Each month our intrepid artist liaison and generally jovial Eikon staffer Patrick Coste sits down with a tattoo artist to get to know them a little better. This week he's catching up with tattooer Rich Handford, a founding member of the Manitoba Body Art Association!
For Rich Handford, tattooing is a lifelong endeavour that ties together family, passion & work ethics. He and the MBAA are taking the lead to advocate for all of us in the tattoo industry - Patrick Coste
Patrick Coste: Good morning! Things are kinda dire right now in your region with everything being shut down. The province of Manitoba was in the first round of provinces to lockdown, and now is into the second round and cases are still rising across Canada with very few exceptions. We're in a province-wide shut down here in Quebec, and in Ontario. What's up in your neck of the woods Rich?
Rich Handford: Well, you know, I'm at home self-isolating and lobbying for tattooing in our province. We're here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and you’re right, we're two months into our second lockdown here. Permanent cosmetics, that’s tattooing, permanent makeup and all personal services are closed and well everything else deemed non-essential is too.
PC: Just so we’re all on the same page, and because we’re having a really candid talk here and it goes fast...Although many know you in the tattoo trade, let me introduce you once more for anyone who hasn’t a chance to meet the ever-joyful Rich that I know!
RH: Well, for those of you that don't know me, my name is Rich Handford, Winnipeg based tattoo artist, the owner of KAPALA tattoo. I'm the event coordinator for the Winnipeg Tattoo Convention and involved with the MBAA - Manitoba Body Art Association to inform our government that we mean business and are knowledgeable when we’re talking about safety protocols and clean, sterile environments.
PC: Thank you Rich. For those who don’t understand, we can say that your livelihood is basically dependent on following strict infection prevention protocols and being good at them. Let's put it that way. In fact this is true for tattooers in Canada and the rest of the world!!
RH: Correct Patrick. I did my first tattoo on my parents' doorstep when I was 14 years old. That was another time.... since then, I've spent 30 years around the tattoo industry, taking the health and safety of myself and my clients very very seriously. The stigmas around tattooing are almost gone but not fully.
On a daily basis, our working habits are designed to protect the health and safety of our customers and community. This has always been an important concern for us. It's gone way beyond marking someone with the tattoo. It's a duty that we take very very seriously.
You know Patrick, it's funny, like talking with you, when we're talking to other tattoo artists we don't need to tell each other about all those strict protocols we go through for every tattoo we make. The tattoo industry at large knows, in every country almost, that we have infection control protocols in place to keep people safe. Our training in safe practices is legitimate, with in-depth courses created by body art professionals. The same kind of certification that governments require when you license your business, not in every province, but many of them. We also have training in cross contamination prevention, bloodborne pathogens prevention and now airborne pathogens and the Novel Coronavirus. We know that our customers know this, and avid tattoo collectors know this.
I think at this point what we need to be doing on a national level, is raise the awareness of both the general public and policymakers because they don't understand the protocols we have in place, or the steps that we take to ensure community safety.
PC: That's the biggest point of all right? To be blunt, and I’ll put this in layman's terms, you got this and you have an excellent grasp of it. What you’re doing right now is proving that tattooing is legit, not only as a profession but also as an industry that’s … Well, I’ll say it… Clean as fuck.
RH: Absolutely 100% Patrick. SO, here’s what I want to do and believe that others will do for the good of our industry. Here in Manitoba, a small group of us have gotten together and after much discussion, we formed an industry association called the Manitoba Body Art Association. In doing that, we’re combining forces and strengthening our numbers to have a platform in an organization that can represent us all, without paid affiliation to supply companies or other interests. We thought it would be a great outlet to deliver our messages from. After all, a group of seven artists in a small city in the middle of the Canadian prairies has produced and released health and safety videos that are public service announcements for both the general public and policy makers.
I'm thinking to myself, if seven of us can do this with an iPhone at 200 bucks...What could Eikon, Cheyenne and all the other suppliers in the world do, using their platforms to help put it out there to their audiences? I even went further and I thought to myself, I’d like to see people like Micky Violeto, The Leu Family, Tintin, YallZee, Rubbendall, Henning, and even you Patrick, everybody, spreading the word!!
I’d like to bring this message to the worldwide community. I think this is an opportunity for leaders in this community, tattoo businesses and stakeholders, to speak to the general public. If there's a lockdown in Toronto, London, England, whatever, wherever the municipality is, you can create a public service announcement like the ones that we're, doing for very little money and market it to a huge audience on social media.
