The Business of HYPE With jeffstaple, Episode 5: Mike Cherman, ICNY & Chinatown Market

People say your brand dies when you go to Urban. To those, Mike Cherman says: “Enjoy making no money for the rest of your life.”

The Business of HYPE With jeffstaple, Episode 5: Mike Cherman, ICNY & Chinatown Market
Business of HYPE
25,339 Hypes 16 Comments

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.”

Here are some of the brands/companies/people mentioned in this episode:
7:055 & A Dime
12:04Mirko Mangum
18:30Reed Space
18:33J. Scott
20:50Emeka Obi
20:51The Hundreds
24:56: Soho House
30:47: Lqqk Studio
31:21: ICNY
31:40: Uniqlo 
32:15: Colette
32:37: 40oz Van
36:19: IRT
36:20: ASI Vendors
48:43: ICNY x Puma
49:50: Acronym
59:13: Stray Rats
63:52: Greg Mishka


Check the episode out above, on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, and wherever else podcasts are found.

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Episode Transcript

The Business of HYPE With jeffstaple, Episode 5: Mike Cherman, ICNY & Chinatown Market

People say your brand dies when you go to Urban. To those, Mike Cherman says: “Enjoy making no money for the rest of your life.”

Jeff Staple: Okay, bagels in LA versus bagels in New York.

Mike Cherman: Fucking trash out here dude. It’s so bad, it is the worst thing. I found one place, it’s in the Grand Central Market over here, and it’s Wexler’s Bagel, Wexler Deli and literally they have the perfect New York bagel with whipped cream cheese and the whole thing. Yeah, but dude, I can’t tell you how …

Jeff Staple: My place in LA, there’s a place called East Coast bagels, and it’s the wackiest shit.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, there’s a place like Garden City bagels near my house or something like that, it’s just they put corn meal on the bagel.

Jeff Staple: I hear it’s the tap water.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, for sure. It’s the same thing when I moved to San Diego in high school and we used to go this pizza spot, and the dude would import water from New York. Pretty crazy.

Jeff Staple: Let’s see. So this will be completely edited, so feel free to speak freely and you could-

Mike Cherman: And make notes of what you’ve-

Jeff Staple: Like afterwards, we’ll just be like-

Mike Cherman: I can be a fucking real open book, yeah.

Jeff Staple: Good man, this is what it’s about.

Mike Cherman: Fuck it. All good, all good.

Jeff Staple: That’s all right. Do you have headphones?

Speaker 3:  No, I was trying to make sure my gear was [crosstalk 00:01:10].

Jeff Staple: Oh okay, cool.

Speaker 3: … Sound, so when I press [crosstalk 00:01:10] long.

Jeff Staple: All good, all good.

Mike Cherman: So basically when I moved out here, I actually moved here with a bunch of debt and left for the studio with this guy and we ended up, one night he called me up and he’s like, “I want to make a Fuck you, Fucking Fuck shirt.” And literally we came to the office, we sat down, started making it, and then it then spurred into this whole thing.

Mike Cherman: That’s like why when I say me choosing Chinatown market as a name, it was outside just sitting there and just literally be like, “Oh, Chinatown Market, perfect.” Like bootleg all, and it’s just like didn’t even think about it. I think I Googled Canal Street market, then I saw the thing was already there, so I was like, oh Chinatown Market, cool.

Jeff Staple: Canal Street Market was already there back then?

Mike Cherman: I think the domain was owned. I was looking for something that I would just go and buy all the-

Jeff Staple: I wonder if you would had gotten the racial flak from Canal Street Market.

Mike Cherman: I wonder. It’s like, I’m not saying Chinatown, but it is in Chinatown.

Jeff Staple: I’m Chinese, and it doesn’t bother me at all.

Mike Cherman: And so it’s like-

Jeff Staple: I didn’t even think race when I saw it, and I knew a white person did it, but I’m just trying to see what if you named it Mock Street Market, would people be like …

Mike Cherman: Yeah.

Jeff Staple: I don’t understand why it’s bothering [crosstalk 00:02:10]. I think it’s just the word China is bothering them. But you’re not referencing-

Mike Cherman: Exactly, and I’m being very conscious of that. But at the end of the day, it’s just what it is, and sometimes I joke around, should I just call it Jew Market. Are you going to get mad at me now? I don’t know. What do you want me to call it? I’ll call it whatever, I just want to make clothes. That’s really what this is, it’s not about the brand or the name. It’s about these graphic T-shirts, like that’s all it is. So funny.

Jeff Staple: From HYPEBEAST Radio, I’m Jeff Staple and this is the Business of Hype. A show about creative entrepreneurs, brand builders, innovators and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built.

Jeff Staple: So, for those who don’t know, let’s begin with an intro of who you are and what you do.

Mike Cherman: My name is Mike Cherman based in Los Angeles California, 27 and I am a designer and entrepreneur.

Jeff Staple: What’s 27? Oh, you’re 27 years old.

Mike Cherman: I’m 27 years old.

Jeff Staple: Oh, you’re so young.

Mike Cherman: Yeah. Young better.

Jeff Staple: All right.

Mike Cherman: I’m glad you still call me young, because I feel like as I’m getting closer to 30, I’m like damn, I’m longer the baby. When I dropped out of college, I was like 19 and doing all this stuff. I’m like fuck man, its been eight years, I’m like, “Shit.”

Jeff Staple: When I decided to bring you on for the show, it felt a little bit like a grasshopper moment from how I met you back in the day to like now you’ve built this thing that is at the very least like press worthy and interesting, as almost like an experiment to me, that’s how I see it. It’s like a statement, an experiment on what’s going on in fashion and street culture and collaboration and even multi-billion dollar corporation branding.

Jeff Staple: So it’s kind of like all of that making a statement at once. So I thought lets bring you on and see what you have to say about this. You’re a man of mystery.

Mike Cherman: I like talking about these things.

Jeff Staple: So, let’s go back first, to give a little brief history lesson. When did you get your start into creative making clothes, just dabbling in stuff?

Mike Cherman: So, I started off in high school. I basically moved from New York to California, I had no friends, I had a Mac computer, I just got like an eMac, and I just downloaded a trial of Adobe Illustrator, I had some printer paper that I could use with an iron, and I just started making T-shirts. I think my first clothing brand name was New Castle clothing, it was based off of this beer. Not actually based off the beer, I didn’t even realize I was there. So New Castle is where I grew outside of New York, it was the county of where I was at, and I just thought it was a good name and then realized later at age 16, beer exists and not a good name.

Mike Cherman: But, just started printing T-shirts in my house and then eventually, I took the bar mitzvah money I had in my bank account, which was four or five thousand dollars that was all gifted and I went and bought T-shirts.

Jeff Staple: So you were like 16 or something?

Mike Cherman: I was 15 years old and like a freshman in high school, and my parents had both worked in the garment industry, but it was not something that I cared about as a kid. My dad worked in sales for [inaudible 00:05:07] Dynamo, and mom was a designer for women’s wear, as well as kids wear.

Jeff Staple: What were you into in terms of brands back then?

Mike Cherman: It’s funny, when I first moved to California, I was still this young suburban kid. I had moved to California, all of a sudden, I saw surfing, I saw Quiksilver, I saw Billabong, I saw RVCA, I saw all these brands, even like Crew and all these other brands, and I was like, “Oh my God,” and skateboard culture, surf culture, this is so crazy. I grew up in suburban New York where it was like [inaudible 00:05:36] North Face, and Fleece and you had the curve brim hats and the whole look, that was the thing. And athletic shoes, and I think like I moved to California, all of a sudden it’s like Vans and Chucks and this whole other style that had never existed to me.

Mike Cherman: So, that opened my eyes to something totally new. I quickly adapted, I became this chameleon, I started wearing RVCA, all these other brands, and then it wasn’t until this store called UNIF opened in San Diego, when I was a freshman in high school, that it opened my eyes. I basically walked into that store the first day, and they had BBC, they had Ice Cream, they had this brand called Salvador, which is still around, but isn’t in the same category as it was. They were selling Omar’s old brand, Copy and Paste or like-

Jeff Staple: Copy and Paste or RND?

Mike Cherman: Yeah, RND, Rip off and Duplicate. They had that, they had [inaudible 00:06:35] when it first came out. I had those blue Jordan 11’s that were Radon and dude, it blew my mind. It was something that I was like, this translates to me, it has a little bit of that classic New York style, but then it’s tied in with that whole California thing that’s happening with graphics and the fun vibe. Being in San Diego, it’s like a place where there’s literally no style. So it’s just like Florida, where it’s just shorts, flip flips and that whole thing. But this was that one place where I could go find all these things.

Mike Cherman: That opened me up into this store called 5&A DIME, and then it opened me up into this whole other world, I was interning for a store called The Physics in San Marcos, which was literally like a small street wear store, they sold only and a few others, and yeah, that kind of got my foot in the door. I would go to events with these guys, they would sponsor a dance battle and other things, and I would just be there. If I can design something, if I could pack orders, if I could, whatever it was, I was just going to do it.

Jeff Staple: What do you think made you so in amid with this culture?

Mike Cherman: I would-

Jeff Staple: Because you sound like when you describe it, you almost sound like a drug addict being exposed to meth for the first time.

Mike Cherman: What is funny is that my parents always said to me that I had a pretty addictive personality. My dad is an alcoholic, sober for 15 years now, but its always been said that I have this weird addictive personality, where when I was a kid, my parents said, you can’t have Crispy Cream. I would get on my bike, I would take my change, I would bike to the supermarket, I would get the Crispy Cremes, come home and put them in my room.

Jeff Staple: Stash them, like just-

Mike Cherman: My mom found it and she started to sit me down and be, “You have an addictive personality.”

Jeff Staple: They knew Crispy Cremes was too dangerous.

Mike Cherman: At the time I was like, you’re crazy. But it’s the reality. So luckily for me, I have been able to hone those things into focused kind of things. But I guess for me, it was like I loved creating, I loved art, but I wasn’t the best illustrator, I wasn’t the best painter, I wasn’t the best of any of those things. I didn’t see that I could become that.

Mike Cherman: So, I looked at it as like cool, I can make these items that people can have forever, and they can experience it, wear it, share it. It was like, this is amazing. And, I think I just made my first T-shirts and when I caused this huge ruckus in my high school, and it kind of opened up the flood gates.

