Venice

Spring 2014

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SOUL SEARCHING SkinnyBuddha's Justin Davenport is channeling his inner independent artist. BY TINA ASHCHIAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENJAMIN RUSNAK W hat is a skinny Buddha? A stuck, puzzled reaction is exactly what Justin Davenport expects to see when someone is introduced to his unconventionally named brand. For this Chicago native, the phrase is a representation of self-growth. "A skinny Buddha is actually a symbol of one's journey to enlightenment," Daven- port explains. "And basically of somebody who is striving to achieve their goals and working toward their passion." SkinnyBuddha embodies everything young, creative and unrecognized through street art-inspired clothing. Graffiti artists, classic brush painters, cartoonists, you name it. It backs independent street artists who are unestablished and need that extra push into the promotional world. SkinnyBuddha's origins had several incarnations. Part of the name came from a simple souvenir T-shirt from a Las Vegas restaurant called Little Buddha. When Davenport wore the shirt, he often was asked, "What's a Little Buddha?" His self-funded brand, which was everything from a party bus company to a record label seven years back, has reformulated its focu s to a clothing line for the past year. In one year, the company has created a collection of vibrant, high-quality T-shirts, tank tops and hats that are up for grabs online and at every monthly Fort Lauderdale and Miami Art Walk. With a marketing degree from the University of Central Florida and a résumé of positions with trusted names such as 5-hour Energy and Vitamin Water, it's safe to say these str iving artists are in good hands. Davenport, 30, has his bright-blue eyes set on recognizing talented artists while allowing them the freedom to do what they love. "If we're going to you, that's because we want your wild style twist," Davenport says. "We step in and say, OK, we're going to link you with our photographer, we're going to get the high-res image, we're going to print your prints, we're goin g to sell it online for you. You're going to do nothing. We're just going to give you money after we sell it." The company's rapid growth has landed SkinnyBuddha a Vitamin Water sponsorship and the opportunity to tour with rappers Curren$y, Method Man and Redman to their Florida shows. Davenport and his two partners, Thomas Puma and Derek Meekins, are doing their best to avoid a 9-to-5 cubicle. Their day s consist of selling merchandise at pop-up shops, designing their next product, managing their website, running nearly 10 social media outlets and more—with extra help from their growing fan base. Plenty of additions are coming this year for Davenport and his crew. Expect to see new shirts for the Chinese year of the horse and a humorous take on "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" with Buddha he ads. Also coming soon is a release of more female apparel, including yoga pants. They also will sell prints of their signed artist's work online. Daven- port sees SkinnyBuddha on track to tripling last year's sales. As it is a lifestyle brand, they feel their universal message is better understood when people get to meet the SkinnyBuddha family in person. So catch them at their next pop-up, grab one of their stickers, share some stories, drink some beers (they prefer Heineken Lights). As Davenport puts it, "We don't refer to ourselves as a business. We refer to ourselves as a family, the SkinnyBuddha family." UNIVERSAL MESSAGE Justin Davenport is the man behind SkinnyBuddha's brand for street art-inspired clothing. 66 Venice

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