LUMBERTON — What was once considered taboo is now a $2 billion-a-year industry.
Eddie Williams, a local tattoo shop owner with 30 years of experience, can attest to that.
“People would think you’re a bad person — the scum of the Earth,” Williams said about the attitude society once had about tattoos. “It’s not how it was years ago.”
According to IBIS World, a business and marketing research company, the tattoo industry has grown 9.2 percent from the year 2012 to 2017. Fourteen percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, with millennials making up the majority.
“Now I tattoo doctors, lawyers, nurses and police officers,” Williams said. “Society has started to open up and say ‘Hey I can be a doctor and have a tattoo. I can be a nurse and have a tattoo. I can be a millionaire and have a tattoo.’”
He believes the main reason for the growth is a general acceptance of folks who prefer a bit of ink.
“People were afraid to go in them for a while,” Williams said about tattoo shops. “They were dark and dreary, and now we want them to be almost like a doctor’s office.”
Williams studies blood-borne pathogens to better understand diseases that are transferred through the blood. He does this to create the safest possible environment for his clients.
“It’s one of those things that, as tattoo artists, we need to know. It’s all about sterile processes and aseptic techniques,” he said. “You want to have that ability that when people come in, you want them to feel comfortable.”
Williams believes that is something that was missing in tattoo shops when he first started out.
Williams was 16 years old in 1987 when his passion for drawing transitioned to the pursuit of a career as a tattoo artist.
He got his first tattoo at age 15 and began his journey to becoming an artist at his home in Maxton. At 17, Williams relocated to Florida and began an apprenticeship at Miami Tattoo, where he spent two years learning the trade.
Williams operated his own shop in Laurinburg for a short time before moving to Jacksonville in 1995, where he spent a year and a half working on the the craft while working under Buzz Claydon at Premiere Tattoo and Tattoos by Buzz Jr.
Upon completing training, Williams returned to Robeson County and opened his shop, Wicked Skinsations, on West Fifth Street in Lumberton.
Williams enjoyed a vast clientele of repeat customers from across Robeson County and decided that he would open a second, larger shop and eventually filter his clients to the new location during 2017.
The floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew destroyed his business, forcing the move in November 2016. The new shop, still called Wicked Skinsations, sits at 1985 West Roberts Ave. in Lumberton.
Williams feels that, overall, the new shop location is better for business.
“Location is great. I’ve got better parking, better lighting and my female clientele definitely feel a lot better,” Williams said.
He is now broadening his knowledge in tattooing by taking a portrait class. But his specialty is American traditional and neotraditional. American traditional is the original American style of tattooing with subjects such as ships, hearts and eagles. The style uses bright colors and thick outlines. Neotraditional is a modern take on the style.
“I like the bright bold colors,” he said. “I like the fine lines, but I like the bold traditional lines also.”
Williams enjoys doing all styles of tattooing as long as it has a meaning.
“Your tattoos should be an extension of your mind and of you,” he said.
One of his favored works is of a little girl. He said a father came into his shop and wanted a picture of his daughter who had terminal brain cancer. The tattoo was a portrait of the girl with a cancer ribbon around her neck.
The man came back later and told Williams that his daughter died but she had the chance to see the tattoo and loved it.
Williams keeps a photograph of the little girl above his tattooing station.
“When they get tattooed, it means something extra to them, so that tattoo should feel that same way to you,” he said. “When I tattoo somebody, I try to put my heart and soul into that piece.”
A tattoo can be purchased for as little as $40. At Wicked Skinsations, clients have a consultation before pricing. How long the procedure takes depends on the style and size of the tattoo. Williams has put in more than 100 hours on some full-back tattoos.
Williams has mentored various artists around the country, including Victor Hunt, a 16-year-old Lumberton High School student..
“It’s fun coming here and just working with these guys,” Hunt said.
It’s a “rite of passage” going into to the ink world, Williams said. Shows like “Ink Master” have had a positive and negative effect on the industry — negative because there are people going into the field without the talent, knowledge or drive.
“It’s a passion. It’s just one of those things that I eat, breath, live,” he said. “If I’m not actually tattooing, I’m doing something for tattooing.”
“I just love what I do. I love tattooing,” Williams said.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached by phone at 910-416-5865 or by email at [email protected]