Jeff Staple: What was that shirt?

Mike Cherman: So, I had taken a picture of a kid in my class and he basically had his finger over his nose, it made him look like his face was on scanner. I photoshopped out his hand, so it literally just looked like a smashed face and I did some weird cut out filter on Photoshop, which I thought was cool at the time, made his teeth gold, printed it on a shirt. Made 36 shirts. Show up to school, ended up selling them out.

Mike Cherman: The kid didn’t get a shirt, but I had him sign a document releasing the photo to me. And so, this caused a fight with the kid and another person who got the shirt on campus-

Jeff Staple: A physical fight?

Mike Cherman: A physical fight over the shirts. I get called into the principal’s office, and my parents get a call, we’re going to suspend your son for selling and distributing on campus. So like a drug charge, but for selling T-shirts on campus.

Mike Cherman: At the time, it was like, “Oh shit, I’m about to get in trouble.” But at the same time I’m realizing I just made fucking impact off of just making a T-shirt and it was like, wow this is cool.

Jeff Staple: You even did you due diligence and had him sign a document.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking, but yeah. I just thought it was the right thing to do.

Jeff Staple: I would like to see that release.

Mike Cherman: It was literally like a two sentence, it was like a [crosstalk 00:09:48].

Jeff Staple: Are you cool with this?

Mike Cherman: Yeah. It’s like a high school agreement but, yeah man. So, that all kind of sparked this whole ruckus and then I got kind of dubbed Mikey Merchandise in my school. That was my nickname. I was in the year book as Mikey Merchandise, I would sell T-shirts at the back of my car, and junior year of high school, I was playing high school basket ball, I thought I would go to college and maybe play in a D2 school, or D3 probably, because I was not that good. And, shit man, I broke my hand and started smoking weed, and started making T-shirts seriously.

Mike Cherman: Not to say that the smoking weed and all this other shit, but it kind of like, me losing the sports side of my life, it took that kind of addiction that we just talked about and applied it to something else, where I love basketball, that was my shit. I was born and raised in that shit, but the reality is, I should have accepted that I can’t dunk and I’m not going to … It’s just not going to happen.

Mike Cherman: So, that kind of led into everything else. It allowed me to realize this could be what you do.

Jeff Staple: An early valuable lesson that can learned from Mikey Merchandise. A lot of people I meet are down the hustle, they’re down to work the long hours and they’re down to commit, but they just don’t know what to commit to. They haven’t found their passion yet. But in spite of that, every single person I’ve ever met has one thing in common. There is something that they love to do, they might not make a living from that, but there is something they love so much, they can’t stop doing it. And in most cases, their job has nothing to do with that activity.

Jeff Staple: But Mike realized at an early age what his passion was, and since then, he’s been figuring out just what to do with that one thing. It’s the first major step to success, even if you’re dead broke and making a ton of mistakes, why? Because you’re doing the thing you love to do, you’re already ahead of 95% of the population. And if you really love it, who cares how long it takes, you’re having fun. Making money from it, that’s just a technicality.

Mike Cherman: That is the thing that gets you excited, and I’m like this is a whole new revolution, I’m going to make sure it’s for this, whatever, and I just got into it. It just kind of led into me interning at UNIF and kind of getting fully into the game and I met the guys at Alpha Numeric, and then [inaudible 00:12:00], all these other people and all these people just influenced me in little pockets of ways. Whether it was like, I forget the designer at Alpha Numeric, he’s a pretty [inaudible 00:12:10], you probably know him, but I remember a long time ago him saying, “I hate brands that misspell their names.” And that will always stick with me.

Mike Cherman: And then I tapped the box really shitty, and [inaudible 00:12:21] was like, “What the fuck are you doing?” And that will forever stay with me. My interns, my employees will never tape a shitty box. And if you can’t tape a box, get the fuck out of here.

Jeff Staple: So, I’m a box tapping Nazi also.

Mike Cherman: It’s the little things, because I remember I took two boxes, I tried to take a skateboard and cover both ends and tape the middle, and then we were sending it to Sweden. He looked at me and he was like, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” So, it’s all those little experiences I think that have built me to where I am today and be able to understand that hard work. As we all know, I get DMs every day, being like, I want a job, send me a free T-shirts, I want to promote your shit, I want to be this. And it’s like, what?

Mike Cherman: Because even, and we’ll talk about it a little bit, when we had a conversation, it took me a year or two to fully grasp what that did for me at the time and I’ve talked about it with many people about our conversation and how it influenced everything that I am today. I could be working for you or I could be working with you. And because of what happened, I’m able to work with you, not under you. And to me, it was one of the best gifts I had in an interview because you could have very well just given me a job and let me find my way up the ladder and work my way up in the Staple. But you challenged me and-

Jeff Staple: By the way, there’s nothing wrong with working for staple.

Mike Cherman: And 100% totally, but I would never had been able to have this conversation, eye to eye, to say Jeff, let’s work together, because it would always be the employee, employer type of situation. Obviously, one day I could work out of that and become eye to eye, but it takes that much longer to do it.

Jeff Staple: It was a different path for sure.

Mike Cherman: And side note, no kids, you can’t just cheat everything and have it happen. You’ve got to go through this shit.

Jeff Staple: So how did you end up in New York?

Mike Cherman: So I was in high school in San Diego, and all I wanted was to get as far away from San Diego as I could. I applied to one school, I applied to Parsons or actually I applied to two. I applied to FIT, and I applied to Parsons. I thought FIT was the easier one to get into, I got denied, and I got into Parsons.

Jeff Staple: That’s what I thought too.

Mike Cherman: Right. So, I got into Parsons. I remember the second day of school, it’s orientation, everyone goes around and says what they’re doing there, and every kid was like, “I want to be a designer.” Well, end of first year, half of those kids were gone, didn’t even go to the school anymore. Any of the kids who were in fashion switched to another major, like it was amazing to me that while I dropped out of Parsons, none of those kids are really doing what they set out to do anyways. And it’s like the 1% of those kids who actually figured it out.

Jeff Staple: What was your major at Parsons.

Mike Cherman: I actually went to Parsons for design and management, which was a brand new major at the time, and I thought very naively without doing any research of course, that it was design, with business mixed.

Jeff Staple: As the title would make you assume.

Mike Cherman: Right. But in reality, it’s like-

Jeff Staple: There’s not design.

Mike Cherman: … Business with a design thinking. And so, while at the time I probably should have realized that’s actually a really great thing, because it’s a thing you need in business. I just was sitting in design classes being like, I’m teaching my teacher shit about illustrator. I’ve been self teaching myself this shit since freshman year of high school, so why am I even in these classes and there’s like, it kind of like started to really turn me off of school because I was, why can’t I just skip to where I’m supposed to be. I don’t need to just sit here and pay five, six thousand dollars for this class, to be in this class with a bunch of kids who aren’t even ready.

Jeff Staple: Was it a difficult decision to leave school?

Mike Cherman: My parents gave me the gift of saying, we have one year for you. You can go to school, but you’ve got to figure out how to get the rest to happen.

Jeff Staple: You mean financially we’ll pay-

Mike Cherman: Financially, we’ll help you out for the first year. But you’re going to have to go find scholarships and do all that if you want to finish it. And I just remembered, I applied for all these scholarships, I was applying for FIDM to get a scholarship there, because I felt like I couldn’t get one a Parsons. Like I wasn’t in this bracket of money group, where our parents were making a certain amount of money to do it. But my parents weren’t in a position to continue to put me on.

Mike Cherman: So yeah, it just kind of got to the point where I saw an opportunity, I was interning downtown at Prohibit with Chase Infinite, and I looked at it as like, you know what man, I can just fucking go for it. I might as well. But what really was the defining moment was, when I met you and then the week after that.

Jeff Staple: Mike mentions a “Defining moment.” It’s a phrase that I think it’s overused a bit, because if you really understand what a defining moment is, you realize that it’s one of the most important things that can happen in your life. And then training yourself to foresee when a defining moment might be upon you, now you’re in like X-Men mutant territory.

Jeff Staple: You know Spider Man’s spidey sense, when the hairs on his neck stand up for a few seconds before a bomb explodes or trouble is about to happen. That’s kind of like honing your defining moment sense. The tricky thing is though, that feeling feels eerily similar to the feeling of fear. And fear is your body’s defensive mechanism to avoid getting hurt. So recognize when all the elements around you are telling you to do something and take that leap of faith. It might just be the sign that leads to a massive break.

Jeff Staple: I was going to move this whole moment, this moment that you recall now. You’ve decided to quit school already?

Mike Cherman: No, I was, at the time I was interning, I thought I was going to go to FIDM, I had gotten accepted, I got a smaller scholarship, and I was at Prohibit every day, I was just interning doing graphics for them, I was doing anything I could. I remember going to Noah Callahan-Bever’s House, literally back in the day, like to his old crib in Soho and helping him design his website. I didn’t make websites, but I figured how to make it because I wanted, I just needed some money. If I could buy myself a 20 sack of weed in the back wood and get some dinner that night, it was good, that was life.

Mike Cherman: So, fast forward into all this stuff, I was at Prohibit, I needed a job really bad and like-

Jeff Staple: Was Prohibit paid?

Mike Cherman: Prohibit was not paid. It was-

Jeff Staple: It was paid in weed.

Mike Cherman: It was paid in weed and food, Shim took really good care of me, Chase … It was the most invaluable place that I could have been at the time because people don’t look back and realize at how many people who are doing things today were in there.

Jeff Staple: Totally.

Mike Cherman: And so-

Jeff Staple: And [inaudible 00:18:30].

Mike Cherman: And that sort of [crosstalk 00:18:32] and Jay Scott and [crosstalk 00:18:33] all these other people. Look at what everyone is doing today, it’s like, it’s amazing to watch.

Jeff Staple: I always want someone to make a family tree of-

Mike Cherman: Of where it, yeah.

Jeff Staple: … Sick.

Mike Cherman: It’s crazy. So I just remember as struggling, I knew where the Staple design office was and I knew you lived at the time, creepily enough. And I just was like, I could work for Jeff, like he does cool stuff with Nike, he does all these other jobs, this other design firm. This could be how I could do all these things. And so, in my head I was like, uh huh, this is how I do it.

