Man’s Ruin Tattoos: Women of Integrity


By Gini Kaufmann


Women owned and operated, Man’s Ruin Tattoo, located at 660 Merrimon Avenue in Asheville, is home to talented, determined, self-expressed women who have mastered art forms that, in the past, were the choice of mostly bikers and servicemen. Out to move beyond the stereotype, these women are true professionals. “We are 100% honest, safe and nice. We are not cool, there are no big egos here,” said Heather Ruin, owner and tattoo artist.


Personally, having recently celebrated the 16th anniversary of my 40th birthday, I was not exactly brought up in the age of tattooing for the masses. Considered an oddity at best, the mainstreaming of this ancient art form has truly been a sight to behold. Now it is not uncommon to see people of all ages and backgrounds with some sort of a tattoo.


The days of a Sailor’s bicep marked “Mom” in blue ink with a red heart have really progressed. “I do a lot of special occasion tattoos,” said Heather. “Many people are marking significant events; births, weddings, deaths. One of nicest things I do lately is take a letter signed by someone that has passed, and transfer the writing to a tattoo. That way the person not only has the words inscribed, but in the person’s actual handwriting, i.e. ‘I love you, Mom.’”


Heather Ruin is 35 years old and a master artist. She told me she paid $10,000 and apprenticed for two years to perfect her craft and learn the proper sterilization and aseptic techniques. “It was very strict training. No drugs, no alcohol, zero tolerance.” Ruin has tattooed thousands of people from all walks of life for the past 14 years: eleven years in Asheville and three in Florida. She says that most of her clients are at least 35 years old and currently come from Buncombe County, but she also has many who travel from out of state to come to get one of her tattoos, including some celebrities. “People do their research on the website and industry magazines, that‘s why they choose to come to me. I have a very loyal following,” she said. Ruin recommends strongly that people do their research before getting anything as important as a tattoo. “Call the health department,” she recommends.


Heather is very serious about breaking stereotypical opinions about tattoos, tattoo parlors and piercings. “This is not a lifestyle,” says Heather. A self proclaimed “geek,” her hobbies include stained glass, cars, travel and Geo caching. “I don’t drink or party.” When I first walked into the shop I was surprised at the clean, positive atmosphere, not what I had envisioned from my own out-dated, ill-conceived notions. I was totally struck by a wall full of accolades that Heather says are “just a small section, there are more in the back,” including eleven years of Mountain Xpress Best Of WNC awards: eight first place and three second place for the entire time the shop has been open. Considering the fact that many shops have five or more artists on staff, that is very impressive.


Just some of Man’s Ruin’s accolades.

Heather emphasizes the professionalism and sanitation that is strictly adhered to at Man’s Ruin. “We are not the cheapest shop. Quality, knowledge and cleanliness cost money. We have to charge enough to adhere to the strict sanitation standards and quality product that we deliver.” Even with all of her accomplishments, she still remains humble, asserting, “There is always somebody better.”


Jenn Sumo, the piercing artist of the shop, shares Heather’s passion and love for the clients and her profession; both are emphatic about the standards and quality of their work. “We use only one needle per piercing,” Jenn says. “Not to criticize but, piercing guns are not clean. Wiping something with an alcohol swab does not kill diseases. We have ultrasonic cleaners and an auto-clave, just like a dentist’s office.” Though in the state of North Carolina there are no piercing laws, the ladies at Man‘s Ruin maintain their own very high standards. “Safety first, satisfaction, do what’s right,” Jenn emphasizes.


All their products are made in the U.S.A. The surgical stainless used in may piercings is implantation grade or better. “We don’t buy bags of cheap, imported earrings,” said Heather. They also carry a variety of high quality ear and body jewelry made of gold, hand-carved wood and bone; no plastics. In the center of the shop, they also have a gallery of various products made locally. Currently, they are showing the work of 42 different artists. Paintings, photographs, hand-blown glass, jewelry, ceramics, cards and pet clothing, ranging in price from $2.00-$2700, are just some of the many things they have to offer.


All procedures are done in separate, clean rooms with 100% privacy. There are generally no children allowed in the shop, to minimize noise, unless they are with a parent to get their ears pierced. Clients are offered a choice of music to increase their comfort. All patrons must show I.D. before having any procedure done.


Jellyfish tattoo

Heather Ruin and Jenn Sumo are very proud to represent women in a strong, positive way. Their high standards and integrity come through in everything they do and say. The shop logo, Rosie the Riveter, is from World War Two when the women in this country went to work to support the war efforts overseas. Heather actually received a letter of appreciation from a local woman who told her that in the war, she was Rosie. She commended Ruin for honoring her and all women veterans, by using the iconic image to represent her shop. Operating in a mostly male dominated industry, Ruin has definitely created her own, well respected, mark. She actually chose the name Man’s Ruin as a tongue in cheek reference to the days when it was said that men went off to war respectable, and returned with a history of what was considered taboo at the time, including tattoos.


Having just lost my mother, I asked Heather about getting a tattoo. Her answer surprised me. Though she does memorial tattoos almost every day, she told me she is so dedicated to doing a job that can empower people by helping them heal, she often turns people away. “I will not do a tattoo for someone at a vulnerable time,” she said. She also tells me, “Very often people will come in with a friend and in the spur of the moment they decide to get a tattoo. I tell them no.” Ruin will also not hesitate to tell someone that what they have chosen to get may not look good after a person’s body ages or changes. She also said that people need to be educated as to how the work will actually look, for example words that are done too small will actually spread over time.


“Think before you ink”, smiles Heather Ruin.

For more information, visit Man’s Ruin Tattoos & Piercings online or call at 828-236-6660.


Gini Kaufmann has a lot to be thankful for. She is happily married to Daniel, a talented, kind man who is also a phenomenal chef; her daughter Bridget is healthy, happy and in college, and the two kittys who own Gini’s home allow her to stay.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker