Building A True Cannabis Lifestyle Brand

Ariel Stark-Benz of Mister Green


Weed. Marijuana. Bud. Pot. Reefer. Dope. Herb. Mary Jane. Chronic. Broccoli.


Every region, person, and demographic seemingly have their own preferred definition for cannabis. Mind you, the short list above only spans the English language. The universal nature of cannabis has made it a particular interesting part of popular culture fabric.


The fact that so many differing perspectives exist mean that the resulting experiences we create for them also have the likehood to change and adapt whether it be a user, grower, storyteller, or in the case of Ariel Stark-Benz, the retailer.


His shop Mister Green is only a few years old, but it’s the amalgamation of all of his experiences growing up. His formative years in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, would instill a particular sense of cannabis culture. Eugene’s liberal ways have established itself as the home of many bohemian movements.


With a foundation rooted in Oregonian culture, Ariel’s global travels and stints with some powerhouse brands like Mercedes-Benz, Converse, and the Ace Hotel all equipped him to redefine the modern cannabis retail experience and brand.


Listen to MAEKAN Co-Founder Alex Maeland and Ariel chop it up over the formative years, the role of the Ace Hotel in Ariel’s path, the purpose of Mister Green and the activist interests of Ariel and the shop.

At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.


Ariel: I always hear “Apple Store of Weed.”


Alex: Of the weed world.


Ariel: And I remember looking at you know images of all these places that they were describing and I was like “That looks like a broke RadioShack,” you know. And how it seemed to me, and I’ve definitely benefited fully off of this same sort of general point of view is that, there was so much extra attention or like applause afforded to these companies who were thinking about the weed business in these new ways.


Alex: Right.


Ariel: But aesthetically I mean…


Alex: They were missing the mark. They were completely missing the mark.


Eugene: You don’t have to look very far to see the changing face of the whole cannabis/marijuana/weed industry. Now the reason why I’ve outlined it like that will be clear in a little while. Regardless of your preferred way of defining it, governments are loosening up, trading in criminalization for cool, calm, and collected residents as well reaping the benefits of a new massive and lucrative inflow of tax revenue.


The space has grown in all directions from high-end luxury (with a dose of pretension) to more approachable and friendly options spanning the whole gamut of products and experience. The reality of cannabis is that it’s a substance embraced by people of all walks of life with multiple insights into what’s their ideal experience. It just so happens, some have a strong enough opinion on what the right experience should be.


Ariel: My name’s Ariel Stark-Benz.


Alex: We’ll wait for him… He fucked it up man. I’m kidding I’m kidding.


Ariel: My name is Ariel Stark-Benz. I’m the Founder of Mister Green. We’re in my store, Mister Green Life Store.


Alex: Here we are.


Ariel: And we’re doing the thing. I’m happy you were able to come through Alex.


Eugene: For Ariel Stark-Benz of Mister Green, the shop was conceived as his vision of what was missing within the cannabis retail space. It was never intended to be a lazy business idea following a “this of that” approach like calling a store the Apple Store of Cannabis. He had bigger ideas. Looking back at his history, it can come across as being a bit random with stints at a design studio, Mercedes-Benz, Converse, and perhaps most pertinent, the industry-defining Ace Hotel.


It was at Ace Hotel and through the mentorship of Founder Alex Calderwood where he developed an affinity for design, products, and experience all while fostering community. But part of Ariel’s own interest lies in prioritizing passion and culture.


What’s clear about Ariel’s story, is that the culture comes first. The results haven’t always been smooth and fully planned out, and more often than not, the plan never quite matched the idea. But none of it seems to really matter all that much when Ariel’s goals lie in building cultural in-roads that unite cannabis with design and activism. Increasing these touchpoints are a big part of Mister Green and why it exists.


Ariel: I’m happy you were able to come through Alex.


Alex: I’m very happy to be here. I’ll probably edit this up it’s not going to just be like a straight run because I ramble and then it would be like a three hour interview.


Ariel: Four with my rambling.


Alex: My three plus your two would be like a five-hour interview. Can You tell me a little bit about what Mister Green is? Give me the elevator pitch.


Ariel: Elevator pitch for Mister Green… I’ve been working on that perpetually over the last two years. OK, but essentially Mister Green is a shop and lifestyle brand whose sole purpose is to create products that are design-forward and all come back to cannabis or marijuana or whatever term you’d like to use, as the central concept.


Eugene: MAEKAN Co-Founder Alex Maeland, and Ariel having become close friends. They collaborated together on Alex’s inaugural photo show, Flower which featured a T-shirt with the shop. The friendship is clearly defined by a shared love for design, the quirkiness of loose and distinctly humanistic design, and of course the green stuff.


Listen in on the two connect over Ariel’s history, the ramp-up to Mister Green, and the cannabis industry as a whole. This story is a lot longer than what we usually do at MAEKAN, but the effortless convo and banter balanced by the heavier topics were ultimately the best way to convey the story of Mister Green, Ariel, and ever-evolving cannabis and marijuana space.


Alex: What term do you guys use? Do you have like a singular word that you…


Ariel: No because it always depends on who I’m talking to and if I think that they’re comfortable with the word marijuana.


Alex: Yeah.


Ariel: Or I should say weed right or should I… You know what I mean?


Alex: It’s always a challenge for me. I’m always like, ‘Do I say cannabis because it’s more like professional sounding? Do I say weed because it’s more common?’, I never know.


Ariel: Yeah I guess the term marijuana keeps coming up a lot.


Alex: Like a controversial history?


Ariel: I mean essentially it was used to subvert Mexican people who enjoyed smoking pot. So it was used in a way that it was supposed to infer a type of criminality or how did you say unwantonness or something. And I think that it’s a totally unfair that it happened you know in general. I think that we, as this sort of next generation people who are actually using the drug both for health and recreation to kind of reclaim that word.


Taking it back you know taking it back from, the racist people that essentially used it to you know disenfranchise a certain group of individuals specifically as I mentioned Mexican people think that we should seek to take it back and bring it back to what it should be which is a word of duty and of power of pure like literary… I just think it’s definitely the most beautiful word to describe it.


