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Sullen seeing growth with national and international accounts

By Shelby Stanger
January 04, 2010 6:00 AM

Sullen Clothing is a brand known for their art-driven, tattoo-inspired graphics. As a smaller start-up, Sullen has quickly adjusted their business plan to meet the demands of a tough economic climate.

Six months ago, they decided to focus on tees and limit cut-and-sew pieces. While their growth is not as rapid as previous years, Sullen is gaining traction in bigger, mall-based and international accounts. They also recently launched a new partnership with the Blaq Ink Gallery on Main Street in Huntington Beach

I checked in with Jeremy Hanna, co-founder and director of marketing and sales for Sullen to talk about Sullen's expanded business at PacSun, international growth, and what it is doing as a small brand to keep business moving forward.

How is business overall?

We still have double-digit growth, but it's been more in the range of 25%, rather than 50% to 100% growth as in past years. PacSun, Zumiez, Journeys and City Beach helped us fuel that growth and we always have to give props to Tilly’s for being the first big-box account to give us a shot. The ASR show has always been great for us also.

Sullen shirtThe advantage that we have is our distribution is still small, and we are still a relatively unknown brand to many parts of the USA and abroad. The new accounts are helping to make up for the loss of some of the smaller shops that have closed over the last year as well as some of the more conservative ordering from a few of the bigger shops. I think that the fusion of action sports and the tattoo culture has helped us open some eyes

Are you guys still focusing on tees? Are you adding cut-and-sew back to the line?

Our strength has always been our graphics, and we made the decision to really focus on that during the difficult buying environment. We can turn T-shirts around very quickly. Being able to turn a SKU around in two weeks pays off. We add small items of cut-and-sew every season, but being the little guy sometimes works against you with higher end costs. We believe in slow growth, so we are in no hurry to expand heavily into cut-and-sew just yet. In this economic climate, anything that requires heavy minimums and lots of overseas development we stay away from -- unless we really feel it's something we can’t live without like our boardshorts we have coming out for Spring/Summer 2010

Can you let me know about any expanded distribution with the larger retailers like PacSun and any big accounts outside of the USA?

We have expanded in PacSun over the last year. We are not in all (900+) doors, but we are in over 400 doors. We have six SKUs in there right now. We are usually just above or just below “class average” at PacSun, which is the average that they shoot for in order to get a re-order.

We are in Zumiez and the sell-through has been really good. Journeys had enough faith in us to order two SKUs last season. They are also testing several SKUs with their online store and we are confident that we will pass these tests and get re-orders.

International Expansion

We get a lot of love from Canada, and we have a strong following in scattered parts of Europe. Poland, the United Kingdom and Sweden are stand out territories for us.

City Beach in Australia tested four SKUs, and they crushed it! We followed those with an additional 10 SKUs, and our sell-through has been great.

We have been told from our friends from Australia that they live our lifestyle, and a lot of them are big fans of the art and tattoo culture, which we are heavily involved with. We have a couple of our artists on Kat Von D’s show “L.A. Ink,” which has helped us spread our message. I counted 13 episodes in a row where Sullen was clearly seen on “L.A. Ink.” That definitely doesn’t hurt.

What's great about international accounts is that they offer a clean slate, and you can tell your story the way you want it to read. We are an art brand that likes doing art that's masculine. Even our Junior’s line is for the women with a little more edge. We are all heavily tattooed, and my business partner, Ryan Smith, is a tattoo artist so that aesthetic made its way into the clothes. Getting into new markets lets us tell that story better

Have any retailers, especially some of the bigger accounts been less inclined to buy your tees because the designs are too edgy, or has that worked toward your advantage?

We do get requests sometimes to tone down our edgy designs, but the funny part is, the more edgy or hardcore the design, the better it seems to sell. The majority of the buyers from our bigger retailers know this. We offer toned down pieces and logo-driven pieces, but our buyers usually know that it is our edgier graphics that are going to move the quickest.

What particular areas in the USA are you strongest in right now?

Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada are our strongest areas. We are starting to see some solid traction in Northern California, Hawaii, Texas, Illinois, and in the Pacific Northwest

Are you guys using a factor? If CIT, did the bankruptcy impact you at all?

We were using CIT, but during the credit crunch they turned away many smaller brands fearing they wouldn't make it through 2009. Only a handful of accounts were using them. We brokered side deals with our vendors who were using CIT to help extend our terms. Those who couldn't, we don't use any more.

Black Inq GalleryTell me about the Blaq Ink Gallery.

The Blaq Ink Gallery is a destination clothing/art store. It's not our store, but we are helping with branding and are the curators for it. We wanted a store where you could buy art that you couldn't find anywhere else -- like a Z-Gallery for those that enjoy our style of art. The Sullen Art Collective is so strong that partnering to open the gallery was a logical extension of the brand’s commitment to art. Blaq Ink Gallery offers an opportunity to showcase the original art against the apparel. We had our grand opening of Blaq Ink Gallery on December 12th.

(Above: Blaq Ink Gallery.)

Anything else you are excited about? Anything new for 2010?

We are very excited about Sullen TV. The Sullen TV concept is a viral network of video segments with interviews, performances, and appearances with the Sullen family of artists, athletes and musicians.

Next year our focus is on the growth of accounts. We are looking to further expand distribution on the East Coast and internationally. Right now we are looking for some more reps. We believe the line doesn't need a ton of cut- and-sew to grow the business. You need shops to help tell your story. I think growing slow was the best decision we ever made, so our core accounts get the love they need, and we are able to add new ones at a pace that they don't get neglected.






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