When it comes to small friendly, family-run businesses, how many of us instantly think, ‘Tattoo Studio?’ Unless you are one of the rising number of people who have been under the needle, it’s hard to know what to expect when entering a place like this either, but whatever your thoughts are on Tattoos at the end of the day, ‘small friendly, family-run business’ is exactly how we would describe Ashford Custom Tattoo. Among a few other synonyms for ‘cool,’ ‘laid back’ and ‘accomplished,’ of course!

The one great shame about this Ashford business is that the only way of spending time here is by booking yourself in for a date with a needle, which not all of us are partial to. If these guys were running a coffee shop alongside their purpose built premises, there would undoubtedly be a queue running down Queen Street, day in and day out. It’s quite clear why these boys have their regulars and why their clients continue to recommend them to family and friends year after year.

Love Ashford went along to talk to brothers Ben and Sam, to get an inside look at the history of Ashford Custom Tattoo and its 30 years’ experience of being a successful Ashford Business.

Still open for business - 30 years on.

Tell us a little about the studio’s history.

Sam: Custom Tattoo opened in 1984 on Bank Street, back then it was the only tattoo studio in town right up until 2000/2001. In those early days, opening a business across the street to the competition was unheard of. The closest Tattoo Studio to here would have been in the next town, as far as Chatham or Folkestone.

It was dad, H, who owned the business then, hence the nickname ‘H’s’ which many will be familiar with. It’s a general misconception that the studio was ever called ‘H’s’ despite many people still using the name to this day! The studio moved in 1994 to where it stands now, this building was purpose built especially to home the new studio.

How do you remember Ashford being back then?

Sam: We have great memories of growing up in Ashford, we’d spend a lot of time out or down the park. We had a good upbringing here and it was a good place to live. It was certainly less diverse back then whereas nowadays there are people living here from all different backgrounds.

When did you get into Tattooing?

Sam: Ben started as an apprentice at the studio in 2001 when he was 14, he started out with body piercing and then went into tattoo later on. I started out just working a couple of days a week doing admin and helping manage the business so that Dad could take days off, I didn’t start as an apprentice until 2006. It was in 2010 when we bought the business off of H.

Dan started as a body piercing apprentice here and then Chris joined the team in 2013 after finishing his Fine Art degree. There’s also Adam, who is here two days a week.

Dan waiting for his first customers of the day.
Dan waiting for his first customers of the day with a teeny-tiny coffee.

What would you say to someone looking to get into Tattooing?

Sam: It’s the same with any job, you can’t expect to walk into a Tattoo studio and ask for an apprenticeship straight off the mark. Dan had been a customer of ours since he was 15 and Chris was a loyal client too, they both had a decent rapport with us and were far from strangers before they started working here.

You need to be training under a tattoo artists that you respect and whose work you admire too, there’s no point in learning from someone whose work you don’t aspire to or whose work you wouldn’t wear yourself!

If you are planning on approaching a tattoo artist about an apprenticeship, do it in a professional manner, create a portfolio and show off your best skills. Get trained in first aid or something else relevant that is going to give you an advantage above everyone else. Though there is a lot to be said for drawing, painting, watching videos and doing your research too.

What are your views on the Tattoo hygiene rating scheme that is now in place as of the 1st June 2015?

Sam: It’s great to see something like this being enforced throughout the community. It’s a topic that we have discussed even before discovering it was going ahead in this area!

Ben: Before the new hygiene rating, there were just guidelines in place and like many guidelines, not everyone follows them through. The new tattoo hygiene rating is just voluntary but any self-respecting tattoo artist will want this in their portfolio.

Sam: There’s a lot that people don’t always consider with tattoo hygiene, for example, how is your tattoo artist disposing of their sharps and what happens to the equipment after it’s been used? Unfortunately there will still be tattooist that are living in the dark ages and not enforcing modern standards of hygiene. Hopefully the new tattoo hygiene rating will be the start of something big and we hope to see a similar scheme be put in place for piercing standards too.

At the end of the day it’s not just our customers that we are protecting by running a safe and sterile service. We as family men and self-respecting people must protect ourselves too from the dangers of cross contamination.

Chris demonstrates the studio's high standards of hygiene!
Chris demonstrates a VERY high standard of hygienic practice!

How has the face of Tattooing changed over the years?

Ben: Tattoo as a fashion statement has increased hugely and a lot of it is down to the internet and social media and people copying others just like anything that comes in and out of fashion. It has certainly become more mainstream and actually those that were getting tattoos 10 or 20 years ago to look different now fall into quite a fashionable band of people.

Sam: Back when our Dad started tattooing, his customers were largely bikers and football fans. He learn’t the trade by going to bike shows and tattooing these people. There was a certain prejudice view back then about people who wore tattoos, but nowadays that’s not the case; there isn’t the same stigma anymore across all classes.

The majority of our customers are women, including those as young as 70+ years old! I’m waiting for my first 80 year-old female client, I know she’s out there somewhere!

Ben: One of the biggest changes in the attitude to tattoo is that people used to get tattoos for themselves and that’s much less the case now. People get them done to be seen and very rarely with the view of covering them up. The styles go in and out of trend and nowadays you rarely come across something you haven’t seen before, but it doesn’t make it any less rewarding to tattoo a person and see them happy with your work.

To find out more about Ashford Custom Tattoo and to view their portfolio, click here to visit their Facebook page.

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