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An Interview with Loreia – Unknown Pleasures Piercing

I first met Loreia at the UKAPP 2022 conference and immediately knew she was an incredible person. A hardworking, passionate piercer who owns Unknown Pleasures Piercing in Stuttgart, Germany and travels the world attending and teaching at international conferences. Loreia was kind enough to spend an evening talking with me about her origin story, her career path and her amazing insights into why we do what we do. Loreia is a powerhouse of a person and I am eternally grateful to know her. 
Loreia Unknown Pleasures Piercing

Gemma:  When did you first become interested in body modification and piercing?

Loreia: It was really early but sometimes you’re not aware that you’re interested in something until later when you find the label for it. As a child I really loved to play around with looks.When I drew myself, also as a little child,  I drew myself with a lip ring. I really liked to draw punks and people with coloured hair. So my interests go very far back.

When I was 13, my first piercing was a nose piercing and I just loved it. I really felt badass and from that time, my passion was growing. Early on in my life I became interested in corset training. I really love the way it shapes my body. So I guess this was really my first body mod experience because I had my first corset when I was 15 or 16.

Later, I started playing around with needles.

I wrote my bachelor thesis about why people try to change their appearance. Body modification is not just things like horns, implants, scars or tattoos and piercings. But also like dyeing your hair and playing around with your figure. Clothing could be kind of a temporary body mod because you can totally change your appearance, your height etc.

G: I had no idea about your bachelor’s thesis, what was your experience in education? 

L: Yes, I have a Master’s degree in philosophy. My Bachelor thesis was about why people are changing their appearance and what are their motivations behind it. Of course, I examined the classic bodymod scene that we are in, like tattoos and piercing but also the fitness industry, plastic surgery, cosmetics, diets etc. All the things you can do to really change your appearance. I looked at it from a philosophical point of view. It was pretty interesting. 

And for my Master thesis, about 5 years ago, I wrote about how to become the person you are –  I had a deep dive into Foucault’s  philosophical view of the world. Also, Nietzsche a lot. And I looked at the question of how you can live your life as a piece of art. The topic was: “How do I become what I am? – Self love and self care by Foucault based on the Nietzsche’s philosophy of the art of living.

I guess the first step was looking more at the physical appearance and how society affects this – so more an outside observation, and the second step was the personal state of mind and looking at your point of view of  the world – inner observation.

ear piercing curation
Beautiful work by Loreia

G: I have this conversation a lot about how body modification is not just the extremes like tongue splits and branding. There’s so many ways that people modify their bodies. It’s fascinating, humans are strange creatures. 

L:  Humans are totally strange creatures but so is society – because society labels what is good and what is bad and what is nicely looking and what is not. You cannot complain about the  person with the horns when you have lip filler and a boob job, you know what I mean? Because you’re kind of the same! 

G: Breast implants, absolutely fine. Horn implants, that person now can’t have a job.

L: Indeed. And it does not have to be this “extreme” look – fun fact: I grew up in the north part of Germany where I experienced people who were a bit more open minded to different looks and I moved to the south about 16 years ago now. Back then I tried to find a job just for the summer and I applied for a job in an ice cream parlour. I had blue hair at that time and people were like “no fucking way you’re working here with that appearance”. This was kind of funny and shocking at the same time.

The thing is, we are living in an oppressive system. Doesn’t matter if we are aware of it or not – we are.
And not everybody is able to free their minds and also to accept themselves as they are and their needs and how they want to be. Maybe because they never learned to, maybe they are afraid to face their truth and not to fit in this system anymore.

The result of that is that they often have a lot of anger, stress and real tension. I see people and they are maybe fascinated by someone who is living their life modified in some way, and I guess an inner voice tells them “you are not able to, or you’re not allowed to [have that piercing or hair colour or tattoo]” and then the anger really hits and this stored bad energy comes out. 

I really believe if people would, take care of their needs, like really see what they want and what they want to be and what they need and what they don’t and not give that much of a fuck about what societies want them to be – we would live in a more peaceful world.

G: What was it like growing up in northern Germany? Was your alternative aesthetic accepted?

L: I was an outsider. I grew up in a very religious family so I’m the black sheep. My parents split up when I was 13 and they sent me to a boarding school. Before that I really had a hard time at my school. In the boarding school I had a fresh start, I didn’t want to be there but It was the best thing that could happen to me when I look back now. It was a boarding school for talented kids, there was a  wild mix of gifted children and sports elite. 

G: What was your career path like?

L:  When I was in the boarding school, at 18 I thought “fuck this shit. I’m out of here. I don’t need any education at all.” I started an apprenticeship and after a year I met my now life partner. Because of different things that happened before in my life, I needed a fresh start so I moved to the south of Germany where I could continue my apprenticeship in another place and start a life with my partner. But over the summer I decided  to throw that path away, finish school and go to university. I had to finance myself and I started to do different mini jobs. I worked at Lush for a while, I worked in a creative market for paintings. I also did a lot of photo shoots, make-up and modelling. 

This went on and I became friends with a photographer and his girlfriend. She worked in a BDSM dungeon and I started working there with her while I studied. There, I actually started playing around with needles and also learned to work sterile because when you do, for example, a catheter, you really want to be sterile.

dungeon ropes
Loreia is a professional in all her roles

This is where I really began to be interested in piercing and a friend of mine in Munich at that time, she said she could show me some piercing things, as she worked in a piercing studio there. 

I’m totally self taught and this is also why I aim for more and for higher and for better. I had been to several studios in my area, but I didn’t like how they treated me as a customer. I knew I should be definitely better.This is how I came to professional piercing, I guess. 

After a while I had the idea in my mind to open up my own shop and when I have an idea I’m normally going to do it.. So I reached out to a nail salon, actually that had a spare room in the basement and that’s how I opened my shop.

G: I love that you became a professional piercer because of your experience in the kink world because those two industries are so intertwined.

L: I had the luck that sterile working was a natural thing for me because the ladies in the dungeon came from a medical background and so I was aware of the dangers working with needles and blood. This was a good start for me. Before I opened my piercing studio, I read a lot of anatomy books and internet forums. I was always on the hunt for better quality, nice looking jewellery and equipment. I did a lot of research but it was not that easy. 

My first contact with other professional piercers was the BMXnet conference in 2012. There I also met Mark from Neometal and he introduced me to safe jewellery and materials. I was so proud when I brought back my first little bag of high quality piercing jewellery.

Back in those days I also met Thomas Stolte, online first, who worked with jewellery from Industrial Strength –  I emailed him and he was super friendly, super kind and he really helped me to get things going. He explained to me what to look for and what to aim for and how to make a proper order. To place an high quality order back then was a bit like trying to cast a spell – you had long lists with ordering codes and put it all together by yourself including all the specifics of colours, gauges etc, crossed your heart three times that you did it all right and waited like a child for Christmas to get these shinies. Today everything is a lot easier with the online systems and lower wait times.

G: Tell me about your conference experiences.

L: The first conference you are going to, is often the one that has the most impact because you don’t know shit and then you’re aware that you didn’t know shit. Jane Absinth phrased this really nicely, she said when she was at her first conference, she really wanted to go back and just burn her whole studio. I really understood that.

I’m really grateful for the many people I have met through conferences and for the ideas that have helped me to grow and find my path in the community to better my career.

In 2015 and 2016 I was a scholar for the APP conference and it was my first time going to the “big one”. I applied first for the Al D scholarship [now legacy scholarship]. I was refused in the last round and I applied for the No Excuses Scholarship, which I got. Las Vegas was really, really overwhelming for me. It was really tough shit, but more on a personal level (is there anything “real” in Las Vegas?!).

I’m really grateful for the peers that made it possible for me to attend twice as a scholar to the APP Conference. I really worked hard to get to that moment. But at the beginning of 2016 my mother had passed away and I had to attend to those matters, the community came together and I was granted the scholarship for a second time.

Conferences are very important, networking is very important, but most important are the conversations you have in between and after classes. I’m an extroverted introverted person (INFJ) but I actually met my best friend for life, Jane, at my second APP conference in Las Vegas. 

She met me sitting a bit aside at the pool party and we started nerding out all evening. We got into some really deep talks about everything. This is what I appreciate about conferences: you have the opportunity to speak with people over days about topics that are in your daily life and maybe they can also change your point of view or give you a bit more inspiration 

G: What was the No Excuses Scholarship?

L: I really wanted to desperately go to Las Vegas and I was so sad that I was denied from the APP at the last moment. I guess it is my personality but when I don’t reach a goal, I get motivated to try and try again. Back then, to apply, I had to send a huge PDF with my reference letters and answers about who I got inspired by in the industry and why, and who am I and why do I need this and why do I need to go. So a committee of piercers decided that they wanted me to go. I thought it would be like the Al D scholarship and I would be part of a volunteer team but it wasn’t. I wanted to be there to work so I sneaked myself into the volunteer group and said “I’m here so I am working.”

G: Was that your first time outside of Europe? 

L: Yes and I am very grateful for the scholarship because it was a shit ton of money I had to spend for the flights so this was a really huge deal for me back in 2015. I had my shop, of course but I also did my studies and worked at the dungeon. I worked at my shop, appointment only, but I wasn’t booked all the time. I had to work out how to have enough money to manage all that.

Jewellery collection Unknown Pleasures Piercing
Unknown Pleasures have a wide variety of stunning jewellery

G:  It sounds like you’ve always been one of those people that has a goal and will work endlessly to achieve it. 

L: I guess it depends on what you’ve experienced in life. And if you have been able to make some decisions. When I graduated, I could have studied political science because I was very good at it and it would lead to a career. But I thought, I won’t do that, I will study philosophy to do what I am really interested in because I can earn money in whatever way I want. There was a point in my life where I decided I just wanted to do the things that fulfil me. I will not sell myself and will not do stuff that I don’t want to do because I experienced that a lot in my childhood and also in my teenage years And so, when I made the move to the South, I built myself a new life.

Of course, this sounds really powerful, but you know, sometimes you have to be powerful to keep yourself alive and protect your sensitive self.

G: You’re an incredible woman. How did you get involved with the VPP (Verband Professioneller Piercer)?

L: The VPP was the brainchild of Thomas Stolte and me. I was aware of the Ask a Professional Piercer group on Facebook and I wanted to do something similar in German. In this conversation, the idea was born to start an association that isn’t only about educating piercers but clients as well. I really love the idea to connect people, share some knowledge, grow with each other to set some standards and to avoid trouble for the client

We spoke to Andre about the idea and we started writing down our standards and guidelines. But to start an association, you need more people to be on board. So this is where other people came in to start the process.

G: You also host Now We Talk seminars at your studio, how did that start?

L: Actually, the NowWeTalks are clients aimed. Piercers are totally welcome, but they are client focused. I started with the hashtag #pussybling, because I did a lot of vulva piercings and I was so sad because I had so many wonderful women sitting with me who never ever had a proper look at themselves. I explained to them their anatomy and then explained how beautiful they are. Then I thought, okay, I have to do something. The first NowWeTalk was about vulva piercing and what is possible but most of the work I do is around educating clients about anatomy. 

It’s more for empowerment. I host female identified-only evenings but I also had a version where couples could come in, so that both can ask questions. It was really really nice, I started inviting other speakers like Andre or a friend from my philosophical study to talk on different topics and it grew from there

G: Especially in the UK, education around genital anatomy is so lacking. It’s really amazing that you are empowering people to learn more about themselves.

L: What I realised pretty early, and this is something I’m really grateful for, I was able to listen to Elayne Angel and also speak with her –  she always talks positively about genitalia and anatomy. And this is really something that I grabbed and started doing myself. I had more than one client who was tearing up because nobody had ever spoken that nicely about their anatomy before.

Studio space
Unknown Pleasures is a safe space for everyone

G: I think a lot of people with vulvas are made to feel like their anatomy is “wrong” because it doesn’t look a certain way. 

L: A client of mine, she came in with inverted nipples and she was really nervous about getting them pierced. We had a few appointments where we discussed it and when she finally had the piercings, I really had to stop her from running out of the piercing room to show her friends. She was so proud! At her aftercare appointments she said “I should have done this so much earlier. I’m so confident.” I really love what  piercing can do to you and how it can help you to really find peace and find beautiful things in your body.

G: There’s a lot of crossover between empowerment, piercing, kink, reclamation, gender identity etcetcetc. Can we talk about the links between your career as a Dominatrix and a Professional Piercer? 

L: I had the luck to work in a nice BDSM studio with a lot of really awesome ladies – a matriarchal bubble. And what I learned there for life, is to embrace yourself and embrace the way you are. That you don’t have to be ashamed of your body, you don’t have to be ashamed of your feelings, you don’t have to be ashamed of your sexuality. I had the wonderful opportunity to learn all that and this shaped me. It taught me that naked bodies are just bodies and of course, it can be arousing when you’re in a private setting but beside that, it’s just a body, you know? 

