CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – When Billy Harris, the owner of Charlotte Tattoo Company, started tattooing in the mid-’90s there weren’t many people who looked like him getting tattoos, let alone being the ones doing them.
“The more I got into it, the more I loved it and the more clientele grew…and just the history of it really intrigued me,” Harris said.
Born and raised in Wilkesboro, N.C., Harris would grow up playing sports and idolizing the same person a lot of kids in North Carolina did, Michael Jordan. But in addition to his ‘Airness,’ Harris also had other role models he looked up to, ones that shared his artistic roots.
“My father painted; my grandfather owned a paint company. They painted houses. My great-uncle actually was one of the first black men to attend an interior design college up in New York,” Harris said.
Like his great-uncle, Harris, would become a trailblazer. As a young graphic designer with a degree from UNC Charlotte, Harris would venture into the world of tattoos almost by accident. Getting a small tattoo at first, he soon found this could be a way to use the work of his hands to make art, but also make some money.
“You know, I wanted to be an artist, but at the same time, I wanted that artistic job that was gonna pay me some money. You know?” Harris said.
As Harris got more into it, he quickly realized there was a need for not just Black tattoo artists, but tattoo artists that knew how to tattoo black skin.
“A lot of Black people were getting scarred cause I think a lot of the white artists had been told or taught that to get the ink to really show up on dark skin, they had to go deeper and harder. And that’s false,” Harris said.
The truth is the darker skin the softer it is. So, you have to go lighter and use bolder lines. Noticing that need pushed Harris in the mid-’90s to become the first fully apprenticed and licensed Black tattoo artist in Charlotte.
Fast forward to the present day Harris has made his shop Charlotte Tattoo company, a place where everyone feels comfortable.
“So, this shop has had Black artists, Hispanic artists, African artists, female artists, gay artists, bi artists, trans artists, you know,” Harris said.
It’s that message of acceptance that Harris hopes to inspire those who come after him, including his son.
“I think in this society that’s a lot more important, you know? You know, if people can just be like, man, Billy was a good person. He treated us good. I was happy to get to know him then I think, you know, my mission’s accomplished,” Harris said.
Looking towards the future, Harris also has more plans to help the community. He says he plans to open a shop that will do areola tattooing for those who have dealt with breast cancer. He says the shop will be a mix of profit and non-profit for those who can’t afford the procedure.