The Association of Professional Piercers
Bally's, Las Vegas.First time attendee as an Al D. scholar.
By Cas Willems
It all started way before the actual conference:
I've always known the APP existed and held a great admiration for them and a will to join them, but being [just] a piercer from Europe and even from the Netherlands, I couldn't imagine having contact with anyone from the APP let alone going to conference.
The reason that I applied for the Al D. scholarship is that I had a tough time the last couple of years.
The studio I worked at went bankrupt in 6 weeks time, leaving me, my girlfriend and our 3 month old daughter with nothing to fall back on and a grim outlook on our future.
It took everything we had to open our own studio at the same location in the same time, 6 weeks.
It was a classic sink or swim moment and our lives changed so much in that short period of time.
I will not go into all the details but it was a rough ride being a fresh father and fresh studio owner and being responsible for so much more than just me alone.
This however was and is the biggest drive for me to succeed and look forward in life, not only on a professional level as a piercer and studio owner but also on a personal level as a father, husband to-be and general better person.
Now this is where I leave all my insecurities, anxieties and fears.
After seeing a fellow piercer from the Netherlands, Angie van Dijken from Modern Body Studio Angie, get picked for an Al D. scholarship and go to conference in 2016, it became clear to me that this was within the realm of possibilities and was well worth taking the plunge for and apply for the scholarship.
Every step of the process was quite nerve wrecking seeing as (from my perspective) the APP is a piercer's holy grail and I did not want to f*ck anything up.
My girlfriend was my greatest motivation in this experience and she supported me all the way.
We started filming my introduction video for the application and I can still remember that we started over a couple of times because I was drawing blanks the entire time.
After having sent in everything and getting the delivery notice in my mailbox, the waiting begun.
I was on a well deserved ski trip in Austria with my family and in-laws when I received a mail from Ryan saying that I was picked as one of the Al D. scholars for 2017.
Later Caitlin personally called me to make sure I got the good news.
I WAS SIKED AS F*CK.
How little did I know what was ahead of me..
After having a 24 hour trip from my house to Bally's Casino in Las Vegas, I have finally arrived.
IT WAS WARM, even in the evening, DRY. WARMTH. But hey, I'm in the Mojave desert, what did I expect?
First impression: HOLY BALLS, 'Murica.
Everything is bigger there, the roads, the cars, the buildings, the people, the drinks, everything!
I walked in Bally's expecting nothing but to be given a sensory overload that would last for quite some time: sounds and lights coming from all directions, people smoking and drinking inside and little did I know that this would continue 24/7.
I went to the 26th floor of the hotel, to the suite of Caitlin and entered when there was a volunteer meeting happening, instantly stepping into a room full of people which later would become family.
Very weird to think about that now, afterwards, how quickly mere strangers become so much more than that in just a weeks time.
First day, I couldn't wait to do stuff!
And we did, there was a lot of training, meetings and more training, but first everything needed to be unpacked from pallets.
We started to build our base for conference on which we would build our battle plans, or so it felt.
A whole lot needed to be sorted and set up and me and the other Al D's helped out on given tasks and where we could generally help out.
It is great given the chance to build everything from the ground up, it really builds a deeper connection to the conference and all the people volunteering.
At the moment it was all new and overwhelming but now I can say, then it was actually pretty quiet.
The first day of conference was a different site: a TON of piercers, peers and people involved in the industry had arrived, registered for conference and were excited to see everything, learn, mingle and talk to each other.
The first meeting was the Mentor Program in the Bronze rooms and there it opened my eyes to how many people were there to begin with. I saw the rooms I've always seen on social media and pictures of conferences of years before, only now I was there, right in the middle.
But what I really liked is that everyone there was like minded, and they got people talking to each other, mingling, introducing each other and bonding, that was a cool experience.
I got appointed a mentor, but actually didn't need one because every single one of the volunteers and Al D's helped out SO much, it is beyond words.
I did not expect people to be so helpful, generous, social and generally nice.
