On Dundas St. West, around the corner form Kensington Market and nestled next to a hair salon is a small shop promising cosmetic tattooing, the first of its kind in Toronto. The shop, called The Good Geisha, opened on June 18th.
Owners and artists Amber Gotzmeister and Anna Chow had glasses of pink champagne ready to greet new customers, or anyone who was wandering by and just wanted to take a look. The modest-sized shop was clean and brightly lit, with two full work stations in an open space.
The walls are lined with colourful art and at the back of the shop is a giant mural of a geisha. White, pink, red and black are the dominant colours. With those descriptors in mind, some may call up the impression of a beauty parlour, but make no mistake. This is exclusively a tattoo shop. In fact, this is what Anna and Amber want to stress to clients the most — these are real tattoos.
“It will fade faster than anywhere else on your body,” says Amber, “but it is supposed to be permanent.”
The owners say they want to to educate the public about cosmetic tattooing by getting rid of misconceptions and showing what a well-done job looks like.
But before we get there, we should talk about what cosmetic tattooing actually is.
Anna and Amber lay it out in two categories: micro-blading and micro-pigmentation. Micro-blading is tattooing done by hand, using an instrument that has multiple small needles. The tool is used to pull pigment through the skin, in a stroking motion, to add the colour. At The Good Geisha they use it strictly for eyebrows. Micro-pigmentation is done by machine and is used in every other cosmetic tattooing procedure, whether it be eyeliner, lip liner, areola pigmentation or on the scalp to add the illusion of thickness in place of thinning hair.
This is what one will hear when they ask an expert on a definition. Pretty straightforward. Anyone looking on their own, however, may get a far different impression.
A quick online search can reveal blue, orange or green eyebrows because of cosmetic tattooing, or a horror story told by a woman who had a less-than-desirable outcome from a procedure. Both Amber and Anna are very familiar with these bad outcomes.
“I do a lot of corrective work,” says Amber. “I love it. Tattooing someone’s eyebrows that have never been done is boring. Correction is way more exciting.”
Amber mentioned a nightmare scenario involving a Groupon and a $100 brow tattoo job. Correcting the brows costs seven times that, mostly because they had been done so poorly in the first place. She says there are two reasons for this. First is a lack of education.
“A lot of people feel that a two or three-day training course is enough,” says Amber. “It really isn’t. The other big thing is the colour of the skin. Colour theory for cosmetic tattooing purposes is completely different to other colour theory.”
The owners are members of the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, a voluntary society that provides a code of ethics for its members. Amber says there is no other regulation for cosmetic tattooing, so it was important to have a standard to hold themselves to.
Watching Anna work during the live demonstrations held at the opening, it’s easy to see how professional they are. Anna donned a mask and gloves, made sure everything was sterilized and kept stopping to ask the client if she was okay with the pain and with the progress.
(According to the client, Chelsea Chan, the tattooing sensation was far from pleasant, but low in terms of pain.)
Amber and Anna met at the Micro-pigmentation Centre here in Toronto. Amber was an instructor, Anna was a student.
“I actually came from a background in finance,” says Anna, “but my passion was always in the arts and I was interested in facial anatomy. I’ve always liked touching someone’s face or working with symmetry.”
Upon deciding to pursue cosmetic tattooing, Anna immediately dove into school at the Mico-pigmentation Centre, where she was taught by Amber. Amber came from a different background. She initially trained as an aesthetician, but became interested in cosmetic tattooing following a recommendation from a client. Having worked in the cosmetic tattooing industry for 10 years, Amber began at a time when cosmetic tattooing was more taboo.
“Nobody talked about it. We would have women come in their sunglasses, trench coat and hat,” she laughs. “It was a very ‘hush hush’ kind of industry.” Two years ago, Amber opted to take a break from full-time referrals and began to teach at the Micro-pigmentation Centre. In the back of her mind, she was thinking about opening her own shop just for tattooing.
“When Anna came to the program,” says Amber. “I said to my husband that night, ‘I found the girl that I’m going to work with. I don’t know where or how, but I found her.’ I hadn’t even said anything to her yet.”
Amber did ask Anna to work with her once she found the shop location. Anna agreed. The two became partners one day and signed the lease for the shop the next.
Amber and Anna say before becoming The Good Geisha, the shop was a hair salon that relocated a few stores up. Both women say they had to do a complete renovation of the store in order to get ready.
“It was a disaster,” says Amber. “This had been a hair salon for 15 years. There was hair plastered to the walls, the ceiling, even stuck in the outlets.”
Amber and Anna got the keys to the shop of May 18th and worked 16 to 18-hour days to get the place in shape in time for the opening. Other than help from Amber’s parents to lay the tiles, the women did the renovations by themselves.
Now that the shop is finished, the focus turns to bringing in clients and getting the tattoos started. Anna says she sees lots of older women who are losing their eyesight, but also young women who don’t have the time so they get the tattoos for convenience.
While they are open to receive, the owners had warning words about wanting anything trendy, and going for something that suits your natural features.
“If someone comes in asking for two-inch eyebrows, I’ll say no,” says Amber. “You may not even want that in a year. It works when you’re nineteen, but can you imagine having those thick eyebrows when you’re 90?”