How tattooing is surviving Covid-19. Part 2: Europe
In the second part of our investigation into how Covid-19 is affecting the tattoo industry we look to Europe. Matt Haddon-Reichardt got in touch with Polish artist Maciej Borek and Swedish artist Mattias Andersson to look at 2 radically different approaches to managing the virus and the affect these approaches are having on the tattoo industry.
"It all started slowly. At beginning of March our customers, mainly ones who work abroad, began postponing appointments. When WHO declared COVID-19 global pandemic, most tattoo shops in Poland voluntarily decided to close down mid March; before even government lock us down." Explains Maciej via messenger.
"That time no one even mentioned about any grants, support etc. I think we all thought it’s gonna take month to clear out and that’s it; we all be able back to work in couple weeks after self-isolation. From 1st April government lock down tattoo industry officially with other beauty services and hairdressers and barbers. Meanwhile authorities promised public help for closed business."
"Government help was full of nonsense rules and regulations, creating confusion and frustration."
What initially looked like a good support package for Polish tattoo artists soon fell flat on its face.
"Government help was full of nonsense rules and regulations, creating confusion and frustration. Many people was saying that help was not enough to keep their business going. The personal government's grant I received wasn’t even close to covering our running costs, so we had to rely on our savings. We also received voluntarily help from our landlord, who cut our rent temporarily by 50%."
The lack of support from central government left many artists living hand to mouth.
"As I mentioned many artists has been left pretty much without any income and I think we all taking it day by day. But their also decided to sell prints, paintings, commissions etc. Everybody was selling vouchers. Of course you could easily find shops that keep opened like nothing happened and scratchers are reaping their harvests when tattoo shops are closed."
Like artists across the world many Polish tattooists are trying to turn the lock down into something positive.
"Also many shops used that time for refurbishing their shops (we as well). Getting ready for ‘grand reopening’. We also trying to keep shop alive in social media as much as we can. Making new designs, doing on-line consultations and taking appointments. So all deposits we get help us to cover current bills etc. Besides that during self-isolation nurseries are closed too, so we are full time parents at the moment."
While other business in the beauty sector are set to reopen tattooing is on hold.
"Since 18th of May government allowed come back to work hairdressers, barbers and beauticians but we are still banned. They told them to keep health and safety regulations which are standard in tattoo industry since years; like disinfection, gloves, one customer at time etc. So pretty much tattoo shops having better hygiene standards are not allowed to work without any good reason. New rumours says we might be able to come back some time in June."
Everyone I've talked to whether in the UK, Europe or America is finding a gap in leadership from central government; it seem our rulers don't know how to help tattooing return to normal.
"If we gonna come back in June, we don’t know rules on which they’ll allow us to work. But I’m almost sure we gonna have to be more careful with customers also we might be force to verify customers health before tattooing procedure, keep mandatory face masks and distance between workstations, banned waiting rooms and mobiles; they dis this with other services. Also all disinfection and safety gear prices went up, which generates more costs for running business; gloves went up 200-300% or more. I’m pretty sure next couple months gonna be relatively quiet for tattoo shops as many people lost their jobs because of economy crisis related with coronavirus. Due to that next couple months might be hard time for industry."
"We are ready to carry on with highest hygiene standards."
Despite all the chaos, set backs and drama Maciej is confident his business will bounce back.
"But we are looking forward to reopen as soon as possible. We are ready to carry on with highest hygiene standards, we also made cool new video that promotes our shop which you can see on our social media; its a must see if you’re fan of Netflix’s Money Heist series. I’m pretty sure we all gonna come back stronger after this!
Poland's death toll is much lower than the UK's and this is one thing it has in common with Sweden. On the other hand the Swedish government had a very different response to the coronavirus, as Matt Andersson explains over the phone.
"Tattooing is actually pretty much rolling as normal. At first, people freaked out, cancellation of some appointments and then almost non booked a new time for the first three weeks. This made me a bit worried, even if I'm booked some time ahead. But then it just pretty much got back to normal. I'm not sure about how my friends have changed with this, but for me, only one person allowed in the shop at a time, only one tattooer at a time."
"Also the first thing the customer have to do when they come into the shop is to wash their hands, and then disinfection. Also they have to wear a balaclava, through out the whole of the tattoo; they are not allowed to breath a single breath at all, inside the shop."
"If your feeling the least sick, you not allowed coming to the shop."
Matt laughs down the phone at me.
"Now, that last part, was not true of course. But we think of all these guidelines, and try to make it as good as possible. Show respect for the world and nation. If your feeling the least sick, you not allowed coming to the shop. Other then that, we keep rolling as long as they allow us to roll the dice."
I ask Matt what rules and restrictions the Swedish government has put in place to restrict tattooing.
"Actually, tattooers haven't even heard a singe word from the Swedish healthcare about this, specific for us tattooers; which is pretty strange. Just restrictions for ”everyone” in general how to think. I actually don't think the Swedish healthcare could even learn us how and what to do with this situations. Every year I'm the one educating them, when they do a random ”check” on the shop. I've heard some tattooers had some hard times, if you're not booked some months ahead when stuff like this happens, it can be pretty fragile being a tattooer I guess. But there are always other things to do to earn money. Internet is a big help there for some of us. Money normally is not the problem, being out of ideas to make it is probably worst."
Sweden's response is radically different to that of Poland or the UK. I ask Matt if he feels his government has made the right choices.
"We have not shut down or anything at all, just restrictions. Compared to Norway and Denmark, the death rate has been 10 times higher here in Sweden. In that case, I think we acted wrongly. But not ”maybe” about the decision itself to not close down. More about not having more restrictions for the elderly homes and care homes. We let them elder homes get corona; they could have taking that shit much more seriously and keeping them more ”safe” with more restrictions."
I ask how the pandemic has affected Matt personally.
"Well but I haven't felt much really. At first people didn't book that much, but being booked far ahead made me pretty safe. Now its rolling almost like normal. Not the long waiting list, like normally throughout the summer, But still I'm fully booked. I wish i could speak for every tattooer saying that. But unfortunate brothers and sisters; its not like that. And i have tried to support some of ya, buying some flash and prints. But i cant support you all."
"I think that everyone can learn from this."
I round up by asking what the tattoo industry can learn from how Sweden has managed the industry throughout the outbreak.
"I think that everyone can learn from this. We can learn to appreciate what we have, that we are healthy being here on Earth together on essentially borrowed time. That work is not everything that we love the most, that we need to balance this with what we have at home. And if we don't have that, go out and get it. Work and money can wait. Stuff don't mean shit in times like this. Learn to appreciate time, time together, kids grow up way to fast, we are getting older, way to fast. Sure find what you love and let it kill you, but always, always put family first. Not just make that phrase into a tattoo you wear; live it.
Matt goes quiet before piping up with
"And on a practical note always some savings. You never know what will happen next. Earn money, save money, save some more; then go buy that Gucci or Balenciaga bag. All we got is today, tomorrow, it can all be gone."
Any last thoughts I ask him as I wind up the call.
"Yeah, take care everyone!"
A final thought from the author: "Things are moving fast in Europe, as lock down begins to ease and things get back to the new normal. I'm hoping that by the time this hits the net Polish tattooing will be back up and running with the support it needs. As for Sweden its great to see artists like Matt have survived and the country has not been swamped by Covid-19, like the UK has. In the next few weeks I'll be looking at the positive stories from UK tattooists, finding out what they have been up to on lock down. I'll be looking at how lock down has created free time and how this has allowed tattooists to stretch their artistic wings."
Yayo, be part of the family!
Yayo and NHS England