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Photograph: Jess Hand
Photograph: Jess Hand

Why one woman launched an all-female tattoo parlour in Barbican

The team at Velvet Underground Tattoo is making a big mark in a male-dominated industry

Written by
Nicole Garcia Merida

Walking into a tattoo studio can sometimes feel like a daunting experience, a bit like being sent to the head teacher’s office. ‘Studios definitely are intimidating,’ says Roxy Velvet, the artist behind Velvet Underground Tattoo, London’s first tattoo parlour staffed solely by women (although anyone can get inked there).

Velvet Underground Tattoo was established in 2016 out of Velvet’s dissatisfaction with sexism in the industry. The aim was to create a space free of arrogance and macho culture – a place where female artists could flourish and non-male customers might feel more comfortable. ‘When I started, I was unsure whether it was going to be a disaster,’ she says. ‘But I was pleasantly surprised.’

The seven artists and three apprentices at Velvet Underground all have unique styles and create bespoke pieces for every customer. There’s an artist for everything, whether it’s a portrait of Kermit the Frog, a complex snake design or a colourful cover-up. But what is consistent is the shop’s welcoming and nurturing environment. ‘Tattoos are intimate, painful and emotional,’ says Velvet, explaining that around 75 per cent of her customers say they specifically choose the studio because they feel it that provides a more accepting space than some others in the city. ‘It has amazing energy, which is my favourite thing about it. Without that, it’s just a room full of chairs.’

While Velvet’s customers are massively important to her – ‘you become really good friends’ – the project is as much about empowering the tattooists as empowering the tattooed. ‘Women [artists] feel like they shouldn’t be able to charge as much as men,’ says Velvet. ‘I wanted to take that away. I didn’t want them to have a glass ceiling.’ 

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