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VOL. 124 | NO. 194 | Friday, October 2, 2009

Guitarist Starts Tattoo-Inspired Clothing Line

By Tom Wilemon

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
Position: Co-founder
Company: The Artist Tattoo Co.
Basics: Bartlett, a Memphis native and guitarist for rock band Saving Abel, helped found the company that specializes in T-shirts with unique designs.

The idea came about as Saving Abel guitarist Scott Bartlett, a Memphis native and Rhodes College graduate, sipped whiskey with a buddy from Memphis on the band’s tour bus.

“Look at you – you’re like a rock star,” the friend said. “Man, you got all these tattoos. What if we put that snake on a shirt?”

Within a few months of that conversation, The Artist Tattoo Co. was launched. Bartlett unveiled his T-shirt designs at The Baer’s Den during the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.

The clothing line, which is inspired by musicians’ tattoos, has since scored early successes. Other rock musicians have signed with the label. The company is bulking up on merchandise. And the apparel has expanded beyond just T-shirts.

“We just went international,” Bartlett said. “We got our first international shipping order. We just started talking about shipping in the thousands instead of the hundreds. You can tell we’re starting to move some product and getting business together.”

Easy marketing

“It’s more what the tattoo means to the artist. We actually try to let the artist have some creative influence.”
– Scott Bartlett

The company launched its Web site, www.tatcodesign.com, two weeks ago. Members of rock bands Shinedown and Buckcherry also have developed their own clothing lines within TAT Co. With the rock musicians wearing their creations at concerts, the lines have built-in marketing. Much of the merchandise has been sold at on-the-road trunk sales.

“I’ve circumnavigated the continental U.S. about 10 times in the last two years,” Bartlett said. “I’ve played every radio station. I’ve done a lot of favors so I have a lot of their contact info in my phone. We’re able to use those relationships.”

Memphis native Zach Myers of Shinedown, Barry Kerch of Shinedown and Xavier Muriel of Buckcherry also promote their signature lines while touring.

Bartlett, who graduated from Rhodes in 2000 with a degree in classical guitar performance, minored in business administration. But he lets a silent partner – the buddy from the bus who helped him come up with the idea – handle the day-to-day operations.

One thing Bartlett insisted on is that the clothing be manufactured in the U.S.

“I think that we just have a problem with that whole sweatshop-type thing,” he said. “I’m sure we have our own, like, moral problems or whatever. Some things are just going too far. We don’t really feel good about going over there to save a couple of dollars. I think we would all lose sleep at night if we did.”

Unique designs

Most of the T-shirts sell for $70. One bears a Latin phrase “silicis quod Volvo” that roughly translates to rock ‘n’ roll, Bartlett said. The phrase is inked on the guitarist’s arm. The drummer for the band jokingly asked Bartlett if he was of Latin descent.

“I don’t think anybody is of Latin descent any more, but it’s kind of like the beginning of language,” he said. “We’re all like derivatives of it. I really dig languages and the way that they’re structured and I’m definitely all about rock ‘n’ roll. I was just sitting there playing around on the Internet. I wondered how you say it so I just Googled it and it came up. I certainly didn’t want to shamelessly endorse Swedish engineering on my arm. When I wear a regular T-shirt, all people see is ‘Volvo.’”

However, not every design is based on a tattoo.

“It’s more what the tattoo means to the artist,” Bartlett said. “We actually try to let the artist have some creative influence.”

The result is an interpretation of the original tattoo. Bartlett cited the snake tattoo on his right forearm as an example.

“We took that snake and made it into the shape of a guitar body,” he said. “I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali, the painter. On the inside of the guitar there’s a bunch of hedonistic images ala Salvador Dali. None of those are actually tattooed on me.”

TAT Co. now offers shoes and jewelry. The company, which has primarily sold its products to younger men, is now going after more women customers.

The next run will come in brighter colors, including blues and reds. Bartlett said he plans to put rock devil horns (tattoos that he has under his arms) on the back pockets of women’s denim shorts.

“That idea has really been doing a lot for us,” he said. “The market research is good.”

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