And this acceptance of bodies and being totally okay with however you are, is what I try to give to my clients of whatever gender. It also taught me about accepting that you don’t have to be friends with everybody, you don’t have to be like everybody, but you can accept the differences and you can see what you have in common and work with that.

The bottom line for both industries is acceptance and taking proper care of people’s needs. You’re the one in power, as the piercer or as the Domme. You are the one who is leading and who is responsible for a safe environment, for a safe experience. You guide a person through the process. And these are totally different processes but you’re guiding them through it.

You have to be really aware of your responsibility and to make the experience as nice as it can be. And “nice” can be defined differently, of course. In the piercing room, I do not want my client to feel pain at all. I try to breathe with them, I try to guide them, I really like to calm them. But when I work with my guests, of course it’s different but it’s all about trust. It’s not like, “oh yeah, I’m a sadistic person, so let me stick needles into you.” That is not what’s happening in either room.

In any setting, as a professional, you need to be aware of yourself and the different aspects of your personal needs and also your work environment needs.In both. In the piercing room or the dungeon room, you’re totally confronted with people that already have an opinion of you without knowing you.

For example, I’m highly educated. But when you tell random people that you are a piercer, people often assume that I must not be educated. I was a problem child with dyed hair who pokes people for fun, because there is no other option possible career-wise.

G: I never considered it that way, but it’s true. When you tell people you’re a body piercer, they immediately make an assumption about you. 

L: So I work piercing appointments only and of course people are asking me what I do the other days. A new client came in and she was referred by a friend. She heard that I work as a nurse when I’m not in the studio. I was like, “I do, but not as you think.”. It’s funny what people make up because they really, really need to put you in a box.  It’s something we definitely have to stop because it helps nobody to have predefined opinions of someone. 

G: How has the body modification scene changed in Germany?

L:  Well, it changed for good. This is what I can say. In Germany, there are more followers than leaders. People are more inclined to keep working and piercing the same way they have for the past 20 years and not update things. There’s also more education available for clients and I’m really happy to see how in the last few years things have changed. The new generation of piercers are aiming in the right direction and connecting to each other 

There was a time when piercers only connected to shit talk others piercers. And this is something I never liked. It’s now one of the VPP guidelines: “Der VPP kann nur als Einheit bestehen – dementsprechend ist kollegialer Umgang untereinander die Grundvoraussetzung.  Dies beinhaltet konstruktive Kritik anzunehmen, wie auch geben zu können ohne dabei persönlich zu werden.” 

“The VPP can only exist as a unit – accordingly, collegial interaction with one another is the basic requirement..This includes accepting and giving constructive criticism without becoming personal.”

Unfortunately there are a lot of people offering body modification services in Germany, using bloody and graphic IG posts and live streams to promote. Please, please use your brain and stop this! This can really fuck up things for the whole industry. Bodymod is more accessible in Germany but it’s not necessarily a good thing – so it is always important to choose the person that is allowed to modify you wisely!

I had a conversation about this at the APP conference, that all Germans are so modified and all are so extreme. We’re not. It is just as always: what you’re looking for, you will see. 

G: Especially in American and UK media, we’re presented with this “extreme” image of the German alternative scene. If it’s some freaky fetish hardcore shit, it’s probably German. 

L: Actually this is something that gave me a hard time as a young woman to be okay with identifying myself as a FemDom, because I had all these false impressions/assumptions in mind. I was trying to find who I was but basing that on these impressions of what I should be (or better what I definitely do not want to be). 

There’s social constructs everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you go to the supermarket, if you’re thinking about how life should be, if you’re thinking about how a relationship or sex should be. Or how the alternative scene should be – you face these ideas and impressions that have been constructed for you. 

Loreia Unknown Pleasures Piercing Stuttgart

I’m quite often asked why I don’t have a lot of facial piercings when I am a piercer. I have piercings for aesthetics, and this is, at the moment, the aesthetic I’m aiming for. More subtle, I still know my shit, I know how to modify your body more than you can imagine. I just choose right now to modify myself more subtly for my own aesthetics. 

Humans have this concept of people in their mind, and we really have to lose it because it doesn’t make sense at all. Preconceptions give you a hard time, but it also gives the other person a hard time.

Another example, when I started piercing, I just worked one day a week because of all the other stuff going on and because we have a health insurance policy that says you’re not able to work that much as a student or you lose your health insurance. A lot of piercers, and this is something that really happened often in my career, would question if I am a “real” piercer because my studio was only open one or two days a week. They’d say I would never sell only high quality jewellery because the customers wouldn’t want it. They’d tell me that appointment-only studios would never work. 

People really had this concept in their mind, how the (piercing) world should be and how it works. And didn’t believe that there would be anything outside of that.

I’m a living, happy example of being able to work two to three days a week with my clients in person in my shop. I’m happy that this allows me to really concentrate on my clients and connect with them and also be a little bit of part of their lives. I have a good work-life balance where I can focus on myself and my needs as well as those of the people around me. 

G: That is really fucking aspirational. You do a lot of ear curation projects, can you tell us about that?

L: This is the beautiful thing about body piercing, self expression can be wherever you want. It could be genitalia work, getting your navel pierced, facial symmetry, heavy mod work. But it can also be a finely curated ear with specific pieces and placements to suit that person’s anatomy. This is really beautiful because you can help people to be how they want to be and they are deciding the path. They decide what and they decide how to treat themselves for just being themselves. And as a piercer, you are a part of that. 

This is what I really love, I really love this kind of piercing client that is going for a concept. An artistic curation. 

I’m on the high sensitive spectrum. I can really feel what people feel. In both of my careers, I can enjoy the joy that people are having. And it’s really like flowing through me. For example, a client gets really excited about a piece, I’m really getting excited about a piece. I’m really thankful for all the trust that people put in me and my work and also my taste.

What an amazing person. I am forever grateful for Loreia’s time, energy and insights. A powerful lady that has a lot to offer of love and passion. Be sure to follow Loreia’s work online and visit her beautiful studio in Stuttgart! 

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An Interview with Sacred Debris – Lynn Loheide & Ari Pimsler

It’s always daunting to speak with people that I really admire so I was incredibly honoured to spend some time chatting with Lynn Loheide and Ari Pimsler on behalf of the renowned archivist team at Sacred Debris. Sacred preserve and document all aspects of piercing and body modification past, present and future. Working alongside historian Shawn Porter to share the invaluable history of our industry, Lynn and Ari are integral entities in this world and it was a privilege to hear their take on body modification. 
Lynn is a worldwide travelling piercer and educator. Ari works to support animal rights and piercers at Marigold Adornment in Vermont, USA. 

G: Lynn, you’re involved in the body suspension world, do you want to talk a little about the global history of suspension?

L:  I think one of the coolest things about being in suspension, especially modern suspension, is that it’s currently a very global thing. There’s teams literally all over the world. There’s international events. You can work with folks from everywhere. But also historically, it’s a very global thing. 

Lynn during a suspension with their team Skynthesis

I really like some of the more anthropological looks at piercing and modification. It’s so fascinating just how many different cultures had some variation or version of suspension or hook pull or flesh pull. It just really speaks to the amount of understanding and awareness. Of catharsis and awakening that the process of suspension brings to so many different people, across so many different walks of life. Across so much time, people still find so much solace in it. 

The suspension community is a very small but pretty close knit community that does a really good job of working well with each other and sharing information.

G: What types of people do you meet in the suspension world, is it mainly body modification folks?

L:  I guess I would actually say it’s a really even mix of people. If you work in the industry, you have easier access to suspension, to tools, to supplies, to knowledge. And to practitioners and groups through networking and connections. 

But my team’s Skynthesis Body Suspension, particularly works with first timers. A lot of people would be surprised by how many folks are not really into body modification and are still called to suspension.

I think one thing that is very well proven, is that suspension is for most folks, a way of processing and dealing with trauma. Some of the really unique subsets of people we get in suspension, who aren’t in the piercing/tattoo/body modification industry, are a lot of veterans who’ve experienced PTSD. And people who experienced a lot of horrors in that line of work. A lot of folks who have different abilities or are disabled. Suspension can be a way of freeing their body or a way of experiencing pain that’s in their control. People who’ve experienced interpersonal and relational trauma and domestic violence. 

There are a lot of piercers and a lot of tattoo artists and a lot of body modification enthusiasts and clients, but it’s also a lot of people who see the act of suspension and it just speaks to something very deep within them. I think that’s part of why we also have seen it so cross-culturally through all of history and so many different groups and cultures and religions have turned to acts like suspension as a way of dealing with trauma and processing difficult emotions and experiences.

G: How far back can we trace acts of body modification?

L: I would say it’s old as we have written history. We have one of the oldest recorded records of cultural piercing in the Bible. And we have records that date back further than that, there’s writings from the time of the code of Hammurabi where we think they’re talking about things that relate with either scarification or piercing. 

We know that throughout history, piercing was not only a religious rite but also a business transaction. Piercing was a sign of marriage and it was used to denote slaves and type of slave and quality of slave. We know that that goes back to the Middle East and to Africa. 

But if we expand our viewpoint on what constitutes body modification and we start to incorporate religious rituals that include acts of self-flagellation, removing of a limb, removing of a finger, removing a part of the scalp, trephination, foot binding, skull lengthening. All of these forms of body modification date back thousands and thousands of years. If you expand your perception of body modification outside of just tattoo and piercing, this has been happening for a long time. The oldest mummy we have has tattoos and 0 gauge ears.

A: There is a decent wealth of information on these things, it’s not a subject that’s necessarily shied away from. There are tons and tons of books both written by piercers and not-piercers that cover that subject -it’s very accessible. Early body mod history is fascinating for a lot of people, even if they want nothing to do with getting a piercing or a tattoo. I think that’s a big reason why we don’t tend to focus on that too much. If anyone’s looking for books, there are some great ones that are accessible. Marks of Civilization is a fantastic book.

In my opinion, one of the best books out there was written by Blake Perlingieri who ran Nomad, A Brief History of the Evolution of Body Adornment: Ancient Origins and Today. There are awesome resources if you’re interested in really going far back. But that feels oddly much more accessible than the last 30 to 40 years of our version of body piercing and what we’ve kind of has come to embody as the industry.

G: Why do you think that is? 

L: Because that was stuff that happened far enough ago that now it’s interesting to people again, right? At the time that people were practicing this scarification and this piercing, it wasn’t really something that people thought to document very well because it was a very normal part of culture back then. Enough time passes and enough people die out, and we lose enough connection and then it becomes interesting again. Back then, whatever cool body modification they were doing was akin to writing a detailed journal about how you toasted your toast for breakfast in the morning. But we’ve had enough experience with watching history disappear that we know that if we as Sacred Debris don’t take our time now to document what happened in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, then we are gonna lose it. 

Right now, people are looking at stuff way back then and also what’s happening right now and things within, usually the last 50 to 70 years, we look at it as too recent to consider. So what happens is, people have hundreds of thousands of photographs and journal entries and original tattoo art and blood play prints just sitting in bins in their garage because they’re from 40 years ago. And they think no one cares about it because It’s not old enough to be history and it’s not new enough to be cool.

Then that garage floods or then someone passes away and their kids don’t know what to do with it. They throw it out and 40 years from now, people are gonna go, ‘oh my God we have like five pictures of Bud Navaro and we don’t know anything about him, but we know he was cool. We’re trying to prevent those same mistakes that we’ve made in the past and document the things that to a lot of the people that we’re interviewing and talking to, is basically like talking about high school and remembering locker combinations.

We know that in a couple more years it’s going to be incredibly important parts of our history that we could have easily accidentally lost. 

A: I think it’s also fair to chime in and say this is something that comes out of the queer and fetish community and you are always gonna have a significant whitewashing of things that come out of those communities.

You can go back and find plenty of records of things that as a community we like to say these things are ours – we invented it! Obviously things like scarification and piercing etc. are pulled from other cultures, but a lot of the gay and fetish community were doing that before piercing was a business and embraced it. So as progressive as our industry may seem in context to, for example, Wall Street and as progressive as we may be as more varied people and identities enter the field, you are always gonna struggle with getting a really coherent, unbiased look when the starting point comes from groups that have historically been under fire. 

G:  In your time researching the history of our industry and the subcultures that encompass it, what significant changes have you noticed over the last few years?

A: I feel like it’s hard to answer that without sounding too salty but it feels like piercing has gotten significantly more conservative. That’s not to say that after any experimental phase things start to get more dialled in and there’s less of a need for outlandish things because we know what has a better chance of working than others. But it’s that sentiment of this dogmatic mentality, that this is the way things are done, no ifs, ands, or buts, black and white right or wrong. You stifle the voices, whether it’s in person or online from trying to question or say otherwise, and in turn stifle creativity.  It stops forward momentum.

