The tattoo industry will survive Covid-19. A European perspective.
Last week I spoke to Matt Wall, co-owner of Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour in Leek, about how the coronavirus Covid-19 was affecting the tattoo industry. 1 week later all UK tattoo studios are closed as the country goes into lock down. Last night I spoke to Matt, Jonathan Vagner Dunan in France and Mattias Andersson in Sweden to find out how European tattooists are surviving this virulent disease.
“We are all going to have to adjust,” explains Matt. I normally like to interview people in person but Covid-19 has made this impossible.
“Our kids are at home and we are running a completely different routine focussed on home schooling and exercise.”
“On the business side of things I think those studios that run a tight ship will be ok. I’m pretty organised when it comes to accounting so business minded studios should be able to take advantage of what the government is offering. Many studios will be looking at a £10,000 grant over the next few months. From what I can gather there is a self employment package of offering 80% of earnings up to £2500 but I need to fact check this. Those who have paid their taxes will get what they deserve. Everyone at the studio has applied for universal credit so that will make a difference.”
“We are all going to have to adjust.”
Matt is feeling optimistic, that if people knuckle down and apply for the benefits and financial support they are entitled too then Covid-19 will not destroy the industry.
“It’s about talking to your landlord or mortgage provider. It’s about getting the support you need from banks or building societies. Society and the economy will suffer if small businesses go under. Small business owners and the self employed take a massive risk as it is; they don’t get sick or holiday pay. I’m not political but what the government is offering seems to make sense.”
Across the channel in France the government is reacting with harsher measures than Boris and his advisors. While Matt discussed how UK tattooists can access government grants and schemes to stay afloat Jonathan Vagner Dunan messaged telling me the situation for French body artists.
“Everything is good! But everybody stopped to work until 15th April here In France. They said that we have to be closed until 15th April minimum for the moment, but I bet its going be until half way through May.”
"We have to be careful with this shit.”
I admire Jonathan’s optimism; I think this whole situation will drag on for anything between 12 weeks and 18 months.
I ask if there are any fines or penalties for studios that stay open.
“Oh yes! First time 135€, second time 1500€, third time 6 months prison.”
Compared to what the British governments is enforcing this is draconian, but perhaps very necessary. I ask if people can you go put in public; currently (as of writing) the Brits are allowed one walk, run or cycle a day.
“No it’s the same type of punishment. I think it’s normal bro. We have to be careful with this shit.”
We certainly do have to be careful and the UK still doesn’t seem to get how serious this virus is. A paramedic friend of mine told me he went to an incident today where at least 20 men were having a party drinking and smoking weed. When asked to move away they complained.
“Lucky you in the UK, getting to go out; in France it’s forbidden.”
I feel it is the French who are lucky to have a government who is taking Covid-19 as seriously as the scientists and medical professionals are.
I ask if small businesses are getting any financial support from the government
“At the beginning they talked about 45 billion for business. We will be fixed the 31st March but it’s going to be derisory compared to the shortfall. Anyways fuck it, health before everything. Yes I will lose a lot but health is more important than money and for me and my entourage everything is good.”
“The big issue is, its a big psychological problem for a lot of people; my brother broke a nerve.”
I explain that my wife is a psychiatric nurse and they are seeing an influx of worried anxious patients.
“Yes stay strong guys! Full of positive waves from France.”
Back on the phone to Matt, he is positive that there are ways and means round the issue of studios being shut for weeks if not months.
“We have already had people offering to pay our artists now for tattoos that have been delayed. I know studios are looking at selling vouchers and doing discounted offers on buy now get inked later deals. It’s all a way of staying positive and keeping customers linked to the artists.”
One area Matt is not willing to expand into is merchandising and art sales and he makes a valid point as to why.
“The postal system and postal workers don’t need to be doing anymore work then they have to. If we start selling prints that’s more work. If we start pushing our merchandise that’s creating a chain of contacts from supplier, to distributor to the public that could result in Covid-19 being passed on. I know a lot of artists are going down that route and I know they need the money but it isn’t something we are not looking at”
"Maybe we can be more human to one another; it could be a change for us all, not just focussing on your own shit.”
