August 26, 2021

Ron Poisson & Mykel C. Smith: Cult of Individuality

RON POISSON & MYKEL C. SMITH: CULT OF INDIVIDUALITY: Ambassador Digital Magazine Editor-In-Chief Musa Jackson @iammusajackson has a in depth Q&A with Cult of Individuality, C.E.O. designer Ron Poisson. His modern rock n roll inspired clothes has caught the eye of the Rock n Roll, Hip Hop elite i.e. Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, Slash of Guns N Roses, Ludacris, Rihanna, Rick Ross, Swissbeatz and top fashion editors. Mykel C. Smith, event producer, stylist, brand strategist and CEO of his eponymous Mykel C. Smith Creative, has styled a multitude of celebs including Skip Marley, curated some of the hottest fashion events in town. Two fashion powerhouses collaborated to stage one of the first live runway shows post Covid. The brilliant successful Cult of Individuality & Hvman SS22 Runway Show. Hear their stories.



You have to have a living breathing persona to what people want to embrace. It’s here with Cult and the music we’ve hit our sweet spot.

Our key to success has been quality. Cult is quality. That sustained our brand for a long time until it became a socially accepted brand.


MUSA You’re part of a rock band and Cult of Individuality has such strong Rock n roll, pop culture influence. Who were musical influences growing up?
RON The most influential years for me were in the ‘90s. I was in my early twenties. So I’ve have to say Pearl Jam, Metallica, Nirvana, Guns N Roses. Throw in The Ramones and Stone Temple Pilots. That nineties Seattle sound. That rock in the late ‘80s and 90s for me were really my influential years.
MUSA How did working as a sales representative for a surfing company prepare you for your fashion brand Cult of Individuality?
RON I graduated with a marketing degree in Art. I got a job as a sales rep for Ocean Pacific & Mossimo. What was great at starting from a sales perspective is that designers were always giving me feedback. From the sales and consumers perspective as to what we were doing that was driving the business. Coming into this business as a designer owning my brand that started in the sales realm. I think it would be difficult for anybody starting in the business in that way now. But it gave me great perspective with the retailer’s understanding the market of what was going on, what was trending. It made me more marketable to the partners I have now. Because I came into the business with my own brand with relationships with major department stores, off price operations, specialty stores. So I was able to take a product that I designed and then go right out and place it. Kind of a one man machine to start out. Then once the machine started working I brought in salespeople, other designers, sales manager. But having the relationship with those retailers and having design ability as well gave me a leg up. I have a lot of my friends who are designers who work for brands who would say we were so lucky you got that opportunity. For me we make our opportunities. Coming on from the sales side was super advantageous. I had twenty years of retail relationships before Cult. So having those relationships and then also having the marketing degree as well. Being able to get out on my own working with people. Start marketing and understanding the brand and the promotions behind it as well. Gave me a three prong, three headed monster. Marketing, sales, and design. Of course on the back end my partners handling production. I didn’t have to focus on those components.
MUSA 10 years ago when you started Cult of Individuality what were some of your biggest obstacles being the new guy in town?
RON Always brand recognition is the first. Back then when we launched there was no Instagram, TikTok or anything like that. In those days you either hired salespeople or you went out and sold it through my relationships. You did some prints and advertising and you kept it moving. Problem number two was the economy. Problem number three was certain markets weren’t doing well. The East coast was doing a little better than the West coast. So it’s going into these retailers and saying you brought H Top jeans and four of them worked, four of them didn’t so I’ll switch them for this. Then in 2009 the economy started to get better. So then I had some retailers that were bringing in the 135 dollar jeans and saying they’re really to cheap now. They’re great but my guys are back up to 180, 200. So that gave us an opportunity to introduce the Japanese selvage edition. The fabric was more expensive so that brought our jeans up the 180, 200 mark. So having to adapt, change and grow. Then we started doing some tee shirts and things like that. That was a major obstacle. For one that wasn’t something I was designing in the past. Doing a lot of tops or having the factories to make those things. There are five components of any brand. Each one is important. Design, sales, manufacturing, marketing, back end/ warehouse. So if you make the best product and the salespeople go out and sell it. But if you don’t have the resources to fulfill the orders in the backend to do customer service, shipping and receiving then It doesn’t matter. If the market’s not there or the factories aren’t good. Factories became important we had to go out searching for them. Then we had a few years with a learning curve with the tops. What we were designing. What was our sweet spot for the brand. What was the lane that people could understand and gravitate towards. A lot of design from the heart and soul. Some things were working some things were not working. That took a while. One major obstacle was that into the first year was Cult wasn’t a loud embellished brand. It was clean, about the fabric, the wash. But it wasn’t ornamentized. What I’m referring to was like the True Religion who had, thick stitch and thick horseshoe. You could see those jeans a mile away. When you were walking down the street you couldn’t tell it was Cult. So that was an obstacle. We had people saying hey can you throw crystals on it. Can you do the thick stitch. I’m like that’s not who this brand is. I’m not going to cash in on that trend and compromise the integrity of the brand. If I can make it with this cleaner jean line I’ll be around a lot longer than some of those other guys. True Religion, Laguna Beach, Rock n Revival, Rock n Republic. They’re gone. The guys who were on fire. They were doing a lot more business than we were but they’re gone. Our key to success has been quality. Cult is quality. That sustained our brand for a long time until it became a socially accepted brand. Our DNA of the music came into it and that audience was really embracing it. And that’s where the roots really took hold and we began to sprout and grow.
MUSA Your line has now been worn by The Who’s who in Rock and Hip Hop. How did you come to get so popular amongst the cool kids?
RON With the musicians I initially started doing gift lounges. So I did the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame a few times. There’s been a lot the music award shows that I participated in. We got the product into that audience and then what happens is the word of mouth starts to spread. People are out and about they’re wearing the product. They’re on tour performing and other performers become interested. It’s really been organic with musicians kind of sharing and creating that community for us. Then with the people who have come into the company. Everything is teamwork here so with my marketing guys they have strong roots in the Hip Hop scene. So they brought people in. Myself on the rock scene and the Hip Hop scene so there’s that. Then my other designer who is Dominican, he’s strong in the Latin community. He knows people. But it’s been word of mouth. Then we’re very aggressive as a brand in regards to our social media. If you tag us and we see it, we will actually tag people in our stories. So our consumers catch on and realize that they keep tagging us we’ll tag me back. It continues to engage our consumer to help us grow and evolve.

