Do you know who Norman Collins is? Back in the 1940s, Collins opened up a tattoo parlour in Honolulu. After the Pearl Harbor bombings, all the soldiers and sailors were after tattoos. Collins, who by then was known as Sailor Jerry, was the one to accommodate them.
Sailor Jerry’s the company started in 1999 when friends who were fans of the man and his art got together to start a clothing brand. The brand is synonymous with Jerry’s unique, timeless tattoo art and deeply ingrained in the music scene (the company puts on gigs in its store and has even closed down the street for a mini festival in 2002). Sailor Jerry’s rum first appeared in 2001 and has been steadily gaining fans ever since.
Sailor Jerry’s unique branding (the bottle sports a classic pinup girl in Sailor Jerry’s style) sets it apart from the competition. Being decidedly alternative in its marketing and branding has allowed Jerry’s rum to carve out its own little niche. ‘Hipster’ is definitely a word frequently associated with the brand, and it is passionate about tattoo culture, going so far as to offer free tattoos at music festivals in the US.
If there’s a lesson here for budding entrepreneurs of fine liqueurs, it’s that image matters, but not always the way you think. Jerry’s doesn’t angle for the Caribbean history of rum, nor does the bottle try to pass itself off as an aficionado’s elegant centrepiece (it’s heavy and plain with a wickedly pirate-like stopper). Instead, it has created its own contemporary identity that hearkens back to the days of emerging countercultures, while simultaneously appealing to a growing mainstream base. And it tastes great, which is always a plus.
In a recent interview, brand ambassador Louis Xavier Lewis-Smith was asked why he didn’t have any tattoos. He replied: “You don’t have to have a tattoo to have an appreciation for the art.”
I think that sums up the Sailor Jerry’s brand pretty well. You don’t have to be a hipster to appreciate its counterculture roots, and you don’t have to know who Norman Collins is to feel the dedication the company has put into their product.