Put two piercers in a room together and very soon you’ll hear them putting the piercing world to rights. We rounded up two such candidates, Ash Don Butcher and Jake Thomas, and let them loose to discuss today’s piercing industry. Sit back and enjoy the ride!
Saying ‘No’ to Clients
Every client should have a consultation of some kind, even if it is just a navel piercing. Consultations don’t have to take hours. In just a couple of minutes, you can take a look at the job and let them know if it’s going to work or not. We recently saw a girl who had a nose reconstruction. The scar tissue just above her septum was hectic, obviously internal scarring, and it wouldn’t have been a good idea [to pierce]. It’s rare but you have to know when to say ‘No’.
A lot of piercers are scared to say “Sorry, it’s just not going to work.” If their navel is not the right shape to pierce then you’re effectively doing a crap surface piercing. They’re going to leave happy, but it will not settle down and in the end, it’s going to reject. You see it a lot with vertical clitoris hood (VCH) piercings and navels – the things people bang out day in day out. They’re all over the place. The piercer should have said, “Your body is not suited for that piercing. You shouldn’t have it.” It’s OK to say ‘No’. If you’re not one-hundred percent, then why do it? It’s only going to come back to haunt you. You end up being that guy who did a crap piercing.
It seems harsh, but you often need to turn a lot of eyebrows away because the client has a flat brow. That piercing already has a reputation for growing out and you don’t want to perpetuate that. There’s room for manoeuvre but you have to get the gauging right; at least 1.6mm and perhaps 2mm for a bridge or eyebrow to keep it bound in place. Otherwise, it’s just going to cheese wire its way through.
Using a higher gauge is often a good thing as long as you tell them there’s a slightly higher risk of scarring. Pain-wise, it doesn’t really make a difference. OK, so it’s a little thicker, but it’s still a fluid motion straight through.
The Variable Quality of the Average Piercing
When someone comes in for a piercing that’s a bad idea you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ethically, you have to turn them away, but you know that they’ll then just go to some hack down the road. The hack does an even worse job than you would, and when it all goes wrong they come back to you moaning and hoping you can do something. Many people just want it done and they want it done cheaply, so if you’re not going to do it they’ll go elsewhere, usually to someone with less ethics or knowledge.
There’s plenty of that type of piercer around. You can set up as a piercer for less than a grand without any checks made on proficiency or knowledge. Anyone can apply to the council for a licence by simply stating that they are a piercer – £104 later and they’re in business. The local authority doesn’t even look at your studio to make sure everything is as it should be. The council will visit every now and then, check to see that there is a box of gloves on the shelf and surmise that everything is fine. It seems very different in the USA. People seem more concerned and want to get it right because it is modifying their body.
Some customers just don’t get it. They’ll walk in and see a nice looking shop. It’s professional; perfect, even the tiling grout is anti-microbial. But these customers don’t see that. They come in and it’s a nice place, everyone’s friendly and it’s a nice environment. You spend time showing them that everything’s bagged, showing them how it’s all sterilised. You spend time explaining what you do and what they will be paying for. Then it comes to the crunch and you tell them that what they want is going to cost you twenty quid. You know that, given the work and expertise involved, twenty quid is quite cheap, but you can’t charge more because people won’t pay it. So you tell them it will cost twenty quid and they hesitate and say, ‘But it’s seventeen quid down the road!’ And your whole body is screaming, ‘Look at the difference in the shops and the way everything runs! Ask the cheap piercer some questions and check out how much they really know. Go and see if that’s worth your three quid!”
You could say that, but half the time it falls on deaf ears anyway so you’re wasting your time. You go through the piercing and at the end you tell them the price and they’re aghast. “But it’s five quid in the hairdressers!’ To which you can only answer, “Well fuck off back to the hairdressers then!”
I think apprenticeships are the only way forward. In the U.K. anyone can go on a two-day piercing course and, a couple of grand later, all of a sudden you’re a piercer. In America it seems you have to do a long apprenticeship, often lasting a few years. That’s how it should be here. This is important work. I did an apprenticeship and looking back I should have spent longer learning. I should have spoken to a lot more piercers.
The Fact that Time is Money
People think that because they haven’t the artistic ability to become a tattooist then they can simply become a piercer because it isn’t so difficult. People often don’t realise the extra hours you spend working, doing jobs that aren’t actually piercing – hygiene, stock control, accounting, consulting. It never ends, but no one sees this or even thinks about. My piercing room is flawless, I clean it everyday. This takes time but people don’t see or appreciate that. Piercing is not the easy option.
Every piercer will have had the experience where someone walks in and ask for a new lip bar, so you put it in for them and they go to walk out without paying. It might not seem like much but to give your time and your products away for free just isn’t sustainable. My piercing room isn’t clean and kitted out by magic. My knowledge and expertise was hard-won over years of training. It’s been hard work and expensive too and you’re here to earn a living. You’ve given them some of your time and a piece of jewellery and they have not even considered that there’s a price. They wouldn’t do the same in a supermarket.
Of course, it makes sense to do quick jobs for free if it is someone who has been a customer for a while. Fair enough, if someone has given you some regular business over the years, but otherwise they should expect to pay.
The Question that Everyone Asks
You wouldn’t believe how often we are subjected to bad hygiene from clients. We’re not talking about poor aftercare, we’re talking about people who come in and expect us to get close up when they are absolutely minging! It’s a stressful job and it’s difficult to come straight out and tell someone that they need to clean up before you will pierce them. Remember, we’re not getting paid any more for doing this dirty work.
It’s O.K. to refuse piercings if the person has really poor hygiene and we regularly turn away alcoholics. The people who are turned away because they’re too gross to pierce are always shocked; like it is some kind of a surprise to them that we don’t want to get that close.
The frustrating Piercing Myths and Bad Practice
We’re often frustrated with the bullshit that you hear about piercing. For example, who the fuck started telling people you need to constantly twist a new piercing – “Make sure you twist it regularly!” We get asked about twisting literally every day. Just tell them to clean it and leave it the fuck alone. There’s no need to mess with it or to become obsessive with cleaning it too frequently. The proper aftercare protocol is to look after a piercing the same way you look after your teeth. Just clean them a couple times a day, every day, for the rest of your life. It is a big commitment but if you want it that bad you should be willing to make that commitment.
There are similar issues with stretching and stretchers. You’ll be asked about stretchers frequently and I always tell those people that I don’t really agree with the tapering of piercings; that it’s not how you should stretch a piercing. I don’t sell stretchers, but I can stretch it properly for you.
Nipple piercings, especially on women, are pretty hard to do properly too. You’ll often see them done in a way that has allowed for lots of swelling room, but you’ll rarely see that much swelling on a nipple to justify that extra 5/6mm. It just means the client will be catching and snagging the piercing on their bra.
There is so much cheap wooden jewellery out there. I really don’t understand it. How can you expect to pay four quid for a pair of woods and expect quality? They’ll walk around in an eighty quid pair of shoes but won’t cough up a tenner for titanium or a quality made custom piece.
The cheaper stuff is invariably inferior, in design, materials and even down to the work itself. There was a photo on one of the Facebook groups the other day and it showed a collection of jewellery made from a wood that’s not even safe to put in your body. The guy was using some kind of wood with a nice grainy effect, but the pattern was actually mould.
Why it’s Not All Bad
It’s nice to be involved in a process that boosts someone’s self-esteem. For example, some people are uncomfortable with their ears so they wear their hair longer in an effort to hide them. It’s great to have the opportunity to fix them up with a cool bit of bling in their ear. Often it changes their life! That sounds over the top, I know, but it can be life changing. It can give people a new lease of confidence.