APP 2023: The Non-Piercers' Perspective
Earlier this summer, many of our crew attended the 26th Annual Association of Professional Piercers Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas, June 11-16. It was a busy week per usual, especially with so many of us there from the shop: from our Baltimore studio we had Kookie, Zia, Caitlin, Portia, and James; from our Philly team, it was John, Zach, Amelia, Ursula, Noorann, Maddie, Beatrice, and me. This was my seventh year attending, and while last year’s event felt a little strange for many of us—with it being the first major gathering since the start of the pandemic—this year’s conference was comfortingly familiar in many ways. But what felt quite a bit different this time, and sparked many conversations internally in our studio, was the overwhelming focus throughout the week on a part of the industry that has traditionally been out of the spotlight: the non-piercer. With thirteen of our crew in attendance this year, only six of which were piercers, we wanted to offer a few different viewpoints of the experience. Join us in reflecting on APP 2023, the non-piercers' perspective.
Portia Office Staff / Jewelry Specialist, Baltimore
Portia started at our Baltimore studio just over a year ago. Originally brought on as part of our counter staff team, she was soon promoted to our office staff as well and now works both behind the counter and behind the scenes in Baltimore, working on everything from web order fulfillment and inventory management to jewelry ordering and more. Since the time that Portia started, we have changed the official job title of our front-of-house position at both studios from “counter staff” to “jewelry specialist,” a title we feel much more accurately reflects the unique expertise required of this role, from a robust knowledge base to special skills and a knack for creativity.
“I went into my Conference experience excited but also a bit daunted. I’ve never attended anything like this and I expected to be overwhelmed, but the experience was so much more exciting and comfortable than I anticipated. I got so much out of the classes I attended! Being relatively new not only to Infinite but to the body piercing industry as a whole—I’m only a little over a year in—I have so much to learn, and Conference has made me even more excited to do so.
“Overall, I left this year’s conference feeling empowered! I learned a lot of new things in many different areas. From jewelry specifications and surface finish to communication, styling and custom orders, there were a lot of bases covered and it was great to have classes I could take as a front-of-house staff member. I learned about some history of the industry as well as contemporary struggles and victories of people working within it. I got a lot of valuable insight from my career as front of house and operations staff. They shared stories of mistreatment and disrespect and how big of a difference it makes to have people around you who value your work and invest in your development—all of which I can relate to. I spent so much time with my Philadelphia counterparts whom I don’t work with on the daily. We swapped stories of success and heartbreak at work and learned just how much we have in common and how deeply our experiences mirror each other. I got a lot of confirmation that I’m on the right track, and I’m so excited to continue participating in and exploring this industry. I spoke at length with many jewelry manufacturers, learning about their products and process. I also got to give many of them invaluable feedback about what items our clients are excited about. I’m incredibly grateful for my experience this year.”
Beatrice Assistant Counter Manager, Philadelphia
Beatrice has been part of our Philadelphia crew for just over five years and is the first to hold the newly created position of assistant counter manager of our Philadelphia jewelry specialist team. With years of experience at front of house, plus some time on our office staff as well, she knows the ins and outs of this studio like the back of her hand. Like Portia, it was Beatrice’s first time attending the conference in Vegas, and, being a writer and poet, they were one of the first people that came to mind when I thought about putting this multi-perspective post together. When Beatrice and I were first brainstorming ideas for how to structure the post, they came up with a series of questions to reflect on and responded to the three that resonated with them the most.
How do you feel changed by Conference?
“I arrived in Vegas expecting to feel a little out of sorts because of how unfamiliar I was and how rarely I am a social bird. I think I’ve also spent most of my little piercing industry career feeling very much the imposter. So even though knowing I was going to APP 2023 helped a bit to erode that feeling, I was intimidated by how many people would be there that had been attending for decades. “What I discovered was a place where everyone’s varied experiences and backgrounds meshed pretty naturally. For all of the moment’s where I felt like I wasn’t one of the cool kids, I’d sit down in a class, chock full of people I haven’t met, and leave with something that I was so excited to add to our life back at Infinite. The most transformative and moving experiences for me had to do with piercing history and ancestors. I saw myself and people I love in this industry so vividly within the stories of people living and modifying in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It still brings tears to my eyes (I did cry in a class a smidge) thinking about how I can clearly place myself within the timeline of this beautiful history. I believe I also have a much clearer understanding of how I can contribute to piercing as a whole and no longer have any doubts on whether I belong; I definitely do, and so do you.”
Which jewelry companies fed your sense of imagination or beauty?
“Too many to list to be honest. So the personal short list goes: Namaste Jewelry, High Noon Handmade, Diablo Organics, and Oracle Jewelry. Broadly I was most impressed by Tawapa. I think Tawapa had to me more designs that felt surprising and new, as well as hanging designs, chokers, standard earrings, etc. that all felt as if they were given the same amount of thought and creativity. That being said, there’s no way I saw all the amazing jewelry there, so I’m just as excited as our clients to see what lovely things we’ve brought home.”
When did you feel most supported by your piercing community?
“I struggle to place a single anecdote but my answer is basically: by the end of day one! I felt most worried about how my social battery would hold up surrounded by people, especially people that I maybe wanted to impress. I was happy to find that there was basically always someone willing to talk to the shy girl walking by or sitting in my little corner. After a while I also felt some pleasure in being that person for other people that I saw by their lonesome. I briefly popped into one of the mixers held by the APP, specifically for the queers. I felt such a restorative energy in that room and the excitement to see even just a glimpse of all of us in the same room. It’s moments like this that will sustain me until next year’s conference.”
