The Business of HYPE is a weekly series brought to you by HYPEBEAST Radio and hosted by jeffstaple. It’s a show about creatives, brand-builders and entrepreneurs and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. On this week’s episode, Jeff sits down with designer and entrepreneur Mike Cherman, best-known as the founder of ICNY and Chinatown Market.
Despite his myriad contributions to streetwear, Mike’s working hand was largely invisible. Much of his work is instantly recognizable, though: he designed all of KITH’s branding from the box logo to the Just Us branding, for Ronnie Fieg. Much of the early A$AP Worldwide gear was Mike’s work, too.
While he was living and working in New York, Cherman would cycle to and from work, meaning that he was constantly getting into scrapes with cars who could not see him (Cherman often dressed in all black). After getting doored by a taxi for the last time, Cherman had an idea. He went to his shop and started cutting polka-dots out of reflective material. He heat-pressed them onto a pair of plain socks and thus ICNY was born. Utilizing 3M in novel and intriguing ways, ICNY quickly picked up a cult following in the Downtown set. [Cherman recalls a meeting wherein Ronnie Fieg asked why he was never invited in invest.] In this interview, Mike explains how he ceded a majority stake in the company and how he eventually lost control of the brand to a business partner of his.
Reeling from the loss of his first venture, Cherman returned with a vengeance with his new brand, Chinatown Market. Mike addresses the allegations of racial appropriation leveled at him and the company on Instagram and elsewhere; he also explains why he opted to remain anonymous after dropping a bootleg Frank Ocean hoodie; and why he eventually hit up Urban Outfitters.
“The reality is,” says Mike, “that many people sit out there and say your brand dies when you go to Urban. It’s like, ‘Cool. Enjoy making no money for the rest of your life. Be cool—that’s great, fuck off.’” When commenters on Instagram and HYPEBEAST say that Chinatown Market “died” when it landed on shelves in UO retailers nationwide, Cherman retorts: “I’ve been in Urban since the first collection. So if that means I’m dead, I’ve been dead since day one.”
Check the episode out above, on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, and wherever else podcasts are found.