Are Temporary Tattoos Ruining Tattoo Culture?

Tattoos have long been a sacred ritual of marking the body with permanent ink, uniting artist and client in a non-verbal binding contract. Those who get tattoos trust the artist to feel comfortable and confident in their decision – and most importantly – not to screw up. With the rise in popularity of temporary tattoos, this partnership is distorted and could make it difficult for independent artists in an inaccessible industry.

Startups like Toronto-based Inkbox and New York-based Ephemeral are leading the way in providing temporary tattoos that mimic permanent designs. A few weeks ago, Ephemeral raised $ 20 million in funding after finding TikTok to fame, gaining over 14,000 subscribers in less than 5 months. Inkbox, which recently partnered with big brands like Vans Warped Tour, writer Rupi Kaur and K-Pop legends BTS to create limited edition tattoos, raised $ 17 million in funding for increase their recruitment and look for ways to make their tattoos last longer. While Inkbox tattoos only last one to two weeks at most, Ephemeral takes the temporary tattoos one step further by presenting a more organized and ‘real’ individual experience, inviting clients into their Brooklyn studio to receive machine designs from commissioned artists that last from nine to 15 months.

Despite the closure of 20,000 tattoo shops during the pandemic, tattooing remains an extremely popular activity, growing at an average annual rate of 3.2% from 2016 to 2021, with nearly half of Americans having at least one tattoo. Artists are reporting double the number of bookings after the pandemic, with Instagram artists consistently having “Closed Books” in their bio. With the rise in tattoo appointments, comes an increase in regret. Tattoo removal accounts for over $ 800 million in a $ 3 billion per year industry, creating a market need for temporary tattooing. Ephemeral’s website explains how they do things differently: “For clients, that means stripping the tattoo experience of all intimidation so that everyone is free to express their individuality without fear or regret.

If you’re like me, you could follow a bunch of freelance tattoo artists on Instagram while waiting for them to grace your feed with their flash sheets. There are a handful of these artists in every city, working in small studios or individually supporting their business with commissions. When news of Ephemeral’s fundraiser first broke on Bloomberg, some artists drew inspiration from their stories to voice their dissent. Words like “price inflation”, “corporatization” and “contrary to tattoo culture” have frequently appeared in artists’ Instagram stories.

Jessa Cabral is a stick-and-poke artist based in Providence, Rhode Island who has been tattooing for over three years and has already permanently tattooed thousands of people. Jessa was one of the artists who criticized the increase in temporary tattooing in her social media. “The industry is inaccessible and quite guardian and it’s just another way of putting people in a position to compete with something that is backed by money. The playing field is not level again, ”she said. “It’s just a hard industry to fit in and with it turning into a business it’s like ‘oh okay, now we have to compete with that on top of everything else. “”

Becoming a tattoo artist is difficult, especially without financial support. Jessa said it costs around $ 800 to $ 1,000 per month to run her practice. Getting into tattooing usually includes learning costs (which are mostly unpaid and hard to get), procurement costs, license fees, a marketing budget, etc. If you are able to become a tattoo artist, the benefits are not guaranteed and vary from month to month. monthly, obviously plunging during disasters such as pandemics or economic recessions. Ephemeral offers its artists a salary and job security, motivating them to join a large company to become a tattoo artist – eventually pulling talent out of small collectives and independent and private studios.

“I think the traditional way of tattooing may be unattainable for some people, especially people with marginalized identities, where a lot of independent and private studio tattoo artists come from,” says a 25-year-old San-based tattoo artist. Diego. artist Ali Mehraban, who was first drawn to permanently branding someone and trusting them in your ability to give them something they will love forever.

Traveling freelance tattoo artist Justice Wolf believes the beauty of tattooing lies in the trust between client and artist, and that only flourishes when the tattoo is permanent. “The magic is in this space where you work together to create a work of art that will last as long as this client. It doesn’t matter if it’s a joke tattoo, commemorative coin or flash. That confidence is still there, ”explains the 26-year-old. “Temporary tattoos don’t cost any of that, you don’t have to trust your artist at all or build a relationship because it will look bad in three months and be gone in a year, so who cares ? Yet you pay the same price.

While Inkbox tattoos typically cost less than $ 20, Ephemeral tattoos, perhaps due to the more personalized experience the company offers and the semi-inked ink. patented permanent that they use, can cost between $ 175 and $ 400, roughly the same price as a permanent tattoo.

Justice says they believe the industry is commercialized and watered down, stressing the importance of researching and understanding the history of tattooing, especially in black and indigenous cultures. “There is a history of tattooing which involves reclaiming your body from the oppressive systems that attempt to punish or stigmatize your body. This can be found especially in prison tattooing, but in many self-taught and non-institutionalized tattoos there are currents of this type of self-determination through body marking, ”says Ali.

Tattooing is complex and there are so many different opinions on what is ethical. All of the artists cited agree on the good thing that can come out of the temporary tattoo: inclusiveness. Short-lasting ink solves tattoo-related obstacles like avoiding removal, being humiliated by your family, or religious qualms. The traditional teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam generally oppose permanent tattoos, attracting more orthodox clients who see temporary tattoos as a workaround. It allows people who could not participate in tattoo culture to express themselves and experience their image. Even though these tattoos are temporary, you still have to be 18 or over to get a tattoo without parental consent (Ephemeral still chooses to follow New York State tattoo laws on the boundaries of age).

“The information about Jewish and Muslim people getting tattoos is great, but is it [temporary tattoo company’s] targeted audience? If so, then that’s great, but if it’s to charge people $ 400 for something that looks like shit in six months, that’s such an arbitrary way of saying that a Temporary tattooing is acceptable, but not a permanent tattoo, ”explains Jessa. “I want to believe they have good intentions, but again turning it into a business changes everything for me.”

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