Safe Spaces: How Female Artists Are Reinventing the Tattoo Shop

Safe Spaces: How Female Artists Are Reinventing the Tattoo Shop

We visit with four female tattoo artists who are transforming tattoo shops into inclusive and empowering places.

Tattoo culture is rapidly evolving. Once a taboo and even illegal art form, tattooing is now generally accepted and admired by mainstream crowds.

In fact, according to a 2015 Harris Poll, three out of every ten Americans has at least one tattoo. And although the industry still remains largely dominated by male artists, a global survey from Dahlia Research reveals that more women (40 percent) are getting tattooed over men (36 percent).   

Gone are the days of rough-and-tumble street shops being filled exclusively with soldiers and biker gangs. Today’s tattoo studios need to cater to a diverse clientele including women, people of color (POC), LGBTQ and non-binary clients.

As more individuals line up to get inked, artists have a responsibility to make clients—regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, or body image—feel comfortable and safe during a tattoo appointment.

Here are four female shop owners who are reinventing the traditional tattoo shop to make the physical space a welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds and identities.

Muriel de Mai of Minuit Dix  in Montreal, Canada

When Muriel de Mai opened Minuit Dix in Montreal two years ago, she wanted the tattoo studio to be a space that represented her values. De Mai, who identifies as queer, says that it was important for her to be up front about the shop code of conduct from the very beginning.

The Minuit Dix website forcefully says that any “racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, slut-shaming, and fat-shaming” won’t be tolerated.  

“I want every person that comes to Minuit Dix to get tattooed to feel safe, so it’s important that our values are stated clearly,” she says. “It’s a political act for me to claim those values loudly and clearly, and I don’t care if I lose customers or if I’m frowned upon because of it.”

De Mai explains that aesthetics of the studio create a welcoming environment. The space is filled with plants and natural light; the music is chosen with customers in mind; and the artwork on the walls is crafted by people identifying as women, POC, queer, non-binary, etc. “I wanted a space that radiates good vibes, love, and respect,” she says.

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But de Mai explains that it’s not enough to just buy some plants and put a label on your Instagram account. She says that Minuit Dix hires artists who align with and practice the shop values.

“Creating a safe space must be a political ambition from the owner—but also from every person working in the studio,” she says. “You must build the trust progressively. You have to think about everything you put on the walls, make sure that the behavior of all the artists is irreproachable, and that the communication on social media is respectful of everyone.”

Kim Deakins of Pink Goblin Tattoo in Athens, Georgia

Before Kim Deakins opened Pink Goblin Tattoo, she worked in one of the busiest shops in Athens, Georgia. She grinded hard every day and made a name for herself, but the experience day in and day out affected her. “After several years, I found myself feeling undervalued and resentful,” she says.

But Deakins’ Pink Goblin, where she works closely with fellow female tattoo artist Lydia Hunt, is a manifestation of everything she wanted in her own shop. She painted it a soft, soothing pink and filled the space with plants. She hung quirky artwork that represented her style and aesthetic.

“I often describe it as a demented daycare because of some of the unusual art I have hanging up in conjunction with the colors,” she says. “This was a space that I personally wanted to feel good in—a place I wanted to return to with a smile.”

Deakins says that as a female minority in the industry and a victim of sexual abuse, creating a comfortable environment for her clients is her number one priority.

“I have heard horror stories of my female clients being sexually harassed or abused during tattoo sessions and it makes me sad,” she says. “Getting a tattoo automatically lends itself to feelings of vulnerability. The client hands over their trust and their body. Ultimately, I aimed at creating a space that people can feel comfortable in and actually enjoy the experience of getting a tattoo.”

Hunt, who works at the shop with Deakins, agrees that making all people feel at ease is at the forefront of Pink Goblin’s mission. “The most important thing to me, other than tattooing to the best of my abilities, is that everyone feels welcome and safe in our hands,” she says. “Most people don’t know how tattooing works, so when they walk into the shop, they put themselves completely in the tattooer’s hands and have no idea what is and isn’t appropriate behavior.”

