Mike Cherman was riding his bike just many other commuter cyclist in New York City and a car hit him. Ya just another day in Big Apple, you must be thinking. But Mike thought to himself “what the hell could I have done to keep myself safer?”. He started ICNY Sport (I See New York, geddit?) and focus on creating stylish and functional clothing that would keep people visible when they are on the move. Recently the 25-year-old Brooklyn Native was in town to launch ICNY in SEEKofficial Singapore and we caught up with him to talk about innovation, branding and competitions
What do you think was the first big break for ICNY for the world to take notice Mike?
In my opinion, I think that the brand in a retail level got picked up because of Colette (Paris), I think that’s what validated us as an upcoming brand. It would have taken us a lot longer. But on a higher level worldwide, the Puma collaboration validated us as a brand and a global force.
How did the Puma collaboration come about?
Puma approached us in our first year, and it was through a network of friends. It was an opportunity to do something that we don’t usually do, which is footwear. So for us, it was just an opportunity to do something I’ve never touched before.
What do you learn from working with big brands like Puma?
Working with big companies actually really suck (Laugh). But at the same time, it’s an opportunity and a platform to do some really cool and innovative stuff. So I try to use it to my advantage to be able to come up with new ideas, develop new concepts, and to innovate on a higher level.
What was the first ICNY product ever made?
So the first product I ever made was a pair of socks, the whole reason why I made those pair of socks was purely because I needed something to keep myself safe. I’ve been hit by cars, taxis and people. And so, I literally went to Uniqlo and bought a pair of socks. Funnily enough, they were heat-tech socks that I was wearing in the middle of summer, and I was heat pressing reflective polka dots onto them. It really started off as a solution for myself, and then it developed into a solution for other people when I started to realize that all my friends, family, everyone was asking to get their hands on this product.
Where did you get the reflective and the machine to do it?
So I was working for Nike at the time, and I was in this kind of special customization store. So that is how it is connected to what we do today in the customization with ICNY. So inherently, I was working with heat presses, vinyl cutters, embroidery machines, laser-cutting machines, printers, and all of these things that gave me access to make one-of-one pieces. So I was able to cut out some polka dots, and heat press them onto a pair of socks instantly.
Production and Branding
“So when you put me next to those sportswear brands, you look at me as kind of that PUNK athletic brand. But if you put me next to a bunch of those streetwear brands, you see me as just another streetwear brand who makes flashy clothing, that’s it!”
What gives you the balance of making the right price point versus producing the best quality product?
I think that, unfortunately, by entering a little bit too much into the street wear market, we kind of devalued our brand on an overall level. So that’s what we’re trying to really focus on right now, is to own back our brand identity, push more of the sportswear side of our business, and really focus on quality products. I do acknowledge that with the wholesale model, products pricing gets a little bit inflated, I think that kids are getting a little bit too smart these days, and they’re starting to figure out what things should cost, and they understand what a factory cost is, and why they can go to Uniqlo and buy a T-shirt for $5.99, but then they’ve gotta go pay $50 bucks from the guys down the street. Because there are all these people who are making money, it’s all the middlemen, it’s all the people moving around. So it makes it hard. I think in hindsight, I probably would have developed this brand on a principle of direct-to-consumer. But, if you wanna grow a business fast, you’ve still gotta go through the wholesale model. I think there are many brands trying to do this direct-to-consumer thing, but it takes a lot of time and investment into building your brand, giving someone the confidence that they can buy something online and get a quality product without trying it on.
When you talk about the brand has been a little bit devalued, what do you mean by that? Is it because it’s being mass-produced?
I don’t think about mass production nor I’m here to make limited edition goods, I’m not Supreme, I’m not any of these types of brands. I’m here to make products for everyone, I’m here to make accessible products and stuff that’s gonna keep you safe and functional. I’m not really into that whole exclusivity game, although I will say that it helps to drive sales, and people love shit they can’t find. So I guess overall as a brand, we’re just really trying to focus on the function, and really developing products that can last for a long time, and that you can grow with. So I guess as far as devaluation, when we sell to a streetwear store, you put me next to 10 Deep, Crooks & Castles and Diamond, you’re gonna think of ICNY in a way different way than if you put me next to Patagonia, Nike and Adidas. So when you put me next to those sportswear brands, you look at me as kind of that PUNK athletic brand. But if you put me next to a bunch of those streetwear brands, you see me as just another street wear brand who makes flashy clothing, that’s it!
David vs Goliath
“I’m one man versus the world, but in reality some brains are better than others”
What do you think about fast fashion giants?
I think I just appreciate Asian and Japanese design, and Uniqlo does a good job of kind of translating that, whereas H&M kind of just spews out every single design, just like Aldo or even Zara. I mean they make a little bit better of product, but it’s still just spewing out what other people are doing. At least Uniqlo’s just making a rudimentary outfit of the best staples in your closet and making a buck, and they’re a great price. I love Uniqlo (Mike was in Uniqlo tee and pants during the interview) I would love to work with them, and be able to develop amazing sportswear garments without having to slap a huge logo, or some fucking crazy branding. I think for me, I’m a graphic designer, I’m the kind of person that’s constantly creating graphics and ideas, but I don’t like wearing messages. I like just wearing what I need to wear -simple, pure function, what I need is what I need.
But are you afraid of giants like Uniqlo and Nike?
I mean it’s just a natural part of the game, I have to be a little bit afraid of them, but that fear only breeds innovation, and breeds more kind of ambition to be better. So all I can do is try, I’m one man versus the world, but in reality some brains are better than others.
Social Media and the Future of ICNY
How important is social media to ICNY and yourself?
I think social media is key, but I think sometimes I get a little tired of it, I’d like to just be able to live in my own little world and do my thing. But, inherently, it’s very important, it’s a way that we can reach our customers directly without having to go through a secondary channel. Outlets like Hypebeast these days are very inauthentic, they get paid for their posts. And I mean any magazine these days are getting paid for some level of editorial or advertisement, and they’re only getting more clever on how to position these things. So it’s very unfortunate when you see it these days, because there are not many authentic forms of media left. So in everything, I think that’s the one way that we can stay authentic, reach our customer and directly let them know what’s going on through our own social media channels (Instagram: @icnysport).
What’s next for ICNY Sport?
We’re constantly trying to push innovation, we’re trying to push technology and athletic wear. I think that, obviously, there’s lots of competition out there, but there’s always room for another player. And I think that if we can begin to start perfecting our craft, then we can only grow further. But it’s gonna take time, research and development. So we’re trying to put as much of the work in as we can, but it’s definitely not easy.
ICNY Sport products are currently available at SEEKOfficial Singapore