Jeremy Hanna – Sullen Co-Owner – Exclusive Interview [EN] – Part I

For about a year and a half, Casa Tatuajelor is an official distributor for Sullen products in Romania, and man…it was a great year and a half. We got to know some of the guys at Sullen, and they are just amazing. The Los Alamitos company grew in 12 years like others in 20. And when we came up with the idea of a blog, we were wondering if one of the guys at Sullen will explain to us what was the journey like. Jeremy Hanna stood up, and between flights and conventions and tattoos and work he found the time to answer to a few questions (well … not just a few, because we are insanely curious :))). And because of that, we divided the interview in two, with the first part just below and the second to come in next week. So, thank you so much Jeremy and Sullen Clothing for helping us so far and being so supportive.

Casa Tatuajelor: Please tell us a few words about you…

Jeremy Hanna: I am blessed to go to work everyday doing what I love while working with great people that live a similar lifestyle as myself.  I am also a family man and love my wife and children more than anything.

Q: We know that Sullen is a two man game, how did you and Ryan met?

A: Ryan and I went to Grammar School together as children.  His parents moved him to Arizona in 6th grade and we lost touch.  But a mutual friend re-acquanted us our senior year in high school.  We hit it off all over again.  I then moved into an apartment with him in Arizona after high school and we attended college together for a little bit.

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Ryan and Jeremy just relaxing. Courtesy of Jeremy Hanna.

Q: With a tradition of over 12 years, Sullen is one of the most important clothing companies in the tattoo world. How did you came up with the idea of a clothing company?

A: Well we were born and raised in Southern California Orange County/Los Angeles area.  There are many successful clothing companies that are all around us.  We witnessed other brands becoming successful so we were inspired to give it a try.

Q: We were all wondering why the name “Sullen”?

A: It took us over a month to come up with the name after we decided to start a clothing company.  Ryan had a school project while attending The Art Institute of Pasadena.  He was to design his own comic book cover.  He named his comic book Sullen.  We saw it off to the side and thought it might work.  Ryan coming from a tattoo back ground…he was already into designing darker imagery like skulls, dragons etc. Sullen is a darker word.  Plus Ryan liked the way it was laid out visually.  Ryan is a lettering guy as well and he liked the options regarding working with the word.  It ended up working out pretty good.

Q: And the logo? Who designed the first Sullen logo – it’s amazing?

A: Our first logo that Ryan designed was an ‘S’.  Everybody seemed to really like it but Ryan was not happy with it.  It lasted the first 6 or 7 years until Ryan came up with the new logo.  The Sullen Badge just represents us perfectly.  And it is fun to watch people all over the world getting it tattooed on their body.  People are getting it on their face, neck, hand..its crazy!

Q: Did you start the business focused on the tattoo industry, or this came up on the way?

A: We began Sullen more as a Skateboard/lifestyle company.  We slowly evolved while trying to find ourselves.  We sponsored BMXers, surfers, Moto X racers FMX, MMA…all while Ryan was tattooing all of us on the side.  It was right in front of us for years but we didnt go after hand drawn tattoo art until around year 6.

Q: Did you have a welded plan from the beginning, or things just came along, and one day you figured that from a small business, Sullen became a world renowned company?

A: There was 3 of us at the beginning and our third partner (who is no longer involved) wrote a business plan.  It was well written and he was a smart guy…but we definitely evolved into something else that was not in the original plan.

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Sullen Headquarters in Los Alamitos, California, USA. Courtesy of Jeremy Hanna.
Q: We read that before being “full time Sullen”, you guys had jobs and worked on Sullen at night. How did you find the time to rise Sullen to where it is today?
A: We really just did not want to fail.  We almost gave up so many times.  But we kept telling ourselves “Lets give it one more shot”.  I bar-tended at the beach while Ryan worked at a local screen printer and tattooed.  We would get together late at night from 9pm-3am and go over all of our ideas.  We did not pay ourselves for the first 6 years of business.  There is no secret to our success besides way too many hours of working.
Q: At what point did you figured out that “Ok, this is it, let’s quit our jobs and work full time for OUR company!”?
A: In our 6th year, we brought on a silent investor who gave us a small cash infusion.  Not much…but enough so that Ryan could work full time for at least one year while barely surviving.  Eventually i bar-tended a little less and less while spending more time approaching retail shops all over California, Arizona, and Nevada.  Once i slowly built up my account base, i too was finally able to quit my other job.  But we were barely surviving and working 12 hour days all week long and then getting involved with weekend events.  We lived and breathed Sullen.
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Sullen Headquarters in Los Alamitos, California, USA. Courtesy of Jeremy Hanna.
Q: How did you came up with the first designs? As far as we know at one point you even put 5-6 tattoo artists back in back, each with it’s own canvas, and after 30 minuted they rotated. Is that true?
A: It all sort of happened around the same time.  For the first 5 years, most of Ryan’s artwork was logo driven.  One night while Ryan and I were coming up with shirt ideas, i noticed two really cool pencil sketches on his coffee table.  I said “what about these for t-shirt designs Ryan?”  He said “Oh those are two tattoo designs that i have to tattoo this week.”  I talked him into trying them out on a shirt and these were our two best selling shirts ever.  Shortly after that, Ryan was introduced to Tom Berg, Carlos Torres, and Nikko Hurtado.  He began to spend time with them drawing and doing some collaborative work.  These became shirt designs and also did well for us.  We knew we were on to something.  So we started inviting more and more artists to come down and draw.  Those were some really fun nights.  Many of the paintings and drawings are up all over our walls here at Sullen Headquarters today.
Great art at Sullen Headquarters in Los Alamitos, California, USA. Courtesy of Jeremy Hanna.
Q: In 2001 – 2002, the social media was not that powerful as it is today. How did you spread the word about your designs and clothes?
A: We would all dress in black and take a couple cars out in the middle of the night sticker bombing all of Southern California.  We covered up street signs, stops signs, and freeway signs from Los Angels all the way down to San Diego.  Thousands and thousands of stickers was our marketing at the beginning.  We also got involved with many local events such as skate demos, surf contests, FMX events and many parties in the local night clubs.  It was all non-stop
Q: Who was the first tattoo artist that worked with the sullen team (Exept. Ryan)?
A: The first Artist Shirt was with Nikko Hurtado.  He asked us if we could print his existing art onto a shirt for himself.  We asked if we could add Sullen to just a few of them.  He was cool with adding Sullen on the back to all of them.  That shirt is still in our line to this day.  But the fact that we didnt have any Sullen branding on the front really taught us something.  It wasnt about blasting Sullen really big on the front.  As long as the art was quality.
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It’s all about the fun! Courtesy of Jeremy Hanna.

So this is it for this time. But stay tuned, next time Jeremy will tell us what’s up with the Sullen Angles, how can you be a Sullen artist, some less known facts about Sullen Clothing and a message for the European and Romanian fans. Meanwhile, you can find amazing Sullen items on www.sullenclothing.com for the US readers, and on www.casatatuajelor.ro for European and Romanian readers.

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