An email lands in my lap. It’s my old buddy Mattias Andersson one of Sweden’s top tattooists.
“The Covid-19 Situation of tattooing of Sweden is like this; not that much has changed.... yet. We still work and still do tattoos. Some people have cancelled their appointments but not really that many. The one thing I noticed is that not so much new appointments are coming in for the moment. And that a lot of disinfection fluids are out. I had bought a load long before this, a little stash, so personally I’m ok. I got it all for some time now; just in case. The problem will be, if shit hits the fan, who wanna put their money into getting a new tattoo?”
“The opinions in Sweden really are one way or the other when talking to people. Either shut down the country or keep going.”
“I understand the risk of not shutting us all down; but how the fuck will people and the economy get back from this? If we just stop buying and supporting one another, it’s all gonna crash. It’s gonna be a bigger domino effect more than most people can imagine. But also, what happens if the virus gets the grip of all the people? Chaos! Gonna be crazy at hospitals and so for us the government have spoken in Sweden, for smaller businesses, but it’s just bullshit. You can count that they will do pretty much nothing. They say they have but it’s not helping. They wanna save the big boys; like always. They don’t give a shit about small businesses in these heavy times.”
“And as for tattooists they will not mention us at all I guess. We are like ghosts, wraiths in the night, shadows hiding in the gloom; time to be a pirate again soon and grab what you can!”
“But being serious, maybe we can be more human to one another; it could be a change for us all, not just focussing on your own shit.”
“People are starting to feel the effects, but just Maybe 4-5% of where this is going now. I have already locked my mind to a mode of thinking that I will not much work this year. Personally I’m cool with that. We got savings and so we will make it. I’m more worried about people already living on the edge; it’s gonna be some hard times now. Depression and all that shit; all businesses hitting the rocks. If they crash that’s gonna get the mortality rate up just like the virus. If we don’t start the world wheel rolling soon and get this shit under control, it’s going be a loooooong winter ahead I think.”
“I noticed that Killerink have shut down, no deliveries from them to Sweden. But we have local suppliers so we have options. But business is still moving for now. I just talked to some friends, pretty much the same for them. I don’t know if some people feel like ”saving” their money, or Maybe just don’t wanna get the virus. Some freak the fuck out, some are chill like I am. I don’t freak out; not my thing.”
Last week I was freaking out and the tattoo industry was doing the same. Seven days on we all have a greater perspective.
"The average tattooist works so hard this is a chance to stop breaking your back."
Back on the phone to Matt he is remaining optimistic and looking at the silver lining of this viral disaster.
“I didn’t want to close the studio because I love what we do but it was the right thing to do and we were happy to follow what the government told us. Small businesses like tattooists will be financially supported so this gives us all a great opportunity to use the time we have away from tattooing to our advantage. I’m going to be spending time with my beautiful wife and kids, focus on keeping fit and active and get out in the garden in this beautiful spring sunshine. It’s a great chance for artists to swap the tattoo machine for a paintbrush, clay or pencils. The average tattooist works so hard this is a chance to stop breaking your back. Just make sure you have financial support in place and use the time to your advantage.”
I explain that my wife is a nurse and she would love to be at home but he role and her passion for nursing means she has to leave the house every day putting her own life and the, life of her family at risk.
“Hold on a minute mate, let me put my phone out of the window,” says Matt.
For a few seconds all I hear is silence, then clapping starts. I take the phone away from my ear and hear clapping in the street outside. Its 8:00 p.m. in the UK and the nation has come together to applaud our hard working NHS staff. My wife is shouting me to come up stairs and listen, her voice cracking with emotion. I hurriedly wrap up the interview with Matt and go up to the bedroom and hug my wife and daughter as applause ring out across a nation, united in hope.
A final thought from the author: "Its important we all do our bit to stop the spread of coronavirus Covid-19. Staying home, social distancing, regular hand washing and coughing or sneezing into a tissue that you immediately bin are all techniques that will save lives. Tattooing will survive Covid-19 and the Yayo team want to extend their love and sympathy to those people effected by the illness be that physically, emotionally or financially. We would also like to bring out hands together for all those working on the front line, fighting this horrible disease."
Yayo... its a family thing.