Two days after graduating from Emory & Henry College in Virginia, Ryan Harris moved to Myrtle Beach. A college roommate got him a job at Gene’s Beach Service. That was 12 years ago, and he never left. He is still lifeguarding at 76th Avenue North – and renting chairs and umbrellas on that block.
But along the way, Harris immersed himself in the beach lifestyle – embracing surfing and extreme sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA) and mountain biking, developing a Zen-like approach to living – and through the years, a thriving business that grew out of a friendship.
Harris and business partner, Jason Denton, are riding the crest of success with their outfit, Dirty Karma Clothing [www.dirtykarma.com], which from humble beginnings in Myrtle Beach has grown into a national clothing company with a showroom in Manhattan. Dirty Karma also maintains a storefront at St. James Square on 38th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach – with a nod to its local roots.
“Jason also worked for Gene’s Beach Service,” says Harris. “One day we started thinking about what we were going to do after our lifeguarding days were over. We started with the idea of trying to make T-shirts and we came up with the name Dirty Karma.” In their downtime, Harris and Denton traveled, surfed and mountain biked all over the world, soaking in various cultures. “We wanted to draw from our travels and pull in elements of this lifestyle,” he says, adding that they intend to stick to that.
With this idea in mind, they grabbed some wood and built a couple of screens and burned them, which basically means exposing an emulsion-coated screen to a light source. “We would go out to Ross or TJ Maxx or wherever we could find blank shirts, and any time we could find them for three, four, five bucks, we’d just buy all the blank shirts we could find – and we would literally screen print the shirts in his backyard. Just a squeegee, some ink and those screens that we made.”
At first, the shirts would be worn by friends accompanying Harris to MMA events, and they would always have shirts available on their surfing excursions – handing them out to cool locals everywhere they went. “We literally beat the streets, and it just started spreading locally and then into the surf industry and the fight industry.” This led to the company tagline: “A grassroots approach to a life enlightened,” and this remains a constant, regardless of how big the enterprise promises to become. And Dirty Karma is poised for the next level, thanks to a business partnership with Axis Denim, a heavyweight in the clothing industry.
Which brings us to the showroom in NYC. “[Axis Denim] has their corporate office in Manhattan, just outside Times Square in the Bryant Park area. They have the whole eleventh floor – so once we partnered up, they blocked off the back side of the floor, and that’s the Dirty Karma Showroom.” Denton and Harris brought Myrtle Beach to the Big Apple – populating the space with Denton’s artwork and peppering the place with surfboards – true to their vision. And this is where they present their line to retailers. “We also have our offices there, and we fly up there and work on and off during the winters.”
As for the Dirty Karma duo – their contributions to the company are clearly delineated, with Harris taking on the marketing and Denton handling the creative side. “That’s the dynamic between us,” he says. “We never clash because we understand our roles.”
Dirty Karma is all about giving back. “The company has a close friend that has two daughters who suffer from Cystic Fibrosis, and we try to do two events a year and donate the proceeds to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” says Harris.
Harris enjoys happy hour – and dinner and drinks at various spots on the Grand Strand. “Social involvement is how I blow off steam.” But things get really interesting in the winters – including annual trips to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic for two weeks and extended stays at different locations. “Last year I moved to Fort Lauderdale, and before that I lived in San Diego,” he says. “That traveling and pushing into new circles – MMA and surfing – I was able to infiltrate Dirty Karma into those places, too.”
But Harris is clear on this point – keeping the core lifestyle close at heart. “I will never turn into another person,” he says. “I will always be the lifeguard from Myrtle Beach.”
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