By Shawntai Brown
Photo by Judson Miller
Many college students mark their discovery of self in their years as a student with more than just a diploma. These days, more so than in generations past, young adults are choosing a more artistic route with body art.
Tattoo parlors are popping up more and more and Kalamazoo has its fair share, with one parlor right on campus and others just a few miles away. The fascination with ancient ritual of tattooing has grown in popularity, and according to Pew Research Center 36 percent of people age 18 to 25 have already been tattooed. Of the previous generation, only 10 percent decided to get inked.
Thanks to shows like “Miami Ink” and stars like Angelina Jolie pushing tattoos more into pop culture, the tattoo vocabulary can be used by anyone. The infamous “tramp stamp,” located on the lower back, has become very popular amongst women and even men; while “sleeves,” an entire arm of body art, is a sure sign of tattoo addiction.
As this new generation of college-age people slowly makes their way to the work field and family life, parlors are looking for more ways to appeal and expand their customer base. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that Tattoo Nation LLC is a parlor chain that opened recently in a New Jersey mall, in proximity to Bloomingdales. The parlor said they would like to open 400 more locations and become a mall commodity like Victoria Secret.
The fascination with the mall is simple. Not only does it start teens who frequent the mall thinking about what to have etched into their skin once they are of legal age, but it also attracts the stay at home parent shopping in the middle of the day. While the “soccer mom or dad” crowd would not usually frequent an urban-based parlor, tattoo chains represent something that many adults find attractive: uniformed safety procedures.
Tattoo chains typically mean that artists have gone through the same training, have the same standards for sterility and offer shops in a number of locations that will ensure the same kind of service, no matter where the client may travel.
One Kalamazoo area mom, Tamara Quinlin, said that having a parlor within the mall is a smart idea for shops and their customers. If the parlor is only operating during mall hours, 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., it is less likely to encounter inebriated customers looking to make a permanent decision under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Quinlin suspects that most irresponsible alcohol or drug related decisions are made after mall hours.
While avoiding one crowd, a local shop fears that moving to a mall could come with a host of other problems.
Diana Laguerra, manager of New Addiction tattoo parlor, which has two locations within Kalamazoo, said that having a shop in the mall creates a problem with minors.
“I think it would be more of a pain in the butt than anything,” Laguerra said. Attracting soccer moms and dads would also attract their children. “[The kids would be] a major distraction for the artist. Most of the time people don’t bring a babysitter with them while the parent is sitting down to get work done.”
Laguerra said this would leave children running around the shop. Not only is it a distraction to the artist, but it poses a safety hazard. Needles, permanent ink, and possibly piercing tools typically do not mix with unsupervised children.
The dynamics of chain parlors also cause for a different relationship with the artist in some cases. Tattoo Nation LLC has salaried tattoo artists instead of contractors. With traditional tattoo shops, such as New Addiction, artists rent a chair in a shop and work off commission, splitting the profits 50/50 with the shop owner.
Laguerra said the idea of salaried positions is not a bad one from a business perspective, however, from an artist stand point there is a possible disadvantage.
“As the manager it is something that I would not be opposed to; however I have a variety of artists,” said Laguerra who has contracts with a number of artists ranging from little experience to many years of inking. “The ones that are newer to the industry would probably be OK with that.”
Newer artists would not have to worry about building a base of loyal customers and a reputation of good artistry because they would be guaranteed pay as long as the entire business prospered. Artists with more experience have already built a fan base and become accustomed to a more independent handling of their finances. Since they are independently contracted, their taxes are not automatically taken out of their pay, giving them more control of their spending.
While taking shops out of their typical urban settings where parlors have their own attitudes, Laguerra does see how having a mall location would benefit a chain parlor. “I sometimes feel our business would be better,” Laguerra admitts, but she still has reserves and concerns of being in a more commercial setting. One that many traditional parlors can agree on is that “it would change the entire atmosphere on the tattoo shop,” Laguerra said.
While New Addiction is not a large chain, its two locations do have regulation training required by the artists who work at both locations. Laguerra said all of her artists must complete a one year apprenticeship within one of the two locations and complete certification in CPR as well as training in blood borne pathogen prevention.
The shop takes pride in being completely sterile, and while many traditional parlors come with a certain stereotype of living life on the edge, the parlors Web site boasts that is alcohol and drug free with a friendly staff willing to create original artwork for its clients. Many traditional shops follow similar standards and try to maintain a clean working station.
Mall located shops, like Tattoo Nation LLC, are looking for a new market, but New Addiction has already staked one out. One of Laguerra’s parlors, located at 1506 West Michigan Ave., sits right in between Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College’s campuses, ensuring a student cliental, consequently the same demographic that is most likely to purchase body art.
Even when reaching the soccer mom crowd, commercial chain parlors may still be plagued by the stigma that comes with being inked. “I would never ever in life get a tattoo,” said Quinlin as she helped her son with his homework at Oakwood Neighborhood Association.
A study by Texas State University found that while more people are getting both tattoos and piercings, the majority of those surveyed said that they would prefer to not work with someone with body art if face-to-face customer contact would be required. Of those who were surveyed, even those with piercings and tattoos said they still feel their body art is unprofessional and would be perceived negatively.
The study also found that 58 percent of the managers surveyed would be less likely to hire someone with visible body art.
However, like Quinlin, many people young and old have vowed to never get tattoos and do not intend on changing their minds, no matter how commercialized parlors become.
*photo by Judson Miller