Ari performing a pubic hook pull many moons ago

 I think a really good look at that is with jewellery. You have essentially the same few companies that we’ve had for years now. It’s wonderful that these companies are thriving but severely limiting input is actually to our detriment.  The last true game changing innovation was with Neometal – thats 1997! Without new ideas and fresh eyes we’re doomed to just repurpose what’s already out there over and over.

If we are telling people it’s do or die, do not go outside the box or you’re gonna get dog-piled for doing it, that sucks. That makes it really hard for piercing to grow and evolve from where it is. We sure as shit could use a lot more kindness to make the sort of upper echelon “standard” that we want people to be at more accessible and inviting. It’s hard to want to be in the thick of anything when you know the attitude is borderline fanatical. 

L: I think Ari is right. I would phrase it as like we’ve seen the commodification of body piercing, especially in the last couple of years. I would say the last five where body piercing, especially the piercing we look at and write about at Sacred Debris, was experimental.  It was weird. it was a niche community of people doing something because they really loved it. It was kinky, it was queer, and now piercing is luxury and expensive, and it’s about how it looks on Instagram. Somewhere in between Instagram posts and Statim cycles, we very much became very conservative and very sanitised.

I do think we are seeing a resurgence, especially since Covid, that is mirroring what happened to piercing in the 80’s and 90’s during the AIDS epidemic where we are seeing a lot of anti-trans legislature, a lot of anti-trans rhetoric at the same time that we’re seeing this amazing growth in visibility for the trans community.

Lynn facilitating a suspension

And just like what happened with the gay community, when one group was very harshly ostracised and pushed aside and told that they don’t matter and they’re not important. It’s really easy for people to say, ‘fuck you. I’m not gonna conform to what you want me to be’. I think we’re seeing, especially a lot of trans youth and trans clients, really starting to push boundaries. We’re seeing a resurgence of genital piercing, of cool large gauge, custom genital work, of people starting to talk online about how they can do weird, cool things with their genitals. And in the past it was gay men who wanted to do weird, cool, kinky stuff and now it’s trans kids who wanna have weird, cool genitals that don’t look like any gender.

These same kids are out there, getting and they’ve made rhino piercings popular in 2023! Paired centre eyebrows, large gauge cartilage stuff is on the rise. We’re gonna see that continue because for the last couple of years, it’s been trending towards skinny, conventionally pretty models in gold and diamonds. Now, we’re definitely seeing that resurgence in the trans community of people who are already willing to say, ‘well, you hate me because I look and express my gender the way I want to. You’re already gonna treat me like shit for who I am so I might as well get the fucking face tattoo, put the horns in my forehead and split my dick while I’m at it.’

I have a little bit more hope that it’s, once again, going back to queer and fetish roots, that we are gonna see that more. And hopefully it’s a less experimental, maybe more controlled experimental renaissance. Focus more on gender affirming work and what we can do with genital piercings and body piercings that push the boundaries in a safe way, but create specifically non-binary or masculine or feminine effects or looks.

While piercing has moved in a very commodified, very capitalist direction recently, I think we’re starting to see that cycle back.

G: I can only speak from my experience in the UK but we have certainly seen the increased demand for larger gauge and genital work.

L: And that aspect of piercing was always queer and kinky. I think throughout the late 2000s and 2010s, piercing became just mainstream enough that it was all nostrils, ears, gold and diamonds. And the industry really encouraged that narrative. It used to be that any piercing was pushing back against ‘The Man’. Then for a while any piercing was ‘The Man’, it was even cooler, more rebellious, not to have piercings or tattoos. I think now we’re seeing that resurgence of people who feel comfortable looking and having these really extreme modifications because they’re already dealing with discrimination for how they look.

We are also seeing that resurgence of queer fetish spaces. I think it overlaps with the fact that there was a sanitation of the queer community over the last 10 years. How much ‘Kink at Pride’ discourse have we all seen on the internet? We did see a sanitisation of queer spaces and I think also kind of aligned with the sanitisation of body piercing and body modification. Now that we’re seeing that swing the other way, I think it’s happening in piercing.

G: What would you like to see in the future of the body modification industry?

A:  I think American piercing in particular has a real problem with working with children and they don’t realise it is not a worldwide view. I think if people really give a shit about safety then hopefully they will start to embrace working with children. It’s a really critical component of piercing. It’s one of the last sectors that is almost entirely experience based at a time when piercing has shifted to more heavily focus on the aesthetic end.

They are there to try something new. As a rite of passage its easily the most common and widespread in all cultures. It’s all about learning consent for their body and getting over something scary and a really incredible experience for them that I think lasts a lifetime, even if they take the earrings out at some point. It feels really sad that we exist in a place where not only do people not want to work on children, which caveat is fine if you are not comfortable with it, but it’s so hostile in some  aspects that you can’t even get a recommendation on who to then go to. I think some people are actually worried about putting it out there because they don’t want blowback from the community, which in turn makes it difficult to get a network of people for certain age ranges together because they don’t wanna take a bunch of shit for it. 

I would love for that to be something that we fix moving forward. That at least it’s a comfortable place where people who want to pierce young children, babies, anything like that, can be more open about advertising those services and help others who are interested in learning them.

G: We see it in the UK too, a lot of piercers aren’t comfortable with doing or discussing piercings on younger children.

A: For most populations it’s a tremendously important rite of passage. It’s something that no matter how much shouting the piercing community does you are not gonna prevent people from continuing that. And so to me the actual safe thing to do is to embrace it and provide a place where they can get it done in a sanitary environment with good jewellery, rather than saying “don’t fucking do that” which is really just pissing in the wind (and disrespectful to those communities).

L: As an extension of what Ari said, I would love to see folks approach each other with an assumption of at least neutral intent, if not good intent. Rather than always assuming bad intent. I feel like, no matter what you post about in a piercing only space, people immediately assume that you had the worst intentions or that you didn’t do anything right, that you didn’t care to run anything by your client. Even when it’s a really good, really well-respected piercer posting something like an experimental piercing they did or asking for help with finding a referral for piercing a child or a client in a certain situation. There is a lot of automatically assuming negative intent.

For me though, the really big thing I would like to see is  the continuation of restructuring apprenticeships and front of house positions.  I would love to see even more studios doing paid apprenticeships and taking better care of their apprentices. And I would love to see more recognition for front of house in the industry. I would really love to see the APP or the UKAPP offer, a membership type that is specific to the front of house, that acknowledges it as its own career. As opposed to just lumping everyone in this associate member form. I would love to see more classes directed towards the front of house and towards apprentices.

We’ve made a lot of strides in the last five years in regards to abuse in apprenticeships and mistreatment of apprentices. But I think we still have a long way to go before most of the industry is on board with that. I hope positive change keeps moving in that direction. And I hope people who have a lot of influence in the industry and organisations that have a lot of influence, step up and start acknowledging these positions in bigger ways. The APP released their apprenticeship guidelines, which are great and I hope that they do something similar to that in the future with front of house, and I hope we see that from the international organisations as well.

Words can’t express how grateful I am for the powerful insights and time that Ari and Lynn shared with me for this interview. I hope some of it resonates and that you enjoyed it as much as I did. Special thanks to legendary Shawn Porter for all of his support and for all the work he continues to do. Please consider supporting Sacred Debris and be a part of preserving the history of piercing, people and practices.

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An Interview with Phebe Rose – Junior Body Piercer

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. 

Piercers Piercing Piercers. Aiden performed 6g lowbrets for Phebe during her visit to Rogue!

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.

Double tragus pierced by Phebe using NeoMetal
jewellery at Factotum

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.

Play piercing beautifully performed Dawn!

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.

Triple vertical helix pierced by Phebe using NeoMetal jewellery at Factotum

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. ♡

Phebe is a wonderful human and a very passionate piercer. Be part of her journey by booking in with her at Factotum, Norwich. Thank you for your time and your vulnerability. Your gonna go far, kid! <3

You can read my interview with Olly Todd here.

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An Interview with Ryan – Clinical Nurse Practioner

There’s something special about a smoking area. Leaving the chaos of an afterparty to stand in the cold and smoke, Machester drizzle in the air. Piercers everywhere. It’s September 2022 at the Stilleto Piercing Supplies party, the smoking area is refuge for those needing a breather. Initiating inebriated chatter, I’m drawn to Ryan’s calming demeanour. Who is this man I’ve seen loitering in the background of industry events? Who does he work for? Where does he pierce? What the fuck is that on his head? Ryan was kind enough to share his time with me month’s after our initial meeting to talk about what he does, why he loves body modification and how he works to promote self expression and body autonomy.

Gemma: First thing’s first, tell us what you do for a living.

Ryan: I am a clinical nurse practitioner and I work in a high security mental health hospital. I predominantly work with men with personality disorders and possibly other comorbid mental illnesses who have committed serious offences. There’s thought to be a link between their mental health, their personality and their risk.

G: That’s heavy. And although it’s not entirely related to the body modification industry, you’ve been around this scene for a long time right?

R: There’s definitely a cross over there in the mental health and body mod worlds. As a mental health professional and at the grand old age of 42, I realised that I was autistic. Hence the feeling different and not really fitting in etc. In my late teens I’d been exploring what that was about and came across BME and saw people doing all these awesome, incredible things that I was too scared to do. It gave me a bit of an idea about ownership of your own body.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel like I fit in or that I was accepted. Almost like my body wasn’t mine. I began getting pierced, experimenting with self piercing, things like that. I just really fell in love with body modification in general.

Speaking of BME, it’s fitting that it’s 10 years today since Shannon Larratt passed away. I’ve got a ritual planned later.

G: What was your first experience with body modification?

R: My first piercing, at the tender age of 19, was a labret piercing with a ridiculously long spike. Well, I say ridiculously long – it certainly was for the time. It was maybe 18mm. And then flood gates opened.

My ex partner wasn’t really supportive about some of the things I wanted to do. I sort of compromised and then got divorced at 28. I said “well, I can just be me. And that’s alright. Maybe some people will accept me for that.”

I’m overly geeky and research everything to death. I had fairly normal piercings to begin with. My original labret piercing is now 16mm. I stretched that, it’s never been cut. It was a little bit uncomfortable, but at the time you couldn’t really buy a labret plug. It was very hard to get hold of. I ended up getting into woodworking to make earplugs and labret plugs, and got working with Delrin and Teflon. Most of my large gauge jewellery I’ve made myself over the years. 

My tragus was punched at 4mm originally and that’s stretched up to 10mm now. Basically the swelling in my ear canal meant that I was deaf for a week after every stretch. I did it in half millimetre increments., I mean, it’s ridiculously silly that you make yourself deaf temporarily for a piercing.

G:  It looks cool though. Can you tell us about your tongue split?

R: Yeah, I like it. It’s something different. 

The tongue split.

I have this odd thing sometimes that if something scares me, I’ll stop and think about it and go, “why does that scare me?” If there’s actually a rational reason for it,  you know, serious risks or things like that. I think, well yeah, that’s a stupid thing and I’m not doing that.

But if it’s just a stupid thing, but not necessarily that risky then I start to think, “well maybe, I could”.

I got my tongue split I guess about 14 or 15 years ago.I don’t know if anybody was offering it in the UK at the time. I’d seen it on BME and it was kind of a new thing. There was talk in the modification community about “Was it okay? Isn’t it cool that the body can do this thing? What’s the better method? How safe is this?” A little bit of experimentation. I had it done with an electrocautery scalpel. 

It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. It is not to be recommended. Tasted weird and smelled like burnt scrambled eggs. I had to sit on a little pad to ground myself as well in case I got electrocuted from it. A very unpleasant and weird experience.

G: That’s really hardcore. Have you been on the other side and performed any piercings or modifications for other people?

R: I made a decision never to do it professionally because I love it and I’m really geeky for it. I didn’t want it to become work and I didn’t ever want to think like “God, just another piercing I have to do”. I like the specialness of it.

I might have had opportunities but it’s not really where I wanted to take my life. When I discovered the field of mental health, I knew that was my vocation. I absolutely love it. It’s such a privilege to get to know people in that depth and share some of the most intimate and difficult parts of their life and try and help ’em with it.

Modification I guess is a hobby. Having said that, I’ve self pierced, I’ve pierced family and friends, I’ve thrown hooks [pierced in order to insert hooks] as part of the suspension team. I enjoy the ritual of it. Procedural stuff I’m not so keen on to be honest. So yeah, I’ve done a reasonable bit of stuff and then when I first started hanging around a lot of professional piercers it was slightly terrifying that I knew more about their industry in a lot of the cases. I hope that’s changed a bit now.

At the first UKAPP conference, people would ask me questions assuming that I was a professional piercer. I kind of had to pretend to be a professional piercer to be the first one because they changed the rules at the last minute. Initially it was open to everybody, so I got a ticket and then they said you have to be a professional piercer. My friend was trading there and he told me to come anyway to help him out and he’d vouch for me. Everyone’s just assumed that I’m a piercer ever since. 

G: How long have you worked in mental health?

R: This will be around 23 years I think.

