Chic décor and a comfy lounge are more suggestive of a day spa than a tattoo parlor, but a new shop in Brooklyn aims to change that perception. At Nice Tattoo Parlor in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, the concept — a tattoo shop with a friendly staff of female artists in a welcoming, judgment-free space — is both simple and a striking departure in the tattoo world. While Nice Tattoo welcomes all genders, women make up the majority of its clients.
“No egos, no intimidation,” said Jes Dwyer, one of Nice Tattoo’s owners and its lead artist. “I feel like that’s such a big issue in the industry. For so many women who are getting tattooed, it’s a very intimidating process.”
Over the last decades, tattoos have soared in popularity, a trend seen in celebrity culture, on reality television shows like “Ink Master” and on magazine covers, where tattoos are often no longer rendered invisible by a retoucher’s hand. Tattoos even got the couture treatment at last month’s Dior presentation, as models in floor-grazing gowns stalked the runway with tattoos bearing political one-liners across their collarbones.
Those high-fashion statements may have been temporary, but permanently tattooed women are more common than one may assume. As of 2012, according to a Harris Poll, there are more inked women than men in the United States. And yet the business remains an overwhelmingly male-dominated one: Just one in six tattooers is female, according to a 2010 study by Columbia University.
Nice Tattoo, which has an all-female team of artists, stands apart in its mission to make the tattooing experience a kinder one not only for clients, but also for women trying to make headway in a business that has often been marked by macho behavior and sexist treatment.
“The industry had been both historically male dominated and continues to be very heteronormative for men,” said Margot Mifflin, a professor at City University of New York and the author of “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.” “Tattoo reality shows have been dominated by men, and commercial magazines are still unabashedly, laughably sexist, often with the pretense of being edgy.”
Ms. Dwyer said that 90 percent of Nice Tattoo’s clientele are women, and most of those who already have tattoos have never been inked by a woman before. “It doesn’t surprise me,” she said. Ms. Dwyer, 34, has worked in the business since she was 22, often as a sole female employee.
Apprenticeships, integral to a tattooist’s career, can be harder for women to land. “I feel like we’re not taken as seriously, and it’s just a boys’ club,” Ms. Dwyer said. “It still is.”
Visitors to Nice Tattoo’s sun-filled space on Court Street will find little semblance of the archetypal tattoo parlor. There’s the front lounge flanked by two velvet couches, white walls hung with abstract artwork, exotic flower arrangements from Fox Fodder Farms and a mural by the artist Lorraine Nam showcasing portraits of those involved in the parlor’s opening — all visible through wide storefront windows. Potential clients typically come by for a business card and may end up emailing for a consultation later; others discover the shop through Instagram or by word of mouth.
“She found me through Lena Dunham’s Instagram,” Ms. Dwyer said, gesturing to Deanna DiCroce, who had arrived for her appointment (a butterfly tattoo) on a recent Saturday. Ms. Dunham’s “Girls” co-star Jemima Kirke, a client who lives in the neighborhood, had recommended the shop.
“I’d been to a bunch of places in the East Village and didn’t leave with the best vibes,” Ms. DiCroce said. “It’s intimidating.”
Margot Pascal, a leather goods designer, is another Nice Tattoo client. She has two tattoos from earlier experiences at mostly male parlors. “At some other places I often felt judged because of my tattoo design,” Ms. Pascal said. “I ended up going with an artist who was a nice, shy guy. But the place, the vibe — no love.”
What’s more, because some tattoos may require disrobing, a woman can feel especially vulnerable with male artists. “Even apart from the question of safety, some women prefer female artists for the same reason they choose female doctors,” Ms. Mifflin said. “The interaction is intimate.”
Robert Boyle, a founder of Nice Tattoo, said that Nice wasn’t intentionally positioned as an all-female tattoo parlor. “After we started to understand the implication of providing an alternative space for female artists, it became a position we felt was culturally important,” he said.
Once an anomaly, female-run shops have become more common in recent years. In 2009, Natalia Borgia founded Beaver Tattoo, a tattoo parlor in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens staffed by women. It was the subject of the 2011 short documentary “Feminine Ink,” in which the artists spoke of the advantages of working in such a studio — notably, a lack of competition and a willingness to share trade techniques.
“In the beginning, people coming in would ask for ‘the guy’ and assume the girl behind the desk was a receptionist,” Ms. Borgia said in an interview. Today, a roughly equal number of women and men make up Beaver’s clientele. “I do see improvement in how women are seen in this industry, but I think we still have a long way to go,” Ms. Borgia said.
Other like-minded businesses have opened. Last year, Welcome Home Studio, which welcomes female, trans, queer and gender-nonconforming individuals as its resident artists, set up shop in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Looking ahead, Nice’s owners hope to make its experience more widely available, starting with a shop on the West Coast.
“It’s such a simple concept,” Ms. Dwyer said. “It’s like hospitality. I’ve bartended, I’ve waitressed — maybe that helps. I don’t know, I just treat people the way I’d want to be treated. Any place.”