Brand on the Run

Published: 22 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 195, February, 2011

I’m the kind of guy who likes to wear his heart on his sleeve… literally. Let me give you an example; when I gave up drinking a few years back, I decided that I was going to go Straight Edge. So for me this wasn’t just following the ideals of Straight Edge but it was also getting every t-shirt or cap available that declared my intention - did I mention I was obsessive as well..?

So for a few months, or however long it took for the phase to wear off, I walked around with shirts declaring, “Not in my neighbourhood” or “Above the Influence”. These days, I still don’t drink but I no longer class myself as Straight Edge. Onto the next phase…

What I am trying to get at, is that whether it be by nature or nurture, there is something intrinsic in us humans that compels us to be part of a tribe. We only seem to feel at ease when we belong to a larger group that is easily identifiable. Or simply put, we like to be part of a gang and we like displaying our colours!

This of course, plays right into the hands of big business, advertisers and the media. We can be identified, boxed and targeted. Branding, the stuff by which money making dreams are made of. Branding is what makes or breaks a person or product. You aint nothing these days unless you’re a brand.

And the tattoo world is no different. It wasn’t long ago that the only big tattoo brand about, that I can think of, was Sailor Jerry. Nowadays, where ever you seem to go on the high street, tattoos and tattooing are in your face. If it’s not a big gun in the industry selling his name, it’s sugar skulls on trainers or old school designs on clothes.

The first name in the tattooing world to take advantage of this craze was Ed Hardy. Back in 2002, if you were part of the tattoo culture you already knew who Ed Hardy was, you didn’t need Madonna or Britney Spears being photographed wearing his label to recognise the name. Now every one seems to know who he is…oh yeah, you know, that guy who makes cool clothes.

Let me set something straight, I am not having a go at Ed Hardy, not by a long shot. Hell, if some one told me I could make big bucks sticking my name on an item of clothing, I would jump at the opportunity. You would be a fool if you didn’t. The problem I have with all this, is the people who seem to be buying the clothes.

The other day a friend of mine, who is a fellow tattoo head, popped into Starbucks to get a coffee. Standing in front on him was a young kid with a big, shiny puffy Ed Hardy jacket. “It looked shit,” he told me. “You wouldn’t catch me dead in one and what’s more the guy looked like he would never get a tattoo in his life.”

And this is the crux of the story. People who are wearing all this tattoo gear don’t seem to be into tattoos. I have always been of the belief that you wear what you support or what you believe in. I love Kiss and Placebo so I wear my Gene Simmons, tongue out covered in blood t-shirt and my Placebo arena tour cap with pride. Conversely, I would rather have my arm ripped off and be beaten with it than wear a Take That, or god forbid, a Jedward item of clothing.

Now I know Take That and Jedward are no way near as cool as Ed Hardy and a comparison should earn me a good telling off but I hope you get my point. Tattoos are the latest branding wagon to be jumping on…well that is if you are not into tattoos it seems.

Another example is Louis Vuitton. You know the guy who sells bags that cost you a kidney or two. Well recently, Mr. Vuitton has hooked up with Scott Campbell to create a new tattoo inspired range of bags and accessories just for those super rich folk out there, who are of course tattooed from head to foot and like to hang out at tattoo conventions. Now the few times I have been coerced into popping into Harvey Nicks or Harrods and I found myself lurking about the designer label section, I don’t recall seeing anyone else overly covered in ink. Oh, of course, because within seconds I have been escorted outside for fear I might nick something from the shop. You know what those tattoo folk are like!

The problem with all this branding and market targeting, is that when a celebrity decides to switch endorsements or simply falls out of the public arena, if the brand isn’t strong enough, it will sink. The Ed Hardy brand is starting to feel this as the new year rolls on.

In 2009 the Hardy brand was going through the roof but towards the end of 2010 shops were being closed and future development put on hold. People are looking for a new label to wear.

And this is because, at the end of the day, the current trend in tattoo fashion is just that, a phase. The advertisers saw a hole in the market, aimed their brand at the average guy in the street and now the consumer is moving on, they may find themselves with store rooms full of unsold merchandise.

Herein lies the catch-22. I am glad tattooing is becoming recognised for the art form it is, that tattooists are now being respected for their craft BUT I am not so happy about it becoming a fashion statement and that people who walk around covered in tattoo apparel wouldn’t get inked if their lives depended on it.

I want to go back to the days when having ink made a statement about who and what you were. I want my tribe back.


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith