LOS ANGELES — Once reserved for the misfits and outcasts, ink permeates the mainstream today.
“There’s such a wide range of what the tattoo culture is, you know. It’s not corporate, it’s not uniform,” said Aja-Noelle, an artist at Ephemeral Tattoo in Los Angeles. “It’s a very free culture. We were very taboo for a while, up until recently.”
And now she's part of another evolution within the culture: made-to-fade tattoos.
Ephemeral Tattoo uses trademarked ink that's made to fade in 9 to 15 months. Developed by chemical engineers, the ink is made from medical-grade, biocompatible materials that are broken down naturally by the body's immune system.
The company spent nearly seven years researching and testing dozens of formulations.
“It helps for people who are trying to segue either into getting traditional tattoos or who are just on the fence about tattoos in general," said Aja-Noelle.
A traditional tattoo artist for more than a decade, Aja-Noelle admits being wary of the technology early on.
“I think that the tattoo industry itself is very old and very set in its ways. We evolve so much but there are some things we’d rather keep the way it is," she says. "But I noticed that this not only could be one of the biggest things and newest steps in tattooing but that it can also further my clientele base."
From customers with cultural or religious constraints, she says, to those who might not feel comfortable in a traditional tattoo shop.
“It's the same process — we have cartridges, we have machines, we have a healing process," said Aja-Noelle. “The client gets a feel for the pain that you would get with a traditional tattoo.”
Coming from immigrant households, the company's founders bonded over their shared experiences growing up. While they viewed tattoos as a vehicle for self-expression, each felt restrained by traditional familial values.
After Ephemeral opened its first studio in Brooklyn, NY, the made-to-fade tattoo found viral fame on social media. The company has since raised $20 million from investors, which is being used to expand its studio footprint.
“They’re all in awe of the tattoo being able to fade," said Aja-Noelle. “For artists and clients alike, this is a great environment to be in.”
The company is also innovating in other ways. Their no-tip policy is designed to ensure fair wages and competitive benefits for artists while offering transparency for customers.
- Subtle Style $195-$245
- 1-3 inches
- Simple, small line designs with little to no shading
- Statement Piece $350-$550
- Up to 5 inches
- Complex and larger designs that include more intricate detailing and shading
Splitting her time between traditional and made-to-fade, Aja-Noelle believes there's room for both within tattoo culture.
"Nothing cool — nothing awesome — was ever established by staying in your comfort zone," she says. "I’m all about being part of you know, the movement.”