Ariel Stark-Benz had his first hit of weed at age nine, when an older neighbor in his hometown of Portland pulled out his parents’ stash and they gave it a whirl the way many kids smoke their first time: DIY via good old aluminum. It’s safe to say he’s no longer poking holes in soda cans to get high anymore, but the hardworking, creative entrepreneur has remained a faithful fan of marijuana and the upshot of such dedication is his just-launched life store, Mister Green. The online shop is dedicated to all things cannabis culture, but eschews the brash aesthetic that weed products have become so known for in favor of a minimalist, casual elegance.
Since Stark-Benz was the Cultural Engineer for Ace Hotel, where he oversaw products and collaborations, it’s no surprise that Mister Green is launching with a hip and sophisticated range of goods that span embroidered baseball snapbacks to keychains to wake-and-bake ceramic cups created with emerging LA-based potter Eunbi Cho. Like Stark-Benz himself, Mister Green is a little mysterious, playful and friendly. We caught up to learn more.
Why did you decide to create Mister Green?
It was a lot of thinking that started about a year and a half ago, and it ended up more of a reaction. There’s been so much shit going on in the weed space in the last five years, and watching this transformation happen has been so fascinating. The global culture is reacting slowly to having been told the opposite about a drug—that it’s harmful—for so long. It was painted in such a different way, and now it’s obviously being revealed in so many ways that we were wrong. Well, I think plenty of people knew it was fine, but as a culture at large, we’re coming into this new period and trying to understand and wrap our head around what consumption looks like.
I never saw anything that was beautiful, well-designed and made sense for me as a consumer. Obviously it’s begun to happen, with Snoop tapping Pentagram, things are starting to look a lot better. Until recently, though, I didn’t see a single product out there that spoke to me. So I basically thought, “OK, how can I make something that I would be drawn to?” Monocle and A.P.C. were lifestyle brands that I had in mind, as well as Ace Hotels (I’ve worked there off and on for almost 10 years). That was sort of a similar thing; they looked at the hotel business and there was no chain hotel that really felt like something relatable to Alex’s lifestyle. You have to create those things if you don’t find them.
Originally I thought, “I’ll make a dispensary.” And I really wanted to create an A.P.C.-like dispensary, a place that could feel like a potential part of your lifestyle if it hadn’t been beforehand. From there I started looking into the opportunities within that, the stuff that would be almost like classic souvenirs: shirts, hats, sweatshirts, keychains. That’s all fun for me, I love doing that stuff. That’s what I was doing for Ace, figuring out how you sell a brand that’s a hotel chain via a $1,000 Nanamica jacket. I figured I could make some sort of personality out of this curated smoker. I created a person in my head, and Mister Green as the name is kind of a joke. It’s supposed to sound like a low-level drug dealer, like the business card you would get for party supplies. But at the same time, I wanted to break it down so that when people heard the brand they didn’t necessarily think, “Is it weed-related?” Maybe they have it in the back of their mind, but if I said, “We make really fine Scottish wool socks,” they wouldn’t think twice. It sounds ambiguous enough that it can fit in a variety of places. Mister Green fulfills so many different characteristics of a brand that is sort of intentionally left to be quite malleable but support an overarching lifestyle.
How did you end up creating ceramics with Eunbi Cho?
The ceramics came about because initially I was just looking to buy for the shop and fill it out with products in general, and I met with Ben Mendansky. He makes amazing stuff but was already working with a lot of people, so when we met he recommended his old assistant, who is just starting out. I went to her studio and after five minutes I had already filled a bag full of stuff. Her aesthetic is very similar to Ben’s—in fact I’m not sure who’s a bigger “pot” head. Her name is Eunbi Cho; I love her work and she’s super-cool. We talked about doing some sort of exclusive thing, and I thought we could launch this “essentials” set. She had a lot of stuff that I could cherry pick from, but there were a few things I thought were missing, so we discussed it and came up with the six-piece Eunbi for Mister Green set.
Will you still do a dispensary at some point?
The revote in California is 3 November, when they’ll vote on changing over from medical to recreational. So I’m trying to get my ducks in a row so I’ll be in a good place to open something by then. The kind of space I’d like to have will be like, on the left side is the shop, on the right side is the dispensary. In terms of an experience, I’m looking for something people can relate to and it’s not just kitschy weed stuff.
What else are you working on or have coming up?
What I’m most excited about is the Mister Green Fragrance 01 and it’s supposed to smell like resting burnt palo santo, a really oily wood indigenous to Ecuador and Peru, most of South America. Palo santo means holy stick, so it’s used for ceremonies and rituals. It’s a really hippie type of thing, which is something I’d like to dip into. Mister Green is meant to be minimal design but very nostalgic, harkening back to the ’70s and that counterculture vibe. So we’re calling this fragrance Hippie Shit. And I want to package it so that people have a bit of a reaction when they see it. We’re also going to do a [take on] Dr Bronner’s (with MAAK Lab out of Portland) and a candle.
Mister Green is now open.
Images courtesy of Mister Green and John Clayton Lee