At some point of our lives, I’m sure we have all fantasised about inking some parts of our bodies.
But what stopped us from taking the leap to tatt ourselves up?
“I’m damn scared. Tattoo confirm pain one.”
“Tattoos are permanent – what if I end up regretting it?”
“God say cannot. Tattooing is against my religion leh.”
There are a barrage of reasons out there that has stopped us from going under the needle. But what if there’s a temporary option?
And no – I’m not talking about those cheap tattoo stickers you get at novelty stores, or those metallic jewelry tattoos that are especially popular with Coachella attendees.
The ones that I’m referring to look super realistic – and the best part? They are temporary.
Jagua Vs. Henna
One thing these artists have in common is that they work on their designs using ink extracted from Jagua (pronounced as ha-gua), which is an edible fruit that grows in the rainforests of Central and South America.
The jagua fruit is traditionally harvested as food ingredients, but it is also believed to have many medicinal properties. As opposed to henna, jagua is actually 100% natural and safe.
In terms of colour, henna leaves a brown or reddish-brown stain on the skin.
But the colour of a jagua tattoo varies from a deep black to a milder black with blue undertones, which resembles the colour of a permanent tattoo. The stain usually lasts up to two weeks.
Price is also another differentiating factor. According to See Min, the cost price of jagua is at US$40 (for 4oz of ink), before factoring in the hefty shipping fees.
All in all, jagua is three times more expensive than henna.
Despite its high cost, See Min went on to import the jagua ink so she could personally experiment with this novel craft.
A Natural Flair For Drawing
See Min has always liked drawing tattoo designs on herself since her schooling days.
From doodling with regular pens, she converted to using henna cones when she stumbled upon a henna booth at a flea market three years ago.
She was ecstatic at the discovery because she “could finally convert [her] drawings to two-week tattoos.”
But here’s the scoop: See Min has not taken any formal art lessons before.
Regardless, the Sociology undergraduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has always had a keen interest in arts. She just never pursued it seriously because she “grew up in an environment where art was seen as frivolous and impractical.”
“I started out doing henna on myself, and then my friends started requesting me to do the same for them till it became a regular thing,” said See Min.
Over time, she accumulated a small portfolio of designs and she started uploading them on Instagram under @henn.drawn.
This was back in February 2016, and fast forward to today – about a year later – she has garnered a strong following of over 6.8K (and counting).
So what’s the secret to this rapid rise of followers?
“I don’t have a specific strategy from the start. I simply post everyday to increase visibility and give people a reason to follow me. Above all, I remained earnest and sincere about my craft and passion, and render good service. I’m friends with a lot of my clients!”
“I also rely a lot on word-of-mouth. I feel that people are more inclined to share about my business when they realise that it is truly something worth paying for.”
True enough, her follower count grew and more people started taking interest in her works. Companies too began engaging her services and inviting her to various events.
“And the rest is history!” she quipped.
Hard To Put A Price To Her Works
See Min insists that she started up @henn.drawn out of pure passion – converting it into a full-fledged business was never her main intention.
“I never really looked into expansion until recently because I realise that I can’t cope with the growing popularity [of my services].”
She confessed that running a business is especially hard for a solo founder, so she often ropes in her friends’ help who are also artistically-inclined to do henna with her at events.
See Min also finds it hard to put a price to her services, especially when there is no benchmark.
“Learning how to gauge the value of my own work [is one of the key business challenges], especially when I’m negotiating with a client for an event. Being a market leader is tough because there is no one to compare to or anyone to consult with.”
“For example, clients won’t pay me highly even though my works are exclusive because they compare me with other common services such as traditional henna or face painting. Because there isn’t anyone who does the same thing as I do, it’s a lot harder to set the market price.”
In a typical day, See Min takes on about 5 to 6 clients, totalling up to about 30 clients a week.
Some renowned clients of hers include Thai celebrity makeup artist Pearypie, local actress Rebecca Tan, and Miss International Africa.
She would meet up with her customers at coffee joints to work on the henna or jagua drawing, and hardly do house calls unless they’re for weddings or henna parties.
Floral designs are one of her most popular works, but See Min said that she has also gotten a lot of animals, geometry and nature-related requests.
The price depends on the intricacy and size of the designs, ranging from $20 to $60; and she usually allocates an hour to each customer.
So here’s the burning question: how much does she earn from these services?
“I never really meant for it to become a full-fledged business in the first place so I never kept track down to the very decimal, but it doesn’t cost a lot to start which was perfect for me because I am still a student. I started with henna, which is a very cheap material. The profit margin is so high that I can cover costs with one henna design. Now with jagua, costs can be covered after one to three pieces,” said See Min.
“I earn about $3,000 a month by just taking in individual appointments. With wedding henna and events, [my earnings] would range around $3,000 to $5,000 a month.”
Despite the steady income, See Min feels that “money is secondary”.
“Earning money from [this] is a real bonus, [ultimately] it’s my passion to do what I’m doing.”
Lessening The Stigma Of Body Art
See Min feels that tattoos are still very much frowned upon in Singapore – it’s regarded as a “sign of gangsterism or irresponsibility (due to its impermanence)”.
But the general disapproval of tattoos has prompted the surge and demand of temporary skin art so others can express themselves without the commitment.
When asked about her future business plans, See Min said that she is currently in the midst of renovating her home. Soon, her room will be converted into a home studio so she can hold appointments there and also eventually teach classes.
“I actually plan to teach and spread my seeds because I feel that henna and jagua tattoos can possibly turn into something more and help lessen the stigma of body art. I just need more people to do it with me,” she added.
See Min also has plans to make waves overseas and venture into Los Angeles for a few months, in hopes that Coachella and Henna Con will hire her to be a part of their big-scale events.
When asked about a business mantra that she lives by, See Min said: “I believe that you should always be passionate and sincere about your own craft, and never lose sight of what you’re fighting for.”
“As long as you are persistent and keep on fighting to make your passion your job, hard work will pay off. People will see it and you will never have to work a single day.”
Featured Image Credit: Time Out Singapore / @henn.drawn