The Sullen Art Collective’s business model, based on the barter system, has not only survived but thrived. HUSTLER profiles this unique company… and the gorgeous angels who promote the Sullen brand.
Two decades ago Jeremy Hanna and Ryan Smith worked day and night to realize their dream of running a successful clothing line. Based out of Hanna’s Huntington Beach living room, the two spent every ounce of energy developing a surf and skate lifestyle brand. They felt the artistic ability Smith refined in his career as a tattoo artist and the vast social circle and networking skills of the uber-social Hanna would be enough to carry them to success, as long as they put in the time and effort.
Fortunately, it didn’t work out.
The duo quickly realized that competing with Volcom and Vans would be difficult. So they pivoted to another shared interest: tattoos. Smith intuitively understood the challenges his tattoo colleagues faced in ways that larger companies simply couldn’t. For instance, finding a reliable and affordable printing company for T-shirts is a headache many tattooers want to avoid; yet they all need merchandise to promote themselves at tattoo conventions and other events. Sullen Art Collective was initially founded on the quid pro quo of tattoo artists exchanging their artwork for high-quality shirts at no cost.
“It comes down to understanding their needs and realizing that all of these guys just want to have their shirts made,” Smith says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, because we get to use their artwork, and they get to have their shirts for free. That’s not normally how those transactions work.”