Working to build Koio, we meet tremendously inspiring people every day who embody the spirit of our community. Our mission is to tell their stories, and hopefully inspire yours along the way.
Our friend JonBoy is this kind of changemaker. He worked through the ups and downs of life, tirelessly, to become one of the world's best tattoo artists. His dedication to mastering this art lead us to embark on our first ever sneaker collaboration.
Together with JonBoy, we designed two sneakers that encapsulate his aesthetic and design elements that are most meaningful to him.
JonBoy in his New York studio
You went to seminary to become a youth director, but then started spending a lot of time at a local tattoo parlor. What made you want to switch tracks and pick tattooing as your profession?
I went to youth ministry to use my second chance in life and help others—to inspire people that feel hopeless and like they have no purpose in life. But at the same time, I was hanging out a lot at the local tattoo parlor and really started getting into tattooing. Several times, the church said I was not doing the will of God and I shouldn’t be there. But it felt so right because the people at the tattoo parlor were the ones I needed to reach—the kids that were the outcasts and the misfits. It felt like this was my purpose.
At the tattoo pop-up that we hosted together during Fashion Week, it was so impressive to see how you build such an immediate connection with your clients. What’s important to you when you’re giving a tattoo to someone?
I think it’s just about making sure that the client feels special. I want to make them feel like gold. Being with a client in that hour of working on the tattoo, creating that impactful experience, giving them all my attention. I never look at clients as customers. I look at them as actual people.
From sketch to reality
You’re one of the most successful tattoo artists of our time and you travel the world doing your work. But you’ve spent a few years in places that weren’t so glamorous. What role does persistence play in your life?
Yeah—early in my career I tattooed at biker rallies or at a nightclubs that really weren't glamorous at all. Persistence played a big role. Showing up every single day and working hard, no matter where things were. Earning the stripes, really, to get to my goal—to be the best tattoo artist I could be. It’s part of the journey of mastering my craft that I have to deal with hard situations, and that I keep asking myself the question: Are you gonna be able to do this or are you gonna quit? It takes a lot of time and being dedicated to your craft. No matter what comes your way, if you’re putting in the time and you’re putting in the work, that’s gonna pay off.
You’re the icon of intricate tattoos and one of the few people who can create such detailed designs. How did you get to specialize in this type of tattoo?
I always feared single needle tattoos. My teacher used to tell me that single needle tattoos are really hard. He’d say: If you’re not using the right machines, not the right depth, not the right speed, not the right inks, you can totally mess someone up permanently. People asked me to do them a while back, but it was fear that held me back. Over the years, I’ve been able to conquer that fear. The more I was doing small tattoos, the more confident I felt that I could do them well. And this process gave me a new perspective on life. In anything that you do, when you conquer your fear, it’s like wow, look at what can happen, look at the possibilities.
An homage to classic tattooers
You just designed a sneaker for Koio—your first product collaboration ever. Tell us a little bit about the shoe.
I wanted to put out a shoe that described myself, my style, and my art—something that I would wear every day. I love streetwear with a high-end vibe. So made this sneaker all about the hardware. I really love those gold and rose-gold mountaineering eyelets. I also love to accessorize, and the Old English K on the laces represents that fascination. That K stands for Koio, and is an homage to the classic tattooers.
When I tattoo, I really look at how the shape of the tattoo interacts with the body, and that was what I paid attention to when I added the morse code into the design. I want to give tattoos that look like they belong, like they’re exactly where they need to be. The code sits nicely on the side of the sneaker’s sole and evokes this sleek feeling. And it’s a bit mysterious—when you see it, you don’t know what it means.
Your signature script is really special, too. We’re excited to have it on the sneaker.
Yeah. It’s been a trip because I didn’t grow up loving my handwriting. But the more I tattooed it, the more often people asked for it. Now it’s the number one request. I’ve even grown to like it myself. From the distance it looks like a design, like a shape. Only when you come closer, you see the phrase that means so much to the person wearing it.
“It’s part of the journey of mastering my craft that I have to deal with hard situations and ask myself the question: Are you gonna be able to do this or are you gonna quit?”