May 30th, 2022

Customer Feature: Kabuto

Some say friends and business shouldn’t mix. But for David Liu and Horikei, friendship and their love of tattoos are what ultimately planted the seed for their Boston-based tattoo lifestyle clothing brand.
Customer Feature: Kabuto brand

It all began with tigers and friendship three years ago. One day, David Lui walked into Chameleon Arts & Tattoo Shop with a vision for the half sleeve tattoo he wanted. He was soon blown away by the Tebori style of design he was given by tattoo artist, Horikei. 

“This was the beginning of my passion to learn more about Japanese culture, history, and fables depicted in traditional Japanese tattoos.”

As two hardworking, tattooed fathers- David and Horikei quickly bonded over their shared values of family life and the samurai spirit. Their mutual interest and appreciation for Japanese engraved tattoo art, not only sparked their connection, but it's ultimately what led them to their passion project.

Like many people during the global pandemic, David and Horikei recognized that they had a common need for an outlet for their creative energies. One day when David was visiting the tattoo shop, the two friends talked about how cool it would be to start their own streetwear label. This idea escalated into a creative brainstorming session between the two, in which they exchanged ideas about how they could,

“bring Horikei’s authentic, Japanese motifs to life- in the form of t-shirts & other streetwear items. Mimicking the scale, shock, and awe of full-body Japanese tattoos."

In researching existing streetwear brands, they found that many offered Americana tattoo-inspired clothing, but very few focused on Japanese tattoo art. David and Horekei decided to change this, and go big or go home. 

Despite growing up on opposite coasts, Horekei and David were heavily influenced by their past experiences amidst the skate culture. The Kabuto founders knew they wanted to start with high-quality t-shirts, in hopes that they could reflect their relaxed attitude, creativity, and willingness to take risks.

The first step in getting their idea off the ground was to find someone to make their t-shirts. This was no simple task, in that 

“We were determined to work with a reliable and experienced printer for discharge screen printing. It’s important for us to use discharge printing and soft, water-based inks that soak into the fabric, rather than just sitting on top of the fabric like traditional screen printing.”

After a long process of visiting i.e talking to more than 10 screen printers, David and Horikei finally found the ultimate solution, Threadbird. 

The initial idea behind the Kabuto brand was to

 “recreate that powerful feeling after finishing a tattoo, confidence, strength and determination, for each person when they put on one of our rad Japanese tattoo t-shirts."

The first two designs they created for their streetwear collection were the ‘Raw Power Tiger’, and the ‘Boss Dragon’. The fierce, ‘Raw Power Tiger’ design symbolizes strength, courage, and tenaciousness. In creating the digital mockup, they

"maximized the print of the design, and the tiger roared to life."

This design instantly became Kabuto’s “big and bold” signature design style.

Given Horikei's past experience in printing t-shirts, the two partners were relatively new to the apparel design scene. T-shirts seemed like an excellent canvas for the partner's brand, in that they invite dialogue, and reflect their own personal values and a shared admiration for the inclusive, Japanese collectivist culture.

The Kabuto partners launched their first collection, featuring the ‘Shodai Tiger’, and the ‘Imposing Dragon’, at the Boston Tattoo Convention, where they were able to see how people responded to the brand. To their surprise, their collection was a huge hit, as they sold out of almost all of their inventory, and customers

“raved about our original and fresh designs, how super soft the shirts were, and that they could barely feel or notice the water-based ink that was printed onto the fabric.”

“Love people. Love tattoos.”

This simple motto is the driving force behind the Kabuto brand. Rooted in the founder's love of tattoos, and people, their designs celebrate their brand values of independence, strength, and authenticity. Each of their designs holds symbolic meaning for not only the Kabuto brand but the wearer of the shirt. 

Since the first batch of t-shirts they ordered from Threadbird, the Kabuto brand has continued to blossom. Within less than a year, the partners reprinted their first two designs, and also released a third t-shirt design.
This koi fish design is named ‘Gaman-Goi’, and is a symbol of courage and overcoming adversity to achieve a goal.

For Horikei and David, finding high-quality t-shirts was their top priority. Their favorite brands to print on are Bella +Canvas 3001, AS Colour, and Champion in selecting blank garments.

“Bella +Canvas have beautiful fabric blends and shirts with a high thread count of at least 30,  which gives them a buttery soft, stretchy feel and vintage effect.”

Their designs are printed on color variants of the Bella +Canvas 3413 tri-blend tee. Blended with 50% polyester, 25% airlume combed, and ringspun cotton, they are silky and extremely comfortable. 

In the early stages of developing the Kabuto brand presence, the partners utilized Instagram to promote their brand and sell their products. In hopes of sparking organic growth,

“We get out and talk to people, - tell our story, laugh together, and get their valuable feedback on how we can continue to improve our designs and products.”

By exchanging stories with people, they’ve built deeper connections with people and ultimately, their brand. As their selling demands have continued to increase, they transitioned into primarily selling products their products on their website.

Today, Horikei and David are working on more fresh designs to complete their first t-shirt collection. Following this, the partners are hoping to move on to other types of apparel, exploring new mediums to print their designs on kimonos, skateboards, etc.

“We enjoy pushing the boundaries of our designs and have even more cool surprises up our sleeves.

The Kabuto partners are excited about their brand's future as they continue to introduce new and cool products and are looking forward to the next Boston Tattoo Conference in September 2022. 

To find out more about their story and journey, find and follow them on Instagram: @kabutobrand

For more information about traditional Japanese-style tattoos, check out
@Horikei617 and his artwork collection!

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