Today’s Feature, August 11-12: Micha Weinblatt

January 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm (Today's Feature)

I really had no idea who Micha Weinblatt was when I first saw him, smiling

within the pages of the Baltimore Sun. However, after reading through the paper,

I leaned that this former Terp was creating a pop culture phenomenon

through his riotous t-shirt design company, Crooked Monkey. Immediately my phone

and email lit up with messages demanding I check out this revolutionary of the

fashion world. I contacted Micha, and we agreed to meet at his office – which

happens to double as his parent’s basement (or vise versa). I was greeted by

his father upon my arrival, and I asked if it was ok to park in the driveway.

The elder Weinblatt replied, “I don’t know…the last guy got a ticket.”

Luckily, he let me in on the joke before I made a bigger fool of myself by

actually going to move my car. Obviously a sense of humor has helped to make

Micha Weinblatt, 24, founder of Crooked Monkey, one of fashion’s most promising

commodities. Vintage style shirts with cool graphics and witty sayings such as,

“Pro Choice: Blondes or Brunettes,” “Napping: It’s my day job” and “I’ve had

better” Weinblatt has tapped into the personality of every high school and college

kid around the world.

Micha isn’t your average 24 year old, or your average CEO for that matter. Weinblatt

started out fresh, using his own money to finance his company. He didn’t try to use

“mom and dad” to back him ñ he did it all on his own. It all started when he and his

business partner pulled their resources together to throw a spectacular launch party

at one of the most popular bars in College Park: Cornerstone.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the two raced around campus spreading the word

in a guerilla marketing campaign that involved tossing stuffed monkeys from a golf

cart to their Univeristy of Maryland peers. On the night of the party, Cornerstone

was packed. The shirts were sold, the word was out and the seed was planted;

Crooked Monkey had arrived. Weinblatt used this momentum and packed his car

with shirts and drove north to New York, stopping at every clothing store along

the way.

Now, only a couple years later, Crooked Monkey has been seen in GQ, Seventeen

and in major stores like Urban Outfitters and Lord & Taylor. Not bad for a guy

who admits that his wardrobe prior to college consisted of mainly red and green

sweatpants (he jokes that people still can’t believe he is in fashion today).

Weinblatt and Crooked Monkey are a perfect example of what happens when innovation,

imagination, drive and determination come together. Before you run off to buy

a Crooked Monkey shirt for yourself, check out his XXQ’s to find out more.

XXQS: Micha Weinblatt

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did Crooked Monkey first get started?

Micha Weinblatt (MW): Crooked Monkey launched on May 4th 2005 at The University of

Maryland College Park local bar called Cornerstone. Graduation was in about two

weeks I think, my business partner and I launched it at the bar and it was phenomenal.

Before we launched we did all kinds of crazy marketing ploys. We drove around in a

golf cart and through stuffed monkeys all over the place, we flyered all over the

place. Everyone at the University new the party was happening and they were excited

about the launch. We had about 500 kids show up at the bar on a Wednesday night.

The shirts did really well and from then we decided to take it to the next level.

PEV: How many people currently work for Crooked Monkey?

MW: I have 5 interns, including two college students focusing on marketing, I have

a showroom on the east coast called G Squared Showroom and a showroom on the west

coast called Karma Showroom and they focus on our nationwide sales.

PEV: What is a normal day like for you?

MW: A normal is, I walk downstairs (laughs). I have a garden outside in the back;

I water the plants in the morning. I try to get down here, depending on how late I

was out the night before, around 9:30. It was a little earlier today since I knew

you were coming (laughs).

PEV: Oh yeah, sorry about that…

MW: (Laughs) The first half hour or so I email and around 11-11:30 the interns come

in. Between 9:30 and 11:30, before the interns come in, is prime time to focus on

things I just need to really get done. Once they get here I help them with shipping

and manage that. But either I am focusing on production or I’m focusing on

marketing, or focusing on getting our sales teams what they need, working on the

catalog…a lot of responding to emails. Basically I am at my computer the entire

time. Yesterday, an intern saw me away from my desk and he said,‘That is the

first time I have ever seen you away from your desk!’ (laughs).

PEV: So you launched in college but was fashion something you were always interested

in?

MW: Comedy is huge for me. I always love making people laugh. You probably won’t believe

this but the first pair of jeans I bought was when I was a freshman in college. Now when

I see people from high school they are always like amazed that I am in fashion. I had a

unique sense of fashion in high school. I went to a small school, so the entire grade

knew my wardrobe. It was either a green pair of sweatpants, or red sweatpants or “squooshy”

pants, I guess they were called then. So, I was into my own thing; making sure I was

original and doing my own thing.

PEV: You say you like comedy, so who comes up with the ideas for the shirts and which

is your favorite?