I’d done the typical thing of going to uni as you’re expected to do, and I studied law. I’m kind of a nerdy for the law and always found it interesting. But I knew it would lead to a life of being sat in an office for an awful lot of time, doing a lot of paperwork and memorising a lot of information.

Not things I enjoy. So I dropped out of university and as a person in their early 20s, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was doing a lot of animal rights protests, I lived and helped at an animal sanctuary where I was living in a caravan. The caravan flooded and I became homeless. I thought, “you know what, I’m a little bit bored of being poor and not doing something.” I randomly found a job as a mental healthcare assistant. I was kind of blown away by it and really just found it fascinating.

G: Some people might consider you quite heavily modified. Can you talk about how that has impacted your professional career?

R: When it comes to qualifying as a nurse, there’s still this weird sort of ‘Florence Nightingale complex’ where if you are a nurse, you should be female and you should be prim and proper and look a certain way.

Even in mental, forensic and secure mental health services, there’s still a degree of that. I think I quite deliberately sort of pushed the boundaries a bit. There were quite a few conversations with managers along the way but I think at the hospital where I work, as I became more experienced and established, I hope people think I’m good at my job and polite and respectful, and how I look has no impact on my job at all.

In fact, if anything, it’s often a bit of a help for engagement. The people that I work with have often come from prison. They’re likely tattooed and pierced themselves. More tattoos than piercing I guess. A lot of the guys I work with are really institutionalised. They’ve never really been outside some kind of care or custodial setting a lot of them, or not for long.

They’re interested. You look a bit different maybe, or not like other people they’ve had bad experiences with. I was doing a review at Broadmoor Hospital, auditing and giving them some ideas on how to work with some patients. The patients I met were absolutely fine with my appearance. Some were a bit wary, but they’re gonna be wary of meeting a new person, regardless of how they look. A lot of people were really interested. But the staff were in uproar. “How have you let this person in?!” The staff were not allowed any facial piercings at all, tattoos couldn’t be above the collar, below the sleeve sort of thing. 

It’s a little pride that I’ve got, certainly at my place of work. I’ve seen there are more staff that have come through over the years, and they’ve got stretched ears and facial piercings. I kind of think, maybe I’ve changed the environment a bit. People have accepted me for how I look so it’s really hard for them to tell somebody else not to have modifications. 

G: It’s good that you may have opened that door for other people because I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals and it’s always the nurses with piercings or tattoos that make me feel comfortable. They feel more human.

R: Being human is the absolute crux of a healthcare job, which sadly people sometimes forget for a number of reasons. You are a human trying to help another human and that commonality is sort of where you start. I think certainly in terms of my patients, they’re interested in how I look. I’ve talked about suspension with some of my patients, and this might be people that have really seriously self-harmed for example, and they’ve often received a really negative response to that. For understandable reasons, they’ve felt shamed and then we’re trying to figure out what this is about. For some people, particularly with trauma, there is an element of self ownership in that and maybe there’s some crossover with modification in that way. 

I’m not suggesting anybody should self harm or that self harm is a positive thing, but I do think there is a big cross over with modification and harm reduction. I’m a relatively healthy expression of that. 

G: This dialogue comes up a lot when we talk about body modification. What we do is sort of facilitate a form of self harm through modification. Not only does it fucking hurt, people are in a very vulnerable place when they come in and they’re putting their safety in your hands. A lot of people go through a difficult time and they want to get a piercing at the end of it or a tattoo to commemorate that experience. 

Do you think, as an industry, that we have a positive effect on mental health?

R: There’s potential for an enormous amount of positivity. There’s potential for an enormous amount of harm as well. It’s what you do with it. Like you say, people are at a vulnerable point potentially. Practitioners need a really rigorous understanding of consent, having trauma informed practice. Things like that are getting better in my opinion.

It’s always gonna be a real mixed bag. Remembering to be human and remembering that’s part of your job when you’ve got 20 clients booked in for a day. That’s hard. I mean, that’s part of why I’ve not wanted to pierce professionally. Because I don’t wanna forget the bit that’s important.

G: I think as an industry, and society as a whole, we’ve got much better with talking about mental health and why it matters. Have you noticed that from your side working in the mental health field?

R: I think it’s definitely become more of an open conversation. In terms of the modification community, it’s always been there. People that choose that as a career or are heavily modified, I suspect are more likely to have experienced some difficulties with mental health than the average person in the population. Or at least are dealing with it in a different way and I think there’s always been an awareness of that. Traditionally, the industry has been made of people who feel they don’t fit in very well. They tend to be outsiders. There’s been change in that as well for sure. 

That kind of links to the point of thinking about trauma and thinking about the significance and meaning to somebody. If you pay no attention to that, somebody could have an absolutely appalling experience. If you pay a lot of attention to it, you could make it something that’s life-changing and quite memorable for somebody. 

G: What changes have you seen in your time both working in mental health and being around the modification industry?

R: In terms of the industry, semi regulation seems to have become a thing and I suppose maybe I’m biased by the people that I know and come into contact with because I’m sure there are lots of terrible shops out there. Piercing’s such a new industry, there has been a learning process. I think some of the procedures that I’ve had, some of the things I’ve experimented with and thought that might work in hindsight, it’s absolutely ridiculous. Once upon a time it was a bit more wild west. It was a case of “let’s find out.” Something on paper sounds like it might be a good idea. Let’s see if that works or not. 

The internet communities were where people were sharing their experiences and their information and that’s what really brought us together. It seems that now we have a more professional, slightly more uniform set of standards. It’ll be interesting to see if that becomes some kind of actual regulation or licensing at some point. But I’m very much two minds about that. The wild west part of me wants to say no, let’s all just experiment and that’s wonderful because it’s consenting people. But yeah, I think that’s possibly a minority of people. The majority of people that come into a shop to get pierced, just wanna know that it’s safe and it’s gonna heal.

G:  Absolutely, as a piercer we aim to give you the best possible chance of healing. We make sure the procedure is safe and clean and that we’re using the highest quality jewellery and equipment. But then it’s on the client to follow the proper aftercare and keep in touch if there’s any issues.

R: I suppose that’s part of the problem. You can do the absolute best procedure in the world and if somebody doesn’t take care of it then it can ruin the whole piercing. It’s a relatively unique thing, it’s a collaboration between the practitioner and their client.

And I think it’s really important as a professional to remember that this experience is significant for that person. It might just be your 11 o’clock appointment and you might not remember their face but they know who you are. I’ve experienced that in mental health work as well, I’ve had people thank me for what help I’ve provided them and I’ve honestly not had a memory of them. It can be really awkward at that moment but I’m also really happy that I’ve managed to touch their lives. I suppose, as that relationship develops and you see the same client or a patient over a period of time like some of the guys I’ve worked with now, I’ve known a number of ’em over a decade. So it is a real intense relationship and you know someone inside out.

G: What changes have you seen in mental health care over the years? 

R: It’s become less industrialised. I think it’s better with individual care than it used to be, I’ve been in high security for a long time so I’m not really at a ‘street level’ where you’re working with the community. But I think there’s now a better understanding of trauma in particular, and I think that’s something that absolutely has to be pushed through because my personal view is mental health and trauma are essentially the same thing. That’s not something I managed to come up with myself.

I was doing some teaching and we put together a presentation for a panel of people that use services. Experts by experience. And there was a slide that said, somebody’s mental health problems can be directly impacted by trauma. And trauma may be the root cause of difficulties for people. I think it was the only correction on the whole presentation that they wanted to feed back. They said “no, we don’t think trauma and mental health are linked. We know they are the same.”

In the past I’ve said that I work with people who have committed violent offences or people that have this diagnosis or that diagnosis. But essentially I work with exceptionally traumatised people that have then gone on to traumatise other people. As a society, a lot of our problems are that we’ve got these little cycles of trauma going on. 

In mental health it used to be almost like you’ve been hit by some kind of illness stick. You’ve just got a mental illness and that’s it. I think it’s difficult to accept trauma because it’s harder to deal with than just giving somebody a pill.

G: From my limited time in piercing, everyone seems very accepting and supportive of mental health struggles.

R: There’s perhaps more of an understanding of difference and that need for individuality. I suppose particularly when you’re looking at heavy modification and more extreme stuff, you have to be an incredibly open and curious person to do that. 

G: Can we talk about your experience with body suspension?

R: Getting into suspension was a similar journey as my tongue split. It was something I saw and immediately thought, “That’s scary, I couldn’t do that.” And that became “Why can’t I do that?” I started researching and finding out more. I had another friend and knew a couple of people who were interested, and we sort of got together and talked about it and just decided to really learn. We were deliberately self taught. I think the suspension community tends to sort of build by rote. So somebody’s done it and it’s kind of worked, so this is how we do it then. You’ll get other suspension teams who do it their way and they’re not very good at knowing why. Which is a real contrast compared to the body modification community, particularly when heavy modifications were something of an industry. You have to know why. Because if you don’t, you can really hurt people. 

Ryan faciliating a suspension for a friend

With the suspension team, every team member started to learn all of the different roles and we came up with our own protocol. And then when we finally went out and met other teams that were doing it and started talking with them, nobody knew why they did things the way they did. That’s just the way it’s done. Everyone had their own methods and reasoning but didn’t really share too much.

G: It seems that suspension is a very closed and tight knit community.

R: I guess there’s not many people that do it. It is something that is potentially really quite dangerous. So people can be cagey about giving information and letting people in. And there’s fear of judgement with it as well, it’s something not many people understand. I think most people can understand tattoos as a form of art even if it’s not for them. But you want to hang from hooks?! There’s not always that kind of understanding. 

I think what often gets people involved in suspension is seeing the aftermath for people. Or hearing people that have done it talking about it positively and when you just look at it, it’s not just a performance. I’m sure there’s people that for them it becomes just a performance. But I think it’s probably quite hard to do that because it’s instant mindfulness when you’re suspended. That’s how I think of suspension. You can’t think of anything else. You are there. You’re right here, right now, and this is what’s happening and that’s all your brain is gonna manage. You can’t be thinking about a shopping list or the fact you go on holiday next week, did I leave the oven on? Your brain’s totally not geared for that and I really like that. It’s incredibly zen and there’s things that might float up in your mind. My experience with suspending people and being suspended, is you can’t always predict what things will float up. Your subconscious just kind of puts it out in the moment and you can kind of work through it then. I’ve personally found it an incredibly healing and a powerful experience.

But you can’t go into it going, “I’m gonna have this kind of suspension” because it doesn’t work like that. For me, I’ve seen people go and think they’ll have a happy, high energy suspension and then actually it ended up being almost like a memorial. They’re thinking about that and just the energy from it’s so powerful.

That’s why I love doing it and being around it and being part of that process for people. I do all the bits, I’m geeky about aftercare, I’m geeky about rigging and stuff like that, but talking somebody up, guiding them through the process. It’s almost kind of shamanic because they’re having this transformative process that you are never gonna fully understand but you get to facilitate and you’re there for that. 

Even just piercings, tattoos and other modifications, it’s a similar kind of thing. It can be that. To understand that you can be overwhelmed and that is okay, and that you’re strong enough to do it. It’s often quite euphoric as well for both physical and spiritual reasons, I guess. 

This is the bit that’s the crossover between my professional work as a nurse and the modification world. It’s that real, intimate core of who we are, that transformative experience and that wanting to guide somebody through their bit of the journey. 

G: The patients you work with, are they in hospital long term?

R: Yeah, by any kind of ‘normal’ standards it’s long term. A really quick admission might be a couple of years, something like that. Most people would go on to another secure facility, either a prison or more often they’ll go to a medium secure hospital. It’s kind of handing them off on that part of their journey and trying to guide ’em through that and prepare them for it. You never really get to know the end outcomes for people, it becomes a bit fuzzy as people work further through the system. I know there’s guys I’ve worked with that have been completely hopeless and never thought they’d get anywhere, but they’ve got partners and families and jobs and just cracking on with life now. So it does happen and it’s important to bear in mind. It’s not fast and the rewards often aren’t immediate in my job. Remembering that this can happen and holding hope for people, that’s a big part of it. 

Things can get better for people however bad it’s got. 

Image courtesty of Church of Body Modification

G: That is incredible. You are doing such an honourable service to people. What else do you get up to?

R: Since 2010, I’ve been Minister for the Church of Body Modification. I’m the only minister outside of North America now. I don’t talk about it a lot and this seems like an opportunity. 

Essentially all the stuff that we’ve been talking about, that bodily autonomy, the spiritual transformation that can happen through modification -that’s basically what we believe. Whatever else you believe is up to you, but that is the core tenant. It is your body and you can utilise that as part of your spiritual journey.