Mike Cherman: So I literally was like, I’m just going to make a poster, and I just design this thing up, 20 minutes, made it, went to my Parsons print lab, I printed as much paper and fucking posters as I could. I literally had 100 11 by 17 posters. I had these massive large format prints and I just decided to go out and put them up. So …

Jeff Staple: On the path that I walk.

Mike Cherman: On the path that you walked. So I was like, all right, this is kind of how he walks, I just started hitting up all these places, I asked [Niko 00:19:32] where would he go this day, whatever. And just put everything up, and on the way home, I remember walking to the subway and I had the posters sticking in my bag, and a guy goes, “Hey man, what are those?” I’m like, “Oh yeah man, I’m trying to get this job, check out these posters, whatever,” and I was all excited, kind of on this high of doing this and the dude is like, “Cool, put your hands behind your back, you’re getting locked up for graffiti.”

Mike Cherman: So I just put my hands behind my back, the whole thing, went to cop car-

Jeff Staple: You had no clue, he was undercover-

Mike Cherman: I had no clue. And then he got me, got taken to what’s called the Tomb in New York, in Tribeca and …

Jeff Staple: Is this the first time you got arrested?

Mike Cherman: This is the first time I got arrested. And mind you, I came from a job interview earlier that day, where I was wearing Kakis and a buttoned down shirt and some boat shoes. And so, I’m sitting in holding, it’s like-

Jeff Staple: You never look like this.

Mike Cherman: No.

Jeff Staple: But the day you’re in jail, you look like the biggest perve ever.

Mike Cherman: The biggest perve, I’m like, ah, it was crazy. I got some guy knotting out off heroine on the corner, another guy on the phone being like, “I swear I didn’t try to stab my wife.” And you’re just like dude, what am I doing here? I didn’t call my parents because I’m like, what am I going to tell them.

Mike Cherman: And so I remember getting out, I tried to be like, I had to go to the actual station to get my phone, they were trying to hold it. It was this whole thing, I finally get home two days later 9.00am I turn my phone on finally, I got on the computer and I saw that Emeka Obi and The Hundreds had both written little articles.

Jeff Staple: About what happened?

Mike Cherman: Right. So Emeka-

Jeff Staple: Wow, in two days?

Mike Cherman: Yeah. And so Emeka, had gone on and at the time HYPEBEAST had little blogs for everyone. I think you probably had one at the time and everyone else, and he had written the whole thing about shameless self promotion. And at the time, I didn’t think about it, I was like, I’m just trying to get a job. But when he wrote it out and really spelled out what I had done, I was like, oh yeah, this is kind of smart.

Jeff Staple: He wrote it as a critical piece or he-

Mike Cherman: He wrote it as like nod, to be if you really want something, go out and get it. Go and just hustle it out and make it happen. And I think The Hundreds also had said something like that as well, where it’s like, we can admire what this was and then just going after someone, with everyone just sending emails of, “Hey, can I have a job.” This was a new creative way of doing it.

Mike Cherman: And so that whole thing happened. I get out, have that, and then, I remember like getting an email from your assistant, she’s like, “Hey, Jeff wants you to come in, and I’ll send them …” “Oh fuck.” And it’s like, all right, this is happening. I got it. It’s all worth it.

Jeff Staple: I did jail time but it’s worth it.

Mike Cherman: And I was fucking was so nervous, I remember rolling in there, just fucking got or knot on my stomach, whatever, and just sat down and I remember you looking in my eyes and be like, “You’re not going to come in here and just design and make T-shirts. You’re going to have to go get coffee and do whatever and sweep and work your way up.” I remember being shattered. I was like, “What? Dude, after all this?”

Mike Cherman: I remember calling my mom and I was like, “Mom, I don’t know what to do, I thought this was my chance. And just like fucking get lost.” But then, two days later, funny enough Emeka actually connects me with someone at 94 by 50, who ends up getting me an interview with the 255 Studio, and then they had heard the story about that, and they had heard all these other things, and-

Jeff Staple: And for those who don’t know the 255 Studio, just explain-

Mike Cherman: Which was basically like the first tier to what was the [inaudible 00:22:34] stadium later, is a full customization lab that was run by Nike, that was also curated by Doubleday & Cartwright. And they had a full apparel customization setup inside. Sewing, embroidery, DTG, vinyl cutting, everything.

Mike Cherman: I had kind of gotten the job because I worked at Good Wood at the time, or before that. And I was making laser etched jewelry, which then transferred into me making laser cut patches, laser etching sleeves of jackets, doing all these kinds of things that I had never done before, because I had the machine experience that allowed me to get that job, because there was no one else who knew how to use that machine.

Jeff Staple: It was honestly like that whole store was made for someone whose had your experience.

Mike Cherman: Exactly. And then I was in a room with a bunch of kids who were talented artists, but they weren’t good graphic designers. So I quickly started finding my own little lane in there and I became the main graphic designer guy, and I figured out how to use every machine, and I just tried to touch as much shit as I could. Because if I knew that, then I can go make something.

Mike Cherman: I remember coming in the first day, I had 20 blank T-shirts, I walked out with 20 shirts. And it’s like, when your eyes can be opened to the idea of just making something without having to go through the process of actually doing it, there’s no barrier to your ideas, and I think that’s the biggest problem with any designer in this world. There’s a barrier to your idea, because you think you can’t go make it.

Jeff Staple: Well said. That 94 by 50, which is the agency-

Mike Cherman: Which is Game Seven now.

Jeff Staple: Yeah. That did the 255 space, that was a paying job or an internship still?

Mike Cherman: So that was a paying job. That was like, I was getting 21 or 22 dollars an hour, and that was like holy shit, I’m getting paid.

Jeff Staple: Yeah, because this is like the first time you’re getting steady money.

Mike Cherman: Yeah. I’m like holy shit, I’m getting 1300 bucks every two weeks. This is like, I’m rolling in the dough.

Jeff Staple: And you’re doing basically what you want to do for the dopest company in the world-

Mike Cherman: And I’ve dropped out of college. All my friends are in school, I am 19 and I’m making T-shirts every day, and I technically work for Nike. When I’m having conversations, I work for Nike, but obviously I’m just a consultant hired by an agency.

Mike Cherman: But, at the time when you’re 19, you’re like holy shit, this is so cool, and I kind of got this little cool thing out of it.

Jeff Staple: And also that store that Nike did, was like, they got the coolest stuff. The coolest people went there-

Mike Cherman: The coolest people, the coolest things, they brought in Amar’e Stoudemire. I would sit down and like mock up the jacket, or they brought in Ronny back in the day, and this is actually how I met Ronny, is that Ronny came in to do a jacket. I ended up being the graphic design guy of mocking it up. He was like, “Yo man, you’re so fast.” And then all of a sudden, I’m at Soho House with him designing the Kith, Just Us, logos, all of it. And so looking back at that, I’m like, I’m getting paid 1000 dollars a month at Kith to do freelance graphic design, and then now fast forward I’m like holy shit, I designed the branding for a fucking multi-million dollar conglomerate, which now is going to have stores across the world, and it’s like damn. I can kind of take a step back and be like, that’s awesome.

Jeff Staple: Did you design the Kith logo?

Mike Cherman: Yeah.

Jeff Staple: The one on the box?

Mike Cherman: Yes.

Jeff Staple: Oh wow. Damn.

Mike Cherman: Did Just Us, did the Flag, did all the first [inaudible 00:25:25], I worked in the whole east coast project, when he did the whole Miami thing.

Jeff Staple: Why don’t more people know that?

Mike Cherman: Because Ronny is … I think Ronny and I are cool. If you ever hear this Ronny, we’re good, but I think when I started ICNY and I kind of had that idea, Ronny saw it, and he wanted to bring it in to make like a Kith capsule collection out of some reflective stuff. And he was like this is amazing, I made this crazy polka dot all over jacket, it was nuts.

Mike Cherman: But at the time I was like, no, I wanted it to be my thing and I remember I made this partnership with a company called IRT, which was my investor at ICNY, and I brought Kith in for a meeting to make some accessories and other stuff. And I remember him seeing me and then him pulling me aside after, and he was like, “Dude, why didn’t you ask me to invest into it?” And I just remember being like, “Dude, you never told me any, you weren’t interested in investing in it, you wanted to make it into a thing.” And I think, everyone will always would come to you after, I’ve learned this in life. Everybody is like, “I would have done this or I should have told you this or whatever.” But it’s always a little bit too late. Whatever.

Mike Cherman: I think, massive respect for the dude, and I think he has built something amazing, and it’s just crazy to see how far its come from us sitting at Soho house before he even had an office, to what it is now. It’s amazing.

Jeff Staple: There’s an infamous story that Nike’s founder Phil Nike paid a graphic designer by the name of Carolyn Davidson a whole 35 dollars for her swoosh logo design back in 1971. And now discovering that Mike designed the Kith branding, reminds me a little of that. Imagine Carolyn Davidson, instead of charging 35 dollars, said to Phil Nike, “No upfront fee, but pay me half a penny every time you use the swoosh logo.” Phil might have actually gone for that deal.

Jeff Staple: So when negotiating your fees with any kind of work, tread carefully. What’s the upside potential of working with this person? Should I take all the money now and run, or work on a longer term relationship? I think its all worked for Mike, but it’s very interesting to hear this anecdote none the less.

Jeff Staple: Another part of the story that Mike tells is when Ronny Fieg asked him why he didn’t come to him to be his partner on ICNY. Business owners, entrepreneurs, and brand founders, especially in the street and sneaker market are usually very prideful and egocentric. In a good way of course. So it’s often hard to let your guard down and say, “Hey, I need your help.” What if Mike asked Ronny to help with ICNY, where would the brand be today? You never know guys, your greatest ally and partner could be sitting next to you right now. You just got to ask.

Jeff Staple: So, you started a brand called ICNY, you mentioned. Tell us you’re at 255 working at Nike. What’s the impetus for then deciding to do this thing?

Mike Cherman: So, I would … I cut myself deep into track bike culture. One of the guys who worked there, this guy named Jack Rear, he sold me his old [Biaki 00:28:31] frame, I ended up just getting deep into it man. I was just like riding every day, rain, slid, snow, whatever. I was riding.

Jeff Staple: Your addictive personality kicked in.

Mike Cherman: Yes. And I loved that feeling, every morning I’d come in fucking like half sweaty to work and I would be like, this is my thing, I was doing the skate stops, the whole track bike thing in New York is a thing. If you don’t live in New York, you don’t understand. Well, if you live in SF, sure. But I think the hills are crazy.

