Can you give me a brief history on how Hitman came to be?
While going to music festivals, Erik and I met a glassblower named Steve Bates who frequented the same circuit—he used it to sell his glass pipes. Erik and I began to collect Bates’s work and eventually, as our love for his work grew, so did our friendship. At some point Bates mentioned he really needed a lathe to get his work to the next level, and it inspired us. Erik and I put our money together and started a small glassblowing studio in Portland, Maine, with two lathes and Bates at the helm to train a glassblowing staff and start a new company. Unfortunately the crew beneath Bates wasn’t as sound as we thought and that studio fell apart. It was a huge loss at the time, but the three of us were still very determined to make our goal a reality.
Eventually I started talking to another glass industry friend in California named Chip who worked for the company ZOB. I got the feeling that if I relocated to California where manufacturing our product was easier, our dreams could come true. Soon I landed in LA with some of Steve Bates’s prototypes in hopes of teaching some new workers how to replicate his designs and start the manufacturing ball rolling. This time it worked.
Now it was time to make the permanent move, realizing I couldn’t run it from the other side of the country. I would also have to make the move alone, as Erik had some previous legal issues that kept him from leaving. This was in May of 2011. That September, two days after my birthday, I received devastating news from home. My best friend and business partner Erik was murdered. It was shocking and traumatizing and easily could have destroyed the business, however I converted the pain into fuel for my dream. And now we channel Erik’s energy in all Hitman products, and perhaps that’s why we have had the success that followed. Sure we have had hiccups along the way, but our biggest issue has just been trying to run a business whose success is growing at a rate far quicker than we ever imagined and having to deal with the fact that we’re not really businessmen. But hey, I am rolling with the punches and doing the best I can, and certainly the support I have gotten from the glass community has helped tremendously.
What would you say Hitman is known for?
We are known for making unique smoking apparatus that don’t mimic or imitate other company’s designs, and making pieces that stand up both aesthetically and functionally above and beyond our competition. We are also known for a lot of innovations from our lead designer Steve Bates. This includes different filtration and splashguard designs, as well as new technologies, like the development of the torch tube. We are all about creating products that the consumer will use and enjoy. We have a huge fan base and we want to always satisfy those fans with new developments in design while keeping our price point within everyone’s reach.
When or how did the torch tube come about?
I think Steve Bates brought the first glass butane torch to my apartment in Brighton, Massachusetts, in the winter of 2009. He gifted it to me and I basically put it in the cup holder of my van and brought it everywhere I went. I brought it to all kind of glass events up and down the East Coast. I was always there showing it to people, showing them how it worked, and kind of building its rep up and getting Steve’s name out there, too. The response I got from it was always one of people wanting more. Steve soon introduced us to Ari, another glassblower and friend he grew up with, who could further help us develop it and could aid us in putting the parts together as we built them. Ari is now an essential part to Hitman and is instrumental in the torch tube development and growth.
Can you explain to the people who aren’t familiar what the torch tube is?
Basically, under a normal bong chamber or bubbler, we’ve built a separate glass chamber that holds butane gas; and when I say butane gas, I mean the liquid fuel that comes out of a can. The gas chamber has two Teflon valves welded on, one that comes off and is used for refilling and the other one controls the air flow that pumps the gas out. The concept is to trap liquid butane fuel in this chamber and then release it through a minuscule hole called a jet. In there, it mixes with oxygen and then goes through a torch-head type apparatus that’s also constructed out of glass. That head is then ignited and a flame shoots out and is angled perfectly at a titanium or quartz nail from which you can take your BHO hit. It’s a really cool and revolutionary approach to smoking and I am more than honored and privileged to have anything to do with this technology being released to the public. It also gives me the opportunity to be a catalyst in which to make some really elaborate and interesting contemporary art with the concept of a flame and glass.
Are there any pieces that you are especially proud to have been a part of creating?
I am really proud of everything that has ever come out from us. It’s an honor to work with so many artists that we have worked with. It was such a dream to work with any of these people and be able to socialize with them and produce pieces that really mean something to me has been really fulfilling. We have done a lot of work with the artist Banjo, and the pieces we have done with him have been very sentimental as I have been a collector of his for some time. Also a lot of stuff we have done with Darby has been amazing. Mike Fro has also been a huge inspiration and mentor for me, his collabs mean a lot to me on a personal level. Pretty much anyone I have a personal relationship with, as well as a business relationship, means a little more to me.
You’re a collector as well. What do you look for when buying a piece?
Nowadays I buy and wear a lot of glass jewelry, so I buy that. To be honest, it really changed with the birth of Hitman. At this point, I care so much about the company that I would rather save my money and invest it in a project between Hitman and an artist I am interested in, and then maybe keep one of the collabs from that. It means more to me knowing I was involved with the piece alongside an artist I appreciate so much. Glass has a really sentimental meaning to me, it’s more than just a pipe. It can have meaning. I have used pieces with people who are not around any more and I will always remember the piece from that memory.
What’s the future for Hitman?
I have high aspirations for Hitman Glass and its little subdivisions that I am planning on popping up. I just feel like the Hitman umbrella can hopefully have a bunch of very concentrate centered products and a sub-line of products. We will improve on our customer service and construct a team of people who really care about my cause, want it to succeed, and do well and keep my vision relevant.
Brian Kaiser is Philly, born and raised. After attending Temple University he moved to California where he works and consults in the burgeoning marijuana industry. Kaiser currently pushes for cannabis legalization on both a state and national level, a process that begins with sharing information.