More than 14 years after Cult of Individuality started shipping to stores, founder and creative director Ron Poisson is building on the music culture that the brand personifies by leasing the lounge and performance space in its Garment Center offices.
When the 3,500-square-foot space became available in 2021 at 260 West 39th Street, he leased it and built it out for “an artist activation space.” The company was already accustomed to doing activations in its adjacent showroom and offices for 200-plus people. Stylists and musicians frequently drop by to pull product, so Poisson is confident the audience is already in place for select rentals.
Having allowed MTV, VH1 and a few musicians like Toosii to use the space, Poisson is renting the space for select events, which also provide an opportunity for talent, influencers or whomever to create content, but also to check out and wear products. Security, cleaning and beverages for the bar will be the responsibility of those looking to launch videos, offer VIP experiences, acoustic jams, meet and greets and to host other special events.
“My goal with this space is to also become a destination. So when all these artists come to town, they’re hitting their record label, SiriusXM and they are also coming here,” Poisson said, adding that collaborations, friendships and business opportunities have sprung from some of the special events.
Cult of Individuality will stage its New York Fashion Week show next month. The date and location have not yet been finalized.
The showroom looks pretty standard but with racks of clothing, work tables and other work area. Behind one door is a lounge-like area with leather couches, a bar and staging equipped with drums and other music equipment. Earlier in his career working for Mossimo and later Ocean Pacific, he grasped how both brands were built around a culture — surfing — and consumers’ geographical bases were irrelevant.
That experience made him intent on building a community, lifestyle and philosophy with the “Cult” reference in the name, being not just a nod to the cult-like interest in denim, but more about individual expression. Part of the cover band Fools for Kings, which plays in Long Island bars, he knows firsthand how music brings people together. During the height of the pandemic, the band collaborated with Bad Wolf and other performers for select recordings.
Having generated about $20 million in sales last year — a slight decline from 2021 due partially to factories temporarily shutting down in China — Cult of Individuality sees the select rentals as not just a revenue stream but an opportunity to further the brand’s reach on several levels. The venture is true to the founder’s personal interests. The brand’s collaborations cross categories and have included jewelry, one with King Baby Studio and another with SE Bikes, the oldest domestic made bike manufacturer.
Music ones are the focus now, as Cult of Individuality has created collaborative merchandise touting Bob Marley, the Sex Pistols and others. Upcoming ones are set for Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses. The latter’s members Slash and Duff have become friends of Poisson’s — ditto for Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee. Young rappers have taken notice of the brand more recently, Poisson said.
Along with the U.S., the brand is sold in New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., Poland and other countries. “If you look at the Black Friday and Cyber Monday analytics, the brick-and-mortar business hasn’t been that good. There’s not a lot of money out there, as people are settling back trying to figure out what they want to do. We’re all in the same situation. This is on every single level whether it’s an independent specialty store, which is where our heavy lifting comes from. But we also sell Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue,” Poisson said.
Frequently visiting stores to lay the product out and meet with accounts is essential, Poisson said, Insisting the occasional email is no way to try to build a relationship with clients, the founder said he and his team are big on phoning them and catching up in-person. If sales goals aren’t met within 60 days, there is an exchange program for retailers to switch up their Cult of Individuality products. “That’s how we have been able to build a lot of long-lasting relationships and real estate. I want to grow with our existing retailers.”
At different points through the years, Cult of Individuality used to offer women’s clothing and a children’s line. But the women’s business “got a little tough with all the fast fashion. Zara, Uniqlo and H&M cannibalized a lot of the women’s business. And the women’s premium denim business started to look the same with similar disco-inspired fabrics,” he said, citing Seven For All Mankind, Paige and other brands.
Although the company no longer designs a woman’s collection, its gender-neutral style — oversize ripped and embellished jean jackets and roomy sweatsuits — appeals to both genders. Women are always featured in the label’s photo shoots and TikTokers are helping to raise interest with women shoppers. With jackets retailing for $500 and $600, and jeans at $400, the company strives to avoid stereotypes in its branding, Poisson said.