It’s a Sunday evening after a very busy weekend at Rogue. The weather outside is cold and drizzly but deep in the basement of Rogue, sitting on the floor like goblins, Gemma and Kat have an open and honest discussion about Kat’s journey so far. Kat joined Rogue three years ago and is now the studio manager and jewellery specialist. Growing up in Wales and moving to the big Nottingham city, Kat is now studying for their Master’s degree alongside keeping this Rogue circus going!
Gemma: Tell me about your first experience with piercing.
Kat: My first experience with piercing was similar to a lot of peoples, it was at a high street shop with a piercing gun. I was 11. My mum took me there because that’s… just where you went. And I had an awful time healing them. My first piercing at a “real” piercing studio was at a place called Nobby’s in Carmarthen, Wales (Should out to Mike, the piercer there at the time!). The piercing room was in the attic of the studio. It was carpeted, had grimy fabric curtains and I was pierced with non-sterile jewellery directly out of a wet autoclave (with no lid!) that was on a wooden table next to the piercing chair. I asked to get my second lobes pierced and they said they’d run out of jewellery! They gave me the address of a local head shop that also sold piercing jewellery, where I went and bought the jewellery that they then put through the ultrasonic and pierced me with. And of course as an indestructable 14 year old, I healed them like a treat.
My next piercing experience really started when I started uni. I went to a local Nottingham studio and I had an okay experience. There wasn’t really any aftercare advice or customer service. After that, I decided I wanted some fancy jewellery and when I went back to that studio, they recommended I visit a gentleman called Aiden, who just opened a shop in Nottingham a couple of weeks previous. So two weeks after Aiden opened Rogue, I walked in the front door and bought my first piece of BVLA.
G: So you started as a client at Rogue before you joined the team?
Absolutely! I would just come in, get a piercing, upgrade some jewellery, have a chat, hang out, ask questions. And I’m guessing Aiden saw something good in me because he invited me to a suspension event he was holding at the studio. It was literally days before Covid hit. The suspension event was my first taste of the real UK (and international) piercing industry. I met a lot of people I’m now really good friends with. That’s where I met Andre! But I was living alone in Nottingham when the first lockdown was looming. The borders had shut, so I couldn’t go home to Wales and Rogue really was my island in the storm. It was the only thing I had left. So I just kept turning up.
As the lockdowns came, we suddenly had an influx of jewellery from the closure of another high-quality piercing studio, most of which was completely unlabelled in tubs and plastic bags, all jumbled together, different sizes and styles. So it was my job to basically be a detective and try and figure out what was what, what brand, what size. Some BVLA, some Anatometal, some Industrial Strength, and a whole lot of labrets! There must have been 600 to 700 individual items that I had to figure out what they were! That took most of the first lockdown. Then we were photographing it, adding to the web store, building the web store from a very small collection to the absolute monster it is now. And that’s where I learnt a lot of my basic jewellery skills. Just having to look at the fine details between an Anatometal clear CZ and a NeoMetal clear CZ, both prongs, both in titanium. Trying to seperare them out by the little difference. And all the various labrets… Labrets were a nightmare.
G: You’re the studio manager and jewellery specialist at Rogue, what do those roles entail?
K: There’s a bit of everything. Staff management, jewellery management, stock control, free therapist… Managing clients, being Aiden’s personal assistant, organising guest artists and flights and hotels and UKAPP membership, writing blogs, organising the social media. In about two and a half years, I’ve helped to grow the Rogue social media accounts from about 1000 to nearly 10,000 followers. It’s been hard work and I think a lot of it has been down to consistency and the quality of the content. I know a lot of studios where it’s quantity, not quality and that means they can really struggle to build the following. But also, the following isn’t that important. It’s the people who walk through the front door that counts.
The vast majority of the people who follow us on Instagram aren’t even in the UK . But I think people can look at our Instagram and get a sense of not just the work that we produce, but who we are as people That is something I’ve always struggled with though, because we do “sell” a lot of ourselves as part of our work. We could put up way bigger boundaries and not get so personal on the social media. But I feel like it’s a personal service and you have to give a little bit of yourself for people to trust you.
G: As the first Associate Member of the UKAPP, I know you get asked this a lot but, why aren’t you a piercer?
K: I feel like piercing is the least interesting part of being in a piercing studio. I feel like although there’s a lot of techniques you can learn and there’s loads of different ways to put that jewellery into someone, you can still have a much wider impact on the industry by running a good business and managing a good studio. And I think actually piercing people would ham up a lot of my time that could be better spent elsewhere. I love talking to people about jewellery, I love working with clients and making the sales. That’s the bit I enjoy.
G: You’ve got a BSc Hons degree in Biology and you’ve recently started your Masters in Microbiology and Immunology. How’s that going?
K: It’s going really well. I feel like I’m a lot more mentally prepared to tackle the workload this time around. I have a lot more self-discipline. I no longer think that getting up at 7AM to go to a 9AM lecture is that hard. I no longer look at 3 hours worth of lectures in one day and think “oh my god, I can’t do this!”
