FRENDY: Swag *Laughs*. I can't believe you still remember that! Yeah, I had my signature braids back then. And for sure, I was definitely dressed like I was heading to the club—I had no other choice but to go all out because this was the job I always dreamed of getting. What did you honestly think of me before we spoke?
MICHAEL: To be honest, I had a stack of resumes. We were shuffling through them the previous week. I was looking for someone that was unique. Your resume actually fell from the batch because I think you had attached a modeling photo. Seriously, I was like ‘WTF?! Who does this? You know what? Get him in here! Let me give him five minutes to make a case.’ From there you came in and answered all the questions, and I thought you would bring a good vibe to the team so we pulled the trigger.
FRENDY: Holy! *Laughs* I totally forgot I attached my photo to the resume. Honestly, I gave my third resume at the shop after leaving an interview with Abercrombie & Fitch. I was tired of working at the NBA Store on Fifth avenue at the time, and I was trying my best to get another gig. After my failed attempt to work at A&F, I decided to go downtown and try my luck at BAPE again—I had nothing to lose. Thank god I made that last minute decision.
MICHAEL: Yeah. I guess after that day you became the longest tenured employee at BAPE US.
FRENDY: Amazing. How exactly did you land the manager position at BAPE US when it first opened? I could imagine there were so many applicants for that gig.
MICHAEL: I actually didn’t apply for the manager position. I was actually on my way to medical school—I was only looking for a summer job at that point, and I had known the shop’s manager. I was brought in to do only sales. I was able to go from sales to floor manager, then make it back to the office for a short period of time.
In retrospect, a summer job in a brand that I truly enjoyed has become a career in fashion retail—I haven’t looked back since.
FRENDY: Wow. It all makes sense now. I took a look at your resume online, and it showed that you graduated from Rutgers University with a Biological Sciences degree. What captivated you to remain in the fashion retail industry?
MICHAEL: I’ve always been into the whole streetwear scene before I got to BAPE in 2004. I grew up like any other kid watching Michael Jordan and tried to be like him, rocking all the Air Jordans—actually, the sneaker that really got me into the biz was the Air Max 1. But that’s another story in itself. To make a long story short, MJ and his kicks got me ingrained into the culture of music, fashion, etc. I just fell in love with everything that had to do with it. During college, my roommate and I were actually resellers—that’s how I met the manager at BAPE back then because they were buying Nike SBs from us. So before that I’d say the entrepreneurial spirit was already in me and the intrigue of the fashion retail business had started.
When I was at BAPE, all of those just fused seamlessly. I wanted to learn more about business— not just the hype aspect of the retail game, but the operational efficiency and product design aspect of it. So what exactly captivated me? I’d say a love for everything that impacts the culture, and the desire to understand it in a 360 degree perspective.
FRENDY: Who are you referring to when you mentioned “they” were buying Nike SBs from you and your roommate? You meant the entire BAPE crew, or just the manager there at the time?
MICHAEL: I’d say a majority of the crew.
FRENDY: Damn, that must mean you had major heat to sell to the very first staff of the BAPE US. What got you into sneaker selling?
MICHAEL: During the early 2000s, it was all about retro Js and Nike SBs. It was peaking at that time so we were able to get our hands on all the heat. What got me into sneaker selling? Easy: so I could cop the next fresh pair. As a college student in a ramen noodle diet—I had to figure out how to cover tuition and the kicks.
FRENDY: I feel you. Were you camping out for shoes, or simply ordering them online?
MICHAEL: Mostly camp outs or [ I ] made deals with shop owners for some backdoor deals. Camping out was actually another reason that got me really into the fashion retail business. I remember camping out for BAPE Superstars at the Adidas Originals store on Wooster Street back then. It was brick outside. And I must have been number 10 on the line—they only had 6 pairs on sale! After that moment I said ‘fuck it! I’m not doing this shit anymore.’ *Laughs*
FRENDY: Rutgers [University] is located in New Jersey. Are you originally from there? I’m asking because you’re a trooper if you constantly commuted all the way from Jersey for some kicks in the city.
MICHAEL: Back then, yes. We drove in from New Brunswick for that sneaker camp out I spoke about earlier. When I wasn’t in school, I was living in Jersey City, which was a quick train ride to the New York.
FRENDY: I got you. Your infatuation with the fashion retail industry grew to monstrous proportions after landing the job at BAPE. What did your parents think when they found out you weren’t going to med school? Were they disappointed?
MICHAEL: Definitely disappointed! I don’t blame them though…If I was them I would be disappointed too. I think the fear and disappointed feelings eventually dissipated as they saw me climb up the ladder. Also, they knew I was able to afford to put a roof over my head. I know that their disappointment was just their way of protecting me, but I also knew I had to pursue what I really wanted to. And hopefully the dollars eventually rolls in.
FRENDY: Since you already knew the manager at the shop, did you even have to go through an interview process to get the job? Who was he?
MICHAEL: His name was Martin. I had to go through an interview—it was super chill and laid back. I think I started a week after the interview.
FRENDY: What was going through your mind on the first day working at the shop?
MICHAEL: I think the normal feelings you’d get when starting a new job: nervous. Making sure I don’t fuck up *Laughs*. There was also a feeling of like you were a member of an exclusive club.
Wait a minute, I actually remember the first time I fucked up. It was maybe only after one month, I screwed up royally behind the register. Not sure exactly what happened, but the customer basically paid a $1000 short—I had to chase them down to get the rest of the money *Laughs*.
FRENDY: Damn! Were you able to track the customer down?
MICHAEL: Yes. I got the money—and still had a job.
FRENDY: What are some of your favorite moments from working there? Did NIGO stop by often?
MICHAEL: I had a bunch of moments, and definitely a lot of memories from the shop. I was able to meet a lot of influential people through BAPE that are still in contact with or doing business with me. My favorite moments were going to Japan. Being able to see the new products, and placing the orders for the next season. Seeing where the brand originated, and meeting the core group behind the brand in Japan.
NIGO would drop by the shop often in the beginning—usually when there are events like the MTV Video Music Awards happening.