Why did you, Kelly, Nikki and Gia decide to form an alliance?
We didn’t have any sort of premeditated intention of creating an “alliance” between the girls. Before I left to compete, I had all these crazy ideas in my head that I was going to be sleeping in a room next to a psycho super-competitor who was going to put urine in my shampoo and cut off my ponytail in my sleep. But apparently, the other girls had similar paranoias, so we were all immediately relieved to meet each other and all shared an immediate admiration and mutual respect. We helped each other, we supported each other, and as we grew stronger as a unit, the bond transferred into the competition.
What obstacles have you faced as a female in a predominately male industry?
In many places today, being a female tattooer is still a novelty sort of position and with this notion a lot of people feel the urge to judge us on a million other things aside from our work alone. The thing about being a female in this industry is that everyone has some opinion about you. Our appearance, our weight, the way we dress. It’s unfortunate that the way we look must affect our tattoo ability. Now this isn’t true for everyone, but I can speak for myself that no person, male or female, should be pressured to look any certain way to feel validation as an artist.
How do you think that the industry will advance in terms of gender equality as time goes on?
People everywhere are slowly changing as the times are changing. I’m noticing that the same bracket of elderly people with old-fashioned ways of thinking, who would at one time comment about how it’s a “sin” that such a pretty girl would ruin her body, are now approaching me to tell me about their daughter or granddaughter with a tattoo and they’re connecting with me on that level. Since everyone is getting tattooed in our society, these old school thinking types of people all have a tattooed loved one or friend who allows them to see tattoos as art, instead of body defacement.
I understand that before becoming a tattoo artist, you worked as a fashion designer. What made you transition from a career in fashion to a career as a tattoo artist?
I’ve been artistic for as long as I can remember, but my interest has always been focused on human anatomy and the flow of the body. I wanted to go into a career that allowed me to decorate the human body and use the shapes, flow and curves of my canvas to adorn fabric. But after about six years in the industry, I realized that my true calling wasn’t for fabric—it was for skin. So at 24 years old, I left my awesome design job in NYC for the next chapter, hoping that tattooing would bring the fulfillment I was lacking… and I was right!
Did you bring any of your skills from fashion into your tattooing?
Absolutely! So many of my skills, aesthetic, work ethic and vision in tattooing come from my previous life in fashion. During the last three years of my career in design, I was mostly assigned to create all of the intricate adornments on the garments we created. I was designing bead work, appliqués, lace details and embroidery, so when I began to tattoo, those interests translated directly and I slowly started to tattoo more and more intricately. Now my tattoo designs consist mostly of flowing jewels, beadwork and lace detail.
As many people know, in addition to being a tattooer, you also own The Strange and Unusual. What made you decide to open an oddities shop?
Thanks to my antique-collecting Mom and tchotchke-collecting GMalarkeya, I have been going to yard sales, flea markets and estate sales since I was a toddler. It’s always blown me away to see what people throw out and consider garbage. Collecting these small objects led me to start repurposing items as DIY projects and eventually revealed an entire network of “treasure seeking” people who mutually appreciate the “strange and unusual” things in life.
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