While there are dozens of studios in Edmonton where patrons can get an image etched into their skin, Pansy Poke Collective stands out amongst them. Kayla Bleoo, one of two owners of the shop, contributes her business savvy and artistic talent.
“Right now, me and my coworker Charlie are artists there. I do machine and Charlie is a handpoke artist,” said Bleoo.
The name Pansy Poke comes from two separate sources. The former being a way to take back a term used to attack the queer community, with the latter being a literal part of the tattoo process.
“Often one of the insults is like we’re pansies, or we’re overly sensitive. But then also speaking to the queer community, and talking about how a lot of people who deal with the queer community are kind of like ‘oh they’re pansies, they can’t deal with anything these days,” said Bleoo.
“It’s not feminine, but it’s not like ‘Blood and Ink Tattoos’, something very masculine like that. We wanted something that came off as more approachable.”
Pansy Poke Collective advertises as a queer-owned, queer-friendly tattoo shop, and while this inclusivity is appreciated amongst the LGBTQIA2S+ community in Edmonton, some other shops in the city have been less accepting.
“There’s a lot of stigma. The tattoo industry is mostly dominated by old white men who think they own tattooing, even though it dates back to indigenous roots and has been around since BC times. They want to be the only ones who tattoo, and they want to keep it the same it has always been. They’re scared of change,” said Bleoo.
Being queer-owned is not just a title. It affects every aspect of the shop.
“We as a shop operate completely differently, technique-wise, how we deal with our artists, our rent and our clients,” said Bleoo.
“We have all the odds stacked against us, and we knew that when we opened. We created a little bit of a stir in the tattooing community because this was definitely something that was needed, and we knew that was coming.”
Thankfully, there has been an outpouring of support from other parts of the community, from shops on Whyte Avenue to tattoo shops around Edmonton and even past clientele.
“I know that when our pride sticker got torn off of our door twice, it was in minutes, clients showed up with giant pride flags, with earrings for us. The QUILTBAG dropped by and made inside-sticking stickers for us so people couldn’t rip them off from the outside. We have incredible support,” said Bleoo.
One of the many aspects that keeps Pansy Poke unique is the way they mould themselves to customer needs. Kayla and Charlie ensure that every person who enters the store has their specific needs met, which is not something every tattoo shop offers.
“A lot of things that we cater to, a lot of shops don’t. Like sensory issues. A lot of shops people go into there’s buzzing and music. We offer after-hour appointments when it’s quiet or [for] privacy. When you’re getting something like an underbust tattoo, a lot of shops don’t offer that. I feel like we’re doing the bare minimum, but in the tattoo community, it feels like we’re going above and beyond,” said Bleoo.
“I’ve had clients confide in me and tell me that they’ve not had that opportunity [to move a tattoo placement] at other shops. They rushed the placement because the guy wanted them in and out in five minutes, and now they don’t like the way their tattoo was done. It wasn’t a safe environment to make a decision.”
The name Pansy Poke Collective is no accident. The business believes in a system that does not use any form of hierarchy or imbalance of power. Artists and owners are on the same footing.
“We say collective because most tattoo shops have a boss who takes a cut from all of [their] workers, and usually in the tattoo industry, that’s 60%. I don’t want to be anybody’s boss. Everybody else has their own keys and can come and go as much as they want. They rent a bed from us and pay rent. We’re not trying to take advantage of artists or try to have a power dynamic by any means,” Bleoo said.
In an industry that can be hostile and abrasive, Pansy Poke Collective prides itself in being an open and accepting location. With the option for handpoked or machine tattoos, customers can be confident in their decision with the artists available.