Graffiti Tagger Turns Entrepreneur

Designs Murals, Apparel, Workshops To Mentor Teens

The hiss of spray paint cans echo in a southwest Denver neighborhood as three young men decorate a cinder block wall. This is not an act of vandalism, but rather a mural intended to prevent tagging.

"It's looking good so far," said 20-year-old Ratha Sok, a graffiti artist.

Sok understands the lure of a blank urban wall to taggers because not so long ago, he was part of the problem. Lacking the money to buy art supplies and canvases, he started tagging at 15 years-old.

"Wherever I was, I was leaving my mark," Sok said.

This nightly ritual would end a year later when a graffiti detective connected Sok's name with his spray-painted designs.

"I woke up and the cops were there, and they were like, 'We finally caught this guy,'" Sok said.

He was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention where he devised a plan to channel his passion and talent in a positive direction. The result is 2Kool, a public art and clothing design company which also offers community workshops to help steer young graffiti artists down the right path. It is a goal he was able to work into his business plan with the help of the Greater Good Academy, which helps low income entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality, with an emphasis on responsibility.

"As the public demands and wants greener products, more ethical behavior, more community engagement from companies, those companies will be come more successful, will become more competitive," said Richard Eidlin, president of the Progress Group, which operates the academy.

The Greater Good Academy provided Sok with training in marketing and business planning, which allowed him to expand his business and move the office out of his bedroom and into a warehouse space in north Denver. The move, Sok believes, will increase 2Kool's visibility and help the graffiti artists change the perception of graffiti from public nuisance to public art and fashion. It's a plan intended to make amends for illegal tagging in the past, and to create a successful and meaningful career.

"I'm really confident that this business will help me be sustainable in life, because this is something that I love to do," Sok said.

And it seems he is well on his way to meeting his goals. Sok and his fellow artists have had their work featured in the New York Times, and recently installed two murals at Denver International Airport, which will be on display until September 2010.To learn more about 2Kool, visit be2kool.com.

The Greater Good Academy is an eight-week training course teaching the triple bottom line philosophy of financial, social and environmental responsibility. Classes are scheduled to begin on Sept. 21, 2010. For more information, visit proggroup.com.