July 2013

Clive Lamb

Food for Thought | by Clive Lamb


In My Opinion... Deregulation and Self-Accountability Are Good for Our Industry

Tattoo Artists Know How to Do It

I know someone who just started an apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist.

He sought out an artist he respected and whose work he admired and applied to work under his tutelage. When he got the news that he was chosen for the apprenticeship opportunity he was overwhelmed with excitement -- even though he had to pay the artist $300 a month to work under him. Yes, he pays to work there.

This scenario really hit home with me and provoked me to think a lot about it.

Two things came to mind:

First, the scene in the Vidal Sassoon movie by Michael Gordon where Vidal tells of the time when his mother took him to Adolph Cohen's Salon to get him a job as an apprentice -- and it was going to cost 100 guineas (over $150 in the 1940s) to work there.

Second, it got me thinking about the way that tattoo artists learn their trade. In Texas, they do not have to go to school, nor are they even regulated by the state board. They only report to the Health Department, who check in now and then to make sure their space is sanitary -- and if so, they let them get on with their business. (Note: these tattoo artist requirements are for the state of Texas only. They might be different in other states).

The tattoo shop is licensed, but not the individual. No schooling, no written test, no practical test and they only get inspected if there is a complaint. The staff in this particular tattoo shop chooses to do a "blood born" path class every year, but they are not mandated to do so. They choose to do it because they are professional and accountable.

So, I can't help wondering -- how is it that a profession that deals with blood is less regulated than the hairdressing profession?

And why are hairdressers regulated so intensely? We have written tests, practical tests and some state-authorized continuing education. There was even a time when we had to pass a medical exam.

Is it that we are over-regulated, or the tattoo industry is under-regulated?

Customers flock to certain tattoo artists based on their work and reputation, not because they hold a license. They must be doing a pretty good job because I see more tattoos now than ever before and hairdressers are probably some of their best customers! If these places weren't keeping up their good standards or sanitation, we hairdressers would be the first ones to notice since we're so well-educated on the subject.

We don't seem to be bothered if a tattoo artist has a license or not, yet there is an outcry for us to protect our licensing like it's our most important credential. I just interviewed someone who studied cosmetology in high school who only worked on a mannequin. They never even touched a human being and yet they passed the test and hold a license.

Now that I just gave away my feelings on licensing, let's get back to my acquaintance, the tattoo apprentice. He's motivated, excited and can't wait to start training with the artist he chose to train under. I can't help but think how great it would be to have entry level hairdressers able to make the same choice.

I'm not saying that everything about the tattoo system is right. I firmly believe in paying all my employees, even if they don't have any experience and have to be trained. But, what I do like about their system is that it gives them the choice to choose with whom they want to train.

Some states are pushing for the deregulation of our industry. I've read several articles in the trade publications calling for hairdressers to band together to stop this. Their argument is that we need to protect our licenses because that's what makes us professional.

I completely disagree. A piece of paper does not make a professional and more deregulation and more free enterprise could be a good thing for our industry.

You can't hide behind a piece of paper and call yourself a professional. You have to show up for work on time, hangover- free, stay on time with your customers, and engage in more continuing education because that's what professionals do -- not because the state mandates it. That's just to get started.

Food for Thought....

Maybe deregulation, more free enterprise and self-accountability would be a good thing for our industry. After all, it seems to be working for your tattoo artist.

Clive Lamb owns and operates Clive and Co., a modern, thriving salon based in Dallas, Texas. In addition, Clive was appointed Chairman of the Texas Cosmetology Advisory Board in 2006, a position he held for five years. Clive has over 30 years of international exposure to the vast and constantly evolving hairdressing industry. Connect with Clive at Facebook.com/CliveandCo.