle—also part of the brand’s iconography—is comprised of A.) the seed business, B.) the cultivation/processing facility, and C.) the nursery/retail store.
As Archive Seed Bank, Watson operates his mad scientist lair, maintaining a rich genetic library that’s the equivalent of Batman’s trophy vault—breeding and hunting for new strains while storehousing countless old-school Pacific Northwest cultivars that might otherwise be forgotten (remember a strain called Corn?).
Having cut his teeth in Seattle when his parents moved him out from Virginia at 15, Watson developed a deep-seated passion for cataloging and preserving all the genetic diversity in cannabis. He compares it to how colonial Americans cultivated thousands of varieties of apples before industrialized agriculture began selectively breeding and harvesting them for things like color, ease of transport, and weight, bringing us down to a mere 100 types commercially produced today. This drive to capitalize on supply caused us to lose out on so many astounding varieties of fruits and vegetables that have passed into the pantheon of forgotten produce. Watson sees it as Archive’s job to make sure as many cannabis varieties as possible don’t end up lost to time or ravaged by market trends.
Where Strains Are Born
Adam Bush runs Archive’s cultivation and processing arm at the Oregon facility. Bush grew up with Fletcher in Virginia and moved to Oregon to learn how to blow glass in the early ’00s. After growing in California’s Mendocino County, he returned to Oregon to begin cultivation while helping his childhood friend with the many cannabis competitions Archive was attending. He and the team test new strains to see how well they’d produce for a retail market and supply all the flower and hash for their retail store.
When the time came to create a home base for Archive, the state of Washington (where Watson resides) wouldn’t allow for a fully integrated company, however Oregon, where Bush lives, was more than happy to let them create a place where they could take all the things Archive had accomplished thus far and provide a headquarters.
Watson and Bush knew they wanted to elevate the brand from being popular with just breeders, growers, and weed nerds and make them accessible to people who weren’t part of the forum crowd. They found a warehouse and storefront space suitable for their needs and called in the final member of the triad to help build Archive’s new home in the City of Roses.
Visit the Shop, Smoke the Weed
Archive Portland, where the dispensary and nursery are located, is run by partner Mac Laws. It’s the hub where fans of the brand can come experience everything they’ve seen online. The relationship between cultivation and retail has provided crucial consumer feedback that’s helped shape the course of their special store-only drops.
Laws and Watson met in Washington state, where they bonded over a shared love of genetic preservation. Laws was a reputable cultivator who believed in the brand enough to come down to Oregon and head up the nursery program and retail operations.
“I didn’t know anything about running a dispensary before this,” Laws admits, “but we knew that Fletch had created this really special thing, and it needed to have a place to take root. With my experience in cannabis, I felt more than comfortable running a nursery. The rest almost came naturally from just loving the brand so much.”
Laws’s positive effect on the organization has even allowed Archive to expand its efforts with plans to open an event space in late 2023, something none of the three partners envisioned when they broke ground together.
With Archive Portland, the trio has discovered an opportunity to establish branding, which they’ve done through merch and artist partnerships with heavy hitters such as Trevy Metal and Lot Comedy. The store has evolved from Archive’s home base to one of Portland’s destinations for cannabis tourists and locals looking to experience the most exclusive flavors in the state’s retail market. Being one of the most widely recognized brands both in and outside of Oregon, many people make the trek just to stop in and pick up clones, try out their favorite strain as rosin, or hunt down seed packs that might be unavailable online.
Cultivating Brand Identity
Archive’s genetics have dominated cannabis competitions for years, but they looked towards external optics to expand brand recognition to the broader world.
As Bush explains, “the extra cost [of branding] is part of why we’ve been able to make the name such a thing here in Oregon. Nobody else was investing in custom packaging and identifiable products when we started, but we knew that part of creating Archive’s home was flushing out that recognizable brand for regular consumers who might not know us from the competitions.”
Bush understands the visual aspects of a brand represent a company just as much as the weed it’s putting out.
Rainbow Belts / Photo by Erik Christiansen, @erik.nugshots
“I love growing, but it can really be Groundhog Day sometimes—you know, rinse, wash, repeat,” Bush says. “We know our product can hold its own. That gave us the freedom to look at how we cultivate the brand identity. I have an art background, so coming up with packaging design ideas and going over them with Fletcher and Mac is where I have some of the most fun.”
The close bond between Watson, Bush, and Laws shows how far a good team will take you. With all three members operating their pods, running small groups, and coordinating their efforts, they’ve spit-shined and oiled the operation. That way, Archive can accomplish something that usually takes a much larger workforce.
Few can claim to be a completely self-funded operation these days, and fewer still can say they created most of what they offer. Except for partnering with Smokiez to launch their edible line, the business is a closed-loop system, able to create, grow, and sell everything in-house. Archive has built its reputation on the strength of its genetics and upholds that high standing by directly offering its flowers and hash to the people. At a time when the industry is searching for solid footing, Archive stands tall on a trinity of strength, a position that few cannabis producers in the country can lean on.
This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.