I think people hear the word church and think it’s going and doing hymns or having to believe in a certain dogma or whatever. In this sense it means assembly in terms of, you know, we are a group of people that believe this and I think that’s important. It’s really sad that it’s not always recognised in the modification industry. I think it’s a real shame that in terms of heavier mods and things very much in legal grey area, but the consensus seems to be no we won’t invest in this industry after Mac’s trial. And that was it, it was never raised as a defence. I dunno whether it was pertinent to those cases or not but actually if that is a spiritual practice for somebody, in this country’s legal system, we’ve got human rights to have access to that. And I think some of the downside of the commercialization of the industry and it becoming bigger, while standards have improved as a result, I think it also can become more like a purchase or a fashion accessory. Which it always has been for some people and that’s fine. But it sometimes belittles the fact that modification could be hugely important to people. 

G: The more clinical and the more restricted that we get, I do think it takes away that human element of it. We’ve improved as a industry but we’ve lost a bit of that experimentation and that grassroots, punk edge. 

R: And it limits people’s ability to explore the body. The weird irony about our legal system is not only can you not consent, you can’t now do things with your own body or you can’t do them safely. You know, if you want to chop your own hand off, not that I’d recommended it, you can legally. But if you get somebody else to do that, definitely not fine.

Obviously that’s an extreme example, but when you’re talking about a tongue split or ear pointing it’s a pretty different thing, isn’t it? It’s not so obviously permanently disabling, which is maybe why it might get the judgement. 

G: I’m a big believer that people should be able to do what they want with their bodies as long as it’s safe. But who is to say what is safe? Where do we draw that line? 

R: To an extent, that should be the individual’s choice surely. If you wanna do something unsafe with your body, as long as it doesn’t impact others, well that’s okay. I think it’s different when you’re doing something unsafe with someone else’s body and this is when we get into a lot of blurry grey areas with it.

G:  There’s a lot of heavy modification going on in places like Southern America at the minute. If you want to cut the tip of your nose off, you are well within your rights to. But is that disabling to you? Is that then impacting on other people? Is there a safe way to do that? Should there be psychological intervention? And who gets to make those rules. It generates a very interesting conversation about body autonomy. 

R: There’s something arbitrary and there’s something cultural about it. Certainly in terms of the extremity that people will go. A part of me does think, why are we making rules about what people can do unless we need to protect somebody from themselves. Which I guess sometimes we do, but we probably need to do that less than we think

I suppose all types of modification, no matter what the extent, have an element of permanence. In some regards even a piercing, you are kind of disabling yourself. If you’ve got a lip piercing for example, it might cause some dental damage. A tongue split, you might have a bit of a speech impediment. But on the grand scale of things, it’s not a big thing. 

G: Are there any meet-ups or events within the Church of Body Modification?

R: Not really anymore, it’s exceptionally small now. In the BME days it had more hype. And what you’ve got now is a handful of people that identify in their free time and do a little bit with it. Occasionally in the States there’s been advocacy in legal cases. A lot more, it’s just kind of an advocacy role, letting people know it’s okay. Really just educating that, yeah, this process can be a spiritual experience if you want it to be. Don’t limit yourself if you don’t want to.

I think people see it cynically and some of the origins were cynical on part of some of the people. But even with that, it doesn’t mean that the basic tenants aren’t true. 

I must admit, in my early conversations with my work and management, it was very much “What are these piercings about” and I knew that they were really strict on dress code. That was much more important than someone’s performance. And I didn’t lie, but I did say, you know, primarily it’s kind of a religious thing for me. That person left me alone from that day.  

Generally each one of my mods encourages that sense of self ownership and identity. There are certain things that are aesthetic. I’m afraid I’m mostly one of those people that everything has a little story for me. It’s an aspect of myself, it’s a reflection sometimes of my life and my relationships. It might seem weird but I’m a bit shy. I wouldn’t have things written in script on me that are easy to identify. I’ll have a picture or a pattern or something that’s in runes, glyphs that the vast majority of people would never be able to figure out. 

There’s an odd dichotomy of being a visibly modified person, and in part I think it’s the cost for me of being happy in myself. It gets complicated because, if I’m honest I kind of want people to notice that I’m a bit different and have set myself apart and I like challenging people’s perceptions.

They think I’m gonna be a violent thug and I think I’m actually quite a kind, reasonable human being. As reasonable as any of us get. I think something that I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve got older is people will ask me questions. I’ll have strangers stop me in the street and ask about the markings on my head. “Is that a tattoo? Is it branding?”. It’s great that people are curious and I can maybe educate them a little bit or bring something a bit colourful to this sometimes dull world. That’s no bad thing

I like being a modified professional. Something I’ve found interesting, as I’ve got promoted and mixed with people higher up the food chain, they’re people who don’t ask anymore. And my guess is they kind of go, “well, you’ve ended up at this meeting, so you must be a relatively sane human being.” I’d like to think that any misconceptions or judgments they had, I’m able to demonstrate that I’m okay and maybe they’ll go away with a little bit of that in mind.

G: I think it is really important that people see somebody expressing themselves the way that you do, in a professional role. You might have to work a bit harder than other people, unfortunately, but if you’re good at your job, your modifications will not hold you back.

R: Being one of the early people to do something you are gonna get discriminated against, but hopefully people will be less so in future.

I remember a really interesting conversation with Anna when she said about how hard it had been as a woman in the industry and she was kind of okay with it being hard. I don’t wanna speak on behalf of Anna and she may have changed her mind on things now. But I think, it’s great that she’s worked hard to be respected in her industry but it shouldn’t have to be harder for people because of how they look or identify, 

I can’t really complain in terms of discrimination because I’ve deliberately set out knowing it would make my life harder. A lot of people that get discriminated against, don’t have a choice. That’s just how it is.

G: So we pierce a lot of teachers and they always comment about how they have to punish students for having body piercings because that’s the policy. It’s unfortunately hypocritical and it’s policing autonomy in my opinion.

R: What the hell are we teaching people as a society that you can’t express yourself and you can’t be yourself. It’s an awful message culturally.

It’s definitely a value that I hold dear, you should just be able to be you. Whatever the hell you are, whoever you are. I would love a society that’s more accepting of each other.

If you ever get the pleasure of meeting Ryan, he sure is an incredible human and a wonder to be around. Very grateful for his time and yours if you made it to the end. Keep being you, whoever the hell you are.

A kind message to the Church of Body Modification from BME founder Shannon Larratt. Rest in peace.

You can read more of our interviews here:

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An Interview with Aiko Hosten – Piercer, Podcaster, Practioner of Suspenion and Shibari

Sunday can be an odd day. A cold Sunday morning at Rogue was quickly warmed up by the wonderful energy facilitated by Aiko Hosten, Alicia and our very own Aiden. Body modification in all its many forms, brings people from all over the world together over their shared interest in the weird and wonderful. Aiko has traveled the world learning and sharing his experiences as a body piercer, suspension practitioner, shibari rigger and podcast host. It was an honor to hang out (pun intended) with Aiko and chat about their experiences on both sides of the pointy end.

Gemma:  Tell us your origin story Aiko

Aiko: I have always been interested in piercing and tattooing since I was younger. I was getting tattooed and pierced a few times before I applied for an apprenticeship at the studio I’m working at now. I never got the apprenticeship but I started piercing at home and then a local studio where I was living was looking for a piercer. I applied for it, and they offered me an apprenticeship which was more like, “here’s a needle, there’s a customer, do your thing.” 

It was a biker shop, so there were a few bikers that did some piercings back in the day, which helped me in the beginning, but was not really an apprenticeship. So I started educating myself through BMXnet, APP etc. I was 22, so that’s about eight years ago. I worked there for almost a year and then quit the job cuz it was too much stress working for a biker. 

That was a gap of a year or two until I found some people to start our own studio. After a few months, the tattooer and the other piercer quit. So I took the studio on myself with my best friend and ran the studio for almost three years right before the pandemic hit. We pulled the plug  because a lot of renovations needed to be done and it was not really worth staying there for me.

Right before the pandemic hit, I switched to another studio where I was piercing. Then I broke my foot so I was stuck at home for two or three weeks. But the good thing was, I was still working part-time at a supermarket so I still had money coming in monthly and I had to work two to three days in the supermarket, which kept me sane.

G: When did you first get into suspension? 

A: My first memory of seeing a picture of suspension was in the library when I was passing through books of ancient history, African culture, North American culture and everything. I think it was one of the National Geographic books about the Sun Dance ritual. So that triggered me when I was young and I always wanted to know more about it. I researched more, got on BME back in the day. I start scrolling there, clicking around ‘Are you allowed to be here? Are you 18? Definitely. Yes.’

And then it wasn’t until I was like 21/22 when I got the opportunity to suspend myself. It was with Indy Voet, a piercer who is now a hand-poke tattoo artists and Kevin Garcia who now works at Contraseptik

Lift yourself up.

They did my first suspension and it wasn’t bad, but it was not what I was expecting it to be. Maybe it was just location wise that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted more of a ritual and this was more like, ‘Hey, let’s have fun, just being friends together figuring it out’  which is perfectly fine and I can do that now. But for my first time, I was more hoping for a ritual experience.

 It took about another year until I got the opportunity to be suspended by Beto and Eugenia together with the Pink Flamingo Crew, and that blew my mind. To me, that time feels more like a first experience than my actual first time.

G: What made the experience so much better with Pink Flamingo Fly?

A: It all started with the location. it was a squat somewhere in Brussels, it looked like an old ruin. The garden was so filled with plants and nature,it was so beautiful. It was great weather and it was sort of an outside experience because the building was like ruins.

The connection I had with Beto and Eugenia at that time, helping me suspend it was mind blowing to me. It gave me more of an outer body experience, more the thing that I wanted to experience for my first time.

G: How did you get started as a suspension facilitator? 

A: I suspended a few times with the Flamingo crew and it triggered me to learn more about it. I just started talking with a few practitioners in Belgium including a tattoo artist friend of mine and some other practitioners in the world. At first I just did some suspensions with a friend of mine who used to do suspensions, who taught me the basics of how to prep the skin, how to find a great spot and everything. Then I did some seminars at BMXnet, went to some conferences and that’s how I rolled into it.

G: What do you enjoy about facilitating body suspension for people?

A: For me, it’s a look in the eyes. When you suspend someone or help someone suspend, you can see the light change in their eyes. It’s a magical feeling. You can just feel the energy. You put a lot of energy into that person to help them. But you get so much love and connection back and that’s what I love about it. It is amazing to do. I can say the best thing to do in the world for me. I love piercing, don’t get me wrong, I would never stop piercing. But suspension that little more.

G: I can really see that connection between the two worlds of body piercing and body suspension. For me and for a lot of piercers I speak with, our favorite part of the job is after you’ve done the piercing and that client looks in the mirror and they’re like “fuck yeah, I did that scary thing just for me.” And you’ve helped facilitate that. I guess with suspension, it’s a bit like that on a bigger scale. 

A: Yeah because it’s guiding them to get through the pain, to get over the fear. The fear is understandable especially the first time you do something. Guiding them to that next level is amazing. 

G: Can you tell us about some highlights from your suspension journey? 

A: There are a few. A top one for sure is  the first time I met Charlyne. I went to “Hang You” in Galicia organized by Alex Pereiro, I was in Madrid and I got on the plane by myself to fly to Galicia.Charlyne was on the same plane and she already spotted me. I was going to meet up with some friends to take a cab together and I was waiting outside. Charlyne walked up to me and she was like, “Hey, are you going to the Suscon (suspension conference)? And I nervously said yeah, why? I knew who she was, but I didn’t think she knew me but she asked to share a ride. We got a big cab for six of us, me and Charlyne were already talking and she asked if I wanted to do a spinning beam with her. I’d never done it, but sure. And just the connection me and Charlyne made there and during our first suspension together was, it was like brother and sister connecting together. That was one of the best experiences I’ve had during a suspension myself.

Throwing hooks in tandem. Such a powerful moment.

The second top time is also with Charlyne. Well, most of them are involved with Charlyne actually. It was my first Suspension Sunday, like a real small event, I organised because Charlyne was coming to visit. It was at a local club that hosted BDSM parties, and because of that – I was able to rent it to do suspenion there. It was just so fun doing that, organizing that myself and that started me doing it more and more. 

Another top experience was doing a suspension here in Belgium, it was at a huge squat. They had a skate pool and everything built inside. Me, Joan and Charlene went there, and did a few amazing suspensions there. It was fucking cold there, but it was so warm at the same time. All the people living there came to check it out.and some even suspended for the first time. It was amazing to just be able to do that.

Of course the Pirate Piercing suspension hangout was a great time. My boss had bought an old piece of land, a big wooded area, and we did a suspension there. We had a few first timers there. It was nice to be hanging out, drinking, chilling, placing hooks, making mistakes, doing stupid shit.

G: Can you tell us about some of your experiences traveling and volunteering?

 A: The first traveling I did was a Galicia convention, which was actually right in between Covid lockdowns. I volunteered at the APP convention in Las Vegas. I’ve been over to the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. I’m trying to travel way more cuz I’m tired of just staying in Belgium. I love Belgium, but traveling is so much more fun. Meeting a lot of people and suspension gives me the opportunity to do it. 

