A Brief History of Amiri
This is the story of Aaron Michael Murray. He was born on September 6th, 1976 in Los Angeles, California. We’ll get into this more later, but just know that the city of Los Angeles would have become a major part of the brand’s identity and that Mike grew up as a tried and true California kid.
When he entered his teen years, things started to get interesting. That is when he discovered his love for rock and roll. Keep in mind that he was growing up in the 80s and 90s, so this meant he was listening to the likes of Guns and Roses and Motley Crew, both of which were groups that happened to be from LA.
As much as he loved their music, the one thing that really caught his attention was the way that they dressed. He was young, but thanks to rock and roll, he was already beginning to develop his sense of fashion. As a matter of fact, he made his first piece of clothing at age 13 when he hemstitched part of a motley crew t-shirt onto a denim jacket.
This was a pretty important moment in his history because, even though he wasn’t dreaming of becoming a designer quite yet, he was beginning to use fashion as a way to become closer to the rock and roll icons that he looked up to during the remainder of his teenage years.
Mike attended Beverly Hills High School, and fun fact, he was actually there at the same time as Angelina Jolie. In some ways, he was your stereotypical rebel teen who had no interest in doing well at school, and he was actually arrested for doing graffiti at one point.
Nevertheless, after graduating, he decided to enroll at Santa Monica Community College to make his parents happy. He eventually transferred to UCLA. After graduating from UCLA, he then enrolled at Loyola Law School once again to appease his parents, who wanted him to become a lawyer.
The only problem was that his heart just wasn’t in it all throughout school. He knew that he was destined for something else, and while that something else would eventually be fashion, he was still years away from starting his own label and, in the meantime, he was about to embark on a journey that even he couldn’t have predicted.
As we’ve discussed, Mike and Amiri were heavily influenced by rock and roll music, so it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that they are widely considered to be one of the founders of Korean hip-hop. So how exactly did that happen?
Korean hip-hop began taking shape in the late 90s and early 2000s, and in 1999, one of Mike’s closest friends decided to step into the game. Mike offered to help him write songs and, together with several other artists, they formed a group known as the Drunken Tigers. They made a name for themselves by going against the grain and, on some occasions, being controversial, but this just fed into the group’s rebellious hip-hoppersona and earned them even more praise.
They dominated the hip-hop category in the Asian music awards for several years, and nowadays they’re considered legends in Korean hip-hop history under the stage name of Mickey Eyes Mike. Amiiri would remain active in the group until 2002 because, as much as he loved hip-hop, he was finally beginning to realize that his true calling was fashion. even though he didn’t have much formal experience working in fashion.
Mike returned to the US and started working as a consultant for a local fashion brand. She did this for quite a while, and, overtime, these odd jobs showed him everything that went into running, according to him. He actually considered this time doing this to have been his real college experience. I’ll also note that one of the brands he consulted for was a denim startup, and as we’ll come to learn, denim would eventually become one of Ofamiri’s specialty offerings.
After a while, he seemed to get the hang of things, and he decided it was time to try his hand at designing some of his own pieces. He started making one-of-one high-quality jackets that were distressed and adorned with patches to give them that rock and roll aesthetic. When he was first making these jackets, he was really just doing it for fun and had no intention of starting his own brand, but he showed them to a few stylists that he had become friends with during his time as a brand consultant, and they instantly fell in love with them.
Funny enough, those stylists happened to work for Steven Tyler and Usher, so these two became the first celebrities to start wearing a miri. The success of these first few jackets was proof of concept for Mike, and, despite his background as a trained lawyer, he decided it was time to go all in on fashion.
He rented out the basement of a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard and began using the space to craft his first capsule collection for the label. All he really had in his new studio was a table and a sewing machine, but as it turned out, that was all he needed. So let me add a little bit of context.
Here at Maxfield, one of the most prestigious boutiques in all of LA. If not the entire country, not only is it extremely popular but it’s where a lot of celebrities do their shopping, so if you can get your collection onto their shelves, there’s a real chance that it can take your brand to the next level. For instance, some other brands that got their starts at Maxfield include Chromehearts and Rick Owens.
