I first met Phebe when she came to guest with us at Rogue this year. Although she’s not been piercing long, Phebe has grown abundantly as a piercer and a person over the past few years. She has put herself out there, worked hard and flourished so much. Phebe is currently piercing at Factotum Tattoo & Body Modification Studio in Norwich, UK.
G: Let’s start at the beginning, when did you start piercing?
Phebe: So I started an apprenticeship in May of 2021 just after I turned eighteen. Everything happened very quickly which I wasn’t expecting as it usually takes some time to get into the industry. I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to begin my piercing career at a young age.
G: As always, tell us about your first piercing experience.
P: I begged my mum to let me get my ears pierced but she wouldn’t let me until I was 11. I got those done with a piercing gun in a hair salon as you do when you don’t know any better. In high school ear piercings started becoming quite popular. It took me a couple of years but I eventually convinced my mum to let me get another piercing. I went to see Olly Todd at Factotum and he pierced my helix. That would’ve been 2018 I think. I went on to get my rook and forward helix pierced later that year.
G: When did you decide you wanted to be a piercer?
P: Throughout high school I struggled a lot with my mental health, especially in my final year. When I left I intended to study languages at college but things didn’t quite work out as planned and I ended up being admitted to hospital.
Being in-patient – especially through Covid when all visits and leave were stopped – was really difficult. To try and distract myself I spent a lot of time watching piercing content on YouTube. As I found out more and more about piercing I started thinking about it as a career although I never thought it would become my reality. I never planned for a future because I didn’t think I’d have one so when I got my apprenticeship it was as though I’d been thrown a lifeline.
G: It’s strange, the roads that lead us to this industry. How would you describe your apprenticeship?
P: I didn’t really know what a traditional apprenticeship was to be honest and going into it I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t have a ‘mentor’ as such. I hadn’t even done my first piercing when the studios piercer left. Luckily one of the tattoo artists helped me with the basics and was on hand while I practiced. I started out using externally threaded, lower quality jewellery but quickly realised that this wasn’t ideal. My boss was really supportive and with the information I bought back from conferences and classes we made a lot of changes to how we did things, including switching over to using internally threaded jewellery.
However, I eventually got to a point where I needed more support piercing-wise. Although my colleagues were wonderfully supportive, they couldn’t teach me to pierce which is what I really needed. It was spending time with other piercers that changed things for me. Seeing how other people do things is invaluable and that’s what made me realise that I needed to move on.
G: Shadowing is super important, it allows you to see and learn from other people and share their experience as well. I mean, you taught me some stuff when you came up to shadow at Rogue. Everybody has something to offer.
So you start piercing in May 2021 and then took yourself to the UKAPP conference in September?
P: Yes, I went to UKAPP a few days after I’d done my first ever piercing. It was the best thing I could’ve done for my career and it really opened my eyes as to what piercing really was. I missed out last year due to illness but I’m volunteering this year so I’ll definitely be there. I’m very excited.
G: It’s unbelievably brave of you to attend a conference alone when there’s people there who have been piercing longer than you’ve been alive. And at 18! You should be incredibly proud of yourself Phebe!
P: It was so scary, you know, going in and seeing so many people there. Especially when you’ve just started piercing and you don’t know anyone. You feel as though everyone is so much more experienced and knowledgeable than you which can be pretty intimidating.
G: Do you have any advice for people attending the UKAPP conference?
P: Look after yourself and do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel comfortable – for me that means bringing a Jellycat to sit with me and putting my headphones in when my brain gets too loud.
While it’s important to try and socialise, try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Take as much time out as you need. I took the opportunity to go outside for walks between classes to decompress which I found really helpful.
I know it can be scary but try and talk to people, even if it’s just one person a day! As you start getting to know those around you everything will become easier.
Take a notebook and pen with you – and try not to spend all of your money on jewellery. 😉
Also, remember – going to conference is a massive step in itself so just by being there you’re doing great.
G: Good advice! Last year was my first time attending and I definitely took as many toilet breaks as I could to just have a moment to breathe and decompress.
I do think it’s important to try and show your face at the social events, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
P: Absolutely! I found the social side of things easier at the Piercer Trade Show this year as I knew a few more people. I actually went out for dinner and did things with others. At my first conference I was far too scared to do any of that because I didn’t know anyone and everything felt quite overwhelming.
G: It is such a small industry and it’s easy to start comparing yourself to others but everybody’s on a different journey. There’s piercers that are highly regarded today for using the most advanced practices and top quality jewellery that used to pierce with acrylic and not wash their hands properly. We all start somewhere.
How have you found the industry so far?
P: Everyone that I’ve encountered has been so supportive and helpful. For example, you lot at Rogue have been wonderful. You make me feel so welcome and I learn so much from you when I come to visit. Similarly, when I went to shadow Mike at Broad Street in Bath he took me to his home and treated me like family. He gave me so many useful tips.
I hung out with Dawn, she pierced a massive heart on my back with 72 blades. That was so much fun. So much fun. I also experienced body suspension when I visited Ipswich which was magical! This industry is so full of beautiful humans – I could go on forever.
G: How are you finding your new position as Junior Body Piercer at Factotum?
P: Amazing! Everyone – both staff and clients – are lovely and I’m really enjoying it. Olly and Joe are great! They answer all of my weird questions and have been very patient with me while I settle in and find my feet in a new environment.
They’ve also been supporting me when it comes to making progress with piercing by taking the time to demonstrate new techniques and support me as I try new things.
G: Aside from volunteering at UKAPP this year, what’s on the cards for you?
P: I’m not sure I’m confident enough to take on guest spots yet but I’d love to do more shadowing. I’m planning to return to Rogue but also want to branch out and visit some new places. I’ll be at the Piercer Trade Show later in the year and at UKAPP conference in September as a volunteer.
In terms of piercing, my main focus is on expanding my portfolio. I’ve recently started piercing eyebrows and navels and will soon begin working on nipples. I’ve also begun transitioning from cannula needles to blade needles – something I’ve not felt confident enough to try in the past. Long-term, I really want to perform some large gauge piercings. I also love working with kids so I’d love to gain more experience in that area and make piercing as comfortable, safe and accessible as possible for younger clients.
On the side I’m definitely going to do some more suspension and play piercing as it makes my heart so happy!
G: What advice would you give to younger piercers and also to people that want to move studios?
P: To younger piercers: Baby steps! Don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once. As long as you’re making small steps to better yourself that’s all that matters. If you can’t use verified jewellery, work on your angles and techniques. If you can’t make it to conference, join some Facebook groups. All and any progress counts, no matter how small.
To those wanting to move studios: Be honest with yourself. It was very hard for me to admit to myself that I wanted and needed to move studios. Making the decision to leave was very difficult for me, I didn’t want to upset anyone or let anyone down. It took me a really long time to accept that it was the right thing for me to do. Ultimately it was my life and my career and if I wanted to move forward I had to move on. Try not to beat yourself up .. sometimes you need to prioritise yourself and that’s okay.
Most importantly, please look after yourself. Reach out for help, talk to people. There are so many of us out here who will listen – you are not alone. ♡