MW: A lot of it comes from me or from the interns. That is why I like to surround myself

with college kids. It is just a real positive atmosphere around here. I made a decision

not to hire a full time person or anyone who is older then me. Mostly because I want to

keep it a young atmosphere and with people who are talking about what is happening in

colleges, like new slang, new activities, things like that. My brother actually came up

with ‘End The Thumb War’ which is actually my new favorite shirt. The ‘Keep the Ratio Strong’

shirt which is a picture of one dancing sausage and two dancing buns, that’s my favorite

story. I was at a party and my friend gets a phone call from a guy and he was like ‘Yo,

can I come, can I bring some guys?’ and my friend goes, ‘No man, keep the ratio

strong’ (laughs). So from that I just gave him a big hug and said ‘You are brilliant!’.

The next day I just emailed my graphic designer and came up with this shirt. So, a lot of

it comes from bar scenes, napkins, or in my phone…I’ll hear or think of something and send

myself a text message and the next morning just send it over to my graphic designer.

PEV: When it first got stared and you launched the party, did you think then, that

this would be a full time job after college?

MW: I definitely thought that there was something there, since everyone loved the shirts.

I didn’t know how successful it would get. We were doing internet sales and then we got

into one big store around here (Washington, DC). And then my partner and I realized that we

wanted to focus on wholesale. So we just drove north to New York, stopping at every area on

the way. We brought all our shirts in the car, like our entire inventory was in our car. It

was funny because now, when a store buys shirts they expect to wait like 4-5 weeks but

when we walked into the stores they were like, ‘When can we have them?’ We were like,

‘how about NOW!’ (laughs), which was great for them. After that we got into a chain of

stores in Long Island, that kind of launched us and then we came back here and reassessed

our business model and that is when it started to launch this way.

PEV: Was there a time when you said ‘Ok now we got it, now we are doing this!’?

MW: When we got the store in New York, called National Jean Company. We didn’t really

know what kind of store it was. I was in New York and I called my sister, who knew a lot

more about fashion at the time and her roommate was from New York and she was like,

‘you have to check out this store National Jean Company.’ So we got a meeting with

them which it is impossible to do. Even now, when we’ve sold to her countless amount of times

I still can’t get her on the phone. She bought like three times what we had in stock,

so we came back and were like, ‘Ok, now we have to build on the model of this’.

PEV: So, what is with the name Crooked monkey? Or shall I say, can you tell me what

is with the name?

MW: Well, I am not sure if you can print this or not but we weren’t sure what to do about

the name and then one day I was in the shower and just looked, down and I thought

“crooked monkey” (laughs). I’m not sure if that is publishable. Actually my business

partner and I lived in Australia for 6 months, studying abroad for school and we went

to Thailand and saw this Monkey Theater. These small monkeys were doing all kinds of

things like lifting weights, not vacuuming like on the Crooked Monkey website, but doing

other hilarious things, like magic tricks, and all sorts of other things. Then a year

later we knew we had to incorporate that Monkey Theater into our company. Everyone loves

monkeys because they are so human like. And the website kind of jokes at that, cause the

monkey is doing human things, which I love. You’ll see all this come to life on the

website.

PEV: What was the first shirt you created and who was the official first sale?

MW: I actually have a picture of the first sale. We started with $500 in college and made

shirts that said ‘F**k Duke’ (University) and had a picture of Testudo (the name of the

University of Maryland-College Park, Terp mascot), bending over the Duke Blue Devil and

defiling him from behind (laughs). We are actually going to put that shirt on the website

along with a YouTube video that is out called ‘This is Why Duke Sucks’. That’s how the

company started, we literally just ran through the dorms sold out of our first batch in a

day, we bought a new batch and that money we made, was $3000, with that and money from

credit cards…a lot of money from credit cards, is how we got started.

It was organically grown, no investment from our parents, which is kind of cool. The first

sale we did for that shirt, was a dorm, my sophomore year dorm and it was amazing. There

was a group of six girls and the first girl was like, ‘I’m not buying that!’ But then the

next one bought it and the next one and the next one and then when it came back around to

her, she finally bought it. So, we have a picture of all them wearing the shirts, which

we’ll put on the website as well. That was February and the company launched in May so we

knew we were going to start this and we knew we were going to have a monkey and he was

going to be drunk. The original shirt has a picture of the monkey on the back right shoulder,

passed out on a keg with his mouth on the tap. We wanted that to start spreading. The first

sale we made we were sitting at California Tortilla having lunch right before the party

and we just got the shirts in that morning…we obviously procrastinate a lot (laughs)…and

one girl saw one of the shirts I was wearing and she said, ‘Oh my god, I want to get that

shirt!’ and we were like, ‘Well actually we have them right here’. So, that was our

first official sale; the morning of the official launch.

PEV: What has been the hardest part about creating Crooked Monkey? You are young, so do

people want to take advantage of you? Any shady dealings on their part?

MW: We started when we were 22, and we are still very young in the industry. My sales team

are 10-15 years older than me. When you go into meeting with large companies, people all

who are significantly older than you, you have to act a little older than you are. One

story I have is that we got into a chain of stores in New York, we were very excited because

it was ten store order, I remember just being ecstatic after the order. But that was a

year ago, and they still haven’t paid us. That can be a killer for a small business. I

used to call them all the time and they just blew me off. Now we don’t ship out until we

know who we are shipping to. But when you start, you want to ship to anything that moves.

