By C. Aileen Blaine
When Youngstown State University alumnus Justin Haines graduated in 2008, he wasn’t sure where his fine arts and graphic design experience would take him. Now, he runs his brand, Dead Ink Apparel, from his Niles-based studio.
Shortly after graduating from YSU, Haines started applying the skills he learned from his graphic design background and printmaking class to begin designing graphics to put on shirts. He ran a four-color printing press from his parents’ basement, where he and his friends made T-shirts for bands. In 2011, he started the apparel line as what he calls “horror-inspired streetwear,” drawing inspiration from mythological creatures like the chupacabra or Loch Ness monster.
“A lot of the shirts I do have backstories,” he said. “A lot of the stuff reflects Ohio — I have a shirt that reflects the high school I went to.”
As with any small business, it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, orders don’t arrive in time for vendor shows, and other times products are slow to sell.
“Sometimes, you go to a show and you don’t sell,” Haines said. “Actually, my first show ever, the product did not arrive and I had nothing — that was a 10-hour trip to Massachusetts and I had an empty booth.”
The designing process can be laborious and tedious, too, and there isn’t always a linear timeline.
“The process to designing a shirt can be all over the place. It could start as a sketch, and then nothing might come from it for years,” he said. “[Usually] it’s just me working on things over and over and over until I’m either completely sick of it, or I finally like it.”
But the good times and success are what makes it worth while. Haines said he enjoys when people come up to his booths at vendor shows to ask about the business, and there have been a few occasions when his shirts have made it to the big screen.
“I have some shirts in this movie called ‘X-Men,’” Haines said. “It was probably 2013 when I was contacted by a guy — the director — who wanted to use some shirts in the film. So I sent him some shirts, and then they’re in the film.”
Dead Ink isn’t always a one-man operation. Sometimes Haines collaborates with other artists, such as Dr. Wolfenbergen from Philadelphia, to create new designs and bounce around sketch ideas.
“I’ve collaborated with different artists that have a horror genre and stuff that I liked,” Haines said. “[But] pretty much, I have a hand in everything that I’ve done.”
To celebrate Dead Ink’s 10th birthday, Haines is hosting “Ghoul’s Night” Oct. 23 at Cedars West End in Youngstown. The costume party will feature photo-ops on the “dead carpet” and live music. DJ Clay of Insane Clown Posse will make an appearance at the gathering, and there will be performances from Pittsburgh band Nxrmal Creatures and TINO from Dayton.
“The 10-year anniversary party is something I’m really excited for,” Haines said.
The party is also an opportunity for Haines to drop some new designs, including the “10 years of terror” shirt. He also sells beanies, wristbands, hoodies and hats.
“Ghoul’s Night” tickets cost $10, and attendees must be ages 21 and up. For more information, check out Dead Ink Apparel on Instagram @deadinkapparel or its website deadinkapparel.storenvy.com