You have to have a living breathing persona to what people want to embrace. It’s here with Cult and the music we’ve hit our sweet spot.

MUSA Coming out of a pandemic you recently put on a seriously dope Cult of Individuality SS22 Collection and launched your new label Hvman. What was the process like pulling that off?
RON Thank God I had Mykel come in. I’ve learned I don’t know everything. I learned to create this machine. This living breathing entity you got to have people who know what they’re doing. Mykel really carried it and brought in the team. The players, people like you to introduce them to the brand and to put it out there. Super stressful but he tried to make it as seamless as possible. There was so many components going into the fashion show. But it was an important step because for us as a brand we locked down how we created this community, this music culture. I learned that in the surf industry you have to be meaningful and not just a commodity. You have to have a living breathing persona to what people want to embrace. It’s here with Cult and the music we’ve hit our sweet spot. But the element that was missing was we wanted to bring this fashion show to light be one of the first ones post Covid to launch in the city. That we be taken as a serious brand. To be elevated and considered amongst some of these other fashion brands. As a serious brand, not some music brand, jean brand. That’s why we wanted to showcase our talents and our brand. I mean people still come in the office saying I had no idea I thought all you did was jeans. Even with all the social media. So even though we’re successful we are still kind of a secret. Being around now for 12 years is rare. A lot of average brands life span is ten years. And we’re just finding our sweet spot. Covid as negative an experience and impact that it was a lot of brands prospered. I think it brought a silence to the world and people were able to focus and hear the messages from people. So people seized the opportunity to try to better themselves. Some people sat on their asses. We seized the opportunity. I was going in twice a week to do our Cult sessions online with all these musicians to keep the brand out there. To continue to preach the culture which is what we been doing as a brand. That’s why the fashion show was so important it wasn’t so much about preaching product but preaching culture.

