2001 was the year I was introduced to the idea of becoming a body piercer. At the time I was working for a popular cellular phone company and I was the typical "suit and tie salesman" at a local mall. After years of working for larger corporations, I always had an entrepreneur mind set and wanted to build a business of my own. Many of my side projects had prospered and some had failed. It felt as though I was destined to be working in a corporate setting for the rest of my life.
A very good friend of mine was a local tattoo artist and he was given the opportunity to open his own tattoo studio in 2001. I remember him discussing the possibility of me joining him on this new venture as a body piercer. At that time I had no piercing training, no skills, and no idea where to even begin looking for the proper education. My mind was flooded with the dream of working next to one of my best friends and building a small empire together. However I was fixated on finding the proper guidance before committing to such a new venture.
I was first introduced to BMEzine.com (Body Modification Ezine) around that time and spent many hours per day researching all the articles online that Shannon Larratt had collected on his website. I became addicted to reading, learning, collecting photos of everything piercing related. It fascinated me to find this community in which I never really discovered earlier in my lifetime. At this point I was hooked, and started seeking proper schooling and an apprenticeship.
I soon realized that piercing schools really didn't exist, at least not in Canada at the time. I also realized that finding someone to apprentice me as a piercer was going to be quite difficult as well. Luckily for me a local piercer had decided to leave the industry and she offered to train me for a small fee. At the end of my apprenticeship she would provide me with all the tools and knowledge that I would need to start my new endeavour. I felt as though everything was coming together just fine.
Our new studio (Twisted Body Art) opened up in August of 2001, in Cambridge Ontario, Canada. My piercing teacher was alongside me when we opened and she watched over all the piercings I did in the early stages, which weren't very many at the time. I kept pushing her for more information, for more guidance and started even questioning her piercing knowledge at times. Some of the information that I had consumed online was contradicting to the information I gathered from my teacher. This left me confused and asking a lot of questions. I recall getting into heated debates with my teacher, and within my first month of my apprenticeship she decided to quit teaching me. I was devastated and thought my new found love of piercing was over. She sold me her piercing equipment and said "good luck!"
I'm not one to back down from a challenge and I thought I can continue on piercing and seek knowledge elsewhere. Now I was consumed reading as much information online and even ordered some poor quality "How to Pierce" video tapes. I must have studied those tapes for too many hours as the picture quality began to fade throughout those months. Looking back at this now it's almost embarrassing but I also remember that this was prior to all the useful groups, blogs, forums online that we have today. It was a lot more difficult to seek the right answers.
BMEzine proved to be the biggest source of information for me to learn. I searched out the best Piercers that were frequently submitting photos to that website. In my direct area there weren't many quality Piercers so I decided to put myself into the path of those I looked up too at the time. I printed out a portfolio of my piercing photos and drove to Toronto and Montreal to seek constructive criticism from Tom Brazda of Stainless Studios and Pierre Black of Black Sun Studio. Walking into their establishments was eye opening for me. I was starting to see what a "real" and "reputable" piercing business looked like and I wanted the same thing. These two gentlemen actually took the time out of their busy schedules to look at my portfolio and provided me with some insight on how I can improve my skills. There were no egos, just genuine people willing to share information with someone new. I was recharged.
The stress built up within the third year and I realized our friendship was in jeopardy of falling apart. We were young and didn't know how to deal with those feelings so we decided to keep them to ourselves and grew further apart. In the summer of 2005 I decided to walk away from our friendship, and partnership, in search of something new. At the time I wasn't sure if I was going to move away from town and start fresh somewhere else, or if I'd stay local and continue with my passion. I walked away and to this day I believe it was one of the hardest things that I ever had to do.
I had a vision, one of which wasn't in our area at the time, and I decided to continue doing business in my hometown. I found a vacant building and opened Thrive Studios only a couple months after I left my business partnership. It felt like a breath of fresh air, building the studio of my dreams and hiring a crew of solid people to work with. It started small, one piercing room and one tattoo room with a small front lobby and sterilization area. I had a good feeling that if we continued to grow in size that our landlord would be able to offer us more space if needed. Two years into our lease agreement the landlord offered us the property for sale as they were retiring. We were obviously thrilled at the idea of owning our own building and continuing the growth of Thrive Studios.
Renovations started almost immediately and we converted the second floor apartment space into a beautiful open loft area which could situate four tattoo artists comfortably. The main floor expanded with a larger piercing area, and a larger show room to showcase the highest quality body jewelry available within our industry. Anatometal, BVLA, NeoMetal, Gorilla Glass, Maya, and Omerica became well known brands to our clientele looking for the best of the best. We were proud to be the only studio around offering the highest quality piercing jewellery and we continue to uphold these standards today. Thrive Studios has surpassed our ten year anniversary and I couldn't be more ecstatic about our continued success throughout the years. A combination of great staff, customer service, continued education, quality piercings and tattoos, as well as a proper sense of business growth has lead us into our next decade of business.
Continuing education has also been a large part of my personal growth and paying it forward where I can. I love to teach and educate those who are as hungry for knowledge as I am. I believe the day you stop learning is the day you should quit. Piercing has become a huge passion of mine and it has also introduced me to some of the best people in my life. The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) has brought many of us likeminded people together from around the world to provide the best education to the piercing community at the annual conference in Las Vegas. I am honoured to teach alongside my peers providing relevant information to the next generation of Piercers in this industry.
Throughout my career as a piercer I also became great friends with David Vidra of Health Educators. My quest for knowledge brought me into his organization as an instructor and we travelled throughout Canada and the United States providing health and safety education to the body modification industry. Focusing on subjects such as infection control, sterilization, disinfection, bloodborne pathogens, we taught hundreds of students throughout the years.
Alongside Thrive Studios, I decided to open another business in late 2014, Progressive Mentorship. I asked a couple of other great Piercers that I respect dearly to join me on this new path of educational classes geared towards the tattoo and piercing industry. Efix Roy, Ryan Ouellette and myself have been busy providing new classes geared towards infection prevention and control, including hands on workshops to help Piercers grow with new piercing techniques. These classes have been well received within our community and we look forward to expanding our classes throughout North America and Europe in the future!
In closing I'd like to thank my clients, staff, friends, teachers, and everyone's hand I've shook throughout the years. Our paths were meant to cross somehow and each and everyone of you has helped me become the person/piercer/educator/business owner that I am today. I am extremely grateful.
Jesse Villemaire Thrive Studios
1037 King St E Cambridge,
ON N3H 3P5 519-653-4333
Text and photo's: Jesse Villemaire
Published Tattoo Planet eMagazine 112/august 2016
|Jesse & me APP2016 Las Vegas|