Alex: Totally. Yeah absolutely. OK so actually I want to get into that. What’s your sort of background maybe pre-Mister Green like taking it all the way back.


Ariel: I studied like a hybrid design program at the University of Oregon.


Alex: Where are you from originally from Portland?


Ariel: And I went to Eugene kind of before I even knew that being a designer was something that people could do. I guess the other maybe most well-known thing about Eugene is the fact that it’s kind of one of the last vestiges of American hippiedom you know super well known for being very leftist community and very known as a marijuana, you know ‘interested community.’ Just in general any type of counterculture behavior or you know history could somehow have no ties to Eugene so to speak.


Alex: From a way that was sort of always a little bit of a fabric of like your upbringing right.


Ariel: Totally. So and even bringing it back to Portland where I grew up was the Hawthorne district. And I remember somebody once described Hawthorne as the Eugene of Portland. So you know I was very much like that kind of mindset in a neighborhood. You know as well. So you could definitely take from all of that that there’s a lot built into my personal history should find its way into the store. Sure sure.

“I always hear ‘Apple Store of Weed.’ And I remember looking at you know images of all these places that they were describing and I was like ‘That looks like a broke RadioShack.’”

Eugene: After going into the extensive history behind Ariel, we finally talk about how Mister Green came about. Everything in his past had some purpose in building the shop in some shape and form and what it stood for. Towards the end of Ariel’s time at Ace Hotel, he was put in charge of helping develop shop products which would carry over into Mister Green.


Alex: At what point did you would you call yourself creative director or director designer?


Ariel: Yes some art director designer, I guess I mean I have to be a creative director now. You know I’m only starting to understand how important that becomes you know when you’re having to get a lot of work done and look at a lot of sort of aspects of the brand. So basically you know just kind of speeding through the personal history aspect left college early as well. Moved to New York.


Alex: So didn’t finish?


Ariel: That was the thing I didn’t. I didn’t finish before I left. But I kind of finagled together a degree online after the fact. I mean I took online classes, I took classes in New York, I took classes like, I took tons of independent studies like from my university directly. I probably got so many extra amounts of credit like I’ve wasted tons of money, purely so I didn’t have to go back to Eugene.


So I was really I mean it’s kind of funny but in a way, this description of like maybe what I’m trying to do is not go like this with this store and with his brand is to and I’m doing “quotes” right now not go back to Eugene because everything about Eugene sort of weed culture is the predominant sort of like all of the iconography was born out of that kind of culture right.


Alex: And so that prototypical like stoner kind of hippie look like born out of that.


Ariel: Blown glass. I mean I think you could even blow glass like a maybe not a major but a minor in college you know everything about it really was kind of that you know classic sure tapestries on the wall tie dye everything white people with dreadlocks you know like like blown glass. Like the whole nine yards you know was Eugene culture.


Alex: When did you leave Oregon for the first time and what prompted you to leave?


Ariel: I actually left for a study abroad program. I lived in Barcelona pretty similar to Eugene in that same sense. King of The things that I was referring to. Yeah and don’t read my words as me making some big, you know critique or like putting this you know that culture down. Sure. Really and truly what I’ve experienced in my life kind of with all of those you know…


How would you say my existence you know being a sort of citizen of Eugene or of Hawthorne Boulevard or whatever has really just made me dyed in the wool. I’m extremely, how would you say comfortable with that kind of thing or whatever is notm would not be an appropriate way to describe it. Yeah it’s very much within me.


Alex: Totally that makes sense.


Ariel: So it’s funny because I have a lot of discussions with people about what the shop is and and so much of it ends up sounding like the old way so to speak. It’s definitely not the case.


Alex: From your point of view like how is Mister Green different than that, like sort of look aesthetic or culture that you’re referring to.


Ariel: In those other you know whatever 17 years or something like or no that would make me like 45. In those other let’s say like 12 years or something like that, I just I had a lot of different experiences you know worked in different capacities in terms of like I was like a marketing director for like a Mercedes-Benz lead digital magazine. I opened my own craft design branding studio. One of my longest standing sort of work relationships is with Ace Hotel.


And that’s probably the most important and foundational for what led me here because what they did was they looked at the hospitality industry and then just the concept of what a hotel was and ultimately decided that it wasn’t for them. Although they obviously stayed in hotels a lot you know and knew that you know world very well.


Alex: And this is pre or post Alex’s passing, Alex from Ace.


Ariel: Alex [Calderwell] was definitely a mentor of mine. I met him when I was 21 I guess. So That was I want to say close to 10 years before he passed away.


Alex: So like I mean the really the formative years of Ace.


Ariel: Yeah I met him I can’t remember if it was six months, probably six months to a year before Ace Portland opened. That was my first introduction into the Ace thing was helping them build Ace Portland. And then I stayed on for about a month or so. Actually at that point I had already been going back and forth to New York and and I was part of the official like front desk staff.


Alex: Like if you were checking in I would see you.


Ariel: I was that guy. Yeah, totally.


Ariel: What did you wear it was like an Ace Portland uniform.


Alex: You know it’s weird that we started immediately started talking about that because or when you said that guy I was that guy for a lot of people because I was really into like super skinny jeans at the time. I was wearing like Cheap Mondays or something like that and my hair was really long you know. And I just remember the hotel even I think it was even pre-official opening.


There were some like hotel blog and somebody commented like ‘stay there if you want a young know-it-all hipster to check you in.’ You know something along those long lines. Yeah it’s pretty funny. I mean we like short of calling you out by name right. Everybody knew.


Alex: It was like a stock photo of you. [laughs] OK. So Ace Hotel and when you say that Ace Hotel was I guess instrumental or influential, I don’t put words in your mouth just in terms of kind of what they did to a traditional model and sort of like disrupting and doing in a fresh way is that what you mean?


Ariel: Totally. I always hesitate to use quick marketing terms like ‘disruption’ and ‘fail better’, and things like that. Although I do see their use, I just honestly think that they had almost like a project in mind. I don’t know if they necessarily realized how far it could go. But yeah I mean ultimately they…


At Least Alex’s background was he was a vintage buyer and had, I can’t remember if it was a public facing store or if it was like for private, I think probably public facing… He was a vintage buyer and then opened a club called Aerospace. Funnily enough, Before working for Ace I was actually a doorman at a club in Portland that apparently used Aerospace as their main source of inspiration.