MUSA So now your becoming a successful above ground brand. How do you intend to keep the cool factor as the public inevitably catches onto Cult?
RON The logo is amazing. In many markets it’s transcended the brand name. They see the logo and they still don’t put two and two together. Which is coming. But also in the same token from a design perspective the mass market starts to see logo over everything. It can start to make the brand younger. Not as contemporary or premium. That’s a challenge that we start to encounter. We try to surpass and navigate that. That’s what happens with every brand. It can become diluted. That’s the problem with the department store the stuff that made the brand cool they don’t want that stuff. They want something that’s more palatable and they want to change things. That’s a challenge. But as it continues to grow we’re are growing the lifestyle of the brand. I want to penetrate the household in many different aspects. So aside from just the clothing which continues to grow expediently. We also offer some affordable options people may not be able to afford a five hundred dollar jean jacket. But they love our slides, bathing suit or towels that we offer. We are looking at licensing eventually look at categories. Open up retail stores. That’s been a little delayed because of Covid so we’re looking at opening in 2022. And we added a component that’s done extremely well with the collaborations. We did it S E Bikes, one the oldest bike brands in the country, King Baby jewelry brand out of California, we did Bob Marley which was off the charts and got us a ton of exposure to a lot of people that wasn’t familiar with the brand like Timbaland. With this collection we tapped into a couple of legendary rock brands like Motley Crue and Pantera. Hall of Fame inducted Public Enemy capsule. And we are going to continue to add those music collaborations every season. It fits the DNA of the brand. Also bringing in these legend acts. Created what we consider collectible items. We are creating art pieces.
MUSA If you could dress any rock Star living or dead who would it be?
RON I’d have to say. What’s his name. (Sings) We can be heroes. David Bowie.
MUSA As a kid were you always into fashion?
MYKEL Yes I was always into fashion. I wanted to get into theater arts which I did. I would bring Vogue to school when I was in the 4th grade. While everyone else was playing I was looking at Vogue. I spent my allowance on fashion magazines. I even took modeling classes from Rose McGill in Chicago.
MUSA You’ve been in the game for over 20 years. How did you get started?
MYKEL So I came in a few ways. First I had friend who owned a sportswear company called To Be in the early 90s. I was doing catering, working in the restaurant industry and eventually he brought me on to do some model castings. I learned about production. He was a stylist as well and I started assisting him for like a couple of months until I went out on my own. I also worked at Brittanica Stuart & Associates on Madison Avenue. Which was the top Black hair salon back then. Oscar James came out of there and Sam Fine came through. I ended meeting Naomi Campbell we used to hang out a lot and she took me on her first Vogue September issue photo shoot. And that’s when I decided I really wanted to do this. I then worked as a booker at ICON models booking the girls. But I realized that wasn’t really for me as I was more creative. So when they found out i could style the girls started booking me as stylist with other clients. So that’s how I got started.
We believe in the process of 3 C’s
MUSA Tell us about Mykel. C. Smith Creative, your eponymous company? What does it bring to the marketplace?
MYKEL We are very unconventional. I started this company 12 years ago. I knew I had more to offer than just being a stylist. I decided to start Mykel C. Smith Creative for young creatives that kind of reminded you of Andy Warhol Factory. People tell me I have kind of a House where we produce photo shoots. Once we started I was getting jobs all the way up to this point. We call it a creative think tank. Someone comes and gives us an idea and we make it happen. We believe in the process of 3 C’s. Cooperation, Communication and Compensation. You pay us, communicate with us and cooperate with us. If you have project and you know how to do it already we don’t take that on. We will pass it off. You bring us an idea and we execute it to help bring you to the forefront in the marketplace where we are winning at. Like we did with Cult of Individuality. The show was unconventional. We don’t do what everyone else is doing. We try to see what the client needs and make that vision come to life. We operate like a small advertising company that is unconventional. We don’t do anything the same way each time. Which is hard to come up with concepts. That’s the challenge but I love it.
