Whenever I was asked about my work experience at BAPE in past interviews, I always made sure to mention that I got the job after my third attempt. Heck, I even briefly spoke of the Busy Workshop employee who actually took interest in my resume, which eventually was passed on to the higher-ups. With the creation of this #FrendyOriginals series, I thought it was the perfect time to further reveal the major players who aided me in landing a coveted spot at the shop. It is my absolute pleasure to finally introduce the man who hired me at the stand-out SoHo establishment: the former Ape General himself, Michael Vincent.
My BAPE NYC interview was easier than MJ playing a one-on-one basketball game against Stevie Wonder (no disrespect). For starters, I knew everything about the Japanese luxury streetwear brand. Secondly, Mike and Zuki—NIGO’s right-hand man and former BAPE NYC general manager—were extremely chill so there was no pressure causing me to get out of character. Truth be told, Michael was the person who assigned me to work on the second floor. Mike worked at the shop since its opening in December of 2004. He later resigned in 2007 to pursue his entrepreneurial endeavors.
I recently sat down with the seasoned creative merchandiser to discuss his BAPE beginnings, love of streetwear, and find out what he’s currently doing in the corporate retail industry. Check out our conversation below:
FRENDY: This is the first time we’re having a full on conversation in years. Crazy how life comes back around.
MICHAEL: Hey, Frendy. What’s good?! Yes, it’s been a while indeed. A lot has happened since the BAPE days—crazy to think that it’s been over 10 years now.
FRENDY: You want to know something crazier? I think you interviewed me for the job on this exact month in 2006? *Laughs*.
MICHAEL: Yes, I remember—it was hoodie season and we were building up the team for the holiday shopping rush. BAPE mania was still prevalent in the city. I’ll never forget when you walked down to the office for the interview. You had on a huge leather jacket, red shirt, black trousers, some pointy loafers. And back then, you had dreads—definitely not something you forget.
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.
FRENDY: Truth be told, I was really inspired to land the job at BAPE after I saw NIGO and Pharrell looking fresh as hell in their respective gear on the red carpet of the 2006 VMA awards in NYC. I believed they stopped by the shop before they went over to Madison Square Garden where the ceremony was held. I didn’t know how I was going to get a job at BAPE, but I was extremely determined to *Laughs*. Incredible things happen when you dream big.
MICHAEL: Dream big. High rewards. The brand definitely help launch my career in the correct path. Having the experience working at BAPE has helped me help run other companies and start my own business endeavors. Those early years definitely laid out the foundation to what I am doing now.
FRENDY: What was the real reason behind your departure? Was it because you wanted to expand your company at the time, Mike23?
MICHAEL: Yes, that’s one of the main reasons. I wanted to continue my own personal and professional growth. I had a opportunity to expand my knowledge outside of just running the store, or doing the seasonal buys. It was a chance for me to take everything I’ve learned up to that point and take my own spin to it.
FRENDY: Can you tell me a little bit about the company?
MICHAEL: MIKE23 was a brand that was a tribute to Michael Jordan. The idea was of MIKE23 was conceived by Scott Nelson. Scott and I saw a void in the market that wasn’t being filled by any other brands. A majority of people back then wore Jordans, but didn't really wear the Nike gear that went with it that much. So we went out and created the brand with a lifestyle perspective. We made everything from clothing to sneakers, and even some furniture. We actually had help from another fellow BAPE alumni, Mike A.
FRENDY: Shout out to Mike A. He’s such a great guy. What caused the company’s demise in just one year?
MICHAEL: The brand was going well. Nike sent [a] C&D. Nike is more lenient these days. But I probably can’t talk much about the details of that part.
FRENDY: I totally understand. After that occurred, did you somewhat regret leaving your stable position at BAPE US?
MICHAEL: No, I had no regrets—I was perfectly fine with my decision. Growing and my knowledge was more important for me. I’d only go back if I can have a significant contribution to the brand. And as long as you are relying on someone’s signature for a bi-weekly check there is no such thing as a stable position.
FRENDY: That’s a fact! What were your next steps after MIKE23?