Alex: So you’ve basically worked everywhere.


Ariel: I mean I’ve bounced around lots of different careers. I don’t want to incriminate myself or anybody else but I’m pretty sure I was legally able to work the door at a club.


Alex: Is that 18?


Ariel: No you’ve got to be 21 and that’s why I’m hesitating.


Alex: Right. Even to work the door you’ve got to be of age, right?


Ariel: I was running around with a fake ID for a long time. So the dates become blurry, but that might be a hard thing to like… You’ve got to be really messing with some documents.


Alex: And then you lived in Tokyo, right? We can pace it however you want but I want to get to like these different places you’ve been because I think some of it plays into the design and everything.


Ariel: So basically I was in New York for 10 years.


Alex: With Ace?


Ariel: Not Just with Ace I mean I did marketing projects and branding studio and more stuff with Ace throughout those years, and also my responsibilities at Ace totally varied as well.


Alex: At what point did you sort of do that freelance thing where you were like doing different projects with 

different people, Or was that something that you just naturally kind of grew into?


Ariel: Well it was more of a natural realization that I don’t love working for other people necessarily or I don’t like having a boss, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. I don’t want to say that I can’t work for people because I have all my life and I certainly look at the importance of mentorship and actually being able to be a workable employee and all those things.


I think those are incredibly important. I will say that I tired quickly of a lot of these jobs and that’s why I kind of bounced around. Pretty typical millennial story, you know?


Alex: Even without knowing it, you’ve always had a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, in the sense of: you had your way of doing things or you had a point of view on things and you didn’t always work well in a superstructure, you know, people telling you exactly how to do it. You want to carve your own lane I guess.


Ariel: Yeah, I would tend to agree. However, I would also say that if I know I want to learn something from somebody, I’m not wasting their time. I’m going to get as much as I can out of that which means I’ll give the most that I possibly could. And you know I would say Alex was a good example of that.


I worked for the global creative director at Converse for a little while, that was another job that I had. I Started out as a production assistant then moved up to, I don’t know, ‘lead’ or whatever you want to call it for a Converse in New York. When somebody ‘knows what’s up’, I try to shut up very quickly, speak when spoken to kind of situation.


Eugene: A chance to travel to Japan alongside his girlfriend at the time would be a life changer for Ariel thanks to his girlfriend’s manager. That initial trip and the hook-ups would cement Japan as one of the most important places for Ariel, and push him to find a reason to go back time and time again.


Ariel: I started going to Japan now close to 10 years ago.

Alex: 2007?


Ariel: Would have been 2008 I think. Yeah. Maybe 2009. Let’s say 8 to 10 years. Does that makes sense? Between 8 and 10 years, something around that ballpark. Started going to Japan and it blew my mind. I was only there for 10 days.


Alex: Just for a personal trip?


Ariel: Ok so my ex-girlfriend was a musician and she had a pretty instantaneous fanbase out there and so she did like a mini tour. So we spent most of the trip in Tokyo, but then maybe a day and a half or two days and Osaka.


As it happened, her tour manager happened to be this super awesome dude who had really vast and interesting connections throughout the city and apparently is kind of like a local legend. He’s like Eric Clapton’s personal assistant when he’s in town, you know like that kind of thing.


Alex: He’s kind of been in the game for a while.


Ariel: For a bit, yeah. So I remember in whatever it was, 2008 or 2009 going to Tokyo and I had like a couple of visvim things and knew what Goro’s was and I show up and this dude is like head to toe… Except for the fact that he was like 45 at the time or something like that, but he was this legit…


Alex: He just had a steeze.


Ariel: He had like this streetwear lord status is going, you know? Which was obviously crucial to me at that period. And it was funny, I mean he ended up taking us to Goro’s and like he’s close with them.


Alex: So you had the real ‘in’ the first time you were there.


Ariel: It was kind of ridiculous how he opened some doors pretty fast which is really cool. A lot of people that I would end up reconnecting with via different people and then even like funnily enough I remember I became close to the son of the cheese team in Tokyo much later on and then we all went out with the old-school and this sort of new-school crew and it was really funny because all the older generation they all knew about Kaito for example and Kaito definitely knew about them. So it was really like, politicking a little bit, you know?


Alex: Especially in Japan. There’s also like that seniority thing and all that stuff, right?


Ariel: Absolutely. I mean it was a super fun outing. Their Worlds don’t even really meet at all. But for whatever reason, you know, it’s one of those small-town situations.


Alex: Yeah that’s really cool. I would love to like riff on that for a long time.


Ariel: Yeah but I guess the point is that I went on that initial, foundational trip. After that I was basically trying to get back to Japan as much as I could. Took me two years.


Alex: You were inspired by Japan?


Ariel: Like unbelievably so. It became the most important place for me after that, essentially.


Alex: At what point does Mister Green come into the picture? Like was this something that you always had in the back of your head? Like how does it all evolve from what you were doing then until now?


Ariel: So, while I was working at Ace, my last role specifically was developing shot products and that whole thing. It Was basically like a hybrid brand manager and…


Alex: A culture curator?


Ariel: Technically the term was a ‘cultural engineer’.


Alex: I love those job titles.


Ariel: And I mean they were famous for them as well. I mean like Alex was a cultural engineer until he passed away. I don’t think he ever put any sort of like ‘president’ or ‘founder’ or anything like that on his card you know, it was always ‘cultural engineer number one’ was what we always referred to him as, which is pretty funny. Obviously he’s kind of a legend, right?


Alex: Yeah. I mean they definitely set that model of like a lifestyle brand, you know? Fusing all these different elements of what a cultured lifestyle looks like.


Ariel: Which is kind of like the entry point of where Mister Green comes from basically. You know, I had my sort of career there or whatever you want to describe that and I was starting to look at what was next while I was there, and it was so crucial that I was in that role at that time because as I was thinking what came next there were just so many things that were indicating that it would be a weed related venture. Of course, I’ve always enjoyed it but it wasn’t so front and center and prominent in a different way like it was a few years before I started.