Every one of the supers, mentors and volunteers took us Al D's under their wings and always took care of us, they were watching us and very righteous so.
It is very easy to loose your way when in Vegas and at conference, so many things are going on, so many people, so much information and so much to process. You tend to forget to eat, drink, sleep and enjoy your time. But the first three are important and NOT to be forgotten.
You're still in a desert so drinking 3 times as much as normal is a bare minimum.
You're at conference and busy as can be so eating can be forgotten but passing out is never a good option, same goes for sleeping, you're at conference and you might want to talk to everyone and be everywhere at the same time but sometimes choosing your physical and mental health and sleep is the best way to go. Personal care is key and people will remind you of that every day, always.
I've met a TON of people, piercers, suppliers, vendors and lots of connections were made.
Talking about vendors, don't get me started about the expo.
Doesn't sound very exciting does it? Some vendors, some jewellery, no big deal, right?
All the big names of the industry were well represented there, bringing tons of jewellery and showing of new designs, having bargains and actually standing there in person representing their brand.
It was way impressive seeing all of the suppliers we are carrying and are hoping to carry in the future, with literally tons of jewellery, my heart skipped so many beats, my wallet took a beating and I was drooling all over the place. Honestly, you can't put that experience to words, you have to actually be there and see it for yourself, it makes quite an impression.
What I also liked was not only the availability of classes about piercings, but about owning a studio, setting up a retirement plan, working with tattooers and all kinds of things I really did not think of.
Which makes it even clearer for me that the piercing industry in America is way more of a serious business than it is in the Netherlands. Which gave me all the right motivation to create that feeling here too.
The talks and round tables were awesome also, it was general discussion about certain topics related to the industry, so not just sitting and absorbing information but actually being a part of the discussion and having the possibility to have a say in that, which is great for anyone.
The ATTB's (alternative to the bar) were great also, gamenight, movienight and Brian's hourly long talks about statims. It gave a great alternative for people who didn't have the need to hang out at the bar, which serves way too overpriced drinks by the way.
Which brings me to the best bet in vegas: the APP raffle!The best way to spend money, chances to win some great prizes and with that sponsoring the APP.
All and all, no one loses! And it actually works, because I was fortunate enough to win prizes twice, which is very helpful in me coming back next year.
The tickets to the biggest prizes are drawn at the banquet diner, which is an event on it's own.
The banquet diner, is the biggest and fanciest diner party and get together of piercers I have ever experienced.
People dress up fancy or in theme with the 90's and both were awesome to see, people really put in an effort.
There were great speeches with many thanks to everyone who put the conference together and this all under the curtain of 90's music, drinks and dance. All and all a time to have some proper food, unwind and relax.
I can honestly go on for ages, but I would like to conclude this with showing my gratitude to everyone for making this experience real for me.
I am humbled and honoured to not only visit conference but to actually have been a part of conference and have been made a member of the family, it is beyond words to describe how it feels, it is actually like finding a home after being lost for so many years.
I can encourage every piercer, from anywhere in the world, from apprentice to well experienced studio owner to at least visited APP conference for once in their lives, your career would not be complete without it.
It is an experience that will not only change your way of working, it will change your ways of seeing our entire industry and the awesome people who made up our industry and are still building it to this day.
It gave me so many new insights in new techniques, new ways of working, new designs of tools and jewellery, making new connections with peers and suppliers and discovering a new side of myself, being more in connection with the piercer self. It gave me heaps of motivation and a fresh look on things I would not have found anywhere else.
I was so scared from the first moment I decided to go for this, but I came out the end so much stronger it is hard to put in words.
“Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. Remember that.”
Thank you for everyone who made this possible, the list is endless but I have to thank one person by name and it is a woman I will not soon forget about, she is the backbone of conference and the backbone of the entire volunteer family and so much more: mama duck: Caitlin.
We all love, cherish and respect you for the loads of work you did and still do to this day!
Thank you for your guidance!
I am proud to say that I am a duckling for life!
Text and photos: Cas Willems
-Published Tattoo Planet emagazine 125/se