24 Hours With Niko “Tunacrackers” Tumamak

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by Barbara Gonzalez

Niko "Tunacrackers" Tumama
Niko “Tunacrackers” Tumamak of InkRED

Most broke college students get a job on campus for a little extra pocket change. It’s not every day that you find one who is ambitious enough to make his own clothing line. UW-Madison Senior Niko “Tunacrackers” created InkRED in 2009 during his freshmen year, producing clothes straight out of his dorm room. Two servings of rice, twenty hours of class work….this multi-faceted artist shares his story.

10:00 AM: On a regular weekday, I probably wake up around ten. I usually have class at 1:20, so I get up early. I eat breakfast because I think it’s really important. Usually like something small, a little brown rice and some eggs. I’m trying to keep healthy.

11:00 AM: I go to the gym before 1:20. I warm up with basketball, shoot around for a little bit. Then I do some weight lifting. Sometimes people don’t even know that I still break dance and stuff. That’s actually how I got into First Wave. That’s how I want to connect with kids because break dancing is such a kid thing to do. I still do it because it’s a way for me to connect to the youth and they’re all like super impressed and gravitate towards that. I want my work to be geared towards kids just because I feel like what I’ve been offered wasn’t an option growing up — the option that you can look like a thug and go to college. You can look like you don’t belong here but be at the top of your class. I try to share my wisdom in whatever realm they’re in. But after that, then I go back home, shower, change and go to class.

1:20 PM: All my classes, or really, all the classes that matter to me, and that I go to are here in Humanities. They are set up so that they all start at 1:20 or 11 or 4 or something like that. They all go on for about two and a half hours. I usually have one class but I’m scheduled to be at about three. Studio classes take up about half of my credits. I’m taking eighteen credits. Studio classes take up about twelve. I’m scheduled to be in class from 1:20-3:50, usually. But I usually stay after class for another good two hours just to get my required six hours out of class, which is ridiculously low. You know how they say six hours out of class for each class every week? I think I put in about…. near twenty? Twenty extra hours. But every day it switches off. Monday and Wednesday I have sculpture. Tuesday and Thursday I have this advanced painting workshop which is why I have this space (Niko has his own studio space in Humanities), they pick twelve of the top painting students to be in there every semester. So I stay until about five.

5:00 PM: I’ll probably eat dinner. I’ll have some chicken, rice, and some corn and then do some InkRED stuff.

4:00 PM: Every Friday I have meetings with my exec board which involves talking about money with my financial person, talking to ¡OYE! (Karl Iglesias, member of First Wave and Rapper) about the musical side of it and talking to my manager, Cydney Edwards (member of First Wave). What is the musical side of it? Honestly, you’d have to talk to Karl about that. Him and Andrew Thomas (First Wave rapper Phonetic ONE) wear the clothes on stage and I make them look cool. Karl was kind of my fan and he was like “I’m doing music, you should sponsor me!” It made perfect sense. I told him, “I’ll design your album covers and if you give me your fans, I’ll give you mine.”

6:00 PM: InkRED will probably go on until midnight or something unless I have a bottle of wine or something *laughs*. It all depends on what I do. If I’m doing designing stuff, I’ll spend a good amount of time, maybe six hours until I go to sleep. But if it’s like secretarial stuff, like sending out emails or setting up and having meetings, I’ll probably do that until ten. It’s such a broad thing to say, like I work on InkRED and it sounds like I’m staying in one place and I’m talking to people on the computer. But that can be anything from doing a photo shoot to designing a t-shirt, or printing a t-shirt. I could be gathering research or going to the Chazen to look at art books. But InkRED got started when I realized how broke I was, the broke college student in freshmen year. Everyone buys shirts, but I’m just thinking to myself, “I’m really picky.” The times that I buy shirts, the intervals are so long in between that I just decided I’d start making my own shirts. So I learned how to do it, got some tips from online and friends. Just learned how to screen print in my 9×12 dorm room, which was ridiculous because I did it all on the floor. My roommate was Gabriel De Los Reyes, who is also in First Wave, he’s a DJ and he had these turntables and speakers and all this equipment in this one room. Now there’s like a t-shirt press, chemicals and paint everywhere, it was the most ridiculous room ever. In sophomore year, I got a little more advanced. I had more money to buy equipment so that it wasn’t like super guerilla art warfare or whatever. Junior year I got some interns, and now it’s just growing into this thing where now I have a space to do it.

12:00 AM: I’ll finish InkRED stuff around this time. I’ll go home and basically try to keep myself human. I’ll shower and then I’ll watch TV shows, like The Cleveland Show, The Office, or The Walking Dead. Then I usually watch it until I fall asleep around three am. But it’s all about hard work and hustle. That’s the inspiration behind InkRED. I made these things from the ground up, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, I’m a college kid. I hadn’t gone to school for making apparel, I didn’t know how to sew, but I got it done. That’s hip-hop, you do it or you don’t. I think it’s that blue-collar feel of everything, making stuff your way. It’s making sure you rise up and succeed and stand tall in excellence, no matter what people say, no matter where your stance is in society.

Want to learn more about InkRED or buy some fly new clothes? Visit http://www.inkredeverything.com/ to start shopping!

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