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Interview: Mike Cherman of ICNY Talks Early Experiences, 3M Material, and More

by on July 28, 2014
 

The recent widespread use of 3M reflective material in fashion has been a long time coming, but can be attributed to the impact of ICNY‘s reflective sock. Mike Cherman has seen the success of his brand skyrocket in the past year, but the young and humble founder of ICNY has been working at his craft for years. Mike’s influence is spread past ICNY, as you may have seen his handiwork on the Kith box, script, and Ronnie Fieg logos, but his past is just as interesting as his present and future. ILS recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike to let him impart his knowledge on his influences and success, as well as the future of ICNY.

“The only way to feel free when you’re in New York is to be on your bike, moving.”

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ILS: When you first started ICNY, it specifically targeted cyclists. Did you initially see it making such a smooth transition into streetwear?

Mike: “I was still at Nike at the time, I was really connected with the running crew world. They were the first people to be open to what I was doing. Running was the first opening for us, and streetwear happened after. The first real good thing that happened to us was that Colette was our first retailer, it was crazy to have one of the biggest boutiques in the entire world to see our vision when I had five shirts and two socks to choose from.”

When did you realize that reflective 3M could be more than an industrially-purposed material, and how do you find balance between fashion and function?

“The big thing is that reflective has always been around, but it was the way that it’s being used, and right here we’re trying to use it in the correct way. I have a roommate who does construction and the dude is wearing all this crazy safety gear, but in reality it’s not cool. For me, it’s about putting a spin on it, making it cool, I want it to work with you. I want you to roll up your pants and have your socks there so you don’t have to think about doing other stuff. For us, we’re trying to find that balance between fashion and function by having the all-over print, crazy interface reflective, and that’s very much streetwear, but sometimes you have to tone it down and make it wearable. For fall, there’ll be things that won’t be as sport, more on the fashion side, but still high end reflective.”

What brands and designers influenced you from an early stage?

“Cp Company, Stone Island, ISAORA. For me, it’s looking at any kind of old technical or focused brand that is made for a purpose, like Nike Aqua Gear or any old school stuff. For me it’s the stuff that has a meaning, I’m always looking at vintage stuff, old reflective wear. This shit exists, there have been brands who’ve done this before. I’m not the creator of this, but I was able to take the reflective and make a new product out of that which no one’s made before, which is the reflective socks, our premier product.”

Your efforts to connect with people (most notably through bespoke shirts) say a lot about you as a person. Is this an effort to give back to the community or to help spread your aesthetic?

“When we do any custom work or events, for me it’s important to be connecting with these people and telling them the story. A lot of people will never understand what this brand’s about until they understand the story and what we’re doing. The biggest issue is that people will look at our shirt and be like, “that’s a shirt with a print on it,” but they don’t understand what it can do. For me, it’s about getting to all these stores, communicating with all these people and if I can do events, I can be shaking hands with people, telling them the story, and really getting to connect. I feel like with people today, they want to understand the whole gist of what’s going on. They don’t want to just buy a product, they want to be apart of something, and I want these kids to understand what the story is, and why it’s made. As far as customization with the community, I want to give back to these running crews. They’re doing this for the love. That’s how this started out, for the love. I’m trying to support these people and do whatever we can, and to me, we want to focus on supporting sport. We don’t want to focus on supporting streetwear because at the end of the day these kids will watch sport and aspire. We don’t want to have this tailored for the streetwear kid.

Do you feel like you’ve received the recognition you deserve for your work with Kith? Where do you draw the line between working for others and working for yourself?

“Kith, still good friends of mine. I did the all the rebranding, every logo, all the early apparel graphic-wise, but I had to make the conscious decision to stop all freelance. I had to say I need to focus on this brand or else it’s not going to succeed. If there’s not one person who’s full time on something, you’re just wasting your time because if you have a bunch of people doing half-ass work on something, then it’s only going to get so far. So I had to say, I did this graphic design work but it’s not fulfilling me. It is a check in my pocket, but in reality, if I bust my ass on this thing, eventually I will make some money. I’ve stopped doing all freelance and I’m focused on making this brand succeed.”

