Entrepreneurship is not always predetermined. Sometimes, opportunities present themselves and enterprising individuals see a chance to make a career move. Owner and lead tattoo artist of Toledo-based Art Bound Studio, Dawn Miller is a perfect example of an accidental – but no less deserving – entrepreneur.
In 2019, Dawn stumbled into the tattoo industry quite unexpectedly. She took on what she thought was a supportive role at a struggling shop but ended up buying out the other owner, learning how to tattoo and turning the business around less than a year later.
A Northwest Ohio native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, Dawn holds dual majors in jewelry and metals, and interior design. She is an intrinsic artist with more than 15 years of experience as a blacksmith and metalsmith, and six years as a bench jeweler.
“You have to have an extremely steady hand to be a jeweler,” says Dawn. “Being a tattoo artist is no different.”
While Dawn’s professional journey may have taken an unexpected turn, she embraced the challenge, connected with business support resources and is now cultivating a different type of tattoo parlor; one defined by carefully curated comfort and a commitment to the art of tattooing.
Since Dawn acquired the shop, Art Bound Studio has surpassed new heights. She has worked to position Art Bound as a welcoming, female-friendly tattoo studio with an emphasis on positivity, warmth and shop cleanliness. Now, thanks to Dawn’s interior design skills, the space features soft accents, an open floor plan and a relaxing atmosphere.
Dawn and her staff tattoo people of all different backgrounds, but Art Bound’s target customer is women. Whether it’s their first or 50th, Dawn says that not only are clients usually nervous to get inked, but they generally have to expose parts of their body that they may feel shy about. As a women-owned studio, Art Bound offers a feeling of ease that some clients may not feel at traditional tattoo parlors.
“My philosophy is that I can teach people art, but I can’t teach people how to be a good person. So, I hire good people and then we work on our skills together.”
In the male-dominated industry, women currently make up about 25% of tattoo artists, but Dawn says the tide is turning. Not only are more women entering the industry as professionals, but more women are getting tattoos. According to a poll last year from Pew Research Center, 38% of American women have at least one tattoo, compared to just 27% of men.
“Compared to men, women tattoo artists tend to have a lighter hand and different understanding of the artwork,” Dawn explains. “Their bedside manner is often more nurturing and patient.” In 2021, Dawn reached out to JumpStart and was accepted into the Small Business Impact Program where she received 12 weeks of hands-on, peer-to-peer learning. After graduating, she qualified for JumpStart’s relationship-based Impact Loan Fund, which provides non-dilutive capital to established small business clients.
Thanks to the Impact Loan, Dawn was able to expand her studio space and says the extra square footage will help her meet her next business milestones; primarily bringing her metal-working operation into the studio to make high-quality body jewelry out of precious metals and gemstones on-site.
“Once I got set up with piercing, I focused on sourcing high-quality jewelry,” she says, explaining its importance as cheap jewelry can lead to infections. “Not a lot of piercers know this but the infections that people get are usually caused by Chinese stainless steel, which has nickel silver in it and can lead to adverse reactions. We use titanium piercing jewelry because it does not cause these infections.”
Entrepreneurship looks different for everyone. Dawn may be an unorthodox business owner, but the leadership skills, financial acumen and growth mindset she’s learned have led her to her own iteration of the role. She has adopted a kinder, conscientious approach, taking her time to hire the right people and figuring out how she defines success.
“My philosophy is that I can teach people art, but I can’t teach people how to be a good person,” Dawn rationalizes. “So, I hire good people and then we work on our skills together.”
Recently, Dawn created and began selling a petroleum-free tattoo aftercare ointment she calls ‘Art Balm.’ Additionally, she’s teaching her 21-year-old daughter the ins-and-outs of business ownership at Art Bound Studio.
By staying true to herself, tapping into Northwest Ohio’s integrated business support network and leaning into kindness, Dawn has managed to strike a balance of business ownership and artistry, while also building Art Bound Studio into a successful pillar of the Toledo-area community.