Pink Goblin hosts regular tattoo fundraisers for causes for organizations that are important to both Deakins and Hunt, including HIV/AIDS service organizations and women’s organizations. “I felt that if we were going to present ourselves as a woman-owned and operated business, it was our duty to give back to the community we were trying to represent,” says Hunt.

Julia Campione of Good Omen Tattoo in Chicago, Illinois

After years of working at different shops in the Chicago area, Julia Campione officially opened Good Omen Tattoo in the Roscoe Village neighborhood in March of 2019. As a lesbian tattoo artist, Campione admits that experiencing discrimination within the industry fueled her to want to open her own space.

“There have definitely been several occasions where heterosexual male tattooers have made offensive comments pertaining to my sexuality,” she says. “In some cases, that type of behavior caused me to have to change shops very early on in my tattooing career. I think that anyone who identifies as being gay could relate to the sentiment of just wanting to feel acceptance without having to explain themselves.”

Campione renovated a dingy storefront and turned it into a warm and inviting space filled with rich wooden floors, colorful carpets and furniture, and—of course—plenty of plants.

Adding to all the feel-good vibes, Good Omen is located directly across the street from the Fellger Park "You Are Beautiful" art installation. Campione believes that fate helped her secure a spot next to such a powerful message. She says it’s a great message for clients to read as they make come in for their appointments.

“Getting a tattoo can make you feel vulnerable, and let's face it—that shit hurts,” she says. “That's why the number one thing in my mind was to just to try and make it a super cozy space for the clients.”

Campione hopes to use Good Omen to help support LGBTQ youth through fundraisers and other programming. “When I was a young teen I frequently attended two LGBTQ youth drop-in centers—the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit and Affirmations in Ferndale, Michigan,” she says. “Having access to a place where I was able to come to terms with my own identity and to meet other people my age that I could relate to completely shaped my ability to accept myself and to feel proud of who I am.”

Good Omen already hosted a flash-day fundraiser to support the Ruth Ellis Center, the Yellow Fund, and the Chicago Women’s Health Center.

Campione says that creating a safe space in the tattoo industry requires mindfulness above all else. “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” she says. “We all have the potential to grow and change. I think that, overall, the tattoo community is filled with so many incredibly compassionate souls who are giving each client the best tattoo experience regardless of their sexual orientation, race, or gender identity.”

Emilie Robinson of The Aldrich Tattoo Parlour in Minneapolis, Minnesota

When Emilie Robinson was planning out the feel and aesthetics of The Aldrich Tattoo Parlour, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she wanted it to feel more like a spa than a dive bar. “While I love dive bars, I don’t necessarily want to be tattooed in one,” she says.

She also wanted to elevate the tattoo experience to be one of self-care for all clients. The Aldrich tagline is “Respect for Every Body” and it’s a message that Robinson takes to heart. She’s worked hard to cultivate a culture of inclusiveness and caters to a mix of mostly women, queer, and femme clients.

Robinson says that establishing clear communication and maintaining client comfort is paramount to creating a positive experience. “When you tattoo someone, it is inherently an intimate act that requires that you are in someone’s personal space,” she says. “Establishing respectful boundaries can be as easy as offering robes for clients when we are going to tattoo something in a private area and offering additional draping and screens to maintain privacy.”

She also says that little touches can really elevate the client experience. “Some small practical ways that we’ve created a client-centered experience are by having a comfortable waiting and welcome area with tea and water offered immediately as people enter the space,” she says.

Robinson also attributes an overall feeling of comfort and care to—yep, you guessed it—plants. Greenery fills the shop and helps clients and Robinson relax and enjoy the environment, though she credits her shop assistant, Ray, with keeping them alive.

But at the end of the day, Robinson says it’s how tattoo artists treat people that really matter. Physical space can provide a sense of calm, but the interactions between artists and clients are what really count. “We want everything that goes through the Aldrich—be it tattoos or collaborations—to come through a lens where respect is always the focus,” she says.

Author Bio: Deidre Grieves is writer, digital marketer, and tattoo collector. She is also the founder and editor of FemaleTattooers.com, a website dedicated to showcasing the stories and work of female tattoo artists worldwide.

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