Do you plan on focusing ICNY on cycling or do you want to venture into other sportswear?

“I think the common misconception is that we’re any one thing. This stuff can be used for cycling, running, or walking in the street in the urban jungle. That’s something to be recognized, is that we’re not trying to be one identity. Going forward, you’ll see the evolution of this brand. the beginning is so basic, it’s printed t-shirts and hats, and next season will be more cut and sew and high-end reflective, and going into spring it’s going to be more sports focused with more sportswear and you’re going to see the vintage 90s look, and going into fall 15 it’s going to be even crazier. every single time, you’re growing with my learning process. I came out of school as a 19 year old kid who dropped out. I didn’t know what the f*ck I was doing, I was a graphic designer, but I knew I wanted to make clothes. I’m learning every day. For me it’s a learning process and the clothes will only get better.”

How did design become an interest, and when did you realize it was your passion?

“My mom was a fashion designer for 25 years in womenswear, dresses gowns, girls denim and my dad did sales for about 30 years in the junior girls denim industry, which at one point was one of the biggest industries in the fashion game, but I never realized their world. For me there was a point where I’d always been infatuated with drawing shoes and apparel, wanting to make my own creation of a Nike or a jacket or try to put my own spin on something that I started off in my basement by getting printer paper, printing on it and ironing graphics on t-shirts. The next step was getting my own press, and then I started selling t-shirts out the back of my car in high school, at which point I got expelled from school for making a shirt that I sold on campus. I had 25 and sold them out in like an hour. The one kid’s face that I used for an image for the shirt, he didn’t get one, so this kid was pissed. He ended up fighting another kid in the quad for the shirt, I ended up getting called into the principal’s office, and got expelled for selling and distributing on campus. So that was the first time I realized that I could make an impact while making something of my life, and that I needed to pursue this. That was my sophomore year of high school, and that’s when I really got focused on my goal of moving to New York.”

Are you a graphic designer or a fashion designer?

“I would just call myself a designer, I don’t really like to pigeonhole myself and I’m not going to call myself a fashion designer, because God knows I’m not. I’m doing my best, and I know what I like, I know what I want to make, and a lot of the team this is a learning process, because so many people, especially in the streetwear world, we’re all self-educated. I dropped out of Parsons after one year – I didn’t get any fashion knowledge out of that – so it definitely has been step by step, it’s come a long way and shit’s only going to get better.”

Your socks are the next big accessory in streetwear. Do you see yourself entering the market for other accessories once?

“We’re definitely going into more accessories and trying to expand the line, but my main focus right now is trying to establish the clothing first and let the accessories follow. I truly believe that the apparel, the socks, need to be successful first before I go ahead and start making housewear, dot collars, leashes, I want to make a bunch of fun shit, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to focus on selling the other stuff first. I can’t just make a whole bunch of shit and give it to the world, I’ve got to introduce them to all these things and let them grow with me.”

How influential do you see your work being now and further into the future?

“I definitely have put people’s minds into seeing what reflective can really do on apparel, I’m not going to say I’m the reason why they’re doing it, I will tell you the Nike Flash Pack came out around the exact same time that I started this. There are people who have been way ahead of me on this shit, but I figured out a way to package a grounding, and people are very aware of that. I’m not going to say that anyone’s copied us, but I’m going to say that I’ve influenced a lot of people to go and use reflective inks and transfers on their apparel. I’ve seen it throughout many of these streetwear and sportswear lines and it’s become a bigger thing, even to the point that Nike now has a reflective sock, but it’s nowhere near the quality of ours, and I’m happy to say that I know our shit’s better. It’s only getting better. We’re introducing a stretch reflective coming in the fall so it doesn’t crack like it used to, and there’s more new developments coming. We’re always getting better, and I know I’m not technically a competitor of Nike, but very much we are in the back of their minds. At the end of the day, it’s part of what it is, because I do the exact same thing. I look at everyone else and pick out different ideas and subconsciously I might be even copying someone without even realizing it; that’s part of the game. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to constantly be reinventing yourself and trying to improve.”

These additional shots below showcase one of ICNY’s outerwear pieces for 2014 Fall/Winter.

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Photography: Chris Levy

Main Photo Edit: HK