That wasn’t the case, but the cat that went viral to propel skate brand Ripndip now calls that same space at 441 North Fairfax Avenue its permanent flagship after nearly a year in temporary, pop-up status. Ripndip’s in good company once the store reopens Saturday, sandwiched between Supreme and Aape and not far from the flagships for Diamond Supply Co. and Huf.
The longer-term lease follows a wave of wacky marketing events that have ranged from a free float down the river in inflatables for Ripndip fans (the last one an hour outside of Austin brought out about 2,000 people) to founder Ryan O’Connor’s more ambitious plans to host a festival with all inflatables — mazes, slides and the like — which could happen as early as before the end of this year. He’s also got more stores on his mind in markets such as China, Japan, Australia and Canada saying he’d be happy if he could open at a rate of one door annually.
The company’s success has been in its humor — sometimes a little crude — amid a sea of seriousness.
“The brand is fun, funny and obviously not to be taken seriously. Every other streetwear brand out there is serious. We’re making clothes for teenagers. Look at that line,” O’Connor said pointing to the line for Supreme running past the Ripndip shop. “Those are kids, besides the parents waiting with them. For me, it’s a lot more fun when it’s funny.”
Still, there’s nothing funny about O’Connor’s story and Ripndip’s rise.
The company, which declined to say how much it’s generating in revenue, has the brand in about 1,000 doors globally, with accounts such as Zumiez, Dolls Kill and Active Ride Shop, in addition to boutique skate shops. Printables are produced mainly in the Los Angeles area, while cut-and-sew is done in China to keep prices low enough for Ripndip’s core base of skateboarders, O’Connor explained. Opening price points for T-shirts are $30, hoodies $70, button-down shirts $55 and outerwear $80.
The business model, held down by a staff of 10, operates off of pre-booking, so nothing is made until orders from buyers are placed, allowing Ripndip to avoid sitting on excess inventory and the inevitable markdowns.
O’Connor started out making T-shirts, with “Ripndip” scrawled on his skateboard. When other kids saw that at a skate camp he was attending in Pennsylvania in 2009, he began selling T-shirts bearing the phrase for $10. He said camp officials kicked him out for drawing attention away from sales of the camp’s own T-shirts.
That didn’t deter him and he bought his own printer, screenprinting “Ripndip” in his parents’ Florida garage on jackets and sweatshirts he bought from the local Goodwill store. His startup capital was $500 from his father.
Ever since, he’s funneled profits back into the business, eventually moving to California in 2011 where a friend had already made the trek.
“For a long time, it was just ‘Can I pay rent, $1,200 rent. Can I eat and can I get gas?’ I was on a very small budget for a very long time. I never took money out of the company other than just to live,” he said.
In California, O’Connor walked downtown Los Angeles’ garment district finding deadstock fabric to add as T-shirt pockets or for the panels on hats, including prints with cats he said he simply found cute.
Keith Hufnagel, founder of Huf Worldwide, linked O’Connor up with some manufacturers and taught him basics, such as how to make a tech pack after O’Connor ceremoniously glued strips of printed fabric onto a hat and marched into a Compton manufacturer saying that’s what he wanted made. He was told to get out (that’s the clean version).
Ripndip’s assortment grew to about 30 stockkeeping units of hats and a couple T-shirts. It wasn’t until a T-shirt featuring a simple drawing of Lord Nermal with raised middle finger peeping out of the pocket rolled out for spring 2014, that Ripndip ballooned. About five months after the release, the cat went viral and demand for the shirts surged. O’Connor said the shirt remains Ripndip’s top seller.
Nearly a decade later, the 31-year-old remains sole owner, not having taken on any outside investing and said the business always turned a profit once he stopped handing out the shirts for free and moved to California.
“I’m still self-funded because I never took a leap,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to play within my means always and then I became so used to that that it was a true blessing when the whole brand went viral. Now, we have this extra capital to do cut and sew and hire more people. I don’t have to answer to anyone. When the [store’s] floors have to be done and it costs more than I thought, I’m the one saying ‘OK’ to it.”
O’Connor has continued to push the envelope and budget on marketing events — key to the brand’s growth — which, aside from the river floats, have included a lowered, fully operating ice cream truck with Lord Nermal sculpted onto the exterior, a music video with Rico Nasty and free Ripndip tattoos at the store. He thinks a book of Ripndip tattoos, given the number of Snaps he sees, would make another good idea.
So does O’Connor pledge allegiance to his brand with his own Ripndip tattoo?
“I don’t have any tattoos. You don’t put a sticker on a Ferrari, you know?” he said. “That’s the worst quote but, no I don’t have any tattoos. My life isn’t over yet so maybe one of these days.”