For as long as we can remember in our modern world, weed culture has had its fair share of stigmas. But without going into surface examples of how it was (or still is) deemed a “gateway drug,” or how the typical stoner is one that’s thought of as a lazy, dopey kid, we’re talking more about the aesthetics that come with weed culture. Ask anyone that doesn’t smoke (and anyone that does) what your typical weed-orientated designs are, and you’re sure to hear the classic references of a tie-dye T-Shirt with a marijuana leaf on it, or an ashtray with a rasta man attached to its side, or your overly vibrant and far from simple glass goblin pendant. While we have no complains with any of these things, it seems to be the recurring aesthetic when it comes to weed.
That’s when Mister Green Life Store steps in. While the name, and the fact that its founder Ariel Stark-Benz admits to liking things from the classic “hippie” era would suggest otherwise, the brand takes on one of, if not the most contemporary and minimalistic approaches to weed-related products we’ve seen–and we’ve seen a lot. Sure you have your earth-tone clay products and other alternatively artistic designs to pipes and bongs (which Mister Green also carries), but there’s also the stark white apple-shaped pipes, nor a porcelain-esque, crystal-shaped number that would fit perfectly at home with Rick Owens that we find to be a bit more rare, unique, and quite simply brilliant.
Having worked at the likes of the Ace Hotel making products for its well curated store, Stark-Benz saw a niche within the weed industry that very much needed to be filled. Thus, and armed with his design background, the Mister Green brand was born. Through that, Ariel’s soon-to-open concept retail space dubbed the Life Store will brings to the market a refreshing new take on weed culture, and how it can be perceived by those not looking to cop your cliche, red-eyed “Towelie” tee (nothing against Towelie of course…). To get a better understanding behind its concept, we sit down with Ariel Stark-Benz to find out the ins-and-outs of running a weed-orientated concept store, his thoughts on the shifting tides within the industry, what his current favorite strain is and more.
For starters, we’d like to get to know you a little better. Can you give us a little bit about your background growing up and how you were lead to founding a contemporary, minimalistic lifestyle brand?
I grew up in Portland, OR., and studied design in college. Lots of friends back home are creatives at Nike that taught me a lot. Just before I moved to NYC, I met a dude named Alex Calderwood who was building a place called the Ace Hotel, he became a mentor and I worked for them off and on for years. My last job with Ace was creating products for their shop–at some point I knew I wasn’t going to stay there forever and I kept seeing tons of weed-related news: changing laws, billionaire investors, product wise new this and new that–but never anything I thought was even remotely compelling, that’s why I started Mister Green. Here I’d been making a wide range of product with the concept ‘hotel’ behind it, why couldn’t I do that with weed?
Getting into your personal relationship with weed, and always an interesting story, can you tell us about the first time you smoked up?
Ha, I smoked with my neighbor, the bad older kid on the block, he was probably 11 and I was 9. He had some weed that looked like it was 1,000 years old that he’d swiped from his sister. We smoked out of a coke-a-cola can.
Weed culture and its visuals are typically (and traditionally) the opposite to the more minimalistic and clean designs you see at Mister Green. How/why did you gravitate towards that choice in aesthetic?
I don’t like to be too flashy in general, so there’s always a natural inclination to edit things down. Also, as you mentioned it’s mostly the opposite to what’s out there–which was an aesthetic decision in itself, to really make it stand apart. Even with the “MARIJUANA” shirt, it says it huge and it’s seemingly in your face, but when it’s worn people don’t notice it because the typeface and position is kind of unassuming. Most of the stuff is much quieter, and kind of feels like an inside joke–which always feels nice when you’re in on it.
How did the Life Store start? Was retail something you’ve always wanted to get in to, or did this happen more organically?
Life Store was sort of the original goal, to find the best designed ‘things’ that existed in this world. All of the Mister Green branded stuff was meant to be more souvenir or recognition based than anything. Life Store is opening mid April in East Hollywood, but the goal of Life Store will be to have weed for sale in it–we’re looking for partners in that project if you know any nice people…
What sort of criteria are you following when it comes to choosing what brands and products you bring into the fold?
Unique, well designed, a little counter-culture or punk, and if it just feels right.
What are some of the main inspirations behind the concept and tone of Mister Green?
It’s in the logos. The hand with the joint is based off of an old corporate logo, so it’s meant to suggest modernity, minimalism, and structure. The middle one is Life Store. The peace symbol is based off of a logo from an old counter culture zine publisher from the ’60s, and represents the sort of “classic” hippie era–that shit is my favorite.
Running a store like Mister Green is a straight up dream come true to many, but what are some of the unexpected challenges are hardships that come with running this kind of business?
Everything is a challenge! Ha. I started this company with very little money, and have made very little money. Unless you are born into wealth you have to figure out your hustle, and if it’s worth it to keep the vision alive. That being said, this is a dream come true for me in spite of adversity, and I believe that hard work does pay off, so I’m always optimistic.
Just for fun though, one of the most unexpected challenges I’ve had is delivering a white tee shirt clean and unblemished. If you think about the number of hands a garment passes through from start to finish, it’s kind of unbelievable that shit stays clean!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Trying to get back into a coffee grinders routine most days–that’s a term I stole from the homies Todd Jordan and Moose Huerta, meaning early morning old man skate session.
Get into work around 9:30-10am. Try to get any road errands and/or meetings done before 3pm, because after that LA traffic fucks you, so from 3- until 7pm or so I’m on my laptop.
Cook dinner around 8pm, and THEN blaze one, and veg out. Unless I have nothing to do, I won’t smoke before dinner time. I’m not one of those high performance blazers, and I am rarely a social one. I remember it was a stigma in school for people to smoke alone. Now it’s my favorite way to enjoy weed!
Is there something that’s currently missing within the weed industry/culture that you think should be there?
There are a lot of things, which gives me a lot to work on, ha!
I’m going to flip this answer though and say that not only is there a lot missing within the industry, there’s a whole lot more missing that should exist as a bridge between weed industry culture and mainstream culture. The public perception of how marijuana exists or should exist in every day life is so completely out of wack. The world, and especially the weed industry, has a lot of catching up to do. But I’m happy about that because it means I can potentially make a difference, and I would really like to!
What’s your go-to strain, and what are you currently smoking?
Blue Cheese, or as I call it “Joie De Vivre,” because it makes everything feel better!
Lastly, where do you want to take Mister Green Lifestyle Store in the far future?
I would like to have a Mister Green Life Store in every territory where some form of legal marijuana is available.