Mike Cherman: But that kind of led me into all this because riding my bike, I would inherently get into car accidents, because I love running red lights, I loved doing dumb shit. I loved going fast, and I would get hit by cars, I got doored by taxis, I’ve got t-boned, I just been through the ring of it, and I think it was after one of my accidents where I was doored by a taxi and the dude could have clearly seen me if I wasn’t just wearing all black. I was like, I might as well just put some reflective on some stuff.

Mike Cherman: So came into the studio the next day, we had-

Jeff Staple: In to the Nike studio.

Mike Cherman: Yap.

Jeff Staple: Okay.

Mike Cherman: We had a vinyl cutter and a heat press and a roll of reflective. I just literally started cutting polka dots out, because I was like, lets make some polka dot socks. And literally just took a pair of Nike socks, pressed them on, and that was my first pair of socks. And then from there I went and got the Nike SB Coaches Jacket that was non-branded, and I just started pressing massive polka dots on the sleeves and I did the chest and the back, and just started thinking about, where is the most important place for it to be. And I just started applying it everywhere.

Mike Cherman: And, as that was happening, Nike released the Olympic flash jack.

Jeff Staple: Which was all 3M

Mike Cherman: All 3M. And that was like the first time any of these brands had done a full on polarizing jacket like that, and they had done the running hat with the perforation and they did all these crazy items. And that shit just opened my mind up to everything. I was like holy shit, this is way more than work wear, it’s way more than any of that. It’s something bigger.

Mike Cherman: And so, I just at the time I was like, oh shit, this is something bigger, this is actually of a purpose, and I’ve always made clothing, but it never meant anything. We all make shit, but what does it mean? What’s it for? And this was the first time it actually meant something to me and it was actually impactful.

Jeff Staple: So when you did the sock, did you already have the brand name in your head, or you were literally just making stuff?

Mike Cherman: So, funny enough I had went and … The first name of the brand was Ice Cold New York. And I started the website, I had the Instagram, the whole thing, and then all of a sudden, a month or two months in, my friends at Luke Studio, where I was actually running this whole thing out of, their friends had a framing called Ice Cold Frames. It turned out-

Jeff Staple: … You mean like an Art Framing store?

Mike Cherman: Art framing store. But they had made some T-shirts before. And, we just chat with the guys, I was like, “Hey, I see you guys have the trademark, I just wanted to see, would you be willing to sell it to me, or whatever. I see you guys haven’t been using it.” One guy was like, “Fuck off.” And just like, I just remember the time, my investors were like, “Oh, we can’t do this then.” I cannot have a trademark, so we quickly had to go to the drawing board and all of a sudden Ice Cold New York got turned into ICNY, as an acronym of Ice Cold New York.

Jeff Staple: Well you mentioned investors. So back up and talk about the investment.

Mike Cherman: So, I saw ICNY was really is like all DIY handmade. I literally was buying blanks from American Apparel, they were making these moisture [inaudible 00:31:39] T-shirts, and I was buying like, I was literally going to UNIF clothes and buying 50 pairs of black socks from them and then I keep pressing them. It was all hand done.

Jeff Staple: For sale?

Mike Cherman: Yes. So I was buying those socks at $3 a pair, and I was selling them for 12 to 15. Looking back, that was probably a dumb idea, but it was like all these things, that’s how it started.

Mike Cherman: Very quickly, ICNY gathered a good amount of attention just purely out of it being a valid idea. I felt it had a purpose, it wasn’t just another thing. And so, fast forward a little bit, it starts getting some attention, I started getting some good retailers and then Collet picks it up. Collet comes in, basically we do a collaborative T-shirt, sells out, that kind of opened up everything else.

Jeff Staple: How does Collet discover ICNY?

Mike Cherman: What’s funny is, I don’t talk about it much. There was this random guy I met, this guy Rashid, through another person names Giovanni, who was involved with [inaudible 00:32:36] back in the day. This real small kid. There was a lot of people who tried to jump in early on ICNY, and basically come in and try to take a piece of it from me.

Jeff Staple: Take a piece meaning, I want to give you money to be involved?

Mike Cherman: No. Like when I was going to get the investment, a guy named (Beep), tried to come in and he wanted 20% of the company. And I was, my investor was like, “So what did you do?” Naively, I was told he does logistics. I was like cool, yeah, he does logistics, he helps with marketing. The investor is like, so he does shipping? And I was like no. And he was like, “So what marketing he does? I could send to [inaudible 00:33:14] myself, he doesn’t send it out. He’s like cool, well then he doesn’t need 20% of the company.

Mike Cherman: It was a quick easy thing. And so we had offered him a salary and he basically just said, fuck off and then tried to send some angry lawyer letters and …

Jeff Staple: Were these friends, because I know in these startup brands, there’s a lot of friends hanging around and so there’s like, if there’s a guy in the office that’s working with you and throwing you ideas, they always think-

Mike Cherman: So they weren’t in my office, and these are people who were around who I think at times I’d meet them and then we’d have a conversation, and they’d be like, “I can help you.” And I’d be like cool, I need some help. And nothing would ever materialize, but they would always want to make a deal, and then it will materialize. And it’s like cool, I can’t give you anything here and nothing ever really happened.

Mike Cherman: But the Collet connection really just happened out of a guy connecting me with someone on the email and them liking it, and Sarah being like, “This is cool, let’s pick it up.” You know?

Jeff Staple: Okay.

Mike Cherman: The craziest thing is that Chinatown, when I literally just sent her a cold email two years later after not talking to her, and she sent me a text reply, and sent me an order. So it’s like …

Jeff Staple: She’s the best.

Mike Cherman: The way that they run, it was amazing.

Jeff Staple: Especially when you know she’s doing the same thing to Balenciaga and Celine.

Mike Cherman: I’m just like, how is that possible? It can’t be …

Jeff Staple: So what other stores were you selling in locally?

Mike Cherman: Locally, I think we had sold a little bit to Reed Space. We had a little bit to Kith, we had started to do that and then quickly it jump right into Urban-

Jeff Staple: Outfitters?

Mike Cherman: Yes. And Urban had opened up a whole section called “Without Walls.” And Without Walls was their whole active outdoor thing, which perfect for us, was an exact retailer, what I wanted to be. But the, I think and not to jump to 100 other things, but I think we had a problem with us jumping that far, that quick, is that our product did not match the quality of what it was aspiring to be.

Mike Cherman: So for me to go make a technical running tight, or for me to go make running shorts or even just regular T-shirt, there’s got to be properties to it. If this is a regular cotton T-shirt, I’ve got emails left and right, it was like, this shit is so wet, it’s this, it doesn’t work, it’s like … I’m never even saying my socks were technical. They’re not technical, let’s be real, I couldn’t use real wool, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. It was all the little things where I was selling the idea of technicality, but I wasn’t executing on it. You really can’t catch up to the big boys like Nike and all that after one season.

Jeff Staple: And so, how far or how big did you get ICNY before the investment happened?

Mike Cherman: I’d probably say it was like 10 retailers, 15 retailers, and then I had gotten a sales rep who she worked in the bike world and she really tried wrapping it up. And I think when she got on, is when it really took that next step, and what’s funny, that guy (Beep) actually made that connection into IRT, and I ended up getting connected to IRT, because he wanted me to help him with all the other shit he did.

Mike Cherman: So BBC, and all these other things that he was servicing, because he does all the printable for Supreme, he does all their accessories, he does all these different things.

Jeff Staple: How would you describe what IRT does? IRT stands for In Record Time.

Mike Cherman: In Record Time. It’s a glorified middleman, because it’s actually, they’re just helping companies connect with ASI vendors who essentially have promotional product goods, which they are then printing on. So they’re doing a lot of pattern printing, screen printing, they just make it easier for you, like if you don’t know how to go do these things, they’ll go do it for you and they’ll bill their 30% profit on top.

Jeff Staple: So essentially, just for people who are listening who aren’t clear on this is, when you see lets say a lighter with your favorite brand logo on it, maybe the brand doesn’t need to call the lighter company, they call a company like IRT, who handles all the messy stuff.

Mike Cherman: Exactly.

Jeff Staple: Then you just send your logo, and he gives you the lighter.

Mike Cherman: And you tell him, it looks shitty or it looks good, and get me another sample. So, it takes the risk off of people, which is great, but at the same time, it’s like you’re just paying sometimes for someone to do the job that you could probably do.

Jeff Staple: Right. And, little known fact, but every Supreme accessory literally non Chucks, right. Fire extinguisher-

Mike Cherman: It’s probably more about 80%, but yeah. He doesn’t make all of it, he makes 80% of them. Every season they’re giving them a full pitch of it all and basically says, “Hey, show us what you can make.”

Mike Cherman: Great business there, he has built with James since ‘94, ‘95 or whatever, and-

Jeff Staple: So IRT is a big company.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, it’s a big company.

Jeff Staple: And then so he reached out to you just for help?

Mike Cherman: It was really, I think he saw a little bit of the potential that he could help me in helping to finance and give myself a salary, and to get me a little bit more set up to run a brand. And then he conversely was like, “I want you to help me with BBC and all these other things that I have inside already.”

Mike Cherman: Right now, at the time when I came in, he did not have cool designers or young people to be able to be like, “Hey, we’re going to pitch BBC on this stuff.”

Jeff Staple: So on paper, that seems like a good arrangement.

Mike Cherman: It was great. I was getting paid 50000 dollars a year, I thought I was good, but then what I had signed myself into was a non-compete, which essentially made it so that I could not work with anyone else outside of him and I couldn’t work on anything but the brand. Which in theory is great, because you’re focused on the brand, but, when you lock yourself down into a single salary, and a single income, you put yourself into a pretty fixed situation.

Jeff Staple: Yeah. So what happened? How long did that last before it started to go downhill?

Mike Cherman: I think it was about two and a half, three years. Did all the trade shows, I’ve done multiple trips to Asia, to factories … Mind you, I came into this situation with this guy and he sold me the whole idea of having global sourcing and production. I had to go find my first production person, and then the second person we found, and then we had to get rid of, and then we got another one. But they didn’t have a production set up, they didn’t do global sourcing. They had made some stuff for some people, but it doesn’t mean they’ve ever run a brand, and that was the thing. They’ve always serviced brands, but never built a brand.

