For several Fort Mill companies, it isn’t about selling a good product. It’s about delivering something so impressive people will be stoked to wear it, skin deep, the rest of their lives.
A little more than a year ago, Lou Rubino moved his family and 21 employees from Long Island, New York, to an industrial park near Carowinds. Another 30 employees joined since. They combine to run Ultimate Tattoo Supply, United Ink Productions and World Famous Tattoo Ink.
Companies that provide everything from tattoo machines and needles to ink and promotions for tattoo and arts conventions.
“Basically all the tattoo equipment that a tattoo parlor needs,” said Rubino, owner and president.
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The team doesn’t have its own parlor here yet, which is unusual for Rubino. He learned the art from his father and has traveled extensively tattooing at shops, events, competitions. He still travels to New York some, where he plies his craft. So how did he get here?
“For me it was, my wife wanted to get some warmer weather,” Rubino said.
His two sides, the artist and the entrepreneur, show when discussing the shop setup. The family wanted warmth, but not Florida warmth without season changes. They stuck a pin on a map halfway, putting them close. Then Rubino narrowed it by business sense, needing a major airport nearby to travel and ship items. He researched cost of living and other factors bringing the group to Fort Mill.
Now that they’re set up, it’s back to the art. The team puts on tattoo expo style events bringing in renowned tattoo and other-form artists.
“Now that we’re based here, we decided to do one here,” Rubino said.
The Queen City Tattoo & Arts Festival runs Oct. 26-28 at the Charlotte Convention Center. About 200 vendors will be there. Famous tattoo artists, some of them featured on the “Ink Master” television series, will be among the more than 300 coming in from around the world. There will be more than 20 tattoo contests.
But it isn’t just tattoos.
“This festival is intended to make the world of tattoos accessible and bridge the gap between the enthusiasts and the curious,” said Christian Moore, creative director for festival organizer United Ink Productions.
There will be clothing, body jewelry, original art and accessory sales. Professional pumpkin carving, painting, music and various other art forms will be represented. There will be Youtube celebrities and a UFC champion.
“We try and bring in other arts,” Rubino said.
Similar events held in New York, organizers say, have run for five years and brought in around 10,000 attendees.
“We knew right away we wanted to expose our new hometown to these amazing and out-of-this-world artists,” Moore said. “The artists are the crème de la crème and celebrities in the industry. Most have a wait list for a year or more.”
While the Fort Mill group is known in plenty of areas for their work in the tattoo industry, they occasionally run into people with misconceptions.
“People don’t realize sometimes that it’s a legitimate business,” Rubino said.
The ink alone is a manufacturing operation, one most similar to the medical field. Inks have to be tested and produced at a hygiene level consistent with something people would put into their bodies, if only at a surface level. Much of the equipment produced or sold in Fort Mill has to be delivered like a piece of medical equipment would.
There are other sides to the business, like marketing the ink and machines. The team has to show why their ink is worth having customers worldwide. Bringing it some of the best artists for a festival is a way to show it’s more than just a bright bottle.
“People are floored that that quality of work can be put on skin,” Moore said.
There are trends in the tattoo world that need following, too. Vegan ink, with no animal testing, is big. So is permanent makeup.
“It’s becoming more and more popular today,” Rubino said. “It’s really blowing up the industry.”
Guests at the upcoming festival can find out first-hand. Permanent makeup and tattoos will be done on-site by some of the top artists in the industry.
“You can get it done right at the show,” Rubino said.
Back in New York, the festivals became a big enough deal to where the team started hosting two per year. As for their new home?
“A lot of people here are very interested in tattoos and art,” Rubino said of the local reaction his business receives. “We’ll find out. We’ll see at the convention.”
Want to go?
For more on the Queen City Tattoo & Arts Festival, visit unitedinkproductions.com.