G: What’s the body modification scene like in Belgium compared to other places you’ve visited?

A:  Honestly, we’re a little behind. Quality jewelry isn’t that big in Belgium or the Netherlands compared to places like the UK, US or Canada. I was one of the founders of the APP Benelux, which for personal reasons I’m not involved anymore. I still think quality jewelry should be promoted a little bit more.In Belgium, I think there are like four or five studios that really promote quality jewelry. There are a lot of studios that are working up their standards. 

Tattooing is big in Belgium, especially in Antwerp. It’s really huge. A lot of quality tattooers. There’s a lot of other people doing it safely.

G: I’d love to talk about your suspension performances and events.

A: I rolled into it. A  friend of mine here in Antwerp is really big in the BDSM community and he also does some suspensions within BDSM, more hook play and needle play. He was talking to me one day about trying to promote health and safety in the BDSM community and I said if you ever need somebody to talk about hygiene when it comes to blood play/piercing etc, I’m totally up to that. A few weeks later he messaged me about doing a performance. 

I like being on a stage so we worked something out. A friend of mine helped and  we did the first performance where she was suspended in a scorpion position and then we dropped her to a two point back placement, just to show the possibilities. The day after, they got sick so I had to do something by myself. I pierced myself on stage, did everything safely by myself and it just rolled from there.

Suspending from the knee

Now, they keep asking me to come back to do some small performances, which is perfectly fine. I love doing it, it’s fun. I have an excuse to suspend myself. With the performances, I’m not good at shocking people. So I try to do what I would do for somebody in a sort of ritual setting. I’m not gonna say it’s a ritual that I do, but I just try to focus on the suspension and not on the pain and the hooks, which is always involved but it’s not the main attention. 

G: So it’s not performative, it’s not for the shock value, it’s just like sharing an experience with a room of people. In a BDSM club. 

A:  I love the audience but I’m not really involved with the BDSM scene really. But the piercing world, the suspension world, a lot of it became what it is now because of the BDSM world.

G: Any upcoming plans for 2023?

A: Charlyne is coming back in May and we’re doing a suspension Sunday here in Antwerp. I have a lot of travel plans. I’m going to Italy for SusCon as a guest. Then after that there’s APP then I’m going to Oslo. I hope to go back to Croatia to suspend above the sea again, but we’ll have to see. Travel is expensive. I also want to go back to Canada to do some suspensions because I’ve been there in the past. to meet up with Alicia but I want to go back and do suspensions there as well. We’re looking for a location, looking for people who wanted to help, cuz traveling there with all the gear sucks.

Thank you Aiko for your time, your incredible work and your passion for what you do. It was such a privilege to have you visit Rogue and share your knowledge and experience with everyone. Safe travels for the year ahead and we’ll see you soon!

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Gemma – A Retrospective!

Today marks a special day here at Rogue. It’s Gemmas birthday! It’s also over a year since this legend joined the team here at Rogue, so we thought we’d take the time to look back at everything she has been able to achieve in such a short space of time.

Rogue wouldn’t be the same without her.

The Beginnings

Gemma joined Rogue on January 4th, 2021. Having been coming to get pierced by us for a while at that point, we could see it was her dream to take control of her career and join the team. Gemma had been piercing for a long time at another studio, but felt that she needed to move forward to a more experienced, high quality UKAPP member studio to really further her skills. So we took a small financial gamble and she became a Rogue!

Gemma’s first ever piercing at Rogue was this perfect septum piercing. No pressure!

From the first time we met Gemma, we could see her passion for piercing was so great. She had been doing a huge amount of online learning, absorbing everything she could from piercers choosing to share their knowledge. It was an honour on our part to be able to give her the space to spread her wings. It wasn’t long before she was flying!

Gemma’s first piece of BVLA! The ‘Afghan’ in this fresh helix piercing.

Gemma – Historian and Journalist Extraordinaire.

What we didn’t expect was Gemma’s true passion for history, and preserving the thoughts and stories of piercing in the UK. Whilst the USA has the Piercing Archive, there truly isn’t a huge amount of piercing history being preserved in the UK. Gemma has really taken to this challenge with her whole heart, and began the now extensive ‘Piercer Interview‘ series on our blog! Every time she has the opportunity, she loves to sit down with other piercers (some of whom have been seriously overlooked and underestimated!) and recorded their history – Who they are as people, how they came to be in the industry…

Gemma truly has a deep love for the weird and wonderful. As a suspension practicing studio, it’s been amazing to see Gemma take to the sky with her first body suspension only a few weeks ago. It was such a magical, transformative moment. It felt like a new era had begun, and it was an absolute privilege to be able to watch it.

This love for history is now extending into becoming a bit of a local historian for body piercing. Nottingham has a surprisingly long and colourful history with tattoo and piercing. Gemma is now working closely with the Nottingham Archives and Justice Museum to discover, and give context to, some of the piercings and tattoos recorded in their annals.

A little snippet of ‘The Incredible Til’ class, taught by Paul King at UKAPP 2022. History comes to life in these moments.

Piercing Work

Gemma has absolutely blossomed in the last year under the guidance of Aiden and Breo. Moving from cannula piercing to blade needles, clamps to freehand, and moving into the wierd and wonderful world of intimate piercings… Gemma is truly in her element!

Gemma has that rare skill of being able to take a step back, take a deep breath, and allow her hands to do exactly what her brain imagines them to do. From super technical work, to move freely creative piercings… Gemma is becoming a truly amazing piercer.

We cannot wait to see where Gemma goes next with her work, both piercing and history. As a committee member for the UKAPP, she is also working with the industry to raise standards and bring the message of high quality to more piercers across the country.

UKAPP Member! Next step, take over the world…

Happy birthday Gemma! Hopefully we get to celebrate many more with you in the years to come. Thank you for becoming the mum of the studio that we didn’t know we needed.

Love from all the Rogues <3

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An Interview with Olly Todd – Piercer & Educator

Anyone who is involved in the body modification world will know Olly Todd. Based in Factotum, Norwich, Olly has been involved in the piercing and modification industry for around 15 years and now runs Cognition Body Art Education where he hold seminars to help educate piercers across the world on techniques and safety. Olly also provides both site and industry specific First Aid training courses across the UK. Both Aiden and Anna (Revenant Tattoo) have worked with Olly over the years and it was a pleasure to have him visit Nottingham recently for some training with our team.

Gemma: What did you do before piercing?

Olly: I was a lifeguard and  a swimming instructor. Basically, when I hit 16 the options were work at the swimming pool or stack shelves in the supermarket. I went and became a lifeguard because the pay was better

I worked at a couple of leisure pools and was teaching kids and adults to swim. I started getting tattooed at a studio that was close to where I was working and one weekend the studio called me to see if I wanted to come and sit on the desk and answer the phone for a few hours because the receptionist hadn’t turned up. If I did, he said he’d knock a few quid off my tattoo session.

So I jumped at it. And then it happened a couple more times, and eventually the guy just turned around and said, ‘well if you want, I’ll just show you how to pierce.’ By that point, the people at the swimming pool were getting a bit more antsy about how tattooed I was getting. I still had nothing on my arms, it was all on my torso mostly hidden. But yeah, it was becoming pretty much a once a month visit for more ink so I got the whole, “if you continue this way, then you’re not gonna get very far in the leisure industry” conversation a few times.

At this point I was life-guarding, teaching swimming lessons, junior life saving and I was also doing the lifeguard training as well. So I was getting to that point where I was gonna have to put a suit on soon and  look presentable in that industry. I’m so glad I didn’t go down that route.

G: Did you have piercings at that time?

O: I didn’t get  my first tattoo until I was around 20, so my first piercing was probably just a bit before that. I did not know back then what I know now. I’d been just toying with the idea of getting a piercing for a while because when I went through college and stuff, I always had bright pink hair, and I was always a bit of a punk, I just hadn’t taken that step to get some holes through me basically. But Norwhich has always had a really good punk scene, all the way back. I’m lucky enough now to be good friends with some of the original, like eighties punk lot that were around. 

My first piercing was my lobe, like most people. And I did everything you shouldn’t do on the list other than going into a high street chain shop. I got them done at Download Festival in the middle of a field. It was done with a gun, I wasn’t sober and I’m sure the person doing it wasn’t sober. It definitely wasn’t clean for three or five days. 

G: Did you have an apprenticeship when you started to pierce?

O: Most of it was kind of watching this guy do one or two of set piercings and then just getting on with it. I had enough friends that would come in and ‘practice’. Largely, I’d say I was more self-taught than anything else. I think anyone that’s been in the industry for like 10, 15 years probably has a similar start. We all, all kind of figured it out as we went along.

G: How did you transition into body modification?

O: I was piercing loads and then I just stumbled across people like Samppa, Steve Haworth, and at that point Mac and a few others. I  really liked what they were doing and luckily I got to do some training with Mac over the years and without his help and support, I wouldn’t have progressed the way that I did. So, special thank you to Mac. I went to a few seminars about modification, I did one on skin branding. I loved branding. It’s always gonna be my favorite modification. After I started piercing, I started realising more about myself. So, I don’t get tattooed for any reason other than I don’t feel complete yet. I couldn’t tell you what the picture is at the end, but I just don’t feel complete and I’m working towards that. In my head, the body mod stuff was really appealing because it was a different way to add and alter myself I suppose, until I found what  I needed to look or feel like.

I learnt a lot about body modification from speaking with Mac and then people like Iestyn as well. I went down to London for a scarring class with Iestyn and Ron Garza at one point and that was a really interesting day. And then at BMXnet, taking as many classes there as possible. 

Live guiche piercing by Cristiano at BMXnet

The first year I was at BMXnet, I was lucky enough to attend a class that Elayne Angel did on genital piercing. That was something else. Being able to take that class and then later on in the day, witness her piercing people as well. It was great.

There’s always the comedy moments at places like that as well, I distinctly remember taking a male genital class with Cristiano teaching and he had someone up on all fours doing a live guiche piercing in front of probably 50 people. I caught up with Cristiano over in Dublin at the Piercer Trade Show last year actually, he didn’t realise I’d been to his BMX class all those years ago. 

G: You’ve worked at Factotum for almost 10 years now, tell us how you started.

O: I’d been drinking with Joe regularly for a while because we all kind of lived in the same area and we all hung out at the same pub. Jokingly for ages, he was like, “you should just come and work for me”. And then, it just kind of happened, which I’m very thankful for. Very thankful to him and without him I don’t think we’d be anywhere near where we are now. He made a lot of things very easy. And working for a piercer makes life so much easier. Joe learned to pierce when he was traveling in New Zealand and he came back to England to set up Factotum. And having the fact that Joe was taught with industry standard jewelry, I mean he was already using brands like Industrial Strengths when I was piercing elsewhere in the city. I think he was probably one of the first people to get NeoMetal as well. It’s been really nice to just be able to step up the game and use all these wonderful companies and not really have to worry about it too much.

G: You now teach at international piercing conferences, can you tell us more about that?

O: I do, it’s becoming a bit more of my life now. Weirdly enough, when you think about it, it’s kind of come full circle from when I used to teach people to swim. I think it’s gonna become more all consuming as well. The balance is shifting for me to start teaching rather than piercing,

I think, seeing the variety of courses and classes at BMXnet got me a bit intrigued about teaching because it wasn’t an elite standard of piercer that teaches the classes. It’s anyone that has something valuable to say. And then going to the UKAPP conference as well, back when it was still in Birmingham with Nici, every year she would poke me, like, ‘so when are you teaching something? When are you teaching something?’ And eventually, I gave in.

CBAE provides piercer education and classes

The first class I ever taught was a color theory class at BMXnet. And then that was followed a week later by the same class at the UKAPP conference . So it all started from there. 

G: I really loved your bevel theory and septum classes. How do you decide on a subject to address in your classes?

O: So to start with, I looked at the classes that I’d taken from other people. The bevel theory one, for instance, was done in a very specific way because I learn by doing things. I’d taken Brian Skellie’s bevel theory class year after year, just as a refresher. It’s a brilliant class, but it’s very word heavy as opposed to anything practical and that’s not how I can take things in. So I thought I’d try and create something for people that are more like me, I suppose.

And then the other ones I’ve been doing like the septum one and there’s one on tricky ear piercing, I just keep an eye on the piercing forums and if something is constantly coming up and people are asking for tips or struggling with a specific thing then I’ll focus on doing a class or seminar for those. Like septum techniques. 

I think it’s important to keep it relevant to what’s going on. 

G: You launched Cognition Body Art Education last year, hosting classes, teaching at events and offering First Aid training. 

O: We’re doing First Aid courses after both the Piercer Trade Show and the UKAPP conference this year, which is awesome. There’s the Bloodborne Pathogens training which is in its final stages of being accredited. Everything I’ve done for the BBP course is based on the UK Health and Safety Executive. It dawned on me the other day that the annoying thing is, because I wrote it, I’m gonna have to do a different one course anyway for it to count.