Mike Cherman: So, coming into the whole situation, I looked at it as like, cool, I’m about to have the infrastructure so that I can just go focus on design, and they can handle the business.

Jeff Staple: But the infrastructure wasn’t actually-

Mike Cherman: There was never infrastructure. It was literally like, Mike, go design, we’ll go make it, and then we’ll just go sell it. But there was never any thought in between that to be like, let’s structure some merchandising. Let’s structure everything else. Let’s make sure that it’s smart in how it’s built. I kind of just had the license to go do what I want.

Jeff Staple: Hearing this tale first hand from Mike is amazing. I’m not placing judgment on who was right or who was wrong. As you know, there’s two sides to every story, and I’m sure Mike’s partner has a very different opinion on how it all went down. But hearing it from the brand founder is really invaluable and rare. Hopefully, as you are building something, you’ll get interest from outside people to either help of consult or invest.

Jeff Staple: We always hear about the overnight success stories, but we rarely hear these stories. The flops. Mike got caught in a bad partnership situation, and as you’ll soon hear, it would cost him the entire brand that he birthed and he’d had to start all over again.

Jeff Staple: So, in those two years, the first two years that you’re, you’ve just signed the partnership, is it going well, is it like, is sales going up as you had expected, is the product getting better as you had hoped?

Mike Cherman: The sales were going up each year, but the production costs were also doubling each year. As well, things were going well, but in that process, I had to learn how to put reflective on to socks, which is not an easy thing to do without a research and development team, without product development anything. I remember flying to Asia the first time and try to teach these guys how to put reflective on the socks. I didn’t have a translator, I didn’t have anything.

Mike Cherman: I was a little old soul without one person to talk to, and trying to use my hands and pictures to show how to make the socks. It took two trips for us to perfect it.

Jeff Staple: So, it was expensive.

Mike Cherman: It’s expensive, and a lot of that learning process in building it, it was debilitating for the brand. We didn’t have the luxury of the research to be able to perfect it. And so, I think like, I would try to go make a technical, waterproof jacket, and we just couldn’t get the factory to do the tape seam, because this factory would make [inaudible 00:41:09] supply and black scale on these other brands. But they weren’t doing technical apparel.

Mike Cherman: I remember our last season, we got three or four styles that had 100% damage rate, because they had incorrectly used the reflective, but the factory was not willing to take any responsibility because they had never had experience with it before. So it wasn’t like this was their specialty. And it’s all those kinds of things that had happened and it just was horrible for the brand.

Jeff Staple: And how much of your time was spent on the other brands that IRT was handling?

Mike Cherman: As it went on, he kind of just had me focus 100% on ICNY, which was great, but I’d always kind of bounce in and just kind of give him my opinion, we’d always be talking, and … In some vein, it was good because we were constantly working to build this thing, but inherently, what ended up happening is, is like you have this guy with money who wants to build a brand, but all he really wants to do is just kind of be on the throne watching it all happen. But the reality is, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get in there with us.

Mike Cherman: And there was never a brand manager, there was never any kind of structure to do anything, and as I can take responsibility for not creating that structure, I had never done it before. So it was really me coming in and trying to do what I thought was right, and all that I had done was make DIY T-shirts.

Jeff Staple: And in retrospect, would you wish that you just kept it all to yourself?

Mike Cherman: In retrospect, I got paid to go to college. So, in that respect after any of the fucked up things that had happened and whatever with our relationship, I can sit back and say, hey, you paid me for college, thank you.

Jeff Staple: School hard knock, right.

Mike Cherman: School hard knock. I got to travel to Asia, I learned about culture, I learned about people, I met people that I would never have met if I didn’t travel. I fostered friendships and business relationships that I would never have without it.

Mike Cherman: So, regardless of any of my personal feelings towards the situation or whatever, I’m grateful for that.

Jeff Staple: What was the equity split of ICNY?

Mike Cherman: So at first, I owned the brand, I think it was like 60/40, and then about a year in, I remember him coming up to me and he actually had the lawyer do it, which was actually our lawyer, and she basically was like, “Yes, Adam has put in a million dollars so far, he’d really feel comfortable if he just had controlling stake in it, so he could know that his money is in the right place.” And I was at the time, I’m like yeah, I’m just building a brand, this is cool, whatever, it’s going to be big. I’m not worried about it. I ended up giving him controlling ownership of the brand.

Mike Cherman: What that ended up doing is just putting in a position where he could do whatever he wanted. I was in effect, his employee of IRT, and I was just the creative director of my own brand. But I did not technically own that brand.

Jeff Staple: And you owned the minority share at this point.

Mike Cherman: And I owned the minority share.

Jeff Staple: Do you feel like that was a chess move?

Mike Cherman: It was a chess move early on, which-

Jeff Staple: When you think three steps ahead, like chess move.

Mike Cherman: Totally. And he was way ahead of me. I wasn’t smart enough to think about it like that. In reality, I could have just checked him and been like, “You want it, you can pay for it.” But, at the time, I thought I was just doing the right thing. Be good to people.

Mike Cherman: So, fast forward, we ended up getting a consultant probably three years into the brand, and at first I’m like, this is great, we’ve got a guy coming in, he’s going to help us get it together, brand manager, and get the structure right. I remember two weeks after he comes in, I ended up going on an Asia tour and we go to Lane Crawford and all these other stores across Asia that do customization events and it was a whole marketing tour. I remember halfway through, just getting this weird tone with things, and him being, I don’t know why you’re out there, blah, blah, blah. Then I get back, and I quickly realize that the shit hit the fan and he’s basically decided that I’m the problem in the whole thing.

Jeff Staple: The consultant?

Mike Cherman: The consultant. So, I’ll take responsibility for plenty other things that I had no experience with, and I think yes, I had a total part in the brand not succeeding, but basically just decided that I was the problem and I needed to be removed.

Mike Cherman: So, all of a sudden, I noticed that my password to my email had changed and that was in the middle of me sitting in the office and they had all been in the meeting without me. And so, I basically grabbed my computer, I grabbed a few things, put into a bag, dip out of there, and then I get an email from Adam basically being like hey, come in for, I want to talk to you. And he’s like, “Where did you go?” And then I just realized like they started taking everything.

Mike Cherman: I had taken home samples, I had taken all the shit, he has a lawyer who sent me a letter basically being like, “You have stolen from me, blah, blah, blah. Return all these goods.” It was all like a mess. He wanted me to return the computer immediately, he wanted me to return all these things. And in my head I’m like, this is my computer. Yes, you got it for me, but this is what I’ve worked off of for the past three years. So I had to scramble to get a computer, I had to go figure out what the fuck I was going to do, I went on unemployment, and I got a lawyer because I was like, what am I going do? I didn’t know how I could protect myself, how I could do any of these things, and it just kind of fizzled out. Nothing happened.

Jeff Staple: When you went into, there was a long length of litigation, right?

Mike Cherman: Yeah. It never-

Jeff Staple: You tried to get the brand back?

Mike Cherman: I had thought about actually buying the brand back. I was thinking about it at the time being cool, I’m just going to buy this brand back and a new investor, I had a guy who was going to buy the brand and we were going to do it. But in my head I was like, I’m not giving this guy the money, because it’s just giving him money back, that’s it. I’m just going to go and do something new, like fuck this guy.

Mike Cherman: I didn’t want him to be made whole for how he had treated me at that moment. Someone who I had thought was my business friend, which we all know that business is business and friends are friends. I learnt that one very easily. But it was like, damn, he was able to flip a hat real quick on me. Went from being cool to me, talking to me, to like I’ve ever heard him just saying to me on the phone, because he had totally cut me off, no next pay check, and I was like, you really can’t give like this next two weeks? Whatever, he’s like, “It’s just business.” I remember him saying that, I was like, “Damn, that’s cold.” But that will always stick with me and I will never forget that shit, but it’s funny because little does he know, I still work on projects that he is involved in, that he has no idea. So, I like to keep it like that.

Mike Cherman: I think inherently, I was also young, immature, and emotional. Like any young, immature, emotional designer, is going to feel some type of way about what he makes, and what he does. And I think like, critiquing was hard, fucking making a product and then have one tell you it sucks is hard. All those things that I had to go through, I’m glad I went through it now, because now it’s a lot easier to hear it.

Jeff Staple: Yeah.

Mike Cherman: But, I will acknowledge that my mistakes in these processes were not just being more level headed and not being as emotional when realizing that I’m not making this stuff for me. I’m making it for fucking thousands of people out there who are the consumers.

Jeff Staple: We’re all human, we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn why that mistake happened and be able to correct it from happening in the future. Mike mentions that he was paid to go to school, the school of hard knocks. So he is looking at the silver lining in this otherwise tumultuous relationship. But more importantly, you can hear in his voice that he’s reflected on his actions from the past, he knows he was at least partially responsible for the downfall of ICNY.

Jeff Staple: Self realization, critique, reflection. These are big boy lessons that Mike got a crash course in. And if you can have that attitude, you can walk away from a big loss with at least a small W.

Jeff Staple: And ICNY ended up doing a really dope collaboration with PUMA too.

Mike Cherman: Yeah. So we had done the three releases of PUMA over the year 2015-

Jeff Staple: And that was while you were partners with IRT?

Mike Cherman: I was partners with IRT, and it was a huge opportunity, getting to just touch foot ware, be able to do products, do a popup shop, I dreamed of shit like that. But I also remember getting the popup and literally buying all the merch for it, and being like, all right, we just bought like 30K of merch, we’re going to make like 200000 dollars in this three weeks. It didn’t happen.

Mike Cherman: I remember the first popup shop, I thought there’d be a few kids outside, there was one kid outside. He had taken the train from DC, all the way to the popup shop. I felt like a fucking idiot, because I’m like damn, this is one kid out here lined up to buy shit. It was so sad. It was never like that hype brand, it was never any of those things, but it was a great experience, and it was a shaper for me to understand how to make real clothes. Because I have a lot of friends who have sat of Photoshop and just mock up shit. They don’t have any understanding of what it takes to actually make something for real. It’s like, we can all make T-shirts, we call all make all those other shit. This is like an exercise of fun, but when you go make great executed garment, there’s nothing like that. I think we all what it’s like to put on a fucking Acronym jacket, or put on some of these pieces where you’re like, this was really thought through.

