The DEFYE Guy Rocks a Small Planet

This past Saturday night, Okemos native Michael Doherty arrived at East Lansing's The Small Planet in a helicopter. It was a Hollywood-style launch party for DEFYE, Doherty's independent clothing line and fledgling cultural movement.

DEFYE stands for DEFine Your own Existence, a philosophical take on fashion that aims to give individuals the choice to define who they are and ‘find their own path’ in life.

The hum of the helicopter rotors at the DEFYE party was augmented by the sound of a band of men marching on Chandler Rd., escorted by police cars and a stretch-limousine. Inside were the models and the MSU dance team, who would also be performing.

A majority of the crowd were dressed in DEFYE attire, ranging from t-shirts to suit jackets.

“The DEFYE clothing line is really up and coming in East Lansing, and being on the MSU dance team, we like to stay involved with the community,” says Nicole Mancusso, one of the members of the team.

“One of our girls was contacted by a rep and we just thought it would be a great opportunity to take part in something like this in our community.”

Defining an Existence

Before DEFYE, Michael Doherty spent ten years traveling all over the world, living through varied extremes and from one place to the next. While in Honduras working on an orphanage, he had no running water or electricity; in Hawaii, he worked at a mental institution and while in Australia, he surfed.

“I think we make things too complicated, you know," he says. "All of our progress and technology comes with a price sometimes, so I like experiences like [working in Honduras] that make me question everything.”

He says that DEFYE is “about the inner battles we go through to find our own direction. The hardest part about the traveling ten years all over the place was the feeling of isolation—that you’re all alone, [that] you’re going through these struggles by yourself. DEFYE is my connection to people who are going through [similar] inner struggles.”

Adam Argersinger, a friend of Doherty’s, was among the crowd at the Small Planet. “He’s an artist, he went to school for it, and now I’m getting to see it in real life,” says Argersinger. “He’s putting it out, and it’s what everyone in here’s wearing.”

Elizabeth Hammel was at the event in support of her best friend’s brother, who was also part of the DEFYE show. “We were inspired to check it out because he was so interested. We went to the web site and we saw some great things, his motto, and we wanted to be a part of it. So we decided that we were going to buy some clothes, buy some tickets, bring some friends in this evening and just have a great time.”

The grandeur of the event may have made Doherty seem unapproachable, but he wandered through the crowds comfortably, greetings his supporters and taking photos with people when asked.

Doherty is also thankful for the support, and he wants people to know it.

“The Lansing area in general has been extremely positive and very supportive in what I’m doing, whether it's just with the shopping district or the police department," Doherty says. "In Lansing, you know, these people really encourage small business and really appreciate it.”

DEFYE Design

Doherty started DEFYE in Los Angeles and decided to bring it back to the Lansing area to pioneer it with the support of his hometown. He is also looking at moving into the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Chicago markets, and he is confident that his concept will continue to thrive.

With a myriad of artistic experience—from working in architecture to using complex mediums like industrial steel—Doherty’s decision to experiment with clothing was more happenstance than anything else.

“Clothing was almost an experiment at first, and once I started working with it," he says, "it was an instant conversation piece.”

Doherty knew he was onto something with DEFYE. Who else would quit their PhD in Sociology to pursue an independent self-funded clothing line?

Now, two years later, the DEFYE label is taking off.

“I only create designs that have meanings based on my conclusions and experiences of life,” says Doherty. “The whole label [is] set apart from just about every other label because it’s a label with meaning and depth to it,” he says.

“There is so much nonsense out there, with Hollywood and the media. Of course there are some pros to it, but there are so many cons. My whole label’s concept is to find your own existence, find your own way. Sometimes you have to be willing to defy the world around you to do so, so do whatever it takes to survive mentally.”

Doherty is more at peace with his current design set than he has ever been.

“I remember after I finished, it was the most calm I had felt in a long time," he says. "Just kind of like I had gotten everything out, what I needed to say. And I reached a calm within myself that I hadn’t reached in a long time.”

Quoting Socrates, Doherty concludes that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

Beyond being an entrepreneur with his clothing line DEFYE, he is also provoking people to look a little deeper.

“This whole thing has been a very interesting journey for me," he says. "To really make it, to really follow your dreams, you have to be willing to fight for it in the end with everything you’ve got.”
“It’s not an answer,” adds Doherty. “It’s me just saying, “Hey man, I’ve gone through these [struggles] myself, I’m still going through them and we all go through them.” [DEFYE] is our connection, our strength to get us all through.”

To see Dave Trumpie's slideshow of photos from the DEFYE party, click here.

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Suban Nur Cooley is a freelance writer for Capital Gains. 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Michael Doherty at his Meridian Mall store and entering the Small Planet DEFYE launch party.

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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