So that was a little difficult.

PEV: Crooked Monkey has been featured in GQ, Seventeen Magazine, large chain stores.

What was it like the first time you saw your shirts featured in a magazine like GQ?

MW: I was actually going up to New York to meet with my sales team. We were on a Greyhound,

that’s how I travel…still do. And she gave me a phone call and goes, ‘I got great news

for you, you’re going to be in GQ’. I was ecstatic, I still am. When we got to Urban Outfitters

I was excited, meeting with Kevin Plank (Under Armour) was really exciting. But to get into

GQ, I mean, you know people like your shirts but when it is GQ you are validated. People

see it more. I have a lot of copies in the house. My mom shows it to everyone that walks

in (laughs). So, that was a very exciting moment and helped us move forward.

PEV: What do all your friends and family think about your success?

MW: Well, my dad is a rabbi. He used to be a stand up comedian when he was in high school

and college, even in rabbinical school. All his sermons are very deep and inspiring but

always have comedic relief in them. The only shirt he can wear though is the ‘Never Leave

College’ one. My mom loves the company. She doesn’t quite get all the jokes, actually she

doesn’t get all the jokes, so maybe that’s why she loves it so much. They support me a

lot. All my friends love it, and are excited to hear that I am moving out in September.

I’m kind of ecstatic about that too. Everyday I get ideas text to me. Then there are

sightings all over the country; New York, Boston, LA, ‘I saw your shirt here I saw your

shirt there’. That’s always cool.

PEV: Speaking of the sightings, do you remember the first time you saw someone on the

street wearing one of your shirts, outside of your immediate group?

MW: I was in a bar in DC, I can spot my shirts a mile away and I was literally a mile away

in a bar. Then I saw a guy wearing a red shirt and I yelled out, ‘That’s our shirt!’ So

we ran over and gave him a big hug and he’s like ‘I love your shirts, I love your shirts’.

PEV: Are there any plans for an expansion outside of your parent’s house?

MW: All the work I do is really right here. All I need is a computer, a warehouse and a

phone. So when I move out, I will probably be doing all the work at the apartment but still

have the shirts here. I don’t see us moving in to an office any time soon. If I have to

go to a meeting I go to New York or LA. There isn’t much fashion in DC.

PEV: One of the shirts you have is the one with a reference to Paris Hilton

[France Sucks But Paris Swallows]. And I recently saw your picture with her sister,

Nikki Hilton. Did she know about the shirt?

MW: This was a year and half ago. And I gave her the Paris shirt-

PEV: You gave HER the Paris Swallows shirt!

MW: (Laughs) Yeah! And she was like shocked and laughing. On the website, I say that ‘later

that night I learned that she, like her sister also swallows’ (laughs) but we’ll leave

that as ‘maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t’.

PEV: Have you had any negative feedback from the shirts?

MW: What we do here is try to walk a very fine line between being very edgy but not disgusting

or over the edge. I think that is why we can get into the large stores. The Paris shirt is

one of our original shirts, our newer shirts focus on the graphics.

The “End Womans’ Suffering” shirt, a woman was appalled about that shirt and we posted it

on the site because what else are we going to do about it. We have two anti-France shirts

and we saw some bad stuff about it on some French forums. I Googled Crooked Monkey and I

came across it. I took French so I could understand it. We have to make sure that we are

cognoscente about the fact that we can wear the shirts in front of everyone. I mean, I want

to be able to wear the shirts in front of my parents.

That’s the thing about the shirts is that they are another language. Like our “Best Buds”

shirt. It has a picture of an old school guy slapping high five with what could be a number

of things. It is actually a marijuana bud but it could be Brussels sprouts, asparagus,

turd, booger, a lot of different things. It’s a kind of shirt where those that know, will

know. If it’s got to be a weed reference it has got to be subtle so college age kids are

going to wear it. You can still wear it around your parents because they are not going to

get it or wear it out. Actually my sales girl in New York was out selling that shirt and

I guess she is not aware of what it means, she had already sold it to Urban Outfitters

which was great. So, she was sitting down with at family store and the lady, the owner,

she was talking to was like 55 years old and my sales girl was like, ‘This shirt is so

cute it’s about friendship, you have to have this in your store’ and the lady turns to her

and was like, ‘Heather do you know what this shirt references?’ And she was like ‘Yeah,

they’re best friends, they’re slapping five…’ and the woman was like ‘It’s a weed

shirt!’ And she had no idea. I guess that’s the idea behind the shirts is that they try to

mask things.

PEV: What is next for Micha Weinblatt and Crooked Monkey?

MW: We are launching our thermal and hoodies in the fall. We are also launching a street

team in the fall. I want to turn Crooked Monkey into a college brand and make the monkey

an icon or universal mascot for Universities. I want to be able to do more than apparel.

I want to produce shot glasses or spring break trips. Go down two avenues; the fashion and

the social side, so we’ll see how we can do something like that.

For more information on Micha and Crooked Monkey, check out http://www.CrookedMonkey.com

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