I would consider myself quite a “modified person” and now that I’m studying for my Master’s, I can absolutely see why some people make a choice between pursuing higher education and pursuing their body modification journeys. It’s a difficult topic to talk about, but the fact that I have a 6mm chunk of metal in my face has no bearing on how well I can learn. I would love to see what further education and academia looks like in 20 or 30 years because… the amount of students we pierce? – some of them have to keep ’em in. My academic achievements aren’t recognized by piercers and they aren’t recognized by academics because of my modifications. It’s quite frustrating sometimes.
It’s very difficult, but I do feel like if I was to pursue a career in academia, I would face significant challenges because of the body modification work, the piercings, the tattoos. A huge amount of your funding and your career mobility is down to face-to-face interviews or who you know within academia. And if those people don’t want to know you because you look like a certain way, you are stuck. And that is really annoying. In my master’s degree so far, I’ve felt like I have to work three times as hard as everyone else to prove myself.
G: You taught a class at UKAPP this year about Piercing Wound Healing Dynamics, do you have plans to teach again now that you’re back in education?
K: My class this year went better than I possibly could have expected. I did a lot of public speaking when I was younger during my college years and my first year of uni but because of Covid, I felt like my confidence was knocked quite a bit. But as soon as I got up on that stage and opened my mouth, it was like I’d never stopped! It was so much fun, the engagement was good and I think I pitched it at the right level. I would absolutely love to teach again. I think I will be constantly editing and updating the class to make sure it’s dialled in and accurate to current scientific understanding. But I would love to also teach about infection control and aseptic technique and what an infection actually is and how/why your body’s reacting to it the way it does. I think that would be super interesting.
G: As a very active member in the online piercing industry, have you faced any difficulties because you’re not a piercer yourself?
K: Absolutely, I have. It’s not normally to my face, but I do hear about people discussing my relevancy within the industry and whether my opinion’s actually worth anything. Some piercers think I’m disrupting people who are very comfortable doing things a certain way, because they’ve always done it that way, and they haven’t seen issues from their methods. For example, non sterile gloves for piercing procedures, poor hand hygiene, wearing watches, rings, acrylic nails. I want to ban them! People have issues with that because they don’t see the effects, and they think I’m being pedantic or splitting hairs. But it’s someone’s body. It’s somebody’s health. Being pedantic is kind of the point. And if you’re not being pedantic about hygiene, you shouldn’t be piercing people. If you didn’t know any better, that’s one thing, but if you know better, you should do better.
When I’m trying to educate people, I will always try to come at it like they are trying their best because nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks “I’m gonna mess people up today and I’m not gonna wash my hands while I do it.” Every person out there is doing the best they can with the knowledge and the resources that they have. We are not here to gatekeep information. We’re here to try and make sure everyone’s doing the best they can. If every piercing studio in the UK was working at our level, I wouldn’t be bitter about it. I would be immensely proud, and then look at ways we can go further.
G: You’ve been really vocal about your neurodivergence, how do you balance that with managing Rogue and studying for your Master’s degree?
K: It’s a struggle sometimes. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. It’s mainly about knowing when to communicate when you’re struggling. Everyone at Rogue is super supportive and everyone here wants everyone else to be doing their best all the time. It’s about knowing your limits. And I’m not good at that, but I’m working on it. I think when I first started, I wanted to prove myself and I wanted to prove that I could do it and that I was worth the money being spent on me. But I was consistently (and without fail) pushing myself to burnout on a weekly basis. Now I’ve been at it a while and I think I’m finally getting to a point where I know my limits. My autism can make communicating difficult and I don’t enjoy talking about things sometimes but it’s definitely worth doing.
G: If you could change anything about the UK piercing industry, what would it be and why?
K: I wish piercers were more open-minded. I feel like if people were more willing to learn and change, the industry would be in a much better position overnight. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. If people were more open minded to actually listening and enacting change, the industry would be light years ahead.
Another thing I’d change, let’s stop this massive push towards everyone being self-employed and running their studios. Not every piercer can possibly be qualified to run their own business successfully. And there is absolutely no shame in admitting that. There’s lots of benefits to being employed! Like sick pay, holiday pay, and you have people to bounce ideas off and learn from. One of the main benefits is you’ve got massive amounts of support. Even if it’s something as tiny as forgetting to open something but you’ve already got sterile gloves on – you can always ask for help and you have that support. And that shit happens all the time. It could be something small as that. It could be something like, ‘I need someone to help me assist on this genital piercing.’ Or something hasn’t gone quite to plan and even if something goes wrong, you have 1 – 4 people around who are all specifically trained in what to do in that moment.