With his mind set on adding the name amiri to that list, Mike called the store and asked to meet with the buyers. They agreed to stock his capsule collection at the store, and it was an instant hit. Iri became a fan favorite overnight and in 2015, to keep up with the demand, Mike expanded the brand to include women’s wear footwear and accessories.
Even though the brand was growing rapidly, he was very careful about not letting things get out of hand. As they grew, they moved into a larger space and started hiring employees, but he wanted to make sure the brand never lost its authenticity. In the end, this paid off because American not only developed a reputation for high quality but also a reputation for exclusivity, so within just a few years, demand for the brand was through the roof.
To put this into perspective, in 2017, Maxfield hosted a pop-up event for Americans and they ended up selling more than $250,000 worth of products in just three hours. As crazy as it sounds As you can probably imagine, this number is expected to continue rising year after year.
Even though money is not their motive for Amiri, it is a testament to the fact that people love his clothing. So we’ve talked about how Amiri came to be, but now let’s dive a little deeper into the clothes.
First off, as I alluded to earlier, denim is one of Amiri’s staple offerings. For that reason, a single pair of emery jeans can also sell for well above a thousand dollars. That might sound like a lot, but it really has become the golden standard for designer jeans. As great as the jeans are, that’s not the only thing that the brand is known for nowadays.
Amiri has staked a claim in just about every category of apparel. I’m talking hoodies, cardigans, and sweatshirts. track pants blazers Just a quick fun fact: they actually distressed some of their pieces with a shotgun. Mikey got the idea for this after seeing an artist’s shotgun furniture, so he commissioned him to give the clothes the same treatment.
Again, this just adds to the fact that America is built upon authenticity, and it really shows that Mike is willing to go the extra mile during the design process. The next thing that I want to talk about is Amiri’s footwear, and believe it or not, this is actually what I love most about the brand.
As you see, they offer a range of footwear products, including sneakers, slip-ons, and boots, and each one offers a unique look. If you want the streetwear aesthetic, go for the skel tops. If you want a casual dad shoe, go for the bone runners. If you want that rock and roll cowboy aesthetic, go for the bandana buckle boot. This one is my personal favorite because the attention to detail is off the charts, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
In all, Amiri is a high-end exclusive brand, but they still have something for everybody. In fact, in 2018, Mike was nominated for the CFDA emerging talent award and in 2019 he was nominated for the CFDA menswear designer of the year award. The CFDA stands for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and it is one of the most prestigious fashion institutes in the world.
If you think about it, this is pretty wild. By 2014, Mike was just another guy with an accounting degree who pretty much started making jackets for fun, and by 2018 he was widely recognized as one of the most promising designers in the entire fashion industry. That sounds crazy, but if you look at the clothes, it makes sense. And in the grand scheme of things, this really is just the beginning.
Earlier, I mentioned that Mike has been very strategic about the brand’s expansion. While that is still true, I do want to acknowledge how much things have changed for Amiri in just this short span of time. He started off working alone in an attic, and he now runs a team of employees out of his 25,000 square foot studio.
He first started sharing his work on Instagram, and he now shares it through masterful ad campaigns. Shis’s first collection debuted on the rack at Maxfield, and now his collections debut on the runway at fashion weeks. Yes, things have changed a lot, but I think what’s really happening is that people are finally coming around to seeing the vision that Mike has had since the beginning.
I mean, you really have to believe in yourself to be able to do what he did. He was 38 years old when he started Amiri. He had a law degree and could easily have found a job as a lawyer, but rather than caving into the fear that he was too far down this one path, he shifted lanes and broke into the fashion industry.
If you ask me, just about everyone knows the name of Amiri because it can be seen on just about every celebrity and it’s referenced in every other rap song. But hopefully, now you know a bit more about the man behind the brand and, better yet, some of your upcoming designers can learn a thing or two from his story.