Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=202481
Story Retrieval Date: 12/9/2013 12:15:39 PM CST
Artists, musicians, ink and needles all come together at 14 E. 11 St. in Chicago to create a creative collective commonly known as Code of Conduct Tattoo & Clothing. A full service tattoo parlor founded in 2009 complete with clothing boutique and art gallery, the shop runs on energy generated daily by its multi-faceted employees.
“It’s a lifestyle shop,” part owner and co-founder Floyd Davis IV, 31 years old, said. “We’re all heavy into music and the arts scene, so we kind of wanted Code to be a place first and foremost for tattooing, but also as a launching pad for all of the cool creative people we’re involved with.”
For Davis, a self-proclaimed carpenter, painter, printmaker, musician and artist, investing in Code of Conduct was a no-brainer. In 2009, Davis, Jason Hoodrich, Ryan Lange and a few other creative entrepreneurs invested in a brick-and-mortar reality that is now home to five tattoo artists, in-house, “Rebel8” and “Wartime Collective” clothing lines, art gallery and a variety of other merchandise.
“In the beginning, I was just a designer and builder, but eventually it made sense for me to be involved on a bigger level,” Davis said. “I designed and built the space out, invested a little bit and became a part owner. We have some investors, but a lot of sweat equity went into this space. All of the partners were in here painting walls and doing the labor stuff together. The rest has been dreams and fairy tales.”
Twenty-something Betsy Welander is a regular patron with six tattoos, four of which came from Code of Conduct artist Allie Sider.
“Code is an awesome parlor, and I love Allie’s work,” Welander said. “It's clean, super chill, and very comfortable as compared to other parlors that I've been to.”
Chicago resident Marty Tomszak had three tattoos before getting his fourth from Sider at Code. Tomszak was impressed with the shop’s vibe.
“My favorite part of getting tattooed at Code is how friendly and approachable all of the staff is,” Tomszak said. “I feel like tattooing is more than just a job for these guys - they actually love doing it, and it comes through in the quality of their work.”
Code of Conduct contains an eclectic mix of employees, including four full-time tattoo artists and front-desk receptionists who have “budding musical careers.” Davis also runs his own business outside of the shop, “Artpentry,” an art and carpentry business with a gallery located at 18th and Halsted in Pilsen.
His most profitable art series, “The Gentleman’s Boombox,” developed a little over three years ago, thanks in large part to his family’s ties to the antiquing world. When Davis decided to start equipping vintage suitcases and trunks with subwoofers and channels to create a portable sound system with external audio jack, the idea “really hit” with a variety of clientele: elderly folk and people in fashion, home design, restaurants and boutiques. Davis has now perfected the art of the jigsaw and sold hundreds of boxes of varying size and style all over the globe.
Musician Emily Morse, lead singer for Chicago-based tele-disco duo Glass Lux, appreciates the “Gentleman’s Boombox” for its vintage sound, look and feel.
“They have a great sound,” Morse said. “I’m really into vintage finds, so I like the fact that you can take something like modern speakers and turn it into something like this. Your friends see it and say ‘cool, what’s that?’ Plus, you can move them from room to room – most of them have handles.”
They sell for $300 and up. Davis started out producing a couple of boxes per month. Now, he has the art down to a science, and can crank out a case in under an hour. With live-work gallery space going for up to $4000 a month in the Pilsen neighborhood, Davis is thankful to be able to cut operating costs with personal connections; his grandmother is an antique dealer, and his friends and neighbors frequently drop up to 20 cases at a time on Davis’s doorstep.
“I’m not making stupid amounts of money. I make enough to pay rent, eat food and date girls,” Davis said. “Everything I do is essentially a passion project. One month I could have a job that I contract for $30,000, then the next month I could go with nothing. It sucks, but it doesn’t suck as much as answering to someone else. I get to write my own ticket, and that’s pretty cool.”
Jason Hoodrich, one of Code’s in-house artists, tattoos full-time and claims that life as a tattoo artist hasn’t always been one full of “dreams and fairy tales,” but believes the hard times have been “totally worth it.”
“There was a point in time where I was putting in 12-hour days, then would go home to literally live in a closet,” Hoodrich said. “Now, I have a two-bedroom apartment, dog and art collection, but it all started with giving everything up for the love of the craft. If you get handed this job, you don’t deserve it. You really should have to work for it.”
Now, Hoodrich tattoos at events around the country, building a reputation for himself with a record of celebrity clients including actor David Arquette. Arquette even returned the favor for Hoodrich at Lollapalooza 2010, tattooing a small eyeball on Hoodrich’s leg.
“People ask me, ‘Did you get his autograph?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, he tattooed me, it’s on my leg,’” Hoodrich remarked. “I love what I do. I get paid to have fun with people.”
With a minimum charge of $60, Code brings in a variety of clients ranging from local celebrities like rapper Hollywood Holt to working-class artists and industry professionals.
“You can’t pinpoint a demographic. We get professionals, executives, celebrities,” Davis said. “One of first weeks we were here, I walked in to clean windows or something and there was a 65-year-old woman getting a wolf on her shoulder, and an 18-year-old kid getting a zombie, within feet of each other. That was pretty cool.”
Thanks to a loyal customer base and wide demographic, Davis’s confidence in Code’s longevity is unwavering.
“It’s all about reputation and clout and who’s been around longest and who does it best,” Davis said. “I would never say anyone’s worse or better or that I envy anyone else around, but I’m not concerned about competition. Our artists here are incredible.”