Counter Journal

CJ Online

Tritoan Ly

 

Globally recognised for his intricate tattoo work, Tri has built himself an impressive business with over 260K followers on Instagram. From break dancing competitively and selling cigarettes in high school; he later spent a Christmas break founding Seventh Day Studio. We sat down with him to discuss his journey so far.

Photos: Tritoan Ly

Left: Tritoan and his sidekick Pax; Right: Tri is well-known for his delicate floral work.

Tell me about your early years. You were born in Thailand and moved to New Zealand at a young age, what do you remember about that transition?
Mum has a pretty interesting story, she was born in Cambodia at the time when Pol Pot was in reign. Long story short she fled on foot to Thailand as a refugee, and that was where my brother, sister and I were born. It was a very tough life growing up, we were finally given citizenship to NZ after being in the camp for 12 years. Even arriving to NZ was hard because my mother did not know how to speak English, nor drive or have a job. So the hustle was real. Thankfully my mother dedicated her life to us kids so that we could get an education and hold it down for our next generation.

Were there any challenges you faced as a result of the move? How did you overcome them? 
I mean us kids did nothing during the transition. My mum was pulling all the weight, it was our job to one day become successful in our field so that we could support her when we’re older, which now is a reality.

Let’s hear about your background in dance, I’ve heard you were pretty good at it. How did you learn to dance and why did you stop?
I started break dancing when I was around 15 because all my friends were doing it. I was already doing Muay Thai but Mum decided it was too violent, so the natural progression was break dancing. I fell in love with it and it was something that kept me occupied as a youth. Our crew won several national comps so we were pretty decent.

You also taught for a number of years in alternative education. How did you get the job and what did it involve?
I taught dance in several studios around Auckland and also in a youth prison, but I got sick of spinning on my head and back flipping so I quit. The company that led education in youth prison offered me a full time position as an alternative education teacher because the kids missed me, I was the youngest teacher at that time being only 18 and without a degree.

You’re a man of many talents, do you think you just have an affinity for creative work or is it more to do with practise and honing your craft?
I think my real talent is an attribute of my character; when I get interested in something I obsess over it. I’ll lose sleep until I’m decent at whatever I want to be good at. My logic is, if you put in a thousand hours, you’re very likely to be good at your craft.

You also have experience in fashion and wedding photography. How did you get your name out there as a freelance photographer?
I was just trying to shoot all my hot friends which lead to me handing my portfolio in to different modeling agencies and they were impressed so I started doing their test shots. One of the biggest modeling agencies in NY picked up some of my photos which was the highlight.

You’re a hard worker. Explain the drive behind how you got to where you are today.
Find something that makes you tick, it automatically gives you that drive. Also, how I grew up influenced how hard I work, so I can’t give advice on that. We didn’t have much so it forced us to work hard.

I imagine there are a lot of logistics involved with setting up a tattoo studio. How did you start Seventh Day?
It was quite random, I was bored over the Christmas break so I wanted to keep myself busy, that’s when I decided I wanted to open up my own studio. I already had in mind what I envisioned it to be, so I spent all my holiday sorting out a lease and whatnot for the studio. Everything kind of fell into place, I think there was definitely a bit of luck on my side.

How did you know how to run a business?
Freelance photography helped, and I always had a side hustle. I was selling cigarettes in high school. That’s a business, right?

Left: Tritoan hard at work on a client piece; Right: A classic example of Tri's handiwork.

What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
If you’re not obsessed about what you want to do or who you want to be you’re not going to get very far.

Social media can be tricky for businesses, yet you seem to have cracked the code. Why do you think your work has become so popular on Instagram?
Social media comes out of personal taste, people either like your shit or they don’t. I think it’s all about being genuine, just be yourself because people can see right through you.


Seventh Day Studio—boutique tattoo studio based in Auckland, NZ
Follow Tritoan and his work on Instagram at @tritoan_7th