Every single year it was like, you know, Colorado goes legal or was going to, and then it did. Then Oregon was going to go and then it did. You know obviously Washington even before that. And you know just looking at all these cannabis magazines that I didn’t know existed. I was looking specifically at all of the players involved.


I was also looking at people’s points of reference, the type of design decisions they were making. All I seemed to be able to find or whatever pathways people were creating all seemed to be around the same thing. It was either like rap image kind of a thing, keeping it quite street-focused if you will. Then you had like the ‘luxury’, you know? Luxury was like always really gaudy. Everything was like gilded gold and it was interesting to me, I mean I could understand the street thing because it’s always been a thing.


Alex: It was like the pendulum swung.


Ariel: Just like so far. And leaving no room in-between. Well actually the room in-between was like this third pathway which was tech. Everybody would describe it as you know: ‘This new dispensary is the Apple Store of weed.’ I’d always hear that, Apple Store of weed. And I remember looking at images of all these places that they were describing and I was like, ‘that looks like a like a broke Radioshack.’


You know? And how it seemed to me, and I’ve definitely benefited fully off of this same sort of general point of view is that, there was so much extra attention or like applause afforded to these companies who were thinking about the weed business in these new ways. But aesthetically…


Alex: They were missing the mark.


Ariel: They were completely missing the mark. Well, how can I say that? You know what I mean, the most popular companies are generally not the most aesthetically driven. 


Alex: Yeah. Commercially successful and aesthetically elevated are two different tracks, right?


Ariel: Absolutely, so I was saying: what’s the Web site we look at the most every day? The Google search page, right?


Alex: Well I use the browser. I use Google Chrome.


Ariel: I too use the search URL bar.


Alex: Have you heard of this thing where you can just type it in to the URL bar?


Ariel: So hypothetically if you’re going to the Google page, that brand is famously low quality. They break all 

the rules or whatever and you know obviously nobody cares even if they love good design.

Alex: But then with Mister Green did you see just an aesthetic opening or did you also just see like a space, even from maybe a business side of doing something that fit your aesthetic that you wanted to achieve but also had some kind of commercial potential?


Ariel: I just looked at there being a lot of openings was the truth. Really people were totally 

falling into these three pathways and not veering too far off of the other. I just on a very personal level had been waiting for maybe two years to see something that even remotely spoke to me.


I remember when I really had that moment of reckoning where it was like: ‘I can’t believe there is no weed brand that is like calling my name…’ Or something. And then in that same moment I was like: ‘Maybe I should make that brand…’.


Alex: This existential moment.


Ariel: Yeah, and it’s almost without a doubt that moment happened in the shower. So I was probably was like clapping my hands or something in the shower.


Alex: Just naked like: ‘Hallelujah!’.


Ariel: Yeah exactly, I was like ‘I know what I’m going to do!’ I pretty much got fixated onto it and left my job pretty quickly after that. Once I’m impulsive about something, it’s like I knew I was going to leave New York. So I was like I’m going to move to Japan, after all these years I’m going to just move there with no plan and nothing… And I was like I’m going to do this weed brand and it’s all going to work out. And if it doesn’t work out I have like… I can plan ahead. But when it comes to these kinds of things I can’t see five feet in front of me I’m just going for it.


Alex: Are you a planner or are you not a planner in general?


Ariel: Justin?


Alex: Maybe a better question for these guys?


Ariel: Oh man, I would say in practical terms, no I’m not a planner. I am extremely… What’s the opposite of being a planner? Spontaneous.


Alex: Yeah that’s the right word to say.


Ariel: To a very serious fault. I’m extremely spontaneous. I think that there are some positive attributes to that but man I give myself lots of headaches.


Alex: So, you’re showering and you have this epiphany and you’re like: ‘This is what I’ve got to do.’ You’re in New York at the time and what year is this is?


Ariel: This was maybe three and a half years ago.


Alex: When did you go from shower to like: ‘OK, I’m in L.A. I’m legit about this business thing’?


Ariel: Oh man. Am I even there yet? I’m still in that shower. OK, so basically what I saw happening was OK I’m going to go to Japan. That’s for sure. Like a certain thing. I thought OK I’ll get a job there, I’ll get a visa and I’ll stick around there for at least a couple of years and figure this thing out.


Like kind of as a side, but an important side project. Six months in Japan.

I uprooted my life and I moved. I did two separate trips there and back kind of a scenario with maybe, I think like a month in between.


Something like that. And on that second month, like the first month was really getting into the groove, do I want to live here? And the second month was like, I’ve got to get a job here. And at the same time I had this unbelievable agitation, this feeling that was eating me alive that I wasn’t giving enough time to that other promise that I had made. OK, I was going to move to Japan but I was going to launch this business. I think I had mocked up my website which is almost the same as the site now.


Alex: You already knew the name?


Ariel: I knew the name. I had multiple iterations of the branding.


Alex: That you’d done yourself?


Ariel: Totally. Yeah I mean like we’re sitting in the store and I built the shelves with my buddy, Winston. He actually made me do all the unskilled labor things and he did the fine stuff. But yeah I’ve been a part of every single thing that I’ve done or I shouldn’t say ‘a part of it’, I did it all.


Alex: What do you do? Like what are all the things you’re doing with the shop right now? And what does that mean for you? Like you’re doing brand, I mean you can run down the list.


Ariel: Yeah I didn’t mean that to weird. I Mean obviously I could take credit for Mister Green and that would probably be well understood by everybody but saying that I did it all, just to explain, was very much like, I couldn’t afford to pay anybody else to do it and of course I called in some favors for people to help me on some projects that I knew I couldn’t do myself. 


But aside from that, if you got a package before a year and a half ago, 100 percent chance that was me who packed it for you. And I’m sorry for the way I folded your shirt or if there was a little dust on it.


Alex: Tender loving care.


Ariel: Yeah exactly. It was just real.


Alex: Yeah. When you started this store. It was bootstrapped, it wasn’t like you had any investor or anything like that, this is literally your blood, sweat and tears here.


