Covid 19 could spell the end of tattooing as we know it

Covid 19 could spell the end of tattooing as we know it

The coronavirus Covid-19  is sweeping the world, changing life as we know it. Small businesses have been particularly affected with compulsory closures, social distancing and problems in the supply chain causing many to shut their doors for good. Tattooing has taken a real blow and if trends keep up many artists could lose their livelihood. Yayo writer Matt Haddon-Reichardt went in search of the inside story on how coronavirus is disrupting tattooing in the UK.


I’m self isolating. I don’t have any symptoms of Covid-19 but my daughter does, in the form of a dry cough. I’m stuck in the house for 14 days, but luckily I can work from home. The same cannot be said for tattooists.

“Literally over night we have all become scratchers,” Jokes Matt Wall, co-owner and manager of Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour in Leek, Staffordshire. Matt has been busy all week cleaning and making changes to how the studio is run, to ensure optimum hygiene and minimize risk to his customers. I had also arranged to speak to Yayo sponsored artist Simon Cooke but the pressures of running his studio in these unprecedented conditions has meant he has had to cancel. Everyone in the industry is feeling the strain.


“Literally over night we have all become scratchers.”

“For the moment, like many studios, we are staying open until we are told any different from the government," Matt explains.

"As a small business if we don’t open we can’t make any money and we have bills and mortgages to pay. Professional tattoo studios are some of the most hygienic buildings on the high street and we have brought in extra measures to ensure Covid-19 stays at the door. We are cleaning the studio regularly, turning away anyone who presents with symptoms and operating on appointments only; no walk ins. With these measure and a host of others, we hope to be able to stay open and provide a good service.”


There is a lot of talk about how small businesses can survive Covid-19 and as of writing Boris has yet to enforce a shutdown. We are being advised to distance ourselves from each other and not visit pubs, restaurants or theaters. While this makes great sense, as it will restrict the spread of the infection, it is proving incredibly challenging for tattoo studios.

“If we are told we have to close, we will close,” explains Matt.

Matt is hopeful his business will survive the projected 12 week crisis of Covid-19. It is the new starters in the trade that he worries about.

“Successful studios and well known artists will have to move bookings and even if we aren’t forced to shut footfall will be lower than normal but for apprentices and people new to the trade, who don’t have an established client group, this could put them out of business.”


“For the moment, like many studios, we are staying open until we are told any different from the government."

Before speaking to Matt I rang my dad, who is a retired community nurse. He was involved in the contingency planning for North Derbyshire psychiatric services during the SARS and Swine Flu scares of the 00’s. Thankfully those epidemics did not materialise. This time we will have not been so lucky.

“I’ll be honest son, this thing is going to kill tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. The old, the sick and the vulnerable they are all at risk. People like me will not be able to leave the house for 12 weeks.”

My dad has an underlying health condition and his self imposed 12 week house arrest officially starts on Saturday but he has not left the house all week, except to drive my mum to the shops.

“Businesses need to listen to the prime minister and close. People need to listen to the prime minister and stop going out and socialising. The schools are closing so hopefully that should get the message across more firmly.”

I ask him if tattoo studios should shut until further notice.

“As a nurse the answer is yes. Tattoo studios need to close to the public and the public need to take responsibility and stop getting tattooed. It is a luxury purchase and we don’t need luxuries at this stage. What we need is to stop the spread of Covid-19 and that means stop the person to person transfer of the virus. We can only effectively do that if people isolate.”

“But I don’t blame the tattoo studios for staying open. How else are they meant to make a living? Tattoo studios are one of the few success stories on the high street in the past 10 years. Pubs and shops have struggled and closed but tattoo studios still keep popping up in towns and cities. They bring people into retail areas, which is great for the high street and great for the economy. And if what Boris is saying is just advice, and it doesn’t matter how strong that advise it, people are going to turn off to that message if it means that can’t earn a living. We don’t need advice we need orders. Businesses need to be forced to close and the government needs to bring in financial support packages to ensure that when we beat this virus, which we will, businesses like tattoo studios can get back to trading. I don’t blame tattoo studios for staying open I blame Boris and his cronies for a lack of clarity and a lack of strong leadership.”


It’s not just the artists and studios that will suffer it is the industry as a whole. From suppliers to land lords and machine builders; if no one is getting tattooed there is no tattoo industry. Back on the phone with Matt he gives an unusual example of how easily a studio can go belly up.

“Kitchen roll,” he says, “Or to be more precise the inability to get hold of kitchen roll. People have started panic buying the stuff and we have been struggling to get hold of it. Tattooists use loads of the stuff when tattooing so if we run out then we can’t tattoo. Just something as simple as that could cause a studio to cancel bookings and be unable to pay the rent, rates and bills.”


"Tattoo studios need to close to the public and the public need to take responsibility and stop getting tattooed."

As we chat through how the industry is working hard to mitigate the risk of Covid-19, Yayo artist Jonathan Vagner Dunan emails me from France. He tells me that studios in France are now shut until the 15th April. Maybe the UK industry is not far behind; by the time you read this maybe all the studios in the UK will be closed. But until then most are soldiering on.

While Covid-19 is going to be a real game changer in all our lives I know the tattoo industry will survive.

“We survived the recession ok,” states Matt as we begin to wrap up the interview. “Tattooing is a luxury item but it’s not a huge luxury like a car or a holiday. Plus it’s something that lasts forever so I think that during the last recession people still kept getting tattooed because it was a luxury that was within their reach. Hard economic, social and personal times are ahead of us but I think that people will turn to tattooing to help lift their spirits and feel positive.”



A final thought from the author: "We live in troubling and testing times. This is only going to get worse before it gets better. But in an age of uncertainty there is one thing you can rely on and that's Yayo. It heals a tattoo like nothing else. It also smells great too. If you want the best then use the best; use Yayo!"

Yayo... its a family thing.


 Words by Matt Haddon-Reichardt
Images by the featured artists and Matt Haddon-Reichardt