But yeah, other than that, I’m excited for The Sharp End magazine coming to fruition, that’s definitely a plus for the industry, having a trade magazine. I’ve not seen what’s going in it yet either. I wanna keep it all as a surprise but, we’ve been really, really surprised with the people in the industry that have got involved. We’ve just been blown away with the support by not just friends but the industry as a whole getting involved.

There’s potentially gonna be a rather large announcement at the Piercer Trade Show in April as well, but that’s all I can say for now.

G: I’m excited for what this year holds for the industry in general. I have positive feelings.

O:. Yeah, definitely. There’s so many people that have got so much going on that’s just making everything better. Like Nathan and the guys doing all the work with the Trade Show and bringing over some amazing speakers. The fact that there’s now 3 events in the UK with the two Trade Shows and the UKAPP conference on top of anything that anyone else puts together.

Olly & Louise on their wedding day, 2022!

Once again, a huge thank you to Olly for his time and his continued hard work in this industry. Be sure to check out Cognition Body Art Education, his seminars and courses are invaluable and we are eternally grateful for all the work Olly (and Louise!) are doing to push our industry forward.

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Interview with Andrenalin Body Art

Andre is a body modification artist living in Berlin, Germany. He met Rogue founder Aiden at the Las Vegas APP conference in 2015 and they have been close friends ever since, travelling around Europe and guest at the same studios. Although not his first language, Andre speaks English amazingly and while guesting with us in Nottingham, he took the time to chat with Gemma about his experience as an artist. Andre is a wonderful person, piercer and all round sweetheart. We were very privileged to spend time with Andre this year, both at the studio and at the UKAPP conference in Manchester this year. You can find him on Instagram at @andrenalinbodyart

G: What was your first experience with piercing or body modification?

Andre: My first not professional experience with body piercing was in the late nineties, I would say 1999 when I got my eyebrow pierced, because that’s what we did. I think it might have been even the same year, I saw the music video for Fire Starter, The Prodigy. And that was the first time that something clicked in my head and I got my tongue pierced. I still say that The Prodigy did a very big thing of bringing me into body piercing. I’ve always wanted to be a body piercer, even in my first apprenticeship where I was a caretaker for disabled children. Whenever somebody asked me, what I was gonna do after the apprenticeship, I would always say that I’m gonna be a body piercer. I started to harass the body piercer that would do all my piercings to please gimme an apprenticeship.

Andre in Mexico , 2019

 When my apprenticeship as a caretaker was over and I took on a job where I was working in a school for disabled children, my workday ended at 2:00 PM so I went back to the studio and told her like, “Hey, I’m not joking, I really want to become a body piercer. I have a job, you don’t have to pay me, you just have to teach me.” And then she said “you’ve been annoying me now for two years or even longer and at some point I’m gonna need somebody.” So she gave me the chance and that was that was in the beginning of 2010.

G: Whereabouts did you grow up in Germany?

A: I’m from a small town called Schwäbisch Hall in South Germany. Like 40,000 people lived there and I lived there until around 2012. I would say for the size of the town, we have a very big alternative and left wing scene. There’s a sort of organised club which opened in 1966 and has been open ever since. Self organised. There was a small, independent cinema and we have an alternative radio station. So there is a lot of, I would say, punk rock stuff going on. I wouldn’t say that there was a particular piercing scene, but if you take the circle of piercing scene and punk rock, it is quite a big overlap. So that studio where I first worked was going really well. There was a lot of work to do, which gave me the chance to get a lot of experience within a really short time. We were super busy and also now when I go back there sometimes to do body modification guest spots, I’m surprised every time how many people are interested even in those small towns.

G: Was your journey into body modification a natural progression from piercing or did they happen simultaneously?

A: In the beginning, I was only interested in body piercing. But I always had a very big interest in medical procedures and I think if I wouldn’t have been that lazy in school, maybe I would be a surgeon today. I find cosmetic surgery especially interesting. When people in my small village got their nose done, some people would judge them and I would always be like “how did that work?” So, it came shortly after I started piercing, when I started doing research in magazines and online. There is a magazine in Germany called Expand. It was really cool because it’s the only magazine I’m aware of that was in the German language and was covering all sides of body modification. Piercing, tattoo, heavier body mods, performance art, suspension. And it was really nicely written. I think there was like 12 or 13 issues. BMEzine made me really curious about body modification as well. When the topic of body modification comes up, someone will always mention BME because it brought us all together. I wasn’t a part of the BME community, I have to say, I was just looking, reading and being fascinated, but I didn’t really talk to many people on there. Then when I dug deeper into the body mod world, I found copies of the book Mod Con: The Secret World of Extreme Body Modification by Shannon Larratt and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of body modification.

And then I think it must have been 2010 we went on a tattoo convention in Berlin and I had a seminar about Introduction to Body Modification by Lukas Zpira. Pretty quickly during that seminar of him, I realized I am not ready for that. Before attending, I thought “hey I’m a body modification artist now.” And he actually showed me like, no, you’re not. And I’m still thankful that I left that seminar with that knowledge that I am definitely not ready to offer body mods like implants, at that time. It’s a whole different game to piercing. And I’m very thankful that Lukas was very open. He didn’t promote it. He gave really good information and I had the same experience the year after at BMXnet. I had a scarification seminar with Ron Garza, one of my big heroes in the piercing and scarification world. And I had the same feeling, I wanted to do scarification. And after that seminar, I knew, okay no you are not ready. You have to increase your knowledge about hygiene and wound healing. Nowadays I offer both procedures. I started years after when I finally felt safe and found a mentor.

Hand implant performed by Andre.

G: Did you have any body modifications when you started learning to perform them?

A: I had tattoos and piercings before for sure. I think in like 2003 I did a small branding on my own hand, which faded because it was too shallow. In 2012 I moved to Berlin and in 2013 I started to work at Naked Steel. Naked Steel at that time was a dedicated body piercing Studio. So we didn’t have any tattoo artists and it was one of the top addresses in Germany for heavier body modifications. I’m not sure how much they do nowadays, but in those days, that was the studio to go to. I started assisting on several kinds of body modifications. I was actually assisting on implants procedures before I got my implants on my hand. I was assisting on scarifications before I got my own, so I think I learned about body mods before any.

G: What was the first scarification you had done?

Andre’s original logo, peeled onto his chest

A: It was a skin peeling on my chest. It’s my logo, well a version of my logo. We changed it to a needle blade, back in the day as it was a cannula needle. It’s an anarchy sign made from a circular barbell, a barbell, a scalpel blade, and a needle. I had that logo way before I was planning on opening a studio or becoming a traveling artist, but that logo was in my head for a really long time and that was the first scarification I got on my chest.

G: Was your experience learning to perform body modifications, in terms of scarification and implants, similar to your apprentiship as a piercer?

A: Well I have to be honest, my piercing apprenticeship was different. I grabbed the needle before I knew the theory. Back in those days I was happy that I could do piercings really fast. I didn’t have to wait months or even years until I could do piercings. When I look back at it now, I would do it different. But with body modification, I did it the proper way. I learned about the do’s and dont’s before I started doing it. At Naked Steel we did many ear reconstructions, making lobes larger or smaller. We would do like cartilage punches, tongue splits. I did magnet implants, which was also the first procedure I ever did on my own. My first one is not there anymore, it rejected really quick. It was my best friend and he knew that this was my first procedure. I put in a second magnet in the same finger after the first came out and that is still in there today. Must be like 9 or 10 years ago now. We didn’t do any ear pointing because I think ear pointing is a top of the art procedure. I’m only aware of one artist in the world that I would trust to point my ears, and that’s also the only person I would recommend clients to and that’s Samppa von Cyborg. Most other ear pointings I see either I don’t like the aesthetic of it, or you mainly see ones where there’s so much tension on the ear that I’m doubting that they will heal nice. Samppa’s work is very impressive. He would come to Naked Steel back in the day, like once a year he would guest with us. I didn’t learn from Samppa, but still he helped me a lot during my career. Especially in the first years because when We met in person, I knew I could ask him all the questions and he would always take time to answer it. So he didn’t teach me, but he was a big supporter to me.

G: Your hand implants are awesome, and your coin slot too! What other modifications do you have and how has that changed over the years?

A: To be honest, I’m scared of getting a piercing. I freak out on a regular basis when I get pierced. And I have the same with all kinds of body modifications. So if somebody would’ve told me 15 years ago that I was going to have implants on my hand, I would definitely not have believed that person. For me, curiosity kills the cat, and for me it was the deeper I got into a topic, reading about it, talking with people and seeing the procedure, the less scared I became. So I got a magnet implant and scarification pretty early on, then I got the implants in my hands. I have a huge question mark and exclamation mark on my hands. I dunno why, but I wanted to get them tattooed for a really long time. And when I then saw that silicon implants were an option, I decided to get them as implants.

Any modifications that I offer to clients, I usually try to get them done first on myself. It’s important to know what I’m actually doing to those people and to have the theory knowledge as well as the practical experience on how things feel, how things heal. The coin slot is pretty much the last thing I got done. I had it done, but I had genuine keloid, not an irritation bump, a keloid that I had to have removed about one and a half years after I got the coin slot. I think that must be like 4 years old by now. And since then, I had a couple suspensions but haven’t had much more modifications done.

Andre receiving a tongue split, 2015

G: How was suspension for you? What was that experience like?

A: I always struggled to explain how it is for me. Everybody will have different experience of it. I can only talk about my experience and for me, I have some issues focusing on things, especially focusing on myself and on things that are important to me. I always forget to take care of me. And body suspension, I would always say for me, it’s like a reset button. During the suspension, everything is on mute. It’s just about me. Having a suspension usually feels like restarting the system. And I have to say I love the adrenaline, the serotonin that you get afterwards. After my first suspension, I was totally high for another 24 hours , in a very good way. It was Easter Friday, when Jesus got pierced, me and my best friend in that time had our first suspension and I had to work the day after. I just remember it being one of the best days I’ve ever had at work. I was so cantered. I was just super happy. And I remember that in the evening I had the last client of the day and my co-workers were already finished sitting in front of the studio, having a cigarette, having a beer and I went out just like smiling and said “Wow! That was such an amazing day!” And I will never forget the faces of my ex-boss and my co-worker. They were looking at me and like, are you kidding us? So they obviously had like a really stressful day, but for me there was no stress at all. It really balances me but I have had some suspensions and times where I didn’t feel good. That’s where that idea of my reset button comes from. When my feet hit the ground again, it always feels like, “okay, I’ll start over again and get my shit together”. I think I’ve done 5 or 6 suspensions in my life and all of them were just two hooks in the back, the so-called “suicide suspension” position. I keep thinking about trying something else, but that position gives me so much so I know that it’s very good for me. When I’m suspended I like to swing around and jump around and be like a little kid on hooks. And so the two points in the back just gives me all the freedom to move and jump.

Suspending with the Gorilla Glass team in Oaxaca, Mexico 2019

G: Germany has a bit of a global reputation for having quite a hardcore kink and fetish scene, do you see that expressed in body mods?

A:  I would not necessarily say in body modes, but we can definitely see that in genital piercings. I was working in a studio in Berlin. And that area is a very rainbow pride, very open, very kinky area. And we could see that reflected in our clients. Heavy genital piercing projects are not very common, but it’s definitely around. So I would not say no to that question, but I don’t get to see heavy like Mod Con style genital work. Which is probably out there, but I think especially those people that have that experience with their own body, they’re so very often not so outgoing about it. You might see an old guy wearing a proper business outfit and you never know what body mods they have.

But that’s where body mod comes from. Back when Jim Ward opened the first piercing studio, Gauntlet, it was a different time. It was the seventies and body piercing was not very common. And especially on men, it was even less common. So they would start piercing their nipples and their genitals and you wouldn’t see that if you see pictures of them. And I find that fascinating.

G: The stigma around body modification has started to get better, but we still see the remnants of it. Especially when it comes to men and piercings.

A: It depends on where in the world you are. I was traveling quite a bit the last 15 years and I had really weird conversations about my piercings with people. In Zambia, when I was traveling through East Africa in 2011, I was looking different than today. I didn’t have my hand implants, I had less tattoos, I had still all of my facial piercings. And I got into situations like, “what about you remove your piercings and start becoming a real man”, and then I’d tell them to go fuck themselves. That’s the end of the conversation. But the last few years, I have been working for a very fancy jewellery company, a piercing company and I see that people are way more open towards modified people than like 10 or 15 years ago. And I really like to play with that as well. I really like to show that I can be super professional, that I can be super compassionate and a nice person still looking the way I’m looking and I really enjoy when I’m sitting in a packed underground train in Berlin and I’m the first one to get up if there’s an older person. And I enjoy their faces when when you see that, they just learnt something about making assumptions.

G: Can you tell us more about your travels?