Ariel: Lots of tears.


Alex: So you moved, you were in Tokyo for that stint. You had this desire that you knew you needed to deliver on this promise you made yourself essentially it’s like: ‘I need to do Mister Green.’


Ariel: Yeah, so I thought I was going to stay in Tokyo and do it. It wasn’t until about two weeks before I left Tokyo that I actually knew that I was going to leave. And I had always moving to L.A. sort of in my back pocket if you will. You know, because I’m American and I don’t have to deal with visas and I had a lot of friends here. And it didn’t seem like… Is that that your meter reader?


Alex: L.A. parking… Had to figure out which one of the four signs was the right one. I’m sorry.


Ariel: All good. I Just I kind of had L.A. as like a backup plan and I remember, I think three days before I moved here I hit up my buddy Chris and I was like: ‘Hey dude, I’m coming back. Can I sleep on your couch for a week?’ He was like: ‘Yeah sure buddy, stay with me as long as you want.’ After three days he was like: ‘Get the fuck out of my house.’


Alex: ‘When I said for as long as you want I really didn’t mean it.’

“When you just start making t-shirts and you’re telling people you’re a marijuana lifestyle brand, they’re going to scratch their head. I hate to break it to you kids: if you start a t-shirt company, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a lifestyle brand.”

Ariel: So yeah basically like I got everything under way and as soon as I got a place to live here I was full bore like I got to launch this immediately. I left Japan somewhere like very dead middle of October. January 1st 2016, we opened as an online store and a couple of weeks before that for friends only just to make sure that we get it right. Well we, I always say we because it gives the impression that…


Alex: That there’s a massive staff?


Ariel: At this point after two years it’s just Justin and I. Justin is my lovely part-timer. Part-time, full heart.


Alex: So, 2016. Started this online store, what was on it at the time? What were you curating?


Ariel: So I think I had about three or four T-shirt styles, a few hats, some of the Inbee stuff and some of the Summerland stuff. So that was actually super crucial I think for people to understand what I was doing because I used to tell people I’m starting a marijuana lifestyle brand and they’d be like what the fuck does that mean, you know.


And I still like stutter a little bit when I explain depending on who I’m speaking with but we were talking about that elevator pitch, I still don’t quite have it down especially because I don’t know, I feel like it’s sometimes good to think about what you’re doing and consider maybe that there’s a better definition to use. So yeah, I just had a small handful of apparel, of home goods, and I guess that’s it.


Alex: So more or less, it was sort of like launching a brand plus some multibrand things.


Ariel: Yeah. When you just start making T-shirts and you’re telling people you’re a marijuana lifestyle brand, they’re going to scratch their head because obviously like – I hate to break it to you kids – If you start a T-shirt company that doesn’t necessarily mean your lifestyle brand. I’m saying that in the most loving way, but there needs to be things that explain that. If you wanted to started a skate brand and make T-shirts that involved skating then it becomes a lifestyle brand because you’re attaching to something else.


In this case, I didn’t really have too much to attach myself onto especially from the point of view that I was trying to approach. So having these other brands was even way more important you know to this general concept than having clothing. The clothing, I’ve always referred to as almost like souvenir clothing, because really all it says is hey I went to the store or smoking weed or I like what this person or this brand stands for. Some kind of ‘I experienced this in my own personal way.’


And that’s where the lifestyle thing really happens is when you actually have a personal connection to that and you’re kind of living it, right? So, somebody wearing my T-shirt, that wasn’t a lifestyle, that’s just a person wearing a T-shirt. Being like OK this is a place where I can actually get things like pipes or containers or something like that, that don’t look like the normal head shop type of scenario, that becomes a lifestyle.


That’s what you interact with and you have much more of a relationship to. So I’ve just continually attempted to build upon that notion. Attaching A brand to it, it might be a whole vanity thing, I don’t even know.


Alex: What is the intention of Mister Green the brand itself? I mean, would you say clothing brand do you just say brand because you’re doing a lot of other things.


Ariel: Yeah, the clothing thing, I mean I would put more of an emphasis on the clothing if I was making much more like a cut-and-sew type of thing, if I was a fashion designer so to speak. But I do kind of mean it when I say ‘souvenir’ type of stuff because these are just easy things. I knew how important it was to make T-shirts and I didn’t want to take away the emphasis based on what I said earlier because I knew that not everybody who came to the site or, as it exists now, to the store, not everybody is going to come in and buy a bong.


However, if they found themselves in here or specifically targeted coming, they want to maybe leave with something and that’s where like the Hollywood High 1976 shirt comes in. I just wanted to continue to just make the little things that maybe put a smile on somebody’s face or like evil grin or smirk or whatever it is that you react to when you see something that you like or that you relate to or you don’t necessarily relate to or chuckle at or whatever it is, you know?


Alex: Why did you open a brick and mortar? If it started as e-commerce and you were already reaching people that way, some people would say that going brick and mortar is counter-intuitive to 2017/2018.


Ariel: Opening a brick and mortar was definitely counter-intuitive based on a lot of things like could I afford it? I’ve always been a shop-rat since I was a little kid. I wouldn’t say that I grew up with means at all. I was born a middle class – at least, that definition kind of existed 30 years ago – white kid in America.


That affords you a lot right there. However, did I come from some great means? Not necessarily. My parents definitely put the emphasis on things you could experience versus like things you could show off with or something like that.


Alex: So you really started this just with money that you had saved from like your days of working in those former roles or what?


Ariel: The reason why I’m shaking my head in a funny way is that I just didn’t save that much money. At some point maybe I’ll write a book on like ‘Terrible Business Advice for Every Entrepreneur to Not Follow’, and that would basically be the story of this.


I just did every wrong thing and I think that maybe when you do things the wrong way and I don’t mean in some ‘fail better’ kind of way. When you do things, you know, when you swim upstream or whatever, you’ll end up attracting people who are similarly swimming in that direction. I think that those tend to be the most special people, obviously, it’s just a different path that we have to take for whatever terrible reason.


