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Arlen in real life: Mike Greer

Arlen in real life: Mike Greer

When we were designing our newest in-house brand, Arlen, we knew that it should be able to slot effortlessly into the lives of any man, no matter his lifestyle. Arlen is all about clothes that you fall in love the more you wear them, as they become the indispensable backbone of your wardrobe.

So we tested it out on people whose lives left little time for worrying about what they were going to wear that day. Who needed clothes that looked good, that were made well and that they could slot in effortlessly alongside their well-worn favourites. No one fits that bill quite like Mike Greer.

By day, he’s the VP of software product at Kano, the groundbreaking start-up that teaches kids how to code. By night, he’s a beer brewer, tinkering with recipes alongside his partner-in-hops (and previous partner-in-business at a peer-to-peer car insurance start-up they co-founded). The rest of the time, he’s a dad, enduring all the sleepless nights and tail-chasing days that a brand new arrival entails. And through it all, he manages to look good, rocking reliable staples in a way that feels completely authentic.

To mark Arlen’s launch, we sat down with Mike to talk about his work, his family, his beer, and what he looks for in the clothes he wears.

What do you do at Kano?

I’m VP of software, which it effectively means I’m a product manager and I do bits of design, bits of prototyping, bits of code. I spend a lot of time taking things out and putting them in front of kids and seeing if they work.

It must be fun to have the people who are giving your direct feedback are kids who are excited and use this stuff.

We have to make it work for the kids – that’s the user – but then there’s another user that’s the parents. So we think about this broccoli-chocolate spectrum. If you ask kids to pick, they’re just gonna eat loads of chocolate. Their parents want them to eat loads of broccoli. And we have to be somewhere in between.

Kano works by starting kids off with blocks of code, rather than making write them things from scratch. That feels like quite an empowering approach. What kind of things are they creating?

I used to lecture at Edinburgh University and what’s so interesting about something like Kano is that things that were being done by Masters students, who had design backgrounds and could programme properly, 10 years later, a nine-year-old can do them. So you get that idea, younger and younger you can make more interesting stuff. Even within the industry, with less and less expertise you can get further and further.

So you remove the stuff that gets in the way of the creativity or the problem-solving.

Exactly. Creativity’s a good word there. If you’ve got something you want to communicate or make or try, then here’s a tool where you can try it out in 20 minutes and publish it and you can get community feedback. And then you can try something else or you can make it better.

Did you teach yourself brewing in a similar way?

Before the baby arrived, we got to a point where every month we’d brew one, bottle one. It’s a nice release from trying to do the business, start-up thing. The cycle time for learning about whether or not your beer is any good is quite slow – you brew it, that’s eight hours, then you have to ferment it for a few weeks, then you bottle it and wait a few weeks. So a month or so later you’re tasting and you have to try and remember what you did. But again, it’s a hobby, so we weren’t being too meticulous.

With the new arrival, is it hard to juggle all this stuff?

There’s definitely a lot less brewing. I work four days a week, which is really nice. Kano’s really good. They get that this is a shift. I’ve changed roles recently and the difficulty of making a step up is that you really want to keep doing the thing you were doing before. I like making things, I like sitting down and actually doing design and actually writing code. So it’s forcing me to go out and make sure we're building the right stuff and working with customers and doing all the prioritising. But not worry so much about physically building the thing, leave that to my team of phenomenal programmers and designers.

These two elements of your life, is there an interplay between them? Is your approach to the way you work at Kano – that experimentation, that studiousness – does that come into how you approach the beer?

Maybe. In a way, it’s possibly the opposite. There’s a real thing of we don’t have to be as meticulous. Brewing is really meticulous – you have to sterilise, you have to do all the things – but we can be a bit more, ‘Let’s just try this’. And I think, actually, maybe I need more crossover. At Kano we’re going to do more experimentation – put something out there and see how people respond to it, be really proactive about changing things.

So the brewing is informing the product design?

That’s a good way of putting it.

Different audiences, of course.

Yeah, unless Kano skews older. Maybe we could start doing a build-your-own-brewery kit and go after some of the tech dads in Silicon Valley.

Especially as a new dad, what role does clothing and style play? What do you look for in things you wear?

I quite like being able to effectively get dressed in the dark. So you do the curation before you get up. I wear a lot of jeans and I’m a big fan of patina and the way things wear. So lots of raw denim, lots of things that get nice wear patterns as you go. Similarly, in boots, it’s like proper Grenson boots and the way that they wear becomes a really nice part of it all. And then, lots of blues and greys and t-shirts and stuff. And then big classic start-up sweatshirts and things that aren’t as bad if a baby decides to chew on the arm for a while, even if you’re about to go to work.

But with that as a core range, I really like accent things. So, like, I really love McNair Mountain Shirts, these merino wool overshirt things, they’re great. With denim, it’s picking specific brands – Nudie and Hiut, all that stuff. Bright socks that can be a bit of a bright, colourful accent.

Has your wardrobe changed as you’ve become more senior? And does it shift depending on whether you’re going out to meet kids or parents that day?

It’s definitely shifted over the years. But I don’t think it’s got more serious. It’s probably less serious. I definitely wore more collared shirts when I was younger. I think you have that thing where you almost try to be more senior than you are: ‘I should at least have a white Oxford shirt on’. But everyone trends towards the fashion of their company and Kano is led by a CEO who’s quite young. Andut because it’s a start-up, it’s not like anyone’s going to frown at you for turning up in something casual. Our CEO wears the Kano hoodies you get given on your first day. You can be as extreme – or not – as you want.

For more information about Mike and his work, follow him on Instagram (@mikegreer) or visit

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Words: Tom Banham
Photography: Jamie Stoker
Styling: Luke McDonald