Mankind has three major downfalls: women, booze, and gambling. Funny enough, those are also three things that tattooing seems to celebrate a lot of the time through art and imagery. Whether it’s a pinup girl in a Martini glass or a set of pitbulls playing poker, the themes saturate the public consciousness of tattoo shops. When searching for a name, most shops go with the most rough and edgy name they can come up with. In my opinion, Man’s Ruin takes the cake when it comes to a completely appropriate name for an all-female shop.
Heather Ruin, founder of Man’s Ruin, is a tattooer, art director and wearer of many hats. I was lucky enough to sit down with Heather along with some of her staff to talk shop and to answer some burning questions to slake my curiosity.
Prior to opening Man’s Ruin, Heather hailed from sunny Florida where she worked in a shop tattooing bikers for two years but she soon felt she had outgrown the southernmost part of the United States. Driven to do something new, in a classic no-holds-bar fashion, she bought an RV, and started on the road doing conventions to expand her tattoo horizons. It was hard work but then hard work doesn’t seem to phase this tattoo queen.
As she so eloquently put during our interview, “I think now everybody wants it to be easy and given to them. This industry gets a lot of shit for being hard to get into but, you know what, every industry is hard to get into. You have to work and earn it. People seem to think because this is an art field that you should just be a tattoo artist. You get with a good mentor, put in the time, and pay your dues.”
So how did she go from hanging out with the likes of Lyle Tuttle and Philadelphia Eddie, legends in the tattoo world, to opening a shop in Asheville, North Carolina? Luck, of course. Bad luck to be more precise. Her infamous RV broke down and left her stranded in Asheville for 3 long weeks. Though she’d been told about the area before, she was reluctant to move to the mountains where she wouldn’t be near the water. “I grew up in New Jersey on the water. I lived in Florida on the water. Mountains really weren’t for me. Then the powers that be intervened and my truck blew up on Old Fort Mountain.”
With nowhere to be and nothing to do, Heather found herself exploring the city that many people have grown to know and love. It wasn’t long before she bought her first shop, the first Man’s Ruin, right up the street from the current location and started doing what she does best: Tattooing.
When you drive up, you’ll notice that they’ve adopted Rosie the Riveter on their signage. That’s not just a casual thumbs up to the female empowerment of the shop. The values associated with Rosie were perhaps the initial draw of the image but a letter of praise from one of the original Rosies really solidified her presence at Man’s Ruin. “We get a lot of letters from people,” Heather said. “We like to keep them. It’s really cool.”
The all-female atmosphere actually happened by accident as friends, both old and new, seemed to settle into the shop and never really leave the Man’s Ruin family.
“We are a family,” Heather said. “We see each other more than anyone else.”
The cohesive nature of the shop was evident in my interaction with the women of Man’s Ruin. You can tell just from a brief conversation how much genuine friendship exists between them. So often there are egos in play, especially in the artistic fields, so it was refreshing to get casual and not feel like I was stepping on anyone’s toes.
These ladies may appear to be all rock and roll but the pride they take in their work really comes through when they talk about their craft. Integrity is a big part of the house rules and Heather runs a sober shop to make sure that cleanliness and professionalism is maintained for her clients. This is not your shady neighborhood tattoo shop where you’re going to catch something. The level of devotion to cleanliness would make any hospital compliance manager proud.
Using an aseptic technique, the ladies maintain the sterility and cleanliness of their space through safe handling practices. Even their autoclave, the machine that cleans the things that are going to touch you, goes through a monthly inspection all on its own. If that isn’t enough, they also have taken additional courses in blood borne pathogens, wound care, and CPR. Whew!
Since tattoos and piercings have gone from the fringes of society to more mainstream in recent years, it’s not surprising that quality has become increasingly important as well. Those who have witnessed the transformation from freaky to fashion forward, are often left scratching their heads if the views expressed by Jenn Sumo, resident piercer and horn-throwing goth princess, are any indication. “Times have really changed and it’s interesting to be part of it because you actually see the movement. Because it (tattoo & piercing) went on TV it is now socially acceptable to be pierced,” Jenn said.
“It’s ‘cute,’” Heather added, laughing a little bit.
But all work and no play makes tattooing a dull profession. Travel and music are a big part of life at Man’s Ruin and they will close up shop to make sure they’re able to attend events that play to those passions as well.
“The other thing we’re known for beside our good, clean work environment is concerts and traveling,” Heather said. “We just decide, “Holy shit. Alice Cooper is playing. We’re leaving. We’re going.” All of our clients think it’s hilarious. They see the sign on the door and they’re like, “Where did you girls go? Who did you see?””
The infamous RV makes an appearance again during these times, easing the way for Heather and her cohorts to travel in style. Let’s just hope they don’t break down somewhere too awesome or they may not come back. They do post those impromptu concert vacations online occasionally. If you guys get a chance to check it out, who knows what sorts of people or places you may see.
Traveling extends well past the RV’s abilities and continental United States. A few years ago, they visited Egypt and are currently planning a trip to Iceland. Though Egypt and the middle east are Heather’s favorite destinations. “People think it’s crazy but I love the middle east. The people were fantastic. People aren’t going to like that answer, but other than the wars and the horrible governments, it was fantastic. You can actually touch relics. You were in a pyramid. It’s incredible and everybody was so kind. It’s not what I expected.” As a history nerd, myself, I can appreciate Heather’s enthusiasm for cultures several thousand years older than our country. She plans to do a lot more traveling in the future and hopes to one day be able to return to the middle east to experience it again.
Over the hour and some change that I spent peppering the staff of Man’s Ruin with questions, I was struck over and over again by how humble and passionate the ladies were about their craft and about the way they live their lives. Arrogance isn’t something that saturates Man’s Ruin. Of her profession, Heather stated, “Every tattoo artist is just a geek that got a really good job.”
Maybe that’s true, but I think it’s very likely that running a successful shop like Man’s Ruin requires a little bit more than some assistance from lady luck. These women are passionate, devoted, and a hell of a lot of fun. So if you’re in the area and need to get your tattoo/piercing fix, check out Man’s Ruin. You’ll be glad you did.
660 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804