Basically I just started the company on a credit card and a little bit of money, and I mean like let’s say less than 2000 dollars I think when I started it, and a lot of favors from people like my mom for example. She loaned me like six grand so I could open a store and you know for some people to ask their mom that’s a totally impossible thing and like, respect, I actually didn’t think that she was going to.


I’m sorry to be so candid on this too but whatever. But It was like, maybe she had that kicking around for like something really important but not for me to try to take this next step or whatever, you know. And that was almost two years in too, right? So, just to kind of step back, yeah, I started this on almost nothing.


Alex: But which is interesting because I think it speaks to, intentionally or not, it speaks to the level of conviction that you had. I mean, you were literally in Tokyo and then you were like I need to do this, move here, you’re not really set up to do it by the book, but you did it anyway.


Ariel: Yeah. And on that notion of going back to L.A., I think you hit the nail on the head. I realized that I actually probably could have made a cooler brand in Tokyo but it wouldn’t have made that much sense because culturally maybe it would have been embraced, but not necessarily for authentic reasons.


Because of the infrastructure that’s built-in. Laws greatly prohibit… I’ve actually heard of things like police being stationed near head shops and things like that so they can shake people down who they think maybe brought weed in the country, you know, things like that. This is all like internet forum kind of talk but you know this is truthfully things that I’ve read.


Eugene: To switch things up, we asked the MAEKAN Slack community for some of their questions. They’re less focused on Mister Green and Ariel, but the whole cannabis space and some of the important socio-economic topics that have been a big part of the dialog that’s going on.


Alex: So, you know we have that Slack community for MAEKAN? Like we have a whole Slack channel with like all of the members and readers on it. So before I came here I just asked a few people, like I left open note like hey I’m doing this interview with Ariel, if anyone has any questions they want to ask feel free to submit and I’ll ask a few. So I have a few questions from MAEKAN readers.


Ariel: Bad questions are cool, too.

Alex: Yeah, you’ve got to see the bad ones. But, a lot of them are less necessarily just about like: ‘What is the store about?’ or ‘What is the brand about?’ And it’s more like ‘We value this guy’s opinion on the broader industry.’ Because I think you sit at that intersection of just smoking weed and sort of bringing it into, for lack of a better term, that lifestyle space. And what does that even mean, like if you don’t smoke weed, could you be into Mister Green? That’s a great question I guess: Do you think you get people that just fuck with the brand but don’t actually smoke?


Ariel: That was actually a really important way I looked at my future potential consumer. I wanted people who loved smoking weed but also people who just love design. Maybe the person who loved smoking weed didn’t think too much about the design but you had an interest. The person who loved design maybe had an interest in smoking weed. That was my Venn diagram, they’d be somewhere in the middle or on those fringes between that area.


Alex: Is that happening in practice? I mean, the people that are shopping and the people you’re interacting with, is it the people you thought you would be?


Ariel: Yeah, 100 percent, totally. And what’s also cool about that is that those people are men, women, they’re every race. They’re pretty broad in age too. The feedback that I kept getting from the dudes at Union, dudes and dudettes at Union, were that there’d be this type of like father figure who came to Union for his kid to pick up whatever you know like, let’s just say like Off-White or something, and he’d be checking the racks himself and he’d be like: what’s this?


And it immediately resonated with his personal relationship with weed or maybe he immediately had some sort of nostalgic kick or something along those lines. I built the brand around people getting a kick out of it. It definitely wasn’t supposed to be any one type of person. I fear that like kids won’t get it, necessarily. And I think that that is like for the most part is actually like, proving itself to be true. Because as we’re reading, kids are less interested in smoking weed than their parents are.


Alex: Yeah, it’s weird.


Ariel: Get it together, kids. It’s so wild, you know?


Alex: You were talking about how you kind of did everything the wrong way. I think someone asked something along the lines of like how you’ve built Mister Green from day zero to now, would you have done anything differently? And if so, what?


Ariel: Oh my God. I mean, ultimately, so many things. Just To show you how badly I’ve done things wrong, I still don’t have a business bank account for this and the reason being, when I started it was really tricky because I was still using some of my classic verbiage. You know, I’m a marijuana lifestyle brand can you give me a bank account? And they were like ‘Fuck no.’


Alex: Right, of course.


Ariel: And even like I even tried to get wiser like ‘I sell apparel and home goods. Can I get a business account?’ And they’re like ‘Sure, we just want to see your website.’ And it was like, it was just a no go. And I think that I could probably get away with it now, but it’s kind of stunted me for at least a year at this point.


Alex: Yeah. Any highs and lows?


Ariel: Weekly, man. Justin and I are laughing because no matter what we do, we can pack a box full of clothing, we can recheck it 150 times. And when it shows up at the store they go: ‘Yeah we’re like short a few shirts, what happened?’ Or something like that.


Alex: You’re referring to your wholesale accounts that you’re selling to.


Ariel: Totally. We have we have a store in London who literally said that they were going to dock us money if the. Of the quantities are wrong. So we rechecked it probably like five times each and sure enough we got the list and I’m starting to like…


Alex: Do you think they’re pulling one over on you maybe?


Ariel: I don’t want to blame the store. What I think, and this is just based on a very recent experience. US Customs flagged a package that I sent to Japan and I’m pretty sure it’s US, I don’t think it left the country, and they said you’re sending lighters out of the country because I declared that, right?


But a refillable lighter with no fuel or anything like that is legal to send. So they send back the package and we actually need to go through that list because there is a good amount of missing merchandise. Those lighters are gone. There’s a brass rolling tray that was gone.


Alex: Basically some like customs warehouse guy was just like: ‘I’ll take this.’.


Ariel: No joke, and it looks like they threw it all on the floor and walked on it as they went through it. Yeah it’s unusable.


Alex: It got docked on US territory, not in Japan?


Ariel: I’m pretty sure, yeah.


Alex: Wow that’s crazy.


Ariel: So, if we have a situation where we’re sending clothing out and people are like cherry picking their Christmas presents, which sounds absurd…


Alex: Yeah, I mean do you guys tape it with Mister Green, like do people know it from the outside?


Ariel: No not at all. And also like, it’s not like we’re Gucci, you know what I mean?


Alex: Maybe you are to some people, maybe you are and you don’t even know that your brand is like that now.


