David Lee Roth of Van Halen and his tattoo maintenance products


David Lee Roth walks into the room in a checkered suit and newsboy cap, happy and fluffy. Soon after, however, Roth, better known as the frontman of Van Halen, went into performance mode: he was gregarious, over the top, flaunting his mischievous smile at every opportunity. You can tell he practiced some of his key phrases, such as “I never stopped being a Boy Scout! The words roll across her tongue at almost the same pace each time.

But after about 45 minutes of directing (and a scotch), Roth sheds some of his rock star character and adopts the tone of a passionate entrepreneur. He is, after all, in New York on that windy winter day to talk about Ink the original, her new self-funded skin care line for tattooed men and women.

Roth got his first tattoo, a tiny seahorse on his ankle, 40 years ago. Telling the story, the 64-year-old warns: “You have to be careful not to be a permanent reminder of a temporary state of mind. You want a permanent reminder or a permanent state of mind.

A few decades later, when he was perhaps in a more permanent state of mind, he moved to Tokyo and spent 300 hours getting a dragon tattoo that covers his back and part of his arms, and kabuki faces on his chest in the traditional Munewari style. . (An unadorned strip of skin in the middle of the chest allows a kimono or dress shirt to be partially opened without revealing the inked skin.) Roth was tattooed at the Sunsqlit studio by legendary Japanese master Horiyoshi iii, who has over 45 years of tattoo experience. , and a young artist named Nihei. The linework was machine tattooed and the color was stitched by hand using traditional Japanese methods for which Horiyoshi III is revered.

David lee roth [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

Roth says he created Ink the Original in part out of a desire to protect his tattoos from fading and sun damage. Passionate about the outdoors, Roth also wanted to create an environmentally friendly product. The idea was born about three years ago and he quickly hired Patty Leonard, an entrepreneur and strategy expert, as the architect of the brand. Ink the Original assembled a team of researchers and marketers to start prototyping sunscreens and moisturizers.

The Ink line, which today consists of two sunscreens and a lightening balm for tattooed skin, is paraben and paba free, no artificial dyes or dyes, and is approved by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. and Leaping Bunny, a cruelty-free product. certification program. The Sun Spray and Brightening Balm, a moisturizer, are reef safe. The sunscreen stick is not.

Roth says he positions skincare products as a necessity, not a luxury, despite top prices ranging from $ 24 for a 0.4 ounce stick of sunscreen to $ 40 for a large jar of sunscreen. ‘brightener. “You wouldn’t take a new baby lambskin jacket, that buttery leather, and leave it in the sun for 20 minutes,” says Roth. However, “we do not think of putting ourselves in this same environment”.

(There is no doubt that Roth and his team created a safe skin care product; I tested the entire line on my extremely sensitive skin and had no negative reactions. But it’s hard to know. so Ink products are more tattoo friendly than the best certified skin creams on the market today.)

What is Roth’s marketing approach favors tattoos. He appointed tattoo artist Ami James as the Creative Director of Ink the Original. James, who appeared on the TV show Miami Ink, is also the co-founder of Tattoodo, a tattoo-centric website with over 500,000 artists on its platform and 20 million monthly users. The addressable market for Ink the Orignal products is large and growing: about a third of Americans have at least one tattoo (up from 21% in 2012) and half of millennials are inked, according to a 2016 Harris poll.

David lee roth and Friend James at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

James, 46, suggests that the quality of products and Roth’s sense of mission, not the founder’s notoriety as a rock star, will drive sales, especially among younger consumers, who tend to favor the authenticity to the arguments of celebrities. This is because if you visit the Ink the Original website (the only place where products can be purchased at the moment), there is no mention of Roth unless you scroll down to the ” press’ site where you will find a handful of stories about the colorful leader of the company.

“At the end of the day, we have a gentleman who put his own funds, didn’t go looking for money, didn’t exchange his name, his fame, and he could have,” says Gerri Leonard, Patty Leonard’s sister and entrepreneur of Roth. “In fact, it was a battle to get him to say he was our founder.” Roth confirms that he invested $ 7 million of his own money in the business.

The new entrepreneur is inspired by mainstays of direct-to-consumer sales such as Warby Parker, Harry’s and Casper. He plans to use consumer data from web sales to glean consumer information to drive new product launches. Ink the Original is the first of what Roth hopes will be an outdoor product portfolio. “Everything you will need in your RV,” he says. He has formed a parent company, Laugh to Win, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, through which he hopes to launch up to 60 products.

Roth’s autonomous approach to financing his business may have been shaped by his 30 years in the music business. The only time his energetic demeanor gets a little dark is when he talks briefly about recording deals that favored labels over artists. “This is the first time in my life that I have worked as a free man,” he says. (In addition to his career as a musician, Roth has worked as an emergency medical technician in New York City, answering 911 calls.) Indeed, he shows unbridled enthusiasm for his new venture (60 outdoor products!) Which is matched only by his passion. for adventure travel, which in turn influenced his business.

During our meeting, Roth spoke fondly of his travels, especially swimming in the reefs off Moorea, the South Pacific island, in 1968. “It was the most spectacular reef you have ever seen. , starting at the waist, ”he says. A realization that such reefs are endangered prompted him to create a line of products made from natural ingredients, free from toxic chemicals. “I realized reef safety was important and integrated it into” the business. In other words, he’s doing his part to save the planet, one tattoo at a time.

David lee roth [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]


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