Inking skin: Although he is still waiting for his own tattoo design to get one, Peterson Mabonga is proud to count Irene Ntale, Pallaso, and other celebs as his clients. The Black Ink Tattoos and body Piercings boss spoke to Lawrence Ogwal about the tattoo business and why some male celebs do not want to pay up.
How would you describe yourself?
I like to call myself an entrepreneur.
When did you start the tattoo business and where did you get the idea?
I started this business two years ago. I knew nothing about tattoos but my Kenyan friend Sizzy J.M Githaiga pitched the idea while we were still at university. Those days, there was only one tattoo parlour in Kampala (Shades Tattoo) and yet many people wanted tattoos.
Why did you buy Sizzy’s idea?
Sizzy was a Fine Art student in secondary school. We met again at university. He was, however, at Makerere University while I was at Uganda Christian University. He told me to invest in tattoos since he had learnt how to do them.
How did you start?
I raised Shs1.2m which we used to buy a set of tattoo guns and ink. We started with mobile tattooing; we did not have a tattoo parlour, so we sold our business on social media.
Who was your first client and how much did you charge them?
My first client was Brian Ahumuza aka Abryanz, a celebrity stylist. He was my friend, so I told him I had a tattoo business and I wanted to tattoo him. He agreed and we drew a Jesus piece on him. Since we were the ones who asked him, we did not charge him, but the tattoo could have gone for Shs350,000. Good enough, he recommended a client a few days later.
Who was that client?
Sam Mukasa, who was Singer Jose Chameleone’s manager then. I do not remember the tattoo he got but we charged him Shs250,000. We continued doing mobile tattooing for four months till we opened up our own parlour.
How much did it cost to open a parlour?
In total, I raised Shs7m, but not from the mobile tattoo business. We used it to pay rent for the first six months. We bought more tattoo guns, a tattoo bed and more ink. Sizzy then brought in some people whom he taught how to do tattoos; Miriam Niwe, Salma Mbabazi and Brian Lovington. He charged each of them Shs1m and trained them for three months, after which we offered them a job at the parlour.
What was it like having an organised business set up?
Work changed, business started booming and we started getting clients. We also started supplying tattoo equipment and ink. We now teach tattoo artistes.
Where do you get the tattoo equipment from and who do you supply?
We buy our tattoo equipment from Nairobi and we supply tattoo parlours such as Jamal Tattoos, Eddys Tattoos, Lax Beauty Parlour and Mobile tattoo artistes, among others.
Speaking of clients, how many do you get in a week?
In a good week, we get 13 to 15 clients and in a bad week we get five to seven.
How much do you charge per tattoo?
It depends on what tattoo someone wants; the cheapest tattoo goes for Shs80,000 and the price for an expensive tattoo depends on the details. The most expensive tattoo we have done so far was for Shs1.2m. It is called the Maori tattoo, and it is always big and very detailed. An example can be the Micheal Scofiled Tattoo in Prison Break. The tattoo was paid for by an ordinary client.
Who is an ordinary client?
Most of our clients are celebrities and socialites. Only a few ordinary clients come for tattoos.
Who are some of the celebrities you have tattooed?
Our regular client is Urban TV presenter Charlie Denzel. We have also worked with Sheebah, Irene Ntale, Pallaso, Chameleone, Radio, and others. Most of these celebrities do not come to our parlour. They call us to where they are and we meet them.
Are celebrities the biggest investors in tattoos?
(Laughs. Only a few celebrities pay for tattoos and these are mostly female celebrities. Male celebrities only claim they are marketing our business and they make us do it free of charge. But well, it is good that they recommend clients in the end.
Why do you think people get tattoos?
It is all about appreciating art. People use tattoos to send out different messages or put a mark on something. We also get couples who want to show each other love by tattooing their partner’s names on their bodies.
Why do you think some people have negative perceptions on tattoos?
Some people think that tattoos are for the wrong people but it is not true.
Many people think tattoos cannot work on dark people. How true is that?
We have many Sudanese clients and I do not think there is anyone who is darker than a Sudanese. Everybody gets a tattoo when they want to. It is not about people seeing the tattoo, but rather how you feel with the tattoo on your body.
Who is eligible to get a tattoo and who is not?
Minors and intoxicated people are not supposed to get tattoos. We have consent forms which people sign before getting a tattoo. It is the same form used in all tattoo parlours worldwide. It spells out the dangers of tattoos. We once had a girl who lied to us that she was okay with getting a tattoo, but after getting it, she came back with her father, who wanted to arrest us for tattooing his daughter’s body. Good thing she had signed a consent form and when he read it, we were off the hook.
Most women want tattoos near their private parts. How do you deal with such clients?
In business, they say the customer is the boss. When a client comes and they want a tattoo on a particular part of their body, we cannot refuse as long as they sign the consent form.
What are the different types of tattoos?
There are permanent and temporary tattoos. The permanent tattoos are those that stay forever. Temporary tattoos only last three weeks. People who come for temporary tattoos are those who want to know how it feels to have a tattoo but get bored after. They are as cheap as Shs25,000.
So you mean permanent tattoos cannot be removed?
There is a machine called a tattoo remover. It removes the tattoo but leaves a scar. For someone who wants to replace their tattoo with something different, we just do a cover up and it always comes out better than the previous tattoo because it has more designs.
Can you draw?
I am trying to learn, although I am not that interested in it.
What are some of the challenges in the tattoo business?
The biggest is having clients who do not take care of their tattoos. When they get complications, they come back and blame our equipment and ink. We use ink called Kuro Sumi, the same one used worldwide.
Where do you get designs for clients who do not know what tattoo they want?
We have books with different tattoo designs. We let them select what they want and later apply it.
How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?
It takes a week, but we always tell our clients to take care of it for two weeks.
How does one look after a fresh tattoo?
By avoiding direct sunlight water and regularly applying a vaseline called Savlone, which costs Shs15,000 in a pharmacy.
Peterson Mabonga is 23 years old. He graduated from Uganda Christian University Kampala campus with a Bachelor’s Degree in Procurement and Logistics in 2013.
Born to Eng Goerge Owilli and Pr Joyce Owilli.
Attended St Kizito Primary School, St Mary’s College Kisubi and St Lawrence Creamland campus.
Besides his tattoo business, he also runs an events company called Delware Agency which deals in artiste management and deejaying, mostly in secondary schools.