It also helps with your general learning and your confidence as a person. And because we work as such a dynamic team and we have that support at all times, we can offer piercings to people who other people might feel uncomfortable with. For example, we do a lot of genital piercings at Rogue. Obviously, genital piercing and kink have a huge history. Because we work in a team, there’s multiple people around and you are never alone with that client. The vast, vast majority of clients are just excited about a process that they’ve potentially been looking forward to for 30 years. We’re very privileged to be able to offer a huge amount of intimate work to a huge amount of different people across many, many walks of life for many different reasons. A lot of what we do is because we are super proud of the history of body piercing! You wouldn’t get BVLA, Anatometal, NeoMetal, you wouldn’t get the tiny little gold tri-bead in a nose piercing, you wouldn’t get to pierce a kid’s first lobes at nine – without the hefty kink and genital work of the past. And I feel like if you just focus on one of those things without at least acknowledging the presence of the other, you’re doing the industry a disservice.
And that’s another benefit of working in a team. We have piercers who offer a range of services. Not every piercer will perform every piercing that is available on our menu. It’s just about working with different skill sets and where people excel and playing into their strengths while working to improve their weaknesses.
G: You wear a lot of BVLA, if you could design a piece what would it look like?
K: I honestly think I’d want to design wedding bands and engagement rings over body jewellery. BVLA have got body jewellery down, they know what they’re doing and if you can imagine it, they’ve probably made it already. I really love their classic designs, the ones that are statement pieces but still very mature. ‘Afghans’, ‘trillions’, ‘marquise fans’. Pieces where the gemstones really speak for themselves. If I had to choose though, I’d love to see more work with channel settings because they’re really lovely.
G: A lot of people have full BVLA piercing curations thanks to you and your artistic vision, talk us through the curation process.
K: Honestly, it’s the most fun part of my week every single time. When you book in, it’s about 20 minutes, but it depends on how long you’ve got. If you’ve got an hour and a half to spend talking jewellery, I’ll sit and drink tea and talk jewellery with you for hours.
Talking about jewellery with clients is really personal, we get really into it. Especially with long-term curation projects, you can be in communication with people for a long time, sometimes over a few years and you really get to know those people over that time. Body jewellery is such a personal thing and sometimes you’re designing a curation that someone will wear for the rest of their life. You have to know that person well enough that you can make suggestions about what they would like. The most important thing is communication and being able to get your ideas onto paper and make sure that they know exactly what they’re getting when you translate that into concept into body jewellery and then that jewellery into a reality.
Oftentimes, people are spending thousands on curation and in order to ensure that it is a worthy investment, you have to make sure they’re confident in you every step of the way. There shouldn’t be any doubts in their mind that you are using their money wisely to create a life-long piece of art that they can wear forever.
G: What’s in the future for Rogue?
K: Taking over the world, obviously… I feel like me and Aiden are always doing plans and plots. In the next 18 months I’d love to be able to launch a Patreon with piercer educational content. Because, as many people have so kindly pointed out, some of the content that I want to put out into the industry isn’t super relevant to the blog system that we already have. And I feel like, especially with the knowledge that I have and the qualifications I have behind me, and the experience of the studio and the opinions that we wanna share as well… It is worth sharing that on a different platform.
The blog is still gonna keep going and it’s still going to have all of the information that it has on it right now. But I think it would be nice to do a few series of things that are very specific to piercing studio staff and not necessarily information that general clients particularly need or might want. Apart from that, we’re always looking to expand to more piercers. Maybe a new premises, maybe a new city, but that’s a long way in the future and very vague at the minute. We’re working with local jewellers to create custom lines. There’s all sorts in the works.
G: Any advice you want to give to apprentices/front of house/people that are just starting?
K: Number one thing, leave your ego at the door. Especially if you’ re new in the industry, you are gonna make mistakes, you are going to do bad piercings and you are going to embarrass yourself and you need to not have an ego about it. You need to be able to humbly ask people who know more than you questions and take their answers on board without getting shitty about it. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect; the relationship between confidence and competence. So when you know almost nothing, but you know a little bit, you are at the peak of mount stupid and that’s where you think you know everything and you are super confident about it.
Don’t run into this industry, all guns blazing. Be quiet, listen, and then open your mouth. Don’t open your mouth and then start arguing with people. It’s so important to never stop asking questions. Always question why you’re doing things because so much of what you do generally becomes part of a routine. And if you can’t think about why you’re doing things, you’re gonna struggle to improve later on. Learn from your mistakes and if someone points out your mistakes, don’t get defensive.
I also wish more people understood that front-of-house doesn’t just have to be a stepping stone to an apprenticeship. front of house is a career in itself. In America, front-of-house is a recognised, respected career and that is something that we need to definitely bring over here because a good front-of-house can be life or death for studios.
Shout out to David Angels for supporting my nonsense and making sure I was sane enough to present at UKAPP and giving me the confidence that I needed to nail it. And thank you to Aiden for allowing me to continue to exist in this horrifically weird industry in the sense that I do and for supporting me non-stop the whole way. You mean the world to me.Kat Henness, 2022