Mike Cherman: When you have that appreciation and understanding, then you just, it’s like that higher level of consciousness in clothing. It’s almost like you break through that barrier of, “Why would I ever spend 800 dollars on this Gucci item or any of these other things.” Because sometimes there’s an appreciation for what was done here and what was made. I don’t care what it cost, I think sometimes it’s about what was done in the process of making it.

Jeff Staple: I talked to a lot of young entrepreneurs and they always ask me the question of, should I go it on my own, or should I bring in a partner? What’s your advice when you get asked that question?

Mike Cherman: I’m in the process right now of actually bringing back ICNY under a new moniker with a partner, but I think that people just have to sit back and acknowledge what it is they’re trying to build, because I don’t think I was wrong by getting a partner for ICNY because I thought that ICNY’s idea was bigger than me. And I believe that if I just tried to build it, I wouldn’t have been able to build it fast enough. Which if I was trying to do it myself, I was trying to make cutting some blanks in midtown New York. It wasn’t happening, it was absolute shit. And I would never had been able to figure out how to make that stuff in time before the trend had just blown past me.

Mike Cherman: And so, I say, if you can do it yourself, do it yourself, if you can. Get yourself to a point where you can’t afford it anymore. But if you want an really go make like a fashion brand and make cut and sew apparel, and it costs money. It costs money to play, so it really comes down to what you’re trying to build and the magnitude of what you’re trying to do it as.

Jeff Staple: So you don’t think you getting a partner for ICNY was wrong. The partner maybe was wrong-

Mike Cherman: The partner itself was probably wrong, because it could have been a way better structured partner, where if they already had the distribution, the warehousing, they didn’t even have warehousing. They didn’t have any of these things. And so we had to teach the warehouse how to ship clothing. It’s like things like that where it shouldn’t be like that. It should not be like that when you’re trying to sell me on this whole thing.

Mike Cherman: So, for me it’s like yeah … It’s either that it’s a super big idea, or it’s very personal to you and you can run it yourself. Like I literally I’m able to essentially operate Chinatown Market with a few freelance designers and some people who can help me out with packing orders and shipping shit.

Jeff Staple: Did you ever get yourself into debt prior to the investment?

Mike Cherman: I was always in debt during having a partner.

Jeff Staple: You were just always in debt?

Mike Cherman: Because the reality was living in New York city. My rent was 1500 bucks a month plus utilities, plus food, also shit, and like, it’s just that shit adds up. You end up living check to check for three years, it’s not really a good life. And then-

Jeff Staple: Not to mention buying blanks and inks and-

Mike Cherman: Exactly. But then, obviously when I had the investor, I didn’t have to buy all that shit, I just was living my life. But, you get pretty stuck into that, because it’s all you know, you’re not going to see another check. And I just remember moving to California because that was like, it was to me the only place where people would give me work. I remember I went on a two week trip after I lost ICNY, I flew to Vancouver to work with People Foot ware, I flew to California and I worked with Pleasure and a few other people and I just like, I remember I got to California and I got four jobs in a week. And I made like 10000 dollars. I was like, holy shit, I just made a fifth of my whole salary that I got at ICNY, to do an entire brand, to be an entire creative director, to build this whole thing, and I just made that in four days.

Mike Cherman: So maybe I should move out here. My girlfriend hated me for it, I just kind of got up and left.

Jeff Staple: Losing your brand is an emotional-

Mike Cherman: Yeah, dude I remember I just sat in my house and smoked weed for like a week and didn’t talk to anyone. I was so depressed, I just didn’t know what to do. I questioned myself, my creativity, all that. Yeah, fuck man. It humbled me to a great extent, but it was also the best experience of my life, because not going through that, I fucking felt the bottom of the bottom.

Mike Cherman: So you can say whatever the fuck you want to me, it’s not going to ruin my life.

Jeff Staple: There’s something to be said about, and I think we’re biased because we’re raised in New York, but there’s something to be said about the New York hustle, and then when you apply that same hustle to another part of the country or world-

Mike Cherman: It’s like when I moved to California I remember I got to the office, I had my desk setup within a day, I had my heat press out there, I fucking was already pumping. And people are like, dude you already have an office, you’ve got an apartment already, you’ve got a car already? It’s not like I had all the money to just go and go do it, but I figured out an office space, 500 dollars a month. I figured it out. I had a friend who got me his extra bedroom and I was paying a little amount for rent and it just kind of got me off the ground.

Mike Cherman: And then I just started doing flocking T’s for people, I had my vinyl cutter and my heat press. I was just hustling whatever I could. I started to do freelance for Publish, I was doing shit for [inaudible 00:54:32] doing, I was helping out two other companies. I just started getting on retainers and it just pulled me right out of debt and boom, all of a sudden Chinatown started exploding. Went into Urban, got some good T-shirt POs and it just started pumping from all angles.

Jeff Staple: So let’s slow down here. So you’re helping out some brands here and there, and then tell us about, in your head, you had pre-Chinatown, there’s and inkling of like you want to start something else, right? Because you could have just gone on and been, it sounded like a pretty financially successful freelancer.

Mike Cherman: Probably, yeah. And that’s what I was trying to do. I designed the New York marathon T-shirts for Nike, and I got a few of those projects. But, I just remember being in the car driving to the office with this guy [inaudible 00:55:17] and he just looked at me, he was like, “Dude, do you really want to be sitting at home while we go to Japan and we do popup shops, we do all this cool shit? Go make something.” And I was just like fuck, and I would be like, “Dude, I so want to go make something. I want to make something impactful like ICNY was so important to me, blah, blah, blah.” And he’s like, “Dude, fuck that. Just go make something.”

Mike Cherman: And then two days later, I got a call from Alex Sports and he’s like, “Hey, let’s make a Fuck You, Fucking Fuck shirt,” and it just all kind of spun from there. So, it’s like that kind of desperation feeling has always kind of sparked this extra hustle for me. It’s that kind of extra push and that [inaudible 00:55:50] to the creativity of being able to do shit. And, it just started off with the Fuck you, Fucking Fuck shirt, and then all of a sudden it was the Thank You bag idea, and then it was the Shirt Shirt idea or putting the New York shirt on a shirt, and then it was like, this is fucking funny. We’ve got to keep on going.

Mike Cherman: It was like bootleg Pink Panther on a T-shirts, and I was afraid I was going to get sued for that, and I did the Kim Kardashian shirt, which was her from the New York post, when she got robbed in Paris, and it’s like all those things. I was like, this is fucking perfect, it’s like commentary, easy graphic, it’s kind of like this punk attitude to street ware. Where it’s like, I’m not following any fucking rules, like me or don’t. And that’s kind of how we approached it.

Jeff Staple: But is the goal, or I’m going to back up and say, while you were making those designs, was the goal like, I’m going to build a multi-million dollar brand I’m going to retire off of?

Mike Cherman: No, I just got a free booth for ComplexCon, and I was like, I’m going to make some T-shirts. We had an opportunity and I was like cool, this is a chance for me to make some little bit money, maybe it will do well. I didn’t know, I had no idea.

Jeff Staple: And did it do well?

Mike Cherman: Yeah, I put in, I think I spent 3000 dollars on production and we ended up doing 14 or 15000 dollars in sales, off of a brand new brand that never existed before. And then we did an online release, and matched that online after HYPEBEAST dropped and from there it was like, “Oh shit.” I hit up a guy at Urban, and I was like, “Hey dude, let’s put it in there. I don’t care.”

Jeff Staple: And they took it.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, they took it. Because the reality is that while many people sit out there and they’re like, “Oh your brand dies when you go to Urban, or your brand this.” It’s like, cool, enjoy making no money for the rest of your life. Be cool, that’s great. Fuck off. You and me do not align as far as business goes, and go be cool somewhere else because I don’t give a fuck about your opinion.

Mike Cherman: That’s how I feel about people when they’re like, “Oh, this brand has died when its gone to this place.” It’s like no, I’m being smart in business and I’m building something bigger than what you can think about. Because if people want someone to be small forever, they just … It’s like wanting a rap artist to never grow or to be big. You have to let someone grow and you’ve got to let this shit be big. I saw a comment today saying, “Oh they’re Zumiez now, so they must be dead.” I’m like I’ve been in Urban and Zumiez since the first season, so if I’m dead, I’ve been dead since day one.

Mike Cherman: It’s like you, no shit. And like come on, you run a clothing business, I know that [inaudible 00:58:06] is a cool guy clothing business, but come on, really, you don’t have that understanding of the street wear business? It’s just kind of mind blowing to me sometimes.

Jeff Staple: Wait, another clothing owner said that?

Mike Cherman: Yes. And it’s like come on, really? Yes, I know you own a boutique shop and you guys have a few stores and that’s your thing. But you can’t, not recognize what that bigger thing is. How many fucking brands are built on those fucking infrastructures?

Jeff Staple: And the analogy of a musician blowing up, it’s like, I feel like you just want that musician to play a solo show for you all the time.

Mike Cherman: Exactly.

Jeff Staple: God forbid they get on MTV or something.

Mike Cherman: Yeah. That kind of stuff, it just kind of, it always disappoints me about this industry, it’s like, we’re all here to do business anyways. If we want to fucking play this cool game, I can go back to high school.

Jeff Staple: There’s a dichotomy between the art and, we’re creatives and artists, and we’re also businessmen.

Mike Cherman: Which I can also appreciate because I’m like, there’s guys out there who roam like Stray Rats or Ignored Prayers. All these people who, I get a lot of flak from sometimes, where I’m friendly with these dudes, but at the same time, they probably look at me and they’re like, he doesn’t understand the culture, he doesn’t pay homage, he doesn’t know about shit. It’s like, I know about plenty of things, I just sometimes I’m not going to do it the same way as you, and I’m not going to tippi toe around it, just because I think there’s this boundary of respect that needs to be had. Because if I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it.

Jeff Staple: And that boundary of respect, for some reason it tends to correlate to the amount of money you make.

Mike Cherman: Yes.

Jeff Staple: It’s almost like if you make too much money, the boundary dies, and you become not cool.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, exactly. And at the same time when you look at things like Kith, where it’s like, this thing has blown up pretty damn big, and he’s allowed to be cool. He’s hated by half of the fucking industry, but the reality is he has that other half that loves and revers him. But that’s just the name of the game. You’re not going to be loved by everyone, and I think inherently with Chinatown Market, people half hate me because it’s fucking working. Be mad at me. Be mad you didn’t think of it first.

