Situated in a less than 1,000-square-foot space in East Hollywood, Mister Green’s “friendly shop for high-minded people” has a hip, modern aesthetic that Kinfolk could appreciate. Its art-forward design is clean and streamlined, bright and airy, with just the right amount of exposed brick. At first glance, it could pass for another high-end tchotchke boutique — or an art gallery. But look closer at the ceramics and printed tees and you’ll see they’re actually a wake-and-bake mug (with a cylindrical slot to hold a joint while you drink your coffee), and shirts adorned with Mister Green’s logo, which is a peace sign made of sleek weed leaves.
This is about as on-the-nose as Mister Green’s cannabis appeal goes (besides the shirts that simply say “Marijuana” on the front), and that’s exactly what Ariel Stark-Benz, owner and founder of the company, was going for.
“Old-school weed culture is awesome,” Stark-Benz, 33, says. “Why isn’t that more embedded into the contemporary weed conversation?”
This was the impetus for Stark-Benz’s cannabis lifestyle brand, which he launched online in 2016 and, just a few weeks ago, brought into the real world with the brick-and-mortar Mister Green Life Store on Fountain Avenue. Stark-Benz’s line of apparel and accessories includes all things weed and chill, but with an understated tone, retro vibe and a sometimes loose connection to cannabis culture. There isn’t a “420” reference in sight and appearances of the traditional five-eared weed leaf are often subtle (although you can get an over-dyed bandanna made with “vintage cotton” that has the familiar plant all over it).
“The most classic thing that you can think of when it comes to weed clothing is just a leaf on it,” Stark-Benz says. “[Actually] classic makes it sound like it’s really important that it’s there, and I don’t think it is.”
The characteristic weed leaf is highly “overused,” he says, so many of his clothing designs, printed on T-shirts, hoodies and even a vest, steer clear of it. They range from an outline of Earth with the phrase “Peace, Please” underneath it, to “Hollywood High 1976” written in a simple font, to throwback imagery of the Playboy Bunny logo with weed leaves replacing its typical rabbit ears. Stark-Benz also has created a line of kitschy keychains that read “IM HIGH LOL,” a vintage-looking pin that says “This Bud’s for You,” and a line of smell-good products called Hippie Shit that include soap, a fragrance and a scented candle.
There’s already an array of artists and designers developing amazing products from hemp, such as the upscale clothing line Jungmaven, and creating work centered around cannabis culture and consumption, Stark-Benz says.
“We want to champion these people,” he says. “We want to be a support for them.”
That’s why Mister Green sells a selection of outside brands as well, in addition to vintage pieces and a few collaborations created for the company by local artists. For example, the company worked with downtown L.A. ceramic studio Eunbi to make ashtrays ($100) and one-hitters ($45), which are works of art you can admire and smoke.
Stark-Benz describes Mister Green as “souvenir clothing,” intended to puzzle people a bit and require them to take a “hard look” at the item, or need to have it explained to them. An inside joke, often sold with a wink and a nod.
“I’m trying to create some type of experience,” he says. “I’m not a fashion designer per se.”
If all this seems to tip-toe the line bordering “get hip,” that may be because prior to branching out on his own, Stark-Benz worked for the creative side of Ace Hotel for 11 years in New York. There, he worked on developing branded products and product collaborations, including specialty lines of New Era caps, clothing mashups with hip Canadian apparel company Reigning Champ, and even a line of phone cases with REVISIT.
It taught him that as long as you have a strong narrative and well-developed aesthetics, you can “create something really beautiful out of an unexpected concept.” Mister Green's vintage vibe is one that a handful of cannabis businesses have begun to capitalize on as well, including long-standing weed publication High Times, which launched a line of apparel and merchandise last year that features throwback phrases like "Reefer Madness" and "Devil's Harvest."
Stark-Benz says his decision to pursue a cannabis lifestyle company emerged pretty naturally, as a confluence of his skills, extracurricular interests and changing politics.
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“I valued design and I really liked weed,” he says. “I was just constantly bombarded with, ‘Here’s a new change in legislation, here’s a new politician, athlete, spokesperson coming out in favor, and then here’s a new state that’s legalizing.’ ... That’s a very strong impetus to create something.”
Mister Green Life Store is located at 4884 Fountain Ave.