Tattooists still at the sharp end after 30 years
Family-run business Ashford Custom Tattoo Studio is proving to be as permanent as its designs after celebrating 30 years of inking in Ashford.
Twins Ben and Sam Stewart coown the business in Queen Street and both work alongside resident body piercer Dan Biddle and tattoo apprentice Chris Dixon.
The pair said the trade has seen dramatic change since their dad Howard “H” Stewart first opened the studio doors in 1984.
Ben said: “The artistic side and standard of tattoos is better than ever. The ink is better, the equipment is better, the access to information is better and designs last a lot longer.
“I apprenticed under my dad and I’m much better than him now because the industry has progressed so much further, artistically and mechanically.
“But it’s a double-edged sword. When dad started and up until 2000 he was the only one in Ashford.
“Now there are four other studios in the town, which means you have got a lot more people doing tattoos than there were in the 80s.”
Ben, who has been tattooing since he was just 14, explained that what started out as an non-conformist statement has become a must-have fashion accessory.
He said: “When my dad was tattooing it was bikers, skinheads, yobbos, weirdos, punks, criminals and football hooligans.
“But now everyone has one. We get women coming in with their nans to get tattoos. It is Topshop, it is high-street and it is trendy.”
He added that the price of tattoos has barely increased as his Dad was charging £50 an hour in the 90s and the twins still only charge £60 an hour today.
But despite some professional prices remaining low, the combination of a rise in popularity and lack of regulation has seen dangerous home-tattooing, or “scratching” increase.
The results are usually botched and messy tattoos that give the industry a bad name.
While it is illegal for anyone to tattoo you if you are under 18 anyone can still order a kit from eBay for £30 with enough equipment to carry out a full, permanent tattoo.
Sam said: “The scabby bloke in his house that is doing it for a fiver is the kind of scummy, underground part of the tattoo industry that has got worse and worse.
“When I did an apprenticeship there were probably two or three companies in the entire country where you could buy equipment from and you definitely couldn’t find a YouTube video on how to do a tattoo.
“I think the readily-available pre-sterilized tattoo needle was the pinnacle of, or at least part of, the destruction of the tattoo industry.
“But if the industry does survive another 30 years, this shop will definitely still be here when it is uncool again.”
Ben Stewart, Dan Biddle, Sam Stewart and Chris Dixon
Ben Stewart with one of his first tattoos created by his dad ‘H’
Chris Dixon working on a design