A:  What was really impressive to me was when I was traveling to countries where several kinds of body modifications are not a modern thing. Meaning in Germany a hundred years ago, I’m not aware that people would do scarification, for example. But when you travel to countries like Zambia where scarification has been practiced for many thousands of years, it’s really interesting. I tried to get in touch with someone offering scarification or someone who could tell me a little bit more, which I couldn’t manage when I was last in Zambia. It was easier in Tanzania, for example, I met a young boy from the Maasai tribe and he would tell me about stretched ears. He loved that I have my ears stretched. He didn’t have his stretched and we were talking about it and he told me “that’s something my grandmother would do.” And that was cool for me to hear. It’s very different in the western world.

Fakir Musafar, Andre, Jim Ward and Elayne Angel at the APP conference, Las Vegas, 2015

I was traveling to Borneo aswell where tattooing is a really old practice and they would pierce apadravyas for a really, really long time. So that was really interesting getting in conversations with people, learning the history of it. I’ve not travelled too much outside of Europe but I think the piercing and body mod scene, especially the last couple years, it’s getting more together. In Germany, for example, 6, 7, 8 years ago, hygiene was a very big topic. Also with all the different associations, in Germany, in England, Poland, Benelux etc, I think the piercing community is getting closer together.

G: You’re a founding member of the Verband Professioneller Piercer How did that come to be?

A: I’m a co-founder and I have to be honest, it wasn’t my idea. I have a very close friend, Loreia from Stuttgart and also my friend Tom who’s not offering piercing anymore and we had a Whatsapp group where we would just have an exchange and talking about piercings. One day, we were thinking that we should start something similar to the Ask A Professional Body Piercer forum on Facebook. Then the idea just became bigger and bigger and we were like, this needs to be more than just a Facebook group, we are starting an association now. That was in 2015. The most important thing with starting the association was bringing back my experience from the APP conference in Las Vegas the year prior. I wanted to help people come together, it doesn’t matter which standards you are working to right now, the only thing that matters is do you want to get better standards? Do you want to become better? And just trying to bring people together and sharing knowledge. In general, it’s not easy to get good information online. There is a shit ton of good information out there, but especially when you’re a newbie, it’s really hard to to know what is good information and what is bad information. And many people wouldn’t know all this information. I don’t blame people for not knowing things. I would blame people for knowing things and still not doing it better. Then we came up with the piercer round tables. So every three months, we would have piercer meetups. We would meet in a random city, or a coffee place and get some piercers in. We usually had like a 20 minute seminar, some topic just to break the ice and then we would have piercing conversations afterwards. Couple years ago, we set up a hygiene seminar for body piercers with Dr. Helge Hanitzsch. It was a five day, seminar and you got a European wide certification so you can prove all over Europe that you learned those things and then you can apply them.

A round table meeting of the Verband Professioneller Piercer (VPP)

Then Covid hit. During Covid, our board changed. Elected positions were changed. I was vice president for two years, then I was president for two years and I left the board around 2020. I did it for five or six years and sometimes it’s just time to step aside and let somebody else do the job. So at the moment there is not so much happening with the VPP. We’re still getting new members and we’re planning on going back to offering the round table talks. I see many body piercers in Germany growing their standards. So I think maybe in the next year or in two years, there might be a ton of applications.

Many things are changing at the moment. I mean, we all know about the jewellery ordering situation from the US for example. It’s hard, especially when you first ordered high quality jewellery and then maybe the first batch doesn’t sell so quick and that’s scary. A few months ago I started to work as a sales representative for NeoMetal and we opened the warehouse within the EU. So jewellery will be shipped from the Netherlands and it’s gonna be shipping in 2 to 4 days in Europe. I think that can make a huge, huge impact in the European industry because now we have Anatometal, Industrial Strength and now NeoMetal in Europe. I think in 2014, I started to work with NeoMetal, fell in love with that company, with Mark and then John immediately and I’m promoting that company ever since. But now it’s just official. I’m really excited to work and to see like a whole different field in body piercing and to work for a company that I really admire.

G: Whats in the future for Andrenalin Body Arts?

A: At the moment I want to focus on traveling a bit more. Because I love to be working, traveling and hanging out with friends. So whenever I’m in Nottingham, it’s like amazing. I wanna focus a bit on that. But the idea is to open my own little studio in East Germany, towards spring. And finally do it before I’m too old to. I don’t want a huge studio, I want to have a small, nice studio where everybody feels welcome. And I Need a place where I can finally showcase all the artefacts I have collected over the years from the industry. At the moment they’re just in my apartment so it would be nice for people to see my collection.

Check out Andre’s work at @andrenalinebodyart

Once again, big thank you to Andre for his time and for all he has done for our industry over his career so far. A true talent, kind soul and a good friend. We hope to see you soon! – Love, The Rogues x

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Interview with a Rogue – Kat Henness

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.

Baby Kat with minimal piercings! (a Katten…)

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.

Graduating in 2021, BSc Biology (Hons).

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.

Kat’s class at UKAPP 2022

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.

Kat, Jay and their chunky septums.

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
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Interview with NeoMetal – Lindsey Sinner

High quality jewellery is integral to the overall, long-term health of your piercing. As much as we love to show the stunning end pieces of jewellery that we get to use at Rogue, the most important part of body jewellery is the quality of the labret post or barbell that you’re using. That’s the piece that goes into your body and it is paramount that your piercer considers the metal, the polish, the length, the gauge and so many other factors to ensure that your piercing is safe.
At Rogue, we use NeoMetal titanium labrets and barbells for all of our threadless body jewellery pieces. NeoMetal has been trading since the early days of body piercing, creating jewellery for Jim Ward at The Gauntlet back in the 1990s. In 1997 the patented threadless jewellery. Innovators from the very beginning, NeoMetal have partnered with both the Body Art Alliance and Association of Professional Piercers, to continue to expand their range of jewellery and make it more accessible for the worldwide industry.
The original threadless body jewellery

Gemma: NeoMetal revolutionised modern body piercing, how do you keep up with changing needs and standards in the industry?

Lindsey: When we started producing threadless jewellery, it was in partnership with a family owned business that was already ISO compliant. It was already manufacturing medical and dental implant grade titanium pieces, so we’ve been ISO compliant from the beginning. Being the small manufacturer that we were in the early days, we spent a lot of time working really closely with the APP and influential piercers like Brian Skellie, and the the original customers to find out what they want and what the industry needed. And then for the 20 years after that, we had what we call a “good problem” of trying to keep up with the demand for the product. The industry kind of grew and changed around NeoMetal. We started offering different colour gems with different size, different posts and have worked with piercers to guide what new products are needed and what’s trending.

But of course, at the forefront is always the quality and safety. And when we talk about safety, we talk about it in terms of our employees who are working on the machines, the ones who are putting the jewellery together, manufacturing the jewellery. All of that is super important, as well as the safety of the piercers who work with the jewellery and the final wearers of the jewellery. Safety has always been at the forefront of everything we do. We stay ISO compliant and we’re now ISO 9001 certified. We have a team who manages the safety of the employees working with dangerous machines in the manufacturing warehouse, where even a small mistake can can mean someone gets really hurt. Everything we do is about doing it safely.

G: How did you get started at NeoMetal?

L: I’ve worked for NeoMetal for a little over a year and a half. I was in a very toxic and unhealthy work situation prior. And I just decided one day, I absolutely can’t do this anymore. So I applied for four jobs. One of them happened to be NeoMetal. I had always been interested in body modification, I got my first tattoo when I was too young to have a tattoo. But I always had jobs where I couldn’t have any modifications on display so I had to strategically place them on my body and keep things hidden

So I was naturally drawn to that alternative world. And it’s really been John Kittell from NeoMetal that’s taken me under his wing, almost like an apprentice. He has he has taught me so much about the jewellery and about how and why we do certain things and don’t do certain things. I’ve learned so much from him in just the short time I’ve been there and I’m so thankful for the time and knowledge that he’s spent and shared with me. It’s been truly amazing.

G: That’s awesome, it’s really important to work with people that you like working with.

L: I love working with people who are so passionate about the jewellery and about making sure it’s perfect. I was recently in California at the manufacturing facility and I got to see their quality control stations. It’s amazing seeing people look at these little, tiny pieces, looking for little imperfections or inconsistencies to make sure and it’s completely safe to use and wear. It’s amazing. They’re making sure there’s no imperfections to the jewellery, no matter how tiny they are, because the amount of bacteria that can be harboured in that tiny imperfection, it is significant.

G: You’ve recently released an 18ct gold range, is this the first time NeoMetal have produced gold?

L: We’ve had a 14 carat line for a while. But with the APP developing their overall standards and their standards for gold, we thought it was an important time to move to 18 carat. It’s in high demand right now. I only wear gold jewellery, I love gold jewellery, I just like how it looks. It’s really on trend right now. And so it’s important for us to stay relevant in that way.

We are definitely working on expanding our gold offering. It’s also really important for us to maintain the NeoMetal brand. There’s a lot of gold manufacturers on the market and they make amazing jewellery and we’re finding a balance of making amazing jewellery but that is still true to NeoMetal in design. We’ve also just launched the semi-precious stone range and that’s also part of our commitment to be bring more trend focused jewellery to the market and just expand what we have available.

G: I really love your new 14ct gold Halloween collection, what’s the process behind creating a body jewellery collection?

Check out NeoMetal on Instagram

L: It’s a bit of a roundtable. We have new project initiatives and I’m involved from the sales side of the team, our marketing team is involved, John is of course involved. And then our operations team is involved because of course, we’ll get these grandiose ideas and then they’ll be like, whoa, whoa, whoa, we can’t physically do that. So it’s really a group effort and to be perfectly honest, especially with like something like Halloween, it starts with John and a post-it and pencil sketch. It’s thinking of designs that people will like, but also designs that are still NeoMetal. Like the pumpkin spice latte end. We’re kind of like the dork of that industry and it’s embracing that, you know?

We rely a lot on what on what you guys tell us you need and that sometimes comes in the form of less eccentric ends but more necessary products. For example, the length extensions of our labret posts and offering them with different size backs. That aspect of it is equally as important. Is creating longer posts super fun? No, but it is perhaps even more important because it’s something that will be used all the time. It’s integral.

G: No point having a big elaborate end like the D20 without having the right post and base size to support the jewellery.

L: Yes, exactly. So for the fun, limited collections, a lot of those are just brainstorming sessions with all of us as a group and we all decide and then prototypes get made, we look at the prototypes and we say, “okay, this one looks better than this, this will fit better than this.” And we go through that process. We have Steve Joyner on our team and he lends a lot of real experience. He really brings the piercer voice to the table.

Pride flower in a conch, pierced by Jay

G: We loved the collections for the National Centre for Transgender Equality. Does NeoMetal work with a lot of different charities?

L: We’ve done charity work for Ukraine and the devastation there, and for Hurricane Ian and those impacted in Florida. The pride collection in particular was so important to us, and very important to many people on our team. Because of the history of the community in piercing, it was especially important for us that we did it, and we did it right. And that we picked a charity that we felt was honourable.

We made sure that our entire team felt comfortable with the charity that we picked, and that we all felt comfortable with the range that we were offering. We had a lot of meetings about that to make sure that we were as inclusive as possible. It was really a lot of collaboration, a lot of hard work from a lot of people on our team and it came out beautifully. It was a really, really special collection to work on.

G: Tell us about NeoMetal Europe, how’s that going?

L: It’s still very new , but the important thing is making our jewellery accessible. That’s one thing that was ingrained into me when I first started – It doesn’t matter how big the studio is, how many piercers they have, if this is their first time ever buying high quality jewellery – NeoMetal needs to be available to them. The first step is getting it available outside of the US in a way that is easy. Unfortunately, that’s not a big help to those of you in the UK just now.

The NeoMetal Europe Team!

G: Oh! No worries, that’s absolutely not your fault *cries in Brexit*

L: Getting into Europe and making jewellery accessible is step one. With smaller studios who want to use NeoMetal, when you start talking about things like international shipping and import fees, it really does make high quality jewellery, not easily accessible. We want to continue to grow and make our jewellery available to more people. I’m excited to see what impact it will have on the larger industry. This is just the start and I can’t wait to see how it grows. And the the guys we’re working with over there, Andre and Bruno and Simon and David are just amazing. They are all pillars of the piercing community and in their respective communities.

G: Have you seen any differences in the US, UK and Europe markets?

L: A lot of the trends are pretty consistent. Initial piercings in the EU tend to be more 16 gauge and in the US it’s almost always 18 gauge. Which is interesting. And the strange thing is, with nipple jewellery, it’s a bit of the reverse. The smaller gauge barbells and the smaller ends are used in in Europe where 14g is a lot more popular. Whereas here in the States, it’s 12 gauge.

Thank you so much to Lindsey for taking the time to chat with us. And thank you to the whole NeoMetal team for being staples in the modern body piercing world. We look forward to seeing what the future holds!

You can shop our full range of NeoMetal jewellery here.