Pioneers of Piercing-Only Studios: An Interview with Koi
At the age of 12, I sat in Koi Piercing Studio with my knee bouncing anxiously: My dad had taken me to get my ears stretched, much to my mom’s dismay. I had picked out my jewelry, a nice blue stone on the end of stainless steel, and I remember my anxieties drifting away once I got settled in the room with my piercer and was welcomed with a calm environment and friendly people. Even at such a young age, I was able to see the respect and dedication that this team of compassionate people put into their work and their self-expression through beautiful body art.
Curt Warren, Founder of Koi, had a growing love for piercing when he got his tongue pierced in Hawaii by a mystical piercer who went by “the Piercing Elf,” further cementing the importance of this art form to Warren. After a less-than-savory experience with a different tattoo-and-piercing shop, Warren and his friend Brody left disappointed. Jokingly, Brody said to Warren, “Well, if you think you can do better.” Along with John Pratt and Casey Fife, Warren had pierced at tattoo parlors and retail stores but saw that his coworkers didn’t give piercing the respect that it required, which inspired the founding of Koi. He says, “It has been one of the most important things in my life for the last 25 years.” Warren, Pratt and Fife had dreams of working at a piercing-only studio, and Warren had job offers from studios in Seattle, San Diego and Santa Cruz, but Salt Lake City was his home. Pratt and Fife had quit their positions as piercers in other studios and went to live with Warren in his apartment—Koi was then born in 1997.
In order to have a unified and caring studio, passionate team members are a must. All members of Koi agree with Warren’s sentiments, each detailing how important piercing is to them. Catarina Taylor Saenz, a piercer at Koi says, “Genuinely, it’s everything. I’ve moved across the country multiple times to be an active and growing part of the industry. I can’t imagine it not being my main focus.” Koi prides itself on its authenticity and helping people reach their true selves through the expression of piercing. Store Manager Ashley Hardman says, “The very core of piercing is to be your most authentic self, regardless of what it is, where the only rule is safety.”
“Koi’s approach to piercing can be described with two words: honesty and respect.”
Koi not only offers a wide selection of the highest quality jewelry, but continues to evolve with the industry as the years go on. Hardman mentions the vision of the ‘90s piercer, when piercing was less unique and more limited on which body parts could be pierced. This vision was prevalent when the piercing industry didn’t have such a holistic approach, but now piercers have surpassed that and it’s totally about “you.” Dustin “Deej” Heaton says Koi offers emotional support, pain management therapy and life advice (although sometimes that advice is questionable). If a customer is ever nervous or curious before their piercing appointment, they are welcome to call ahead and talk about their worries or inquiries with Koi’s knowledgeable and comforting staff.
While the normal cleaning protocols are up to par with hospitals, the Koi team has upped their cleansing process amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Warren says that every item used during a piercing session is either sterilized or destroyed and disinfectant wipes are used in each room. All staff and clients are required to wear N-99 masks or an equivalent, the client must also come without any guests and the piercing must not be underneath a mask. It’s safe to say that Koi puts clients’ safety first and wouldn’t dare advertise otherwise.
Overall, Koi’s approach to piercing can be described with two words: honesty and respect. It’s important that the piercer is 100% honest with the client about whether the piercing is the right fit for them. On top of this, they provide top-notch recommendations on jewelry types and what they think would look best for each person. Hardman says, “You are putting a new hole in your body and that’s important! It’s something that should be done [by] someone with precision and care.”
“We are here because we love what we do.”
Self-expression in terms of piercing is as simple as wearing a T-shirt, but with quite a bit more permanence. Warren says he used to wear heavy metal T-shirts and would find like-minded people that way. Piercings can also be used as a bridge between differing mindsets. Piercings and tattoos are becoming more normalized as our society progresses, but there is still a stigma surrounding them. Michelle Katzelnick, a piercer at Koi says, “How someone looks on the outside doesn’t dictate who they are as a person, which is something we teach children from a young age—why should body art be exempt from this teaching?” Although Warren believes that some employers have a right to have strict rules on body art in dress code, he says that change is inevitable. The Koi team is indifferent to what “society” says about piercings and choose to fight back by loving themselves and their body art.
“We are here because we love what we do, and the art is the people walking out of our shop with an experience that will live on through that piercing forever,” says Hardman.
More information about Koi Piercing Studio can be found on their website, koipiercingslc.com, where you can make an appointment, as well!