xxx = Side Hustle Gone Wild Thom Bulman EP 279 Side_Hustle_Gone_Wild__Thom_Bulman__EP_279 Fireside Tattoo Network

Business and Mindset: Side Hustle Gone Wild Thom Bulman EP 279

Side Hustle Gone Wild! | Thom Bulman | EP 278



After COVID and the world had shut down Thom, a 17 year tattooer, was struggling to figure out where he was in tattooing. Between making custom shoes and not not knowing when tattooing might freeze up again he felt like he had to make some real decisions. In this interview he shares his journey of transitioning from tatt slanger to full time sneaker smuggler, reflecting a trend of artists exploring new career paths. 

From hobby to business, Thom navigates challenges in scaling up, including outsourcing production to China and tackling legal issues like licensing and cease and desist orders. 

He also emphasizes the importance of delegating and hiring the right team to support business growth, envisioning a recognized brand in the custom shoe market. Thom also discusses the creative process, challenges faced by major brands like Nike, and his vision for the future of his company

We hope you enjoy this exceptionally wide ranging conversation.

This episode was made possible thanks to:



Interview by By Jake Meeks —

Writing By Daniel Pushcarich —

Topics: New School tattoos, Pop Culture, tattoo side hustle, tattoo business, Nike, adidas, sneakers, custom sneakers, shoe manufacturing

Street shark shoe

"We're like a drug dealer, hooking you with Nikes, then getting you into our own designs for the long haul."

— Thom Bulman

Thom Bulman (@Bull_airs_official) has been immersed in pop culture since childhood, drawing inspiration from Saturday morning cartoons. His passion for cartoony art evolved into drawing caricatures, eventually pioneering his own style called "Tattoons." Thom has generously shared his techniques with other artists, fostering a community of learning rather than gatekeeping his knowledge.

After a triumphant 17 years in tattooing Thom has retired from tattooing into the custom fashion design industry. He has created “Bull Airs” which merges his love for pop culture and nostalgic iconography with his passion for clothing and creating unique wearable artistry, 

Thom Bulman is based in Syracuse, NY and owns Bull Airs

Please enjoy!

ninja turtle shoes





  • Connect with Thom Bulman:

Bull Airs Shop | IG

wolverine and deadpool shoes


  • [00:00] Introduction and Background
  • [01:08] Tattooing and the Desire for Change
  • [05:05] From Hobby to Business
  • [08:37] Scaling Up and Overcoming Challenges
  • [11:39] The Creative Process
  • [13:32] Moving Beyond Representational Designs
  • [23:04] Navigating Licensing and Cease and Desist
  • [25:09] Strategies for Dealing with Licensing
  • [25:30] Loopholes in the Trade
  • [27:18] Balancing Creativity and Business
  • [28:15] Transitioning Mindsets
  • [30:27] Permanent vs. Short Runs
  • [31:44] Celebrity Clients and Ideas
  • [32:27] Creative Process and Design Ideas
  • [35:19] Social Media Content and CGI Artists
  • [37:05] Retiring from Tattooing
  • [39:03] Returning to Tattooing
  • [40:10] Catalyst for Retirement
  • [41:28] Scaling the Business
  • [43:58] Shifting Roles and Hiring a Team
  • [46:00] Transitioning to a PEO
  • [48:39] Delegating and Trusting Others
  • [49:38] The Importance of Delegating and Hiring
  • [50:29] Long-Term Goals and Expansion
  • [51:03] Exploring Other Manufacturing Options
  • [51:56] Building a Brand and Gaining a Wider Audience
  • [53:49] Identifying a Niche Market and Filling a Void
  • [55:09] Understanding the Problem You're Solving
  • [55:17] Growing Up as a Shoe Collector
  • [56:32] Nike's Challenges in the Market
  • [59:08] Dealing with Social Media Platforms
  • [01:03:03] Commissioned One-Off Shoes
  • [01:04:08] The Age of Information and Learning on YouTube
  • [01:05:13] Paradise Tattoo Gathering and Teaching Seminars
  • [01:07:29] Wrap-up and Closing Remarks


Diversifying Career Paths in the Tattoo Industry:

Many veteran tattoo artists are seeking alternative career paths due to industry challenges and a desire for change. Many tattooer’s have various passions outside of tattooing such as painting, drawing, and creating sculptures. There are even super unique things that people are doing like Tom Strom and his “Poptimal Pop-Ups”, or Russ Abbott providing digital tattoo products with Tattoo Smart. So many creative avenues are available 

Transitioning from a hobby to a business involves scaling up production and outsourcing to meet demand. Exploring creative ventures like designing custom shoes or creating digital tattoo tools requires a team of people, and any entrepreneur worth their salt understands that a team like that is made up of people with unique skills that support your vision. This team should be able to take the tasks and workload of things you aren’t very good at and give you the time and freedom to focus clearly on the things you do best in your business.

Identifying Opportunities for Innovation:

Building a brand that is widely recognized and respected in a niche market requires identifying a void and filling it with a unique offering. This involves understanding the specific needs and preferences of the target audience within that niche and developing products or services that address those needs in a distinctive way.


back to the future shoes

To succeed in a niche market, businesses must identify gaps or unmet needs that existing competitors have overlooked, a perfect example is Bull Airs and their short run custom shoes. By conducting thorough market research and analysis, companies can pinpoint areas where they can offer something different or better than what is currently available. This could involve introducing innovative features, addressing pain points, or delivering superior quality or value.

Innovation often requires creative problem-solving and idea generation. This may involve brainstorming sessions, cross-functional collaboration, or seeking inspiration from unrelated industries or disciplines. By encouraging a culture of innovation within the organization and empowering employees to think outside the box, businesses can generate fresh ideas and solutions that have the potential to disrupt the market and drive growth.


avatar the last airbender



Moving Beyond Representational Designs

[18:33] “I usually have a rule of thumb, I like to keep it two colors, but I'll push it to three colors. Then [past that] it gets too busy, and your eyes could kind of get confused. It's the same thing with a tattoo, you want to be able to read it from across the room. And if it's got like six damn colors on it, you'd be like, I don't know what I'm looking at here. You know?”

— Thom Bulman

Navigating Licensing and Cease and Desist

[24:05] “We also learned, in legal, if you hashtag say ‘Ninja Turtles’, you can be liable in a court of law for misguiding and misrepresenting [the] Ninja Turtles.”

— Thom Bulman

Growth Through Delegation and Trust

[51:06] “I had the same mindset, you know, ‘if anyone's going to do it, I have to do it. Cause I'll do it right…’ And, you eventually have to give the reins over to somebody else and have trust in them that they're going to do it. Cause, they want to make money just like you, they want to get their payroll, they want to get their check every two weeks”

— Thom Bulman

wu tang clan shoes




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Transcript for this video can be found (here). All transcripts can be found (Here)

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Business and Mindset

Running a tattoo business requires a completely different skill set than putting tattoos into skin. As tattooers, we tend to put all of our emphasis on the technical aspects of tattooing. Unfortunately for shop owners and tattoo entrepreneurs, tattooing is only one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to the business of tattooing. 

Fireside is here to help:

  • Tricks for ordering supplies for your crew
  • Creating goals for your shop
  • Upholding tattoo shop values 

We also have plenty of Business and Mindset Deep Dive content to help you avoid the most common pitfalls of shop owners.

Check these pages out

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