Business

Getting under the skin

By Nekiesha Reid Business reporter

Wednesday, September 19, 2012    

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Even as she completes her law degree, Candice "Needlez" Davis has no intention of earning a living from it.

Instead, the 21-year-old, final-year student intends to expand her tattoo and piercing business and become the first local distributor of ink, needles, jewellery and other trade supplies.

Although she finished her degree primarily to please her mother, Davis said she also wants "to prove that an academic can do a trade and make a successful living in an unconventional way".

"I have no intention of working for anyone," she said, adding, "My work immortalises me, so why give it up?"

Davis has been a professional tattoo artist for a year, branching off from piercing, which she has done for three years.

Piercing and tattoos are still largely taboo in Jamaica.

But this does not prevent Davis from raking in at least $200,000 a month from both her trades combined.

However, rent, marketing, ink and other expenses take a sizable chunk out of her earnings.

"On average, I spend about $60,000 a month on expenses," she said, which is inclusive of her $15,000 marketing budget.

She has saved up enough to finance the expansion of her business, Davis said, but isn't ruling out the possibility of seeking a small business loan.

By April, she expects to make the move from her present location - a back room in a Half Way Tree beauty salon - to a bigger, unshared space, where she also intends to employ an apprentice.

Generally unregulated, the tattoo industry is a big earner for artists in many countries.

The US industry, for example, is estimated to earn over US$2 billion a year, with research showing that 30 per cent of Americans in the 18-25 age group have a piercing other than an earlobe, while 40 per cent of people aged 26-40 have a tattoo, according to the Pew Research Center.

But though this trade might result in big bucks, breaking into the market isn't cheap.

Tattoo artists and piercers are usually required to do an apprenticeship with a licensed instructor for a minimum of three months, Davis said.

While some are free, other instructors charge for training, with the apprenticeship being a period without earnings.

Since both trades are passions of hers, Davis spent six months as an apprentice and is now a licensed beauty therapist.

Her achievements notwithstanding, she has to constantly prove herself.

"Men tend to dominate trades," she said, noting that she has only come across one other female tattoo artist in Jamaica.

"I had a client tell me she has never had a woman tattoo her before and was hesitant to let me do it, but I had to remind her that she is a woman and should have more faith in women."

On average, Davis does four tattoos and more than six piercings in a day, but said she takes the time to counsel clients about choosing the location for each carefully, since most companies look down on body modification.

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