How a Local Tattoo Shop Owner got a Deal with ‘Black Ink Crew’

It’s pretty cool to see this local tattoo shop shine.

If you’re a fan of tattoos, you’re probably familiar with the television franchise “Black Ink Crew,” which features the daily operations and staff at African-American owned and operated shops in the United States. The show made its debut on VH1 in 2013, and chronicled the Harlem-based tattoo shop Black Ink, owned by Ceaser Emanuel. He eventually went on to own three more tattoo shops in New York, Atlanta and New Orleans.

The popularity of the show created two spinoffs in two different cities: Black Ink Crew Chicago, featuring the daily operations of 9mag tattoo shop Ryan Henry and his staff, and Black Ink Crew Compton, which features Danny “KP” Kirkpatrick and his staff at his shop in California. Now, it seems like the franchise is branching out to a new location, Milwaukee.

Milwaukee’s Teon “Shorty” Hollins – tattoo artist and shop owner of Shorty’s Ink – recently signed a deal with Black Ink Crew. His is the first shop in Milwaukee to do so. Milwaukee Magazine sat down with him to find out more about what we can expect. 

On growing up in Milwaukee and his tattoo experience: 

I was born and raised in Milwaukee. I’ve been tattooing for about seven years, but I’ve been professional for the last two.

On the type of tattoos he specializes in

Right now, I’m all over, but what I like the most is like lettering. I like calligraphy, which is scriptwriting.

On how he started Shorty’s Ink and what inspired him to create it

How I started was – I tried to work in other shops in the city of Milwaukee, but they wasn’t like messing with me. So my last option was either to get my own [shop] or go back to like a job, and a job ain’t for me. So I took a leap. And how I came up with the name, it was just about me at the time, you know, I couldn’t really think of no other names so I’m like my Instagram name is Inked by Shorty, so I might as well just call it Shorty’s Ink. It’s pretty much an opportunity that was right in my face that I couldn’t really pass up. It’s something I always wanted. I always wanted my own, and then an opportunity was given, and I had to take it.

On what makes his shop different from others, and what it’s like to be a black business owner in Milwaukee

I just don’t want to do everything the “black” way – how people consider black people to be unprofessional and stuff like that. It’s tough because everybody wants like a discount, or something just because you’re black, or they know you. And then being black and me being young, a lot of the older shop owners in the surrounding area, or in the tattoo industry in Milwaukee they’re not going to respect me because I’m new, so they think I don’t know anything and stuff like that. So it’s definitely a tough situation to grow your brand.

On signing the deal with Black Ink Crew and who he’s met

It’s crazy because when I used to watch the show or whatever, I never thought I would meet anybody off the TV show, just for the simple fact we’re in Milwaukee. So it’s very rare that something happens like that, but I mean, it was a good feeling though.  Knowing that we get the recognition and then some of the responses that we got out of it, like they dig it. You know, Chicago there’s a lot of stuff just because that’s a bigger city than Milwaukee, even though we’re right next-door. I met a lot of people [from the shows], I’m actually real cool with Ceasar and Teddy [cast member on Black Ink Crew New York], they were here not too long ago, every time they come we link up, so that’s what really inspired them to come to Milwaukee. They like Milwaukee; you know what I’m saying? They get a good vibe from Milwaukee when they’re here.

On dealing with negativity in real life and on social media

If they’re bringing negativity that just means they’re hating, and if you don’t have haters you ain’t doing something right. So that part you just gotta let it go. Let people talk, let people say what they want because at the end of the day it’s just their opinion.

On the future of Shorty’sInk and Black Ink

Just to keep growing. Keep doing what I’m doing, and just keep making myself better than what I am. Just keep putting myself in situations that allow my future to be better. I’ll always have my Instagram, people always look me up on there. As far as 2020 it’s just going to be a good year. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.