Noorann Assistant Operations Manager, Philadelphia
Noorann started at Infinite in early 2018 and has been the “ass. man.” (sorry, not sorry; we’re both suckers for puns) of our Philadelphia studio for over four years now. She has a hand in so many aspects of the studio that it’s impossible to list them all: it includes everything from jewelry ordering and product photography to overseeing the details and daily operations of our online store, assisting with in-store staff training, and whatever else might arise each day. Noorann was also the first to take on the role of the assistant operations manager position when it was created in 2019, and attended her first APP conference last year.
“As my second conference comes to a close I’m struck, in equal measures, by the sheer scope of our industry and by the space I’ve carved out for myself within it. This year's focus on the cultural and anthropological history of body modification imbued the week with the sort of wonder that recalled childhood visits to the planetarium. As I stumble back out into the light of real life my feelings of smallness in relation to our history are outweighed only by the knowledge that where we go from here as an industry is up solely to me and my peers. “How fortifying it is to remember that the innate need to change one's body reaches through history in more ways that we can definitively measure. That decades before I had fleshed out my own ideal of beauty I had contemporaries that stared at their own reflections and felt too that something was fundamentally missing. Even in the most extreme or personally unrelatable practices I can make out the same legible human need that landed me here, our desire to show the world our authentic self in the best way we understand it. It can be easy to distill our industry to one of purely aesthetic choices, especially as jewelry trends dictate more and more of what we do day to day, but again Conference has grounded me within our history and reminded me of the greater “why”: Why do we treat a college student's first helix piercing with the same deference as a shop veteran’s large gauge conch? Why are we just as excited for an eight-year-old’s first set of lobe piercings as we are to add a stacked lobe piercing for a client whose ear is very nearly out of space? Because the need to revise our outward appearance to better match our fluctuating inner self is innately human, and a common ground on which we can connect with every person that walks through our studio doors.
“When I first dipped my toe into this industry as an overeager client, it never occurred to me that a meaningful career was viable within it as a non-piercer. Yet here I am, with years of just that under my belt, able to take a full week of relevant classes alongside others who also don’t need to pierce to be part of this. Emails and jewelry orders and price quotes aren’t just auxiliary tasks to be tended to as time allows; they’re essential functions within our studios, deserving of the same dedicated effort as the piercings they help facilitate. It’s truly affirming to see the APP present things like studio workflow in the same manner as piercing marking or bevel theory, something crucial to doing our jobs well and worthy of improving through professional collaboration. In some ways I still feel like a client someone mistakenly left in charge for a while, but as I was barely able to make it five steps across this year’s Conference expo floor without stopping to hug a peer I was reminded that not only am I part of this industry, but that it is constantly changing for the better because of people in my role. I can only imagine what this industry will look like once the overeager clients currently sitting in our lobbies have had their way with it, and I can’t wait.
“If to be loved is to be changed, then it is to be scarred and stretched and pockmarked in ways that are familiar to others that love the same way we love. Conference has once again solidified where my love for this industry comes from, and reminded me of all the ways it has loved me back. To appreciate both the magnitude of the tradition we follow, and that simply by being in that audience you are part of the history yet to be written, is a uniquely centering and Conference-specific experience and my biggest takeaway from this year. ‘Till next year!”
Jessica Rae Operations Manager, Philadelphia / Baltimore
Since APP, I have been reflecting a lot on what it means to be a non-piercer. I love reclaiming a title so often used to signify what we are not as a means of taking pride in what we are, but none of us can be pigeonholed into just one label—and who would want to be anyway? Within our two studios alone we have almost ten different unique roles: owner, piercer, piercing manager, operations manager, assistant operations manager, assistant counter manager, jewelry specialist, office staff, social media and marketing—and several of our staff work hybrid roles or have different skills or training within one type of role. The reason it’s important to notice these differences is not to pit us against one another, but to notice each others’ strengths—including our own—and to recognize that those strengths exist in every person and role within our studios. Recognizing that fact both in tangible ways and also in how we interact with each other is a fundamental part of what makes a good team and work environment.
Being a non-piercer myself with over fifteen years in this industry behind me (and coming up on ten years at Infinite), it’s wild even now to reflect both on the path that brought me here, and the fact that I am still here now. Even in the time that I’ve been a part of the piercing industry, things have changed drastically, and the same can be said for Infinite as well—and the beauty is that they will continue to, especially in environments that support and encourage growth and mutual respect. I count myself pretty lucky to work at a place that has led with those values, and strive towards creating that same feeling for others, too. So to reflect on one of Beatrice’s prompts, “When did you feel most supported by your piercing community?” For me, the answer is now, upon our return, reflecting on the replenished sources of inspiration, motivation, and passion for what we do.
So, what’s next?
Since coming back we’ve been enthusiastically motivated to share the knowledge we learned at Conference. We’ve been passing around notes from classes and working to keep the momentum going with all the new ideas bouncing around in our post-APP heads.
We connected with so many old friends and made many new ones, too, and are looking forward to bringing some new faces to our studios for guest spots in the coming months. For those we didn’t get to meet in person or who weren’t in attendance, don’t be shy! We always love hosting guests and are happy to have newer piercers shadow our staff as well.
Finally, it should come as no surprise that the jewelry expo was a thrilling and influential experience for all of us. From new (to us) makers creating handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces, to the biggest and best in the business, even with thirteen of us we had a hard time seeing it all. But see it all we did, and we are excited to share some of these treasures with you. All the pieces we brought back have officially made their way to the floor at one or both of our studios, and everything is available for view and purchase in our online store. Browse our 2023 APP Expo collection below.