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How a Denver tattoo shop is trying to expand representation in the industry

tattoo inclusivity
Posted at 9:50 AM, Dec 20, 2021

DENVER — The art of the tattoo dates back thousands of years, but some say the industry hasn't kept up with the times. It's led to a lack of representation and comfort for all customers.

One Colorado shop proves things are changing, but there is still much work to be done.

When walking into a tattoo shop, silence is the last thing one would expect. But that's exactly what Ryane Rose, owner of Wolf Den Custom Tattoo Studio & Gallery, has worked hard to create.

"It's really fun for me to have clients walk in and be confused because you're walking into a gallery," Rose said. "You can't even see the tattooing going on. It's this immediate sense of, like, you don't hear the typical buzzing of a machine. It's gallery quiet. It's very bright."

Rose says The Wolf Den is not like other tattoo parlors — a calm, safe environment that truly focuses on art.

"I knew I always wanted to run my own business," Rose said. "I knew I wanted to have a beautiful space for years showcasing other bodies of art; I just didn't know that it would be out of necessity."

Rose says the idea flourished through years of "paying dues."

"When I was an apprentice, it was pretty predominant to be hazed," Rose said. "I think it's probably lessened over the years because there are whistleblowers now, but it was to the point where I'd be called at 2 a.m. to wear a tutu and scrub the tires of the other artist's car."

Rose explained that in the male-dominated tattoo industry, where HR doesn't appear to exist, it's the reality many artists face. According to Zippia, a resource for career information, nearly 72% of tattoo artists are men. Only 25% are women, and about 3.7% are unknown. That doesn't even touch on members of the LGBTQ+ community in the industry.

Caroline Evans is on the Board of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. She says she's definitely seen more and more shops like Rose's pop up across the country, but there are still many out there who don't prioritize client privacy and comfort.

"I started back in 1998, so I have definitely seen a huge change," Evans said. "You still have some of those shops there, those pockets of creepers that are using the shop, some women coming in for cheap thrills. Nobody should feel victimized going in for a tattoo, not at all. They are already vulnerable to begin with."

That is one of the main reasons Wolf Den sought to create a unique atmosphere at the shop — inclusivity for all types of artists and safety for customers is at the forefront.

"With most things in society, it's a man's world. But it's finally time for more women and non-binaries to step up and be just as important in the scene," one customer said. "I've been getting tattoos for about eight-plus years now, and it's only been the past few years I've had female artists now, and it's a lot more comfortable. It's usually less painful, in my experience. "

"I think that this space and what they've created here, it's new, and it's creating new values within the tattoo world itself, and I think that's amazing," another customer said.

Customers are purposely choosing Wolf Den because, as some point out, it's not easy to find. Evans explains that the only way to change the culture in the industry is to speak up and for shops like Rose's to be seen as what's expected, not a rarity in the industry.

"If you're at a place that doesn't have the privacy it's against the code and you should file a complaint," Evans said.

"I just kept having more and more artists coming forward saying can I come with you? it sounds safe, it sounds like I'll have the space for me to create and the space for my clients to feel safe too," Rose said.