Over the past two years, the covid-19 pandemic has affected many industries and businesses, forcing many to adapt and change how they operate, or risk closing altogether – including the tattoo industry.
Tattooing has been around for thousands of years at this point, but the tattoo industry as we know it didn’t come about until tattoos began to become more mainstream in the 1970s and 80s. The tattoo industry, a relatively young industry, like many suffered during the pandemic with many shops being forced to close permanently due to the financial strain caused by the lockdowns, but how exactly has the pandemic affected tattooing? What has changed? What does the future look like for this creative industry?
How has the tattoo industry adapted to the pandemic?
Designated as a non-essential business, tattoo parlours across the world remained closed during the lockdowns, and like many other businesses, the financial strain was great. Many artists saw their revenue stream dry up completely, although some managed to offset this somewhat by selling prints of their work and other merchandise, like t-shirts or tote bags, in lieu of tattooing during this period.
The end of lockdowns and the introduction of masks and social distancing into normal life meant that many businesses had to adapt their practices to suit this new normal. The tattoo industry was uniquely suited to adapting its practices to fit this new post-lockdown world. Many forget that a tattoo is an open wound, and any reputable tattoo artist is already taking precautions to avoid cross-contamination and any risk of infection. Sterilization regimes in tattoo parlours were already very strict – rigorous cleaning regimes for surfaces, one-time use per client needles that are disposed of in biohazard containers, and some tattoo artists were already wearing masks.
So, what has changed?
Aside from a doubling down on already strict sterilization regimes, the pandemic has changed some aspects of the tattoo industry for the foreseeable future.
Pre-pandemic, in most shops, you could, if you wanted to, walk into your local tattoo parlour without an appointment and get a tattoo the same day. Not every shop allowed walk-ins but for the most part, it was possible to get a tattoo without consultation or appointment so long as you knew what exactly it was you wanted etc. Post-pandemic, the opposite seems to be true. While not every shop has stopped doing them, walk-ins seem to be a thing of the past for many tattoo parlours. Instead, they’ve been replaced with call-ins, rather than sitting and waiting in the shop for availability and for a design to be drawn up, clients can now call ahead to check if there’s availability for the same day.
Getting a tattoo can be a difficult thing to do by yourself and many people feel better if they have some sort of emotional support, or just like to bring a friend along to their appointment with them. Even before the pandemic, some shops already had ‘one guest only’ rules in place but that practice has now become the rule rather than the exception. Going forward, only the client will be allowed into the shop itself, which could actually prove to be much easier for the tattoo artists and, from personal experience, while having someone accompany you to your appointments can be nice, it can be more relaxing to go to it alone.
Depending on whether or not your country still has a mask mandate in place, mask-wearing may be optional. In the UK as of April 2022, the mask mandate has been lifted, but most tattoo parlours would still recommend wearing a mask to your appointment.
So where does tattooing go from here?
Now that restrictions are being lifted in many places, tattoo demand has increased and according to IBIS World analysts, ‘The market size of the Tattoo Artists industry is expected to increase 5.4% in 2022’.
Lockdown has likely had a major effect on tattoo demand, with many people wanting to get tattoos they couldn’t get during the lockdown, increased demand for memorial tattoos, and an increased ‘yolo mentality’ among young people. For many people, getting a tattoo can be therapeutic and many people may turn to tattoos as a way to provide comfort after the difficulty of the past two years.
The tattoo industry, like many others, may have been hit hard by the pandemic but is definitely bouncing back.