Ariel: I’d be surprised, Alex. Thank you though. I’m stupefied by it because it’s like what the fuck. So now I’m beginning to think that along those steps along the way maybe things do end up getting pulled out and not put back.


Alex: Who knows, when that box leaves your two eyes, who knows what happens with it?

Ariel: Truthfully. I mean I’m not going to say we’re like the world’s best box packers. But once you put in that much extra work to kind of like see something through, that kind of thing is really shocking I guess you could say. Anything to do with production and shipping pretty much is a bipolar relationship.


If you can avoid in your life shipping things or making things that are real, like digitally of course that comes with its own frustrations. But physically, run the other way, run the other way. Unless you’re doing it all yourself. And that’s another type of masochism. But if you are relying on somebody else, man. Turn and run.


Alex: You had some lows. What what are just some wins or just some stuff that you’ve been really stoked about over the last year or two?


Ariel: This is going to sound silly but like, anytime anybody comes in and buys anything or like even comes in and they’re like: ‘This is a great shop.’ Any time anybody has something nice to say, that feels amazing you know, because it’s like really hard to put stuff out in the world. I’ll also say that I sometimes get a kick out of people talking shit. You know that’s fine too. That’s like a part of it. And in fact there is a certain validation. If somebody is taking the time to talk shit on what you’re doing versus just completely writing it off. You know people always say…


Alex: What kind of shit to people talk about you guys?


Ariel: I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet, I think we’re still too small. I remember early on I saw an editor tweet a response to an article that came out, I think it was like one of the first articles.


Alex: The GQ one?


Ariel: It wasn’t GQ, no. I think it was like a lookbook or something like that. And it was it was literally one word, they were just like: ‘Nope.’ And I remember being so burned by that, you know.


Alex: Just like in the comments of the article?


Ariel: No, they literally like responded to…


Alex: Oh to you guys directly?


Ariel: Not to us, they responded to whatever it came out on. So it was like: ‘New Mister Green’, and they just commented: ‘Nope.’ But it was like an editor too and I was like…


Alex: Shit. Do you engage with people like that? Like will you comment at them or anything like that or will you just let it be?


Ariel: Depends. I mean, in general, I hate to be one of these internet warrior type people where it’s like when I see some racist shit on the internet or whatever I’ll usually like fire back pretty hard. I just can’t let it be you know, but man, what a black hole that is.


Alex: It’s like, you can never really win.


Ariel: Oh, you cannot win. You can only lose in those occasions. I’ve never walked away from a comment war being like: ‘I feel much better’, or like, ‘I really changed their mind’, I always am like that was definitely an hour that I’ll never get back and I feel bad.


Alex: Has your relationship with cannabis changed both like just in age and in profession over the last ten years?


Ariel: Yeah, no it for sure has. I mean, I’m very much a part of this sort of new public awareness. You know, up until whatever it was, three years ago, everything was weed to me. The best and most descriptive answer pre-that was: ‘Sour diesel.’ Or something like that, you know, that was it. I really had a pretty minuscule knowledge, I’ve always smoked to get high.


These days, now I can kind of tailor make my experience which is pretty cool, and I also know what it’s going to do and for whatever reason I’ve always considered myself to have a very low tolerance to everything. It kind of like runs in my family if you will. I’m very affected by drugs, very affected by alcohol. Something that I was always worried about was if I ever found myself in like a business setting or whatever where people wanted to light up, that I was going to be screwed for any sort of real business talk. And sure enough, for the most part that was true. But it was way less excruciating then than it is now.


I mean number one because living in California especially compared to New York, you just smoke a lot more weed. I grow plants at home and you know, it’s much more ingrained in the culture overall. Also that I do this company, it’s like literally thank you to all these people who have sent me or given me weed like, that’s cool. Like, I’m so stoked I’m wearing like this new pair of converse that I just got, they’re the new Patta low tops.


And I really wanted these actually, so thank you very much to Jason and co. over converse, as always you guys are the best. And this is like the staple shoe of this brand as well, so I’m stoked, always. But thank you, seriously to like the vape pens to the flower to the edibles like everything that people literally who’ve just like stopped off and been like: ‘Hey, we want you to have this. We like your brand’, or ‘We wanted you to have this, like shout us out.’ Or something like that.


Alex: I’m curious, is what you’re doing accepted by the core weed crowd, like the growers and the dispensaries, or do they not like it?


Ariel: I think that there’s a very large amount of let’s say ‘core crowd’ who it’s just lost on them, like they just don’t even have an opinion. I’ve had a lot of growers come through and predominantly I would say growers come through and they have a like a they have like a blank look on their face.


They definitely showed up thinking they were going to see something that really inspired them or something like that and they’re like: ‘Alright, cool.’ It’s totally over their heads, and not to say that that’s their fault or mine. It’s just, I guess it’s maybe about staying in their lane. You know, I mentioned that I grow plants, I don’t grow them very well but maybe I’ll do better at designing a T-shirt or something like that. Woohoo, we’re both good at stuff you know, like who cares?


Alex: I mean I can see why the growers… Because When you really think about it like they’re into agriculture, they’re farmers. So, they’re not really thinking ‘brand’, you know?


Ariel: I know but I still get a little bit bummed because I’m like: ‘Dude like, you’re the champion here.’ And I think maybe they think that I’m maybe almost trying to take something away from them.


Alex: It’s almost like that age old sort of tension in a restaurant between front of house and back of house. You got the same dynamic.


Ariel: And in theater too, front of house back of house. Is this front of house?


Alex: I think you’re front of house, yeah.


Ariel: Sorry that was really dumb of me, obviously.


Alex: We’re literally sitting in the front of the house.


Ariel: Next question please.

“I wanted people who loved smoking weed but also people who just love design. […] That was my Venn diagram, they’d be somewhere in the middle or on those fringes between that area.”

— Ariel Stark-Benz

Alex: I feel really good about what we’ve talked about so far. I’m curious, like are you getting hit up by you mentioned like that new crowd, that tech crowd, that like Silicon Valley world of like big money coming in. Are people reaching out to you for whatever reason, maybe investment, wanting to kind of rip what you’re doing. What’s your relationship with that side of the spectrum?