MICHAEL: I definitely had the entrepreneurial drive. I’ve been watching people succeed with their own brand or retail shops. I knew that in the long run that’s where I wanted to be. I also had to humble myself—I knew that I had to continue my fashion retail education.
BAPE and MIKE23 was all streetwear and hype. I wanted to get down to gritty side of retail. I really wanted to understand the store operations side and buying side of things so I ended up in Training Camp. After that experience I saw the shift to E-Commerce so I went on to work for a startup called JackThreads. Unfortunately JackThreads folded after a few years so I decided to run my own business.
FRENDY: I do actually remember seeing you at Training Camp one time *Laughs*. Your determination to be successful in the retail industry is commendable. Life has a way of humbling us down, which inadvertently enables us to freely learn whatever that is needed to level up. Congrats on your new business venture! Are you running a new shop?
MICHAEL: Yes. In Indonesia to be exact. There's a growing population of highly active youth who are really into the sneaker/streetwear scene. So [by] expanding ‘Invincible’ into Jakarta, I’m going to be bringing brands and tiers of footwear that's never been available to the country. After almost a decade in this industry, I think giving back everything that I've learned to not just a community but a whole different region was just the next stage in my career.
FRENDY: Such a powerful move. Life is all about giving back and you’re doing just that with your passion. When is ‘Invincible’ scheduled to open in Indonesia?
MICHAEL: End of October or Early November. We’re in the middle of construction and receiving merchandise so probably won’t know until another week or two.
FRENDY: Definitely keep me updated with that information. Do you think there’s a huge difference in the streetwear/sneaker industry today compared to when you first got in the game during the early 2000s?
MICHAEL: Yes, its beyond huge! From the consumer side and business side of things. Major corporations after BAPE started to cater more to the streetwear scene or lifestyle side of things. Streetwear has become a business. Roles have reversed. Big fashion houses are now doing street looks and selling for luxury prices. From a consumer point of view social media has changed personal individuality, the resell game, the way brands communicate to their target audience, and most importantly, the speed at which info spreads: trends surge and die at a faster clip.
FRENDY: What are you thoughts on the uprise of “merch” gear in the industry as a whole? As you can see, more musicians are conjuring up their on line.
MICHAEL: I have no problem with it. If done creatively it can be a good thing. I think Kanye first started the trend back in 2013, and probably peaked in 2016. To me it's just another trend that’s executed properly by a few artists who have interactive pop ups that gets the crowd excited. But as more and more people made their own merch, the novelty of it died down fast. And some of the limited products created more hype for the next artists to do it due to their resale value. But it was only a matter of time just like any trend to get ripped off by the likes of Zara and H&M.
FRENDY: Speaking of trends, what are your favorite sneakers on the market right now?
MICHAEL: Personally, I like What Nike is doing with the React line for now and what’s coming out in the next few seasons. I always got a pair of AJ 1’s around. I like how Adidas is pushing the envelope with 4D outsoles. Dude I like a lot of sneakers *Laughs*. Might be biased here, but the ‘Invincible’ 4D. The go to right now.
FRENDY: I asked you that question on purpose *Laughs*. How many pairs of kicks do you even own? You’re Instagram basically serves as your shoe flex platform.
MICHAEL: I own enough let's put it that way. I honestly don’t know. Being in this industry has its perks. So things add up easily. Let’s just say I got a warehouse. I probably got Wu Tang Dunks in there back from when I worked at Training Camp. Kanye BAPES and NERD Bapestas. A ton of samples that's been gifted or projects that I’ve worked on. And things that go back to mid to late 80’s.
FRENDY: Is it safe to say you’re still in the reselling game?
MICHAEL: Yes of course. Now I’m buying things directly from the source itself and flipping it in my own shops or establishments that I’ve worked for. That “resell” mentality that I developed has helped me succeed in the corporate level and on my own personal endeavors.
FRENDY: What a story! Mike, I have to say I’m incredibly proud of you for manifesting your dreams into reality. Do you have any advice for anyone out there who’s stuck in finding what their own passion is?
MICHAEL: This may sound cheesy, but you got to follow your soul. People say follow your heart. But you got to dig deeper into yourself. Do it for the passion and the “why” you are doing it and never lose sight of that. And most importantly, do what you believe is right.