The protocols we have in place, the training that we have... We’re ready and prepared to resume services safely. We have a plan and access to PPE to operate safely now, through any lockdowns and any future lockdowns. As an industry, we've always taken the health and safety of ourselves, our clients and our communities very seriously.
PC: I can vouch for that, as a collector and as a professional in the tattoo industry. It’s no joke, and to demonstrate another aspect in support of the cause, here at Eikon we have strict safety protocols in place at our facility. We also have a Medical Device Establishment License which enables us to sell medical-grade gloves, and that’s no small feat in itself.
So the Industry is ready, the tattooers are safe...What seems to be the hold up?
RH: That essential classification has been a major issue here in Manitoba and seems to be a trend everywhere.
In this past lockdown, we've seen businesses like Best Buy, Ikea, Walmart, Garden Nurseries allowed to re-open and operate. Meanwhile, small retailers like bookstores, tattoo artists and anyone else were closed. These larger stores were able to remain open and sell the same products that small businesses were unable to.
Last lockdown we just came together, and it became the very root of this organization, the Manitoba Body Art Association. We’d met just to discuss options. So today we’re actually prepared and a proposal was submitted provincial government. At that point, it was only three of us working together to try to lobby for our re-opening and we were able to move tattoo studios from phase four into phase two.
PC: Okay, okay, so that was productive. I bet there are other trades that are lobbying as well?
RH: Here in Manitoba now, we're in our second lockdown and we’ve seen other industry associations get their businesses reclassified and have health orders changed to include them. So, here in Manitoba, if dental, massage, chiropractic and acupuncture associations can lobby the government for inclusion in the health orders or get reclassification for their businesses, then we at the Body Art Association want the same fair and equitable treatment from our public servants.
Let's be frank about this Patrick, and you know all this, but for those who may not...For over 20 years tattoo artists have practiced infection control protocols and cross contamination prevention techniques. The majority of these protocols have been in place for over two decades in our studios. This isn’t something new to this pandemic or to this virus. Yes, we furthered our education with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) course on infection control for COVID-19, because it’s different and so we adapted.
PC: I’m so glad you’ve explained this, because I haven't met a tattoo artist that isn’t meticulous about the hygiene of his or her work environment.
RH: Yeah, it's different, so adaption is the key. We’ve added occupancy limitations, the use of masks and having our clients sanitize their hands. We’ve also implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Our health and safety protocols have been second to none for almost 20 years.
PC: Would you say that there was an increase in sanitation measures of like 800% better in a sense, since 20 years ago.
RH: Absolutely. It's like you're going for a day surgery. I’d say that's not only for 2020 but basically years before, at least 10. If you think about it, we've been using disinfectants that have short kill-times for all types of viruses, barrier films, dental bibs and drape sheets which actually provide protection against viruses compared to having sanitizer everywhere at large… That's another protocol that they implemented without knowing that it doesn't do much.
Patrick, answer this… How can it be deemed safe for a sandwich artist at Subway do their job safely while WE sit shuttered at home?
PC: … $#^&%#$% …
RH: It's as stupid as that. It’s why I'm here and have been working my ass off for two months on radio and television, advocating for the right to do my own profession. We all have a shuttered business with fixed carrying costs. Hell Patrick, I got a collection call the week before Christmas from the Finance Minister, asking me if I could pay them for my fucking retail sales tax for October.
PC: This was the clearest and the most focused interview I’ve had the chance to do. Rich, what’s THE WORD you’d like to put out there for all tattooers, tattoo advocates and the collectors, and what are the next steps for you in Manitoba?
RH: It’s time for all of us to stand up for ourselves. We're trying to come to the table like adults with professionally prepared proposals and a business continuation plan to ensure safe re-opening, not only here in Manitoba but in every province and worldwide, because it’s our time.
If we can’t get an appropriate response from the government, then perhaps conscientious objection and legal recourse might be next moves.
For now PETITION HERE - at change.org the official petition from MBAA.
Thanks Patrick. Thank you very much to everyone at Eikon, thank you!
Follow Rich Handford on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/richhandford
Follow MBAA (The Manitoba Body Art Association on instagram): https://www.instagram.com/manitobabodyart