How Inkbox went beyond tattoo culture to create a brand based on inclusivity
Listen to this article
2021 might not seem like the best time to think about getting a tattoo. Are tattoo parlors even open near you? What would you even get if you could get an appointment? Never fear—Inkbox is here—and their unique semi-permanent tattoos will give you the thrill of the ink without the commitment. Whether this is your first “tattoo” or the latest of many, the brand experience Inkbox has created will make you feel like tattoo culture was made for you to be a part of.
There must be a better way (to get inked)
The story of Inkbox starts like so many startups, but the result is not what you would expect. Inkbox founders Tyler and Braden Handley were mid-twenties guys just wanting to get tattoos but weren’t sure what they wanted to get. There wasn’t anything out there to help them try different tattoos on for size, either. Your only option pre-2015 was one of those temporary tattoos you’d get as a kid.
On their quest to get inked, they tried various home remedies—unsuccessfully—but ended up hearing about a fruit that some indigenous people groups in Panama were using to dye their skin. The brothers jumped on the next plane they could to learn about the fruit first-hand. Eventually, they used it in the first formulations of their semi-permanent tattoo products.
The patented For Now Ink™ doesn’t have any of that fruity-goodness in it. The first formulas did, though, and in the early years, the Inkbox team did everything they could to make sourcing the fruit as ethical as possible. From the beginning, Tyler and Braden were working with the Darién Initiative. The nonprofit group has years of experience working with the indigenous people of Panama’s Darién Gap. The Handley’s wanted Inkbox’s use of the fruit to benefit the community they were harvesting from. Even if they didn't use fruit in the formula forever, they tried to leave a lasting positive impact.
Tattoos for now, for all
Inkbox started as a personal project and product that could benefit Handley’s quest for tattoos. They didn’t expect it to explode into an internationally recognized brand. From a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to appearing on Dragon’s Den (Canada’s Shark Tank), Inkbox has continued to make waves year after year.
In the years since its launch in 2015, Inkbox has continued to evolve with the times. The mid-2010s has been called the “golden age of digital ads,” back when all it took was some budget to run Facebook ads and become successful. The Inkbox team knew long-term success would take more than just a good product, cheap advertising, and any old website.
As Inkbox scaled to tens of millions of dollars in orders, their ecommerce stack needed to scale with them. That’s why they upgraded to Shopify Plus, updated their logo, and have continuously revamped their website. Staying fresh has helped keep their brand aligned with the trends and creative that their target customers are looking for.
A far cry from the anything-goes website of days gone by, their current website screams deliberate design. Hints of the brutalist aesthetic prevalent in DTC web design bridge the gap between garish and delight.
Inkbox can attribute a large part of its success and growth story to how its team realized the value of social selling and user-generated content (UGC). If over 1.4 million Instagram followers don’t convince you that they know what they’re doing, then the shoppable, embedded Instagram posts on the Inkbox website should. Better yet, the tens of thousands of social media posts that tagged @Inkbox, #inkfam, #Inkboxlove, or #tattoosfornow.
Social virality can make or break a growing brand. Inkbox harnessed virality to its full potential by making sharing your semi-permanent tattoos nearly as enjoyable as getting them in the first place. With the combination of hashtags, ease of contribution, and the photogenic nature of tattoo products, Inkbox blends branded content with UGC in a much more permanent way than their ink.
Beyond the ink
Many companies exist for the sole purpose of reaping a profit. On the other hand, companies like Inkbox continuously strive to make the world a better place. A single instance of doing something for the greater good seems like it would be nothing more than a marketing stunt. Time and time again, though, Inkbox has made their brand values the focal point of what they do as a company.
Creating a welcoming community
From the outside, tattoo culture can seem closed, standoffish, and hostile. Since its founding, Inkbox has been bucking that trend. Their brand community is designed from the ground up to be a welcoming, inclusive experience.
There are few places where this is more visible than in their loyalty program, the Inkfam. At one point, the program was even called the “Tribe.” Ever since Inkbox has been rewarding their customers in a way that doesn’t just feel like an add-on to their online experience; instead, they want to build customer loyalty to feel authentic and as inclusive as the rest of their brand.
Inkfam members get valuable monetary rewards, not to mention exclusive emails, early product drops, and more. It pays to be an engaged part of the fam, and anyone can join. All you have to do is create an account, and you get immediate value—how does 20% off your next order (even if it’s your first!) sound?
“Lifted Voices is a celebration of people of power—those who inspire others to live their lives out loud...We’re highlighting some of the best artists out there—bold, brilliant, Black creators who make art worth a double-take.”
If inclusivity-focused rewards aren’t enough for you, how about a series of profiles all about Black artists? The #liftedvoices series is an incredible collection of stories, photos, and videos about Black creators. Each feature focus on what makes them so unique and gifted in their area of artistic expression. Plus, each profile even has a corresponding collection of semi-permanent tattoos on the Inkbox website to tie the campaign back to the ink.
Inkbox has made it loud and clear that they stand for what matters and do their part to fight against racism—lifted Voices pairs flawlessly with the no-holds-barred anti-racism collection of tattoos. They know they have a platform and enthusiastically allow it to be a megaphone for voices that need lifting.
Every part of their online presence tells their customers, and not yet customer, ”you belong here. We want you to come on this journey with us.” And to be honest, who wouldn’t want to be part of a community like that?
A force for good in a crisis
Building an inviting website and brand community is one thing. Living out the values of that community in the world around you when it would be so easy to withdraw is something entirely else. That’s one of the reasons why Inkbox has thrived so well during a pandemic that hit so many businesses hard—they charged head-on into the mess to help others.
Early on in the first wave of lockdowns, the Inkbox team decided to devote as much of their in-house manufacturing efforts to building facemasks as they could. Using the laser cutting equipment they already had for cutting their tattoo products, Inkbox manufactured and donated masks to their local hospital. Not only that, but they also reorganized budgets to push some R&D and engineering budgets into building PPE like facemasks, cloth masks, and hand sanitizers for the rest of 2020.
Supporting the broader industry in need
The pandemic and government-mandated shut-downs have had a disproportionate impact on the tattoo industry as a whole. As a non-essential service and one typically only considered when people have extra money to spend, tattoo parlors across the world have been hard hit. Even when they have been allowed to be open, people just haven’t been going in like they were pre-COVID.
Inkbox saw the need to support these artists and created a program to give them a helping hand while the going is tough. With the “Supporting Tattoo Artists” program, Inkbox pairs up with well-known and up-and-coming artists to turn their designs into semi-permanent tattoos. For each tattoo design that gets sold, Inkbox pays the original artist $10, which works out to be at least 50% of the revenue. Inkbox doesn’t even make a profit off of them at that rate since the tattoos in the collection can sell for as little as $9.
Seeing Inkbox get behind their customers, their artists, and the community of ink as a whole says leaps and bounds for the integrity of the brand. Yes, it’s great when marketing efforts have a positive ROI. Still, initiatives like these seem to be designed to cut into Inkbox’s bottom line in significant ways, all for the greater good.
Ink for every body
It’s been a wild ride for the Handley’s. The past six years have taken them from just an idea to being large enough as a company and as a member of the tattoo community to be a driving force for good, ensuring the community is safe and supported. Tattoos, temporary or permanent, might be a luxury, but the Inkbox team has made it their missions through so much of their story to make every person feel like they belong to the community of ink.
No matter your age, race, or status in life, Inkbox has made sure that every person who follows their Instagram, scrolls through the website, or joins the inkfam wants to do what their tattoos are designed not to—stick around for the long haul.