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Toronto's TRU Tattoo Studio bringing trauma-informed approach and inclusiveness to industry

It provides a space for artists and underrepresented groups in an industry made of predominantly white-owned tattoo parlours and patriarchal spaces.

Toronto's TRU Tattoo Studio bringing trauma-informed approach and inclusiveness to industry
Vegas Dixon, co-founder of TRU Tattoo Studio at 1250 Dupont St. Unit No. 2 in Toronto. TRU TATTOO STUDIO PHOTO

For Vegas Dixon, providing accountable spaces for the Black community, women of colour, members of LGBTQ groups, and proven allies is the reason she opened TRU Tattoo Studio.

“There is no place in the world where we are safe,” Vegas Dixon, co-founder of TRU Tattoo Studio, told Black Dollar Magazine. “Even within our communities, some of us are queer and Black, and in some Black spaces, we're known not to be welcoming of that. So, calling them accountable spaces instead represents the idea that safe spaces for Black and brown people don’t exist. That term is capital-driven, liberal terminology.”

Dixon added that TRU represents a cultural shift, providing a space for artists and underrepresented groups in an industry made up of predominantly white-owned tattoo parlours and patriarchal spaces.

The studio is located on 1250 Dupont St., across the street from the Wallace-Emerson neighbourhood's historic Galleria Mall in Toronto. Its Instagram account has more than 8,100 followers.

Founded in 2020 by senior artists Sam and Dixon, who is non-binary and identifies as a Black woman, the duo launched through crowdfunding, mutual aid, and other means.

Today, the collective has emerged as one of the best tattoo shops in the GTA, with talented artists Kal, Krys, KeKe, and Jasmine rounding out the team.

“We are students of abolition, and we believe in transformative justice. The idea is that this can be a space where folks can heal, learn, and move forward in healthy and meaningful ways while navigating conflict,” Dixon said.

Tattooing is not the only place where she is breaking down barriers.

Dixon founded The Collective of Child Welfare Survivors (CCWS), an organization that offers a virtual community support space for Black mothers and femme parents impacted by the child welfare system.

Once a month, she said, the workshop allows parents to discuss the harm caused by what she calls “the family surveillance system.”

Art, expression, and authenticity among principles

Coming out of the child welfare system herself, growing up in Scarborough (Malvern), Dixon said she identifies with experiences she hears from parents at CCWS workshops.

She bounced from home to home as a youth, stuck in a system that immersed her in precarity. But when Dixon was 15, she got her first tattoo — a rose on her neck — and everything changed; she found love again.

“I have always been very interested in the arts. I drew a lot. It was my escape,” Dixon told Black Dollar Magazine. “Once I was able to find stability, I started drawing again and started to get tattooed. Then, the people I was getting tattooed by encouraged me to start to teach myself.”

Over the years, she improved and joined conventional tattoo shops, mostly white-owned. Those experiences taught her the intersection between privilege and ability.

Dixon said that some non-Black tattoo artists either don't know how to tattoo Black skin or think that tattooing darker skin tones is difficult.

Moreover, she noted that Black tattoo artists often struggle to get apprenticeships, and can experience discrimination at conventional tattoo parlours. Compared to their non-Black counterparts, Black people, who have tattoos, face significant stigma too.

“As a biracial, light-skinned person, my experiences within the industry are very different from those who are darker skinned and monoracial, so it was a lot easier for me, obviously, with colourism and the privilege that comes with that, but I am also very much radically Black. I never shied away from speaking my mind and saying things I was passionate about, especially in those conventional spaces,” Dixon said.

She added that TRU is a place where you don't have to pretend or perform; you can fully show up and be vulnerable or be you — that's enough.

The sentiment is expressed in her tattooing. As a street and restyle artist, she can do most tattoo designs.

In her early years, she simply tattooed whoever came through the door. But these days, she's known for her colour illustrative and American traditional designs on Black and brown skin.

That said, while it's Black-owned, the studio is not Black-only. All are welcome.

“I really enjoy doing fine-line, illustrative, etching-style tattoos — those are really fun. I also like doing niche and weird tattoos. I don't think that they have to be meaningful; they can be fun as well,” Dixon said.

The TRU collective is putting its heads together to plan community activations in the spring and summer. Dixon said the artists will be present at a Pride Toronto event on June 10.

She also said TRU Tattoo Studio is also looking to offer its services at conventions, Halloween parties, farmers markets, and more.