Jeff Staple: Street culture is one of the strangest industries of consumer goods out there. If you started any other business in the world and let’s say Walmart calls and says we want you in all our stores, you’d be popping bottles and celebrating. But for a street ware brand, that’s a mission critical decision. It boils down to this term of “Selling Out.”

Jeff Staple: Now, selling out in hiphop terms meant selling out your friend or not being true to your crew. But selling out in street culture means you’ve made too much money. Supreme’s recent billion dollar valuation from the Carlyle Investment group is the best case example of that. The moment the deal was done, the brand was written off by so many people. Isn’t that what the founders of Supreme wanted, or no? They wanted to stay broke and grimy and cool the whole time.

Jeff Staple: The key is trying to find that perfect balance between culture and commerce. Art and science. Cash and craft.

Jeff Staple: I don’t know if this is Chinatown, but the Frank Ocean-

Mike Cherman: Mm-hmm (affirmative), he’s a fun one.

Jeff Staple: Yeah. Was that under Chinatown?

Mike Cherman: So, when we did that Frank Ocean shirt, it was, I literally went and bought I was like, I’m going to get sued for this shit, I don’t want it to be associated to Chinatown. I thought Chinatown would be its own brand and this thing. I didn’t think of it already as this bootleg vehicle and all this other shit that I can do with it.

Mike Cherman: And so, we made, I literally built out all the graphics, because I had gone to ComplexCon, and we had sold 40 or 50 shirts, and like to me, I’m like holy shit. That was the best selling shirt at the whole show.

Jeff Staple: So this is a shirt with a swoosh, and instead of NIKE, it says Frank.

Mike Cherman: Frank Ocean.

Jeff Staple: Where it would say air, it says ocean.

Mike Cherman: Yes, exactly. And so, that shirt instantly went, oh fuck, I’m driving home from ComplexCon, and I’m like, I’ve got to make a site. That night, I’m on my computer making the website, did the mock up, Shopify is up. Literally, I sent that out to HYPEBEAST, [inaudible 01:02:15], I need this up, please help me out. Got it up, I woke up the next morning and my phone just wouldn’t stop vibrating. I thought it was broken, I thought the fucking cable had broken. It hit 40000 dollars within overnight.

Mike Cherman: And so, this shit is fucking off the wall. All of a sudden, I have my boy driving [inaudible 01:02:30], I’m at this fucking fulfilling place with a screen printer, we’re talking, we’re getting shit about to be printed up. All in one day.

Jeff Staple: You had to have known that you were asking for it. You are violating two big entities. Frank Ocean, a property of whatever Universal music I’m sure, some label, and Nike. And you bought a URL, you’re making shirts, and now overnight you’ve got 40K in your bank.

Mike Cherman: Yeah. And at first I was like oh shit, I just got excited. I’m like oh shit, I got away with it, the shit worked, it’s fucking, like this is sick. I’m out of debt, I’m buying a car. Yes. I’m getting an apartment.

Mike Cherman: So, all those fucking bells are going off, I’m like holy shit. And then all of a sudden, when 6.00 o’clock was around, it’s actually the day that we’re all voting for Trump or whatever, and I get out of the voting poll and I get an email from Frank Ocean’s lawyer, and it said, “Trademark Infringement, and Seize and Desist”

Jeff Staple: So that took how long? A day?

Mike Cherman: It took a day.

Jeff Staple: It took a day. So the morning you made 40K plus, and then by the night-

Mike Cherman: By 6.00pm that night-

Jeff Staple: You’re getting sued by-

Mike Cherman: I had an email saying, seize and desist, trademark infringement, the whole thing. So all of a sudden I’m like, who in street ware can I call? Greg [Mitchko 01:03:45]. I talked to Greg, I get him on the phone because he’s been sued left and right by random cartoon people, and random dudes in this world, just from them doing all the characters and flipping things.

Mike Cherman: He was just like, dude, just run it. Have a good lawyer help you write an email, whatever. Have it be like, we didn’t make that many, whatever. I just didn’t have the fucking wherewithal to find a lawyer at the time, I just didn’t whatever, and it kind scared me so much, I was just like, you know what man, I got an email two hours later, Stripe had frozen half of the funds, because they noticed that-

Jeff Staple: The bank that’s holding the money froze the funds-

Mike Cherman: Froze the funds because Frank’s team had hit up Stripe they’ve cracked our processor and it said it’s Trademark infringement. And then the other half of the money was in PayPal, which I could have gotten that money, but it was a brand new PayPal, probably that wouldn’t have held up, and I just decided like, you know what, not worth it. I’m just going to refund all the money, but what this was to me, was an exercise in idea. And this is what kind of spawn me into everything else that I’ve now done, because instead of going out and being so blatant about it, being so upfront about it, I can be more low key and underground, build a little bit of a bait and switch idea, where I can offer you all this awesome bootlegs, cool pieces that you could ever buy or things that you wouldn’t ever be able to obtain because it’s either too expensive or too hard to find.

Mike Cherman: And then I’m going to bate and switch you on some awesome graphics that I make that are totally legal.

Jeff Staple: How did it feel to have to give back … Did you give it back, all the money?

Mike Cherman: I basically just sat in Shopify for an hour and I just hit refund, refund, refund. And it was the saddest day ever. But at the same time, I was like, holy shit, it could work. If I did this in one day, I actually have got to figure out this system, and I’ve started to figure it out. But at the same time it’s a constant game of give and take, give and take.

Jeff Staple: Do you think you deserved, just talking about this Frank Ocean outcome. Do you think it was deserved or do you think you actually, you could argue that it’s a bootleg, but you created something new.

Mike Cherman: Basically took two of the most popular things at the time, because Frank Ocean’s album had just come out, and the song with Nike’s was also the most popular song on the album, and Nike was the most popular shoe brand in that year. It was the perfect synergy, and put them both on a shirt, Nike never said a word, not to say Nike please don’t hit me up now. But, I was on Nike Campus two months later handing these shirts to people and that’s how it got me som more work. I was handing out this bootleg shirt on Nike campus and design directors of NSW, running, all these things, they’d be like, “This is my favorite shirt, this is so cool.” Getting emails after and I’m like, holy shit.

Jeff Staple: I wonder if Frank Ocean got permission to name a song Nike?

Mike Cherman: I wonder.

Jeff Staple: You should have photoshopped a letter that says, we’re counter suing you for using our name in a song.

Mike Cherman: Fast forward a little bit to after all the hysteria, I basically sent an email back to Frank Ocean’s lawyers and I was like, “Sorry, I didn’t make that many, I’m just a big fan of Frank, and whatever.” And I never got an email again.

Mike Cherman: So that a little lesson for me to be like, I’m not some fucker out here making a million dollars. These people don’t give a fuck.

Jeff Staple: A cease and desist is a template they have that they just drag onto an email.

Mike Cherman: Funny enough, I made recently an eight ball T-shirt, I didn’t even think about it, and I got the nicest cease and desist from Stüssy I’ve ever received in my life. They literally in the email were like, we could take this off of our [inaudible 01:07:17] website immediately, but instead of doing that, we’re just going to be nice, let you sell them all out and then as long as you didn’t make that many, we’re all good. Just don’t do it again.

Jeff Staple: I didn’t even think Stüssy owns the eighth ball.

Mike Cherman: Dude, I’ll show you the email I got. It was crazy. It’s literally the trademark, US trademark.

Jeff Staple: Of an eight ball? That’s fucking amazing.

Mike Cherman: Yeah. It’s sick.

Jeff Staple: You think about the eight ball leather jacket and all that shit, that preceded Stüssy, but they were smart enough to own it.

Mike Cherman: And the funniest thing is that there’s a thing in New York that’s called the Eight Ball Zines. Those dudes came after me like six months ago saying that I copied them and stole their shit. And I’m like, guys, has neither of us heard of Stüssy? Let’s be real, it’s a fucking eight ball.

Jeff Staple: Are you just fighting lawyers all day long?

Mike Cherman: It’s funny with these lawyers. What it is, that I found out is, is there’s a bunch of kids on the internet giving them too much credit. Giving themselves too much credit. Because a lot of kids, they do something and they’re just like, “I’m the original, you didn’t do it first.”

Mike Cherman: I just saw Josh [Viyez 01:08:14] did these Air force 1’s that I did the outlines on, and then some kid tried to call him out saying, I did it first. But, the kid did it after him. And then I did the canvas swoosh thing, but the reality is that an artist named Devin Troy did it first, painting them on the sides of canvas and then I’m sure 20 other kids have done it. [Virgil 01:08:30] apparently did it. All these people have done it. It’s like sometimes people start to get so personal and be like, “You stole from me.” And it’s like, dude I don’t know who you are, I don’t follow you, I don’t care about you, you don’t mean anything to me.

Mike Cherman: So we just happened to have the same idea. It’s just like, Pleasures and I, we did a collaboration with the gunshot smiley face. Well it turns out the next season, Ten Deep had released the gunshot smiley. It wasn’t that we had been copied by Scott, it was actually that Scott had fucking come up with the idea the same time as us, but his production schedule is a year behind us. And we can work quicker.

Mike Cherman: It’s things like this where sometimes you get caught up when you’re a wholesale brand because you have an idea that had to take six to eight months to even come out.

Jeff Staple: And we’re all in the same industry, we see similar things.

Mike Cherman: We’re on the same books, we have the same fucking websites we go to, we all know the fucking backends. There’s very few things that are hidden and guarded anymore. So the reality is man, that it’s going to happen all the time. There was, I love speaking on this kind of shit because I think it’s funny when friends biff with each other. But like Ignored Prayers and Pleasures, they were friends, but they’re not friends anymore [inaudible 01:09:32] like they are too much in the same world. But the reality is, they all work in the same creative space. At one point, they actually shared an office. And so there-

Jeff Staple: Was there a shared design? Is that what happened?

Mike Cherman: It’s just that someone does a design, someone feels like it was influenced by another thing. Oh, you copied this thing. You’re doing what I’m doing. You posted the same content as me. Well you guys took the content from somewhere else. And it’s just like the whole thing, where you’re like, guys aren’t you friends? Don’t you acknowledge that we’re all just fucking making cotton at the end of the day. It doesn’t fucking mean anything.

