Sullen Clothing: Q & A
Who would have guessed that a college art project, a love of tattoos and two best friends brainstorming would evolve into Sullen Clothing? A brand primarily focused on the production of t-shirts, Sullen has evolved into much more with added products and collaborations with everyone from music artists to athletes. Owners Jeremy Hanna and Ryan Smith chat with Inked Magazine about the birth and evolution of Sullen and the involved artists that they have come to call family.
Inked: How did you come up with the name “Sullen”?
Sullen: My business partner and best friend, Ryan Smith, has been a professional Tattoo Artist for over 16 years. When we decided to start a clothing company, he was finishing up with his degree at The Art Center of Pasadena and tattooing on the side. It took us about a month to decide on the name. He had an art project where he had to design a comic book cover. He named his comic book ‘Sullen’ and while we were brainstorming one day trying to figure out a name, his art project off to the side caught our attention. We were drawn to the typography of the word and the definition. Since Ryan’s style of art work was on the darker side, and his tattoo background was designing a lot tattoos of skulls and such, we decided to use the word Sullen.
Inked: How did Sullen Clothing get it’s start?
Sullen: It took us a few years to find ourselves. We thought we were going to be a skateboard clothing brand at first but the market was overly saturated and neither of us were pro skaters so the odds were against us. Ryan and I would get together at night after our day jobs and work till late hours of the morning trying to come up with creative t-shirt designs. One night I saw 2 rough sketches on his coffee table and told them they would make cool t-shirt designs. He told me “Nah, those are 2 unfinished tattoo designs”. I convinced him to test them as t-shirt designs. Turns out those were the first two shirts that really started to get us noticed and were our 2 best sellers. Ryan began to focus on all hand drawn artwork and that became our niche. We now work with over 70 amazing artists which represent our Sullen Art Collective.
Inked: How are those artist relationships formed?
Sullen: Usually the relationships are formed organically. Most of the time artists are referred by other artists, or on occasion we will reach out to an artist if we feel their artwork is something that fits the aesthetic of the brand. We can pretty much tell right away if the art will work for us. Years of shirts either selling well or not selling well helps to hone your narrative so you are not making those same mistakes artistically.
Inked: You sell everything from Prints to T-Shirts… How do you decide which canvas is best for that particular artwork?
Sullen: That’s really up the artists. With the prints, we really do that for them to get their art seen, we really don’t take much of a split for it…we see ourselves as a t-shirt company so that’s how we make our money. If we can sell some art for our friends it just better establishes the relationship.
Inked: Much of the artwork in your store is inspired by tattoo designs. What inspires your own tattoos?
Sullen: Our tattoos are similar to the artwork we put onto the clothing…the themes and messages are timeless stories or images that people find appealing in both the tattoo world and clothing world. Ryan and I have been lucky enough to be tattooed by Nikko Hurtado, Carlos Torres, Big Gus, Kim Saigh, Carlos Rojas, Norm, Steve Soto, Bob Tyrrell, Freddy Negrete, Billi Murran, Tattoo Ish, Ivano Natale, Mathew Hurtado, Flaks, Jay Langer and Jacob Doney. Ryan has also tattooed me over 30 times.
Inked: Tell us about your categories on the Sullen Clothing site… Action Sports, Artists and Musik
Sullen: We focused a lot more on Action Sports at the beginning until we accidentally discovered our success with the hand drawn artwork from our Sullen Art Collective. But we have been very fortunate with our team of athletes. They all live our lifestyle and help in a huge way to get Sullen out there on Fuel TV, Dew Tour and all of the Action Sport Mags. Rick Thorne is in India for 5 weeks on the Dew Tour, Randall ‘The Vandall’ Harris has been killing it for us in the wakeboard scene, Austen Seaholm just brought home a gold from the Simple Skate Contest in Estonia, and Johnny ‘The Tattooed Terror’ Cisneros is still undefeated in his professional MMA career.
We are also getting more and more involved with our friends in the music industry. We have designed shirts for our good friend B-Real and Cypress Hill for 3 years in a row now and he continues to wear Sullen on his TV show and tour continuously. We are dropping a collaboration CD with a lot of our friends on there that are part of the family. Evan Seinfeld’s new band Attika7, Andy Vargs-the lead singer of Santana, MEST, Cypress Hill, Psycho Realm, The Pricks, Authority Zero, Crazytown, Cashis, Modern Day Escape, Rick Thorne’s ‘Good Guys in Black’ and some of our up and coming local talents like Lost Souls, The Slow Forward, 2tone, Low Life Music, Lords of Ruin and D.I.S. Art is our number one focus though with Music and Action Sports second.
Inked: Tell us about your Sullen Angels and Sullen TV.
Sullen: The Angels really came to be when we did one photo shoot and saw the online metrics and realized that’s what people were looking at. We started doing monthly Sullen Angel contests with all of the voting going through our Facebook page and it was very successful. By making it a contest with a focus on tattooed girls it helped us reach customers and brand awareness we didn’t have before. We never wanted to sell sex or make it all about hot chicks, but having the Sullen Angels on board has helped us bring brand awareness to our girls line. And having beautiful girls such as Bernadette, Mary-Leigh Maxwell, Megan Daniels and Cherry Doll Face who also bring other qualities and talents to the table…it makes even more sense to work with them and cross promote.
John Bayles and Tom Martinez have been running our Sullen TV department for a couple years now and do a great job at helping us tell our story. Since we support so many avenues such as the Art, Music, Action Sports and the Angels….Sullen TV is constantly raising the bar for themselves while always telling our story to our customers. Im excited to see what they come up with next. You can find all of those videos at youtube.com/sullentv
Inked: And as if that wasn’t enough…
Sullen: We have also been trying to give back to the community when we have the opportunity. We recently started a program with our ‘Cure Cancer’ shirts with all proceeds going to different Cancer Charities and research. Cancer seems to affect just about everybody in one way or another. You can check out the shirts on www.sullenclothing.com and make sure to follow us on good old Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using sullenclothing or sullenfamily