A new tattoo parlor in Old Town Alexandria is reimagining the industry

The owners of inq opened the tattoo parlor with a boutique lens.

inq is a sleek tattoo parlor for all. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Tattoo culture is changing. What was once taboo and something reserved for tough-as-nails men has now become an accepted part of society, regardless of gender or age.

“According to the research we did before launching the business, 25% of Americans have a tattoo, and 40% of millennials now have a tattoo,” says Maria Joukov, the co-owner of inq, a new tattoo shop in Alexandria, which opened its doors in late July.

Maria launched inq with her husband and business partner, Peter. “We didn’t have any experience with the tattoo industry before this,” says Peter. “But,” adds Maria, “we both have business backgrounds.” Combined, the couple has worked for several startups, a private equity fund, an events company and a government consulting firm.

Founders Marla and Peter Joukov (Photo by Robert Merhaut

The couple’s goal is to marry their business expertise with the artistry of tattooing, all in a comfortable, modern environment. “We’re really streamlining the business process, so the artists can focus on what they do best,” says Peter, “We stay out of their way, let them do their magic and take care of everything on our end as best as possible.”

At first glance, inq could easily be mistaken for a spa instead of a tattoo shop. There are no tattoo sketches plastered across the walls, like you’d typically find at other shops, no loud or dark colors, no dim lighting. “We’re trying to modernize the experience,” Maria says, “and reach that audience that may not have a lot of knowledge about tattoos, people who are getting one for the first time.”

Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a sleek, almost all-white design, with pops of pink here and there, a few paintings on the wall and a beverages stand with coffee and water. It’s a place you can sit for a while, which is a good thing, because the tattoo process itself isn’t a get-in-and-get-out deal. “We’re all about education,” Maria says. “We want people to know exactly what they’re getting into, exactly what their tattoo artist will be doing, step by step.”

This article originally appeared in our October 2019 issue. Stay up to date with everything happening in NoVA with our newsletters.

When guests walk in for their appointment, if they’re not 100% sure of what tattoo they want to get, they are handed an iPad to look over artists’ portfolios. Next, they’re walked back to the design area where the artist goes over design specifics with them. “You can also book a design consultation, where the artist brainstorms with them and gives them a little guidance with the overall design,” Peter says.

After the design has been finalized, guests are led to the artist’s chair. “We train our artists to walk people through what’s happening as it’s happening,” Maria says, “Just like a medical professional would, it’s like, ‘OK, this is the ink, I’m opening up a sterile needle, this is what’s next,’ so that no one is confused.”

Other services offered at inq include an ink allergy skin test—“A few drops of ink are put on your skin to make sure you won’t have any type of reaction,” Maria says—as well as temporary tattoos, for those who want to try out a design or placement, or for people who aren’t sure they want to fully commit to a tattoo just yet.

Ray ‘Capt Lu’ Figueroa leads inq’s team of tattoo artists. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)
Make it Last

inq’s lead tattoo artist, Ray ‘Capt Lu’ Figueroa, who has over four decades of experience, shares his top three tips for maintaining a new tattoo for years to come.

Get to Know Your Artist
Make sure you’re choosing an educated artist. “It all begins there,” Figueroa says. “And, follow your gut. Make sure you’re comfortable with the artist.” The correct artist will be able to give you tips about placement and design that will help the tattoo last.

Correct Placement
“You have to think about how skin ages,” Figueroa says. “As you get older, skin is going to change.” He recommends getting tattoos a little bigger than what you first think, as skin’s elasticity shrinks with age. “If you go bigger, you get more detail, which helps the look over the years.”

Use Sunscreen and Cover up
“Don’t be a sun lover,” Figueroa says. “It makes tattoos fade faster than if you keep them covered.”

“From the design of the shop, to the technology we use, to the ink, and even the healing process, we’ve thought it through from a completely educational perspective,” says Maria. “We want people to feel comfortable here.”

Other ways inq is bringing the tattoo industry into the modern world? The business hires artists as full-time employees, with full benefits. “No artist will ever have to rent a chair here, or worry about getting paid off of commissions,” Peter says. Inq is also cashless, ink used is vegan and appointments can be booked online (it also accepts walk-ins).

Above all, inq’s business model is based on reaching all types of people in the Northern Virginia market. “We’ve seen all ages, all occupations come through the door so far,” Maria says. “We’re here for everyone.” // 1011 King St., Alexandria; tattoos and design consultations each begin at $175 per hour, temporary tattoo $50,
allergy skin test $25

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