Mike Cherman: That’s why I get so annoyed sometimes with people who are lifers of, I’m going to keep it true, I’m going to keep it this. It’s like, sometimes man, it’s just fucking T-shirt. Yes it has a meaning to a certain small sect of people, but, come on.

Jeff Staple: It’s not that serious.

Mike Cherman: It’s not. It’s really fucking not. And when we all get into who’s copying who and who is like all this shit. It’s like, whatever. Why can’t I be fucking knock off brands that we’re not talking about? Look at K-Mart, fucking Target, look at all these guys who are just running to us, H&M, Zara, we’re going to run. But you guys are still shopping there, but you want to call out the fucking small guy? And not to say any of it is okay.

Jeff Staple: So how’s Chinatown Market doing now?

Mike Cherman: Very well.

Jeff Staple: So we’re sitting in your office right now, everything happens out of here for the most part?

Mike Cherman: Everything from shipping, sampling, we have a small photo studio in here which [inaudible 01:10:55] in here as well. And then we have a full sample sewing setup, and we’re getting an embroidery machine in here soon. So, I basically have the full scalability to make any idea at any time, if I want to make it, it will happen.

Jeff Staple: Are you happy now?

Mike Cherman: Yes, but it’s a loaded question because I think the reality is, is that I’m inherently never satisfied. If I were satisfied, I’d probably just be good with what this is, but I want to go build 10 of these. I want to go make more, I want to help people do exactly what I’m doing. There’s so many talented friends of mine that I see who have skills but just don’t have the business acumen to go do it.

Mike Cherman: It’s people who I see get played on contracts all day, all the things that I went through, it’s like, I love to see people fucking do this themselves as well.

Jeff Staple: Do you still consider ever getting a full-time job somewhere and just being steady paycheck like-

Mike Cherman: I think about it, but then, I’m not going to talk about money too much, but it’s like when you can make 150000 dollars in a month, you’re like, or 150000 dollars in a month, you can’t do that job. You just can’t. I don’t care what job, I’m not in banking, I’m not getting a fucking bonus at the end of the year for a million dollars. It’s just not what it is.

Jeff Staple: Are you saying you’re doing that with Chinatown Market?

Mike Cherman: With a bunch of things combined. I’m saying I’ve had a month like that before.

Jeff Staple: And you can’t have that at a full-time job?

Mike Cherman: No, you can’t. Those months happened from me hustling on design, on consulting, on Chinatown, on like four other things and doing production for other people. I have brands I do production for that no one even knows about. But I basically just have a production partner that I work with who helps me to do everything. And it’s relationships like that and people like that, that are at the corner stone of what I do.

Jeff Staple: But when you started Chinatown, you didn’t think it was going to be a multi-million dollar brand. What about now?

Mike Cherman: Yeah.

Jeff Staple: It could be?

Mike Cherman: It is.

Jeff Staple: Oh, it is. Okay. So mission accomplished there. And now you want to grow that? You want Chinatown to be like Polo or you-

Mike Cherman: No, no, no, no. Not at all.

Jeff Staple: So you’re not going to make it into like-

Mike Cherman: It could die in a year, I don’t care. That’s the reality. It’s an exercise of fun creative ideas.

Jeff Staple: And that’s the difference I think between me doing Staple and you doing Chinatown. I would never say that about Staple, and in some ways I’m jealous that you can say like, “I’ll crash and burn-”

Mike Cherman: Look at [Heroshi 01:13:20].

Jeff Staple: The two lightning bolts for-

Mike Cherman: You can make the pool and then you can do all these different things, and they can be gone in two years. And then all of a sudden, it was that awesome thing you got to experience and it’s gone. Why can’t I do that?

Jeff Staple: Right.

Mike Cherman: Why can’t I have fun putting my ideas into something and then remove it when I feel it’s gotten in debt. Or that I feel its run its course. I’ve kind of ran my course [inaudible 01:13:45] I want to make and then I just started putting reflective on shit, and I started making graphics like, how can it be reflective, what can be reflective?

Mike Cherman: It’s like sometimes the idea can only go so far and as a creative, you can only sink in your teeth so far before you start getting burned out. And that’s what I felt like sometimes.

Jeff Staple: And now you mentioned before that, you kind of want to bring back something like an ICNY?

Mike Cherman: Yes, because I think I inherently have an appreciation for the actual importance of the product that was being created. I inherently love brands like Acronym, Stone Island, ISAORA, all these guys and I appreciate in people who actually invest in their product, and invest in the design, and actual functionality, because there’s nothing better than a functional jacket. It starts when I was fucking 12, and I got a members only jacket that had an inside pocket, and I’m like, this is so cool.

Mike Cherman: It’s like a dumb thing like that, that then translates into all the crazy features I can find of jackets that I get now or these little things. I just bought these [inaudible 01:14:40] pants that the pockets zip out and then it transform into a whole new pant and it’s just like, sometimes it makes you believe that there’s fucking more out there than just T-shirts, and that if you could invest yourself in shit like that, there’s a pocket of people out there who will appreciate it.

Jeff Staple: Can you talk about what that next thing is yet?

Mike Cherman: It’s with a partner in Asia, I’m basically making a massive partnership with a huge factory out there that does technical apparel, and I can’t really talk on the name of it, there’s two different brands we’re doing. One is more of a skate brand, which will be an infusion brand for a store out there, which will also be selling out here on the west. And then the other one will be more like the baby, the technical higher end [inaudible 01:15:22] consumer kind of thing.

Jeff Staple: When you’re entering into this new partnership, are you thinking about back to IRT ICNY days?

Mike Cherman: I’m not doing things until that contract is signed and I’m not doing shit until I feel comfortable about it. Because it’s just like, last time I fucking just started working, I started doing shit-

Jeff Staple: Because you were so excited-

Mike Cherman: … Good faith and then signed the contract, and then it didn’t even mean anything to me. But now, it’s like we’ve got to have all the fucking shit in order. I don’t care that you want to launch this year, it’s like that’s great, but lets the contract right.

Jeff Staple: Yeah. And it sounds like you have a manufacturer that’s-

Mike Cherman: Reliable and good and it’s also just meeting good people I think, like I finally just met this awesome company whose been helping me out with tons of different production stuff that I could never touch. And it takes having the infrastructure out there in Asia, because with every 10 good factories, or 10 factories, there’s one really good one. And there’s nine shitty ones.

Mike Cherman: So it’s like, that’s been the biggest challenge and I think that’s the biggest naivety of approaching Asia, is thinking that you can just go to Asia, send some shit out, get something back. I do believe that there’s this wrong stigma with Asia in general, not to segue, but China is fucking great, and 90% of American factories suck. So, if we really want to talk about it, made in USA is bullshit. So yeah. We can go into that one at another time though.

Jeff Staple:  All right cool. Anything else you want to add?

Mike Cherman: Stop DM-ing me for free promo gear. Stop asking me how I make T-shirts because you can go figure it out on the internet, and there’s a lot of videos worked on it and I had a kid literally go on Thoughts App yesterday where you can ask people questions for 10 dollars, which is great. But the kid literally was like, “Where do you buy your T-shirts? Where do you get your this? Where do you get the heat press? Where do you get the vinyl cutter? What’s the program you use? What’s this? And I’m like, for 10 dollars, you want to get all that? Sorry, you’ve got to email them for a refund, because I’m not giving you all that information for 10 dollars.

Jeff Staple: Was that your answer to him?

Mike Cherman: Yeah. It’s just like you know what dude, it’s bullshit. Don’t come at me like that.

Jeff Staple: Why do you think that effect is happening?

Mike Cherman: Because it’s too easy to reach people now. Someone could, if you wanted a respond, some kid can reach you. It’s the reality. It’s like if the kid … It’s good and bad, because there’s those amazing talented kids who you can find because they can reach you, but conversely, there’s a bunch of fucking idiots out there, who are just like, “I love Jeff, I just want to … Jeff, can I have a job? Can I have free T-shirt? Can I get some shoes? And you’re just like, what made you even think that you should send that message?

Jeff Staple: Yeah, that’s interesting. But I think it’s just the different mentality.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, and then I think like any kid out there who is in school or just wants to have design career, whatever it is, go out there and try to do it. Don’t just try to get a job doing it, but go out and put yourself in the mix. Go learn it, go fail, go fucking fail really hard. It’s like too many people are afraid to fail or afraid to put themselves out there to do anything.

Jeff Staple: It’s a good way to end it. Thank you man.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, appreciate it.

Jeff Staple: All right, thanks for listening to the episode. You can find out more about this show or listen to past episodes at Subscribe to us wherever you listen to the podcast, I personally use Overcast, and you could reach out to me on Twitter. I’m @jeffstaple. Check us out on the web at and you can email any questions to questions at The business of hype is directed by Danny [Noveta 01:18:40], edited and produced by Bright Young Things, you could check them out at BYT.NYC. This was recorded at Sibling Rivalry Studio in New York city and on location in downtown Los Angeles California.

Jeff Staple: I’m Jeff Staple and you’ve been listening to the Business of Hype on HYPEBEAST radio.

Mike Cherman: Yeah, I can shwooz about that shit.

Jeff Staple: I got … Speaking of that, I got a tweet today from this guys, he’s like “@jeff, how can I work for you in your company as a Mac tech or applications engineer supporting Adobe Creative and other graphic apps?”

Jeff Staple: I was like, wow, that’s a pretty professionally written tweet. Same guy next tweet, “Need them pigeons in my closet.” He just fucking blew it.

Mike Cherman: You blew it dude. You wrote-

Jeff Staple: I actually was kind of interested and hear what he had to say, and then the fucking idiot just had to do that.

Mike Cherman: Yeah man, it’s amazing to me sometimes. But that is what it sums it up to, half the people just want some cool points, or [crosstalk 01:19:41]. And it’s like cool, you want to work for me for free? But the reality is, it’s a bunch of fucking people out there who just want to be cool or be a part of this thing. But they don’t understand what the actual business is. The work that goes into it.

Jeff Staple: Right, right.

Mike Cherman: There are just so many talented kids out here, but not that many kids actually want to go out there and do the work. I think that’s my biggest pet peeve, I think in general it’s like, just fucking put your head down, stop asking questions, take the job you don’t like, take the ones you do like, do whatever you can.

Jeff Staple: Yeah.

Mike Cherman: You know-