Ariel: I would say, yeah there’s been some interest. Not like a crazy amount, kind of similarly so I wasn’t hitting up the gilded gold people or the Apple Store people. Again, I think we’re just sticking to our proprietary vision.


Yeah, but that being said there’s definitely some crossover. I think that when it comes to the people who are involved more on the tech side, I think that they’re probably used to making a little bit more money and so I’ve been hit up in that regard I guess, definitely people who like want to be maybe in the conversation should it look like we’re making money or something along those lines, you know.


Alex: Well I mean they must see the value in the brand that you’re building thought, right?


Ariel: Yeah. I think that they do.


Alex: I don’t even mean like the brand like clothing. I mean just like the brand like having a name out there.


Ariel: Yeah I think it’s just always like case by case, you know. I think it’s kind of a funny thing, again because even where I’m at now, sometimes it’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what this is. I mean ultimately, we’re there and it was like I said everybody: it’s a marijuana lifestyle brand.


Alex: I know you said that you’re a very spontaneous person. Do you have like an endgame in mind or are you kind of going day by day?


Ariel: I’ve absolutely had to make those types of exercises, you know. And so, do you need me to tell you where it’s going to be in five years? Is that the deal?


Alex: You don’t have to.


Ariel: I mean ultimately, I’m not going to give you like the specific milestones but one of the more obvious ones is, when I started this I looked at all the branded details as being important. I looked at the curated marketplace as being important but what I really wanted to do was get into selling weed legally. So the version 2.0 if you will, or maybe 10.0 or whatever you want to put the number on as.


Alex: 1.1.


Ariel: Is definitely selling legal cannabis. Legal weed or legal marijuana or buds.


Alex: Whatever Your terminology is.


Ariel: But that’s definitely always been the biggest goal in mind was to get to that point. Now That I feel like I’m much closer than obviously I ever have been you know with those regards and especially with the new legality in California, I can take a little bit of a step back and think like OK you know what, now I know what it’s going to take to become a dispensary for example, which is a pretty big bridge to cross But however, something that’s going to happen much more quickly is to actually create product lines of flower, of concentrates etcetera.


Really what it comes down to at this point is, I’ve got all of my sort of concepts and that kind of thing, how can I really create it in terms of making, you know, I’m not going to like… I actually think it’s going to be the most difficult thing to make, is an interesting and compelling array of cannabis products to attract people to buying them. I’ve got one that I know is going to be a killer, one hundred percent it’s going to be a killer.


Alex: Coming soon.

“At some point, maybe I’ll write a book on like, ‘Terrible Business Advice for Every Entrepreneur to Not Follow,’ and that would basically be the story of this. I just did every wrong thing and … I don’t mean in some ‘fail better’ kind of way!”

Ariel: Only because I really want them for myself. That’s always like the litmus test. The whole thing about the clothing and you know, if you ever asked me like who this was for, I have my sort of broad examples but really all of this stuff is things that I like and wanted to make for myself. It keeps it personal, keeps it real.


Alex: OK. This is maybe a loaded question but what are your thoughts on the impact that cannabis has made for those that suffered from the war on drugs juxtaposed by those profiting from it presently?


Ariel: It’s interesting that it’s not more obvious for people, but it wasn’t outrightly obvious to me when I started doing this. Again, as an almost mid-30s white guy, kid, you know, adult I think… But, I mean at this point, like much of the things that are rising to the surface at this point, as a society we have to reconcile the damage that has been done to people who have come before.


The drug war is… I mean essentially there’s so many aspects of it that are so conniving, disgusting evil, you know the fact that they were used to subvert, starting with Mexican people. Equally so, opium with Asian people. This was just a way for the powers that be to subvert a certain group of people and manipulate them from the public perception in order to keep their power if you will, or build on their power.


So it’s a really crucial thing especially in present times, that when I think about my responsibility as a white person in this really fucked up situation, is to figure out every possible avenue that I can to give back to those who were disenfranchised. One thing that I will admit that aside from doing light philanthropic type of endeavors, where we give to ACLU for example or the Southern Poverty Law Center, both I consider very much worthy of addressing this type of retribution so to speak.


I’m constantly looking for better and more direct ways that I can bring that more into the into the fold of this business. One thing that I should say is, right now we’re representing that more than giving money because we’re not making that much money, so the money that we are giving unfortunately I’d love to be giving… if I gave 20 percent of my business it wouldn’t do that much unfortunately.


Alex: Yeah no it’s good. I think that’s great.


Ariel: However, I constantly want to think of bigger and better ways to continually give and be a much more effective person in terms of creating change and giving back, again like the giving back part that’s that’s one aspect of it, the inciting change is the other. I again need to think of how can I be the most powerful being, or agent of change to incite this kind of like, the dialogue thing that’s happened, something that I find really actually mindblowing with Prop 64 coming into play.


There has been this really interesting anti-Prop 64 movement amongst people who didn’t want to be taxed and that kind of thing. And that all made sense to me. You know, it’s like if you’re existing in a gray market and able to kind of do whatever you want and you know kind of keep this like cash business, you don’t have to pay in so much, like I understand why you’d be frustrated that you have to give up like a good amount of your money and that there’s a lot more players involved and etcetera etcetera.


When I looked at Prop 64, the conversation that I was having with people about possibility wasn’t so much about, this is going to be bad for the industry etcetera. Culturally, I was looking at the overwhelming racial implications that by not passing Prop 64, like we’re obviously heading the ‘right direction’, but by not passing that, that was going to slow down what I saw as being a very crucial agent of change because ultimately people are being freed and people can’t be prosecuted for these street-level crimes that have more than predominantly affected people of color in specific areas of Los Angeles and worldwide really.


Alex: Yeah I mean, I think it seems like… You can never like make those amends overnight. You know, it doesn’t even happen in a year and it takes a long time to undo a lot of that stuff or not even undo necessarily but to pivot for the better.

Eugene talks about our recent strides with reinvigorating our creative processes and continuing to move forward, even as the challenges we sought to solve and the world around us continue to evolve.