MUSA You produced Cult of Individuality x Hvman SS 22 collections. Tell us about your collaboration and what went into staging such a fabulous show.
MYKEL We actually we’re supposed to go this show before Covid-19. The designer Ron Poisson who I’ve come to respect tremendously. I came into pull for a project about 10 years ago and that’s when I came to know what the brand was. Flash forward I’m pulling for reggae star Skip Marley ( who’s like my nephew) and Ron the owner wanted to meet me. He wanted to do a collaboration with the Marleys for a long time. So I put them together and Cult wind up doing a sold out successful collaboration with the Marleys. He knew I could produce fashion events so he asked me to produce his collection. I’m pretty intuitive I knew right away how the stage would look. How I wanted the models to walk, the music this was before I even saw the space. It took two months to put the whole show together.
MUSA Speaking of Skip Marley who you style you’ve known the family for a long time.
MYKEL Cedella Marley is the CEO of the Marley brand nothing goes past her without her approval. We’ve worked together for a long time. She knows how I work and I know how she works. She’s been my most loyal client. I love her dearly like a sister.
MUSA The pandemic hit a lot of businesses hard especially the fashion industry. As we move into this space what has this taught you?
MYKEL It taught me to save money ( laughs) I’m one those brands that don’t get free people I pay everyone that works for me. It taught me to streamline and don’t just hand out checks. You have come in and do your job. You have to bring more to the table than coming with a paint brush and using somebody’s makeup and walk away and I cut you a check. So I learned to work around loyal people. I had get out from under the brand. I have one partner who lives in Amsterdam and I promised him I would get out from under the brand which I have done. The pandemic scared me because all my work went away in a matter of hours. I had so much press from the CFDA. I was building the brand and all these jobs on the table. I thought my career was over. So many creatives were having issues. I was having money issues. Then later I got a job for Carlos Campos. I was recommended to do the job for the action wear brand out of Honduras. That was my first job out of Covid. For a few months I had not been working. I did the campaign and it relaunched everything again. I haven’t missed a beat every since. Before I didn’t have a plan. I took as they came. I still take things as they come I don’t expect that client to be with me forever. I look at each project as a one off you do the job to the best of your ability. But now I strategize and put away more money.
MUSA What advice would you give the next generation of creatives?
MYKEL There’s no one way about doing this. I just learned and had the passion. Don’t take no for an answer. I have huge young following. I don’t know how that came about. I give them a lot of advice. I tell them you do everything with passion. I don’t care what it’s paying you. Don’t just think about the money. I know we like our coins. Do it full out and that will bring you what you deserve. Look at someone like Bethann Hardison. She’s in her 70s. She’s my mentor. She’s still moving and shaking. Living her best life. Tomorrow is not promised to you . Don’t come on somebody else’s set and think your entitled. The youth is looking at social media, YouTube. But they’re not studying their craft. They don’t realize it’s a lot of work. You have to put the work in. The creative business in not just one way. Everyone can have a piece of the pie. But you must learn to do the job and don’t just think it’s going get handed to you.



@ron_poisson @mykel_c_smith_creative_

Creative Director: @iammusajackson

Photographer @courtneydouglasphotography

Makeup / Grooming @stevenricenyc

Wardrobe Assistant: @lord_of_labels

All Clothing @cultofindividuality

Male Model: @bertholomu

Special thanks to Catch A Fire Marley Label


Founder & Editor In Chief:

Musa Jackson @iammusajackson

Creative Director: Paul Morejón @Paulmorejon


IG: @ambassador_mag

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