Whether it’s modern Italian chairs, handmade scarves fashioned from reclaimed saris in India, or incandescent lightbulbs, if it’s well-crafted Bradford Shellhammer will find it and find a way to offer it to you. It’s the love of design that led the Parsons grad to partner with an old friend last year to create something he calls a “marketplace for designers,” also known as Fab.com. As cofounder and chief creative officer of Fab.com, Shellhammer picks authentic products for an audience that appreciates and loves design. “People are old and new,” he says. “They live with vintage and modern, the handmade and the mass produced. We don’t sell things that belong in a bargain bin. We sell a healthy mix of designs, from furniture and T-shirts to drinking glasses and rejuvenated vintage typewriters.”
Shellhammer’s ink speaks to his eye for timeless and quirky pieces. An unfinished 15-year-old octopus covers the left side of his chest, and a three-year-old sleeve covers his right arm. “I was supposed to go back to fill in my chest but I lived with it for a week and didn’t feel like going back. There was something about it being unfinished that I loved. And, surprisingly, people always ask if my chest piece is new.”
Shellhammer got his first tattoo in a Baltimore basement when he was 18. Since then, the black dragon wrapped around his arm has been covered by an octopus creeping under gray waves, a work still in progress. For someone who falls in love with different things every week, Shellhammer has one lasting fascination: “I’ve always loved octopi. I love to eat them, I love the idea of having eight arms, and I love that they change colors. They are extremely smart creatures and I always felt they are these special alien things that don’t really belong with other fish. On some level, I relate to an octopus as well.”
Shellhammer says he looks for the unexpected when selecting designs and designers, and even his own friends. “That’s what drew me to tattooing,” he says. “I love the element of surprise in people. I love being in a meeting wearing a crisp white suit and rolling up my sleeve and saying, ‘Yeah, would you look at that.’”
Although it’s taken him 10 years to find a tattoo artist whose work resonates with him—Troy Denning of Invisible NYC—finding great design to sell has been easier. “In the beginning, we were talking to every designer we knew, going to flea markets, trade shows, and reading magazines and blogs to find fantastical things. Now people are knocking on our doors.”
The young company now has 1.7 million members, and 100 employees in New York City alone. “It has been a blessing to start something during these times because people are really paying attention to what they spend their money on, and we want to make sure they spend it on things that live with them forever,” Shellhammer says.
The only items that are off-limits for Fab are things that are not authentic or that don’t honor a craft or trade. “We want to tell stories—via the visual and written word—about these people who create great things. We want to be inspiration builders, and I may sound like an idealistic design hippie, but the truth is, your lives are moved by the things you live with.”
Shellhammer says the biggest mistake you can make when designing your home is being afraid. “If you find something you love, put it in your home, don’t listen to other people. And if you like something someone else has, steal it!” The same can be said of tattoos. —Nadia Kadri