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The tattoo industry is facing a reckoning, with customers fed up with bad artists, overpricing, and sexism

Lindsay Dodgson   

The tattoo industry is facing a reckoning, with customers fed up with bad artists, overpricing, and sexism
  • The high cost of living for Gen Zers and millennials appears to have impacted the tattoo industry.
  • Clients seem to be becoming more selective, preferring respectful and accommodating artists.

Tattoo artists and enthusiasts on social media have been debating whether there is a "tattoo recession" afoot over the past few weeks.

Some believe the number of clients wanting to get inked has declined, while others claim there's simply been a shift in how discerning people are when choosing an artist.

Jason John Miles, a tattoo artist and content creator, said the industry is in a "bad state." Artists are struggling to fill their books.

Almost a third of all adults in the US have at least one tattoo, a study from Pew Research Center found. According to data from Fortune Business Insights, the tattoo industry is expected to reach $3.92 billion by 2030.

However, according to a BoldData study, the number of people getting tattoos in the UK has started to decline for the first time in a decade, which may be an early indicator of a more global trend.


Like it or lump it, we're in a recession and tattooing is a luxury industry, I'm seeing a lot of excuses and very few solutions being posted online. Q. What should artists be doing to ensure they survive this recession? #tattooartist #digbeth #birmingham

♬ original sound - Jason

Barry Hua, a New York-based tattoo artist who goes by the alias "Unloveable" on social media, told Business Insider the tattoo industry has "undergone significant changes" and is "experiencing a downturn."

"Over the past year, I have observed a decrease in the number of individuals seeking tattoos, largely attributed to the rising inflation rates in the United States," he said. "As a result, clients are now more discerning in their decision-making processes, opting to schedule appointments months in advance to financially plan for their desired tattoos."

Clients becoming more selective and an abundance of artists gaining prominence on social media is also "intensifying competition," Hua said.

Several other artists and tattoo shop owners spoke to BI, saying they have noticed "a dip" and that the industry seems "slow." They also pointed to budgeting under more financial constraints, and more selectivity as the reasons behind the trend.

Allan Buhl, a Florida-based tattoo artist, told BI the industry has "felt the slowest season we've had in many years."

A decade ago, there were only a few shops in a 10-mile radius, Buhl said. Now, "there are hundreds."

The recession has played out on TikTok

On TikTok, videos about an apparent tattoo industry recession are racking up views, with some artists saying they've noticed a downward trend and expressing their opinions on what's to blame.

One creator, Dominique, said she believes the perceived crisis is "a culmination of a few things."

She said it has nothing to do with people not wanting tattoos anymore. They're just being more picky, especially as tattoos have become so expensive.

"Consumers are less likely to put up with bullshit from tattoo artists and tattoo shops," Dominique said.

According to Statista, Gen Zers and millennials are the biggest cohorts likely to have one or more tattoos. Both generations have been hit by the rising cost of living and debts racking up.

There's also been some discourse around how appropriate visible tattoos are for securing interviews and landing a job amid conversations about how much of a part appearance and "pretty privilege" play in career success.

Several stories of tattoo consultations gone wrong have spiraled into viral outrage on TikTok, often due to miscommunication between the client and artist about what is possible in the allotted timeframe and budget.

One woman named Courtney Monteith turned to TikTok when she ended up thousands of dollars out of pocket last year.

She said the artist overcharged her and designed a piece that looked nothing like what she wanted. The internet responded, flooding the studio with negative reviews.


what do y’all think about the tattoo recession? #tattoorecession #tattootiktok #tattooartist #tattoos #femaletattooartist #girlswithtattoos #tattoolover #tattoonews

♬ original sound - aussiedomxo | atx creator

Another creator, who makes content under the name Tattoo Red Flags and works as a tattoo artist, said the tattoo market is incredibly saturated, and clients are choosing to go to female artists more because they feel "a lot more welcome."

"They're feeling like they are being tended to in a nicer manner. They're being checked on during the tattoo. They're being given snacks. They're not being belittled for the things that they're asking for, the styles that they want," she said.

There are tons of good male tattoo artists, she said, and there is still a market for them. But they are the ones who are likely to be experiencing the shift most intensely, as the industry has been "male-dominated" for so long.

"Maybe it's because they're treating people like shit," she said. "Or half of their clients are female, and they're just not making the space comfortable enough."


A in the #tattooredflags #tattootok #tattoo #tattoorecession #redflags

♬ original sound - Tattoo Red Flags

Another artist and creator, called Electric Elaine, said she didn't see the shift as a "tattoo recession."

"Many clients are choosing artists very carefully because they really have to prioritize getting tattooed when everything has been going up in price," she said.

Tattoo artists have to work hard and learn how to be better with people, Elaine added, because clients will sometimes want to change designs and will be much more likely to return for future pieces if the artist is flexible.


My thoughts on a tattoo recession #tattooeconomy #tattoorecession

♬ original sound - Electric Elaine

Despite the current challenges, artists who spoke with BI said they were hopeful about the tattoo industry.

One artist, named Kee Kee James, said they are "still going strong."

Buhl said the artists who will survive are the ones who "evolve and roll with the changes."

"More importantly, those that care about their craft and genuinely want to make great tattoos for their clients day in, day out," he said.

Mikhaila Friel contributed reporting.

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