Rockstar Body Piercing

Well, I have really been trying to get this blog thing down and I am really enjoying how I am getting to know about all the piercers and studios I have gotten to work with so far. This entry is no different but it is the first shop spotlight and I am excited. 

I had the chance to interact with Jef Saunders, owner of Rockstar Body Piercing in Providence, Rhode Island. They have two really cool shops that are strictly body piercing only and they have a great outlook for the future of our industry. The responses are great. This is certainly a good read.

On to the interview:

Chris Jennell: First lets start with the most important question, where in the world is Rockstar Body Piercing located? Where can one find you online?

Jef Saunders: Rockstar Body Piercing is located in Providence RI.  We have two locations, one on the East Side that opened in 2002 (267 Thayer Street 2nd Floor Providence RI) and one on the West Side that opened in 2013 (405 Atwells Avenue 2nd Floor Providence RI).  

Our new website just got updated and I really love the results:
We have Facebook pages:
If anyone is interested in following me in blog format, I write a Blog at
Finally we have an awesome Tumblr page our amazing shop manager Megan Feeley runs, and that is

CJ: Can you tell me how and when Rockstar came to be?

JS: I had been piercing in a combination skate shop/piercing studio.  In the 1990’s it was common to combine piercing with lots of things like leather shops, skate shops, clothing stores, you name it.  By the early 2000’s it was clear to me and my business partner that we needed a new location, and something that was exclusively piercing.  We settled on a space a block away from our existing shop and opened Rockstar.

CJ: I would like to have everyone know about your staff, can you please give me a little short bio of the staff you have working at your studios?

JS: I am thankful every day for the people I have working for me.  There are lots of good piercers and shop employees, but finding that special match is a real challenge.  I think we’ve gotten exceptionally lucky with the staff we’ve got.

Jay Pond has been piercing side by side with me since the late 90’s. He is one of those piercers who has just quietly been piercing at an exceptional level for years without trying to grab too much limelight for himself.  He’s amazing and I’m fortunate to have such a rock solid dependable character on my team.

Kelly Carvara was a client of mine for years, and was going to school for engineering when she decided, “No, my passion is body piercing”.  She apprenticed under me for around a year.  She ended up working with friends of mine in Massachusetts, but left and rejoined Rockstar full time when we opened our new shop this summer.  She’s just about the friendliest lady you can meet, but she’s also a competitive arm wrestler and can bench press me.

Laura Jane relocated from Portland Oregon to work at Rockstar.  Her resume is amazing.  She started in Michigan, then moved to Oregon to work with Jori at Jori Zan’s Body Piercing in Salem Oregon.  She ended up getting to work full time at Adorn Body Art with Desta Spence, Ben Kelvin and Seth Dietz in Beaverton and Portland.  She’s also assisted instructing classes at the Fakir Intensives.  It is quite an honor to have a piercer of her caliber on the staff.  She has the most adorable cat in the world, too.

In addition to several awesome desk employees, my right-hand-woman is Megan Feeley.  Megan is the manager and does most of the jewelry purchasing.  In addition to making stunning jewelry combos she is copy editor for Gravure Magazine.  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention she’s the best dressed person on the planet.

CJ: What would be your main goal as a body piercing studio?

JS: Our main goal is for every client to have a quality experience.  That might seem simplistic, but there’s a lot that goes into that quality experience.  

First and foremost, our client has to be safe.  Nothing is more important.  That means our health and safety efforts have to be of paramount importance.  We do this by keeping our education up to date, our equipment tested and in good working order, and being consistent with our health and safety policies.

Our client has to enjoy the piercing experience itself.  That means our piercers need to be calm, friendly, informative, and fun.  The piercing needs to go smoothly.  The small amount of pain that can go into a piercing needs to be minimized.  All the piercers that work at Rockstar full time have attended the Fakir Intensives.  The joke around industry insiders is that being a Fakir trained piercer means we wear sarongs and burn white sage for every piercing, but obviously that isn’t the case.   I will say this: one of the skills our piercers get from the Fakir workshop is an understanding that each piercing has potential to be a powerful experience.  One can’t deny that the act of getting pierced can be a deeply stirring  experience,  and whether you define that experience as spiritual, emotional, or even imaginary,  it is no less powerful.  I’d like to think our piercers have a mindfulness about that and try to facilitate every piercing as positively as they can with sensitivity to our client’s needs.

Finally, the client’s experience can be ruined by poor jewelry choice, bad aftercare, or simply a piercing that doesn’t look as good as it can.  Our staff makes sure they are placing the piercing well, going through aftercare in detail, and we are selling our clients jewelry that looks good.  The idea of “upselling” jewelry is popular, but I don’t think of it as selfish.  We want our clients to leave the shop looking as good as possible: our desk staff is trained not to sell our clients the most expensive piece, but the piece that looks the best for that client.  What better experience can a client have than being complimented on their well placed, beautiful jewelry all of the time?
So, a lot goes into giving a client a quality experience, and each separate part of the puzzle is tremendously important for us.

CJ: We have all seen an uprise in high quality jewelry being used throughout the industry and now we have clients asking for it by name, do you think that we as establishments are needing to work in brand recognition?

JS: To an extent, yes.  I say that because it is far easier to teach our clients to be able to ask for Anatometal or Neometal or Body Vision (and so on) than it is to teach them to ask for 6Al4V ELI per ASTM F136 (etc etc).  These companies have earned  that kind of recognition  because they so consistently innovate and provide quality.  
I admire the ingenuity and expertise that goes into making something like a pair of Gorilla Glass plugs, or a BVLA septum clicker, and it’s easy for me to talk to my client about that jewelry passionately.   

I also appreciate that these jewelry manufacturers have done a great job of branding and marketing themselves, but they tend not to stop there.  Most of these companies consistently support our shops by showcasing our work and sending business our way.  I may not have the reach that the Anatometal or Industrial Strength Tumblr does, but when they repost my work, we both benefit, and I appreciate the community effort that fosters.  We need each other for our shared success, and I sincerely appreciate every jewelry company I work with and their efforts to provide me safe, beautiful jewelry to pierce with and sell in my shops.

CJ: Your studio had been around for some time, what are the major differences in studios from the past to the ones of now?

JS: I have to say, I am really excited and inspired by what I am seeing.  I am fortunate to be able to pierce all over the country, and get to see the guts of shops first hand.  Also,  I am a part of the APP membership committee and get to see shops behind the scenes in their application videos.  Shops are breaking new ground and setting new standards and it is a joy to behold. I am doing my best to contribute to this upward surge in quality and safety.

What I think body art shops used to do is get to the point where they were “good enough” and stop trying at that point.  Certainly there were exceptions… many shops never rested on their laurels, but complacency seemed (to me) to be the rule.   What I see now is shops taking steps to be cleaner, more inviting, better lit, more thoughtfully laid out, and better merchandised than ever before.
As a shop owner it is both inspiring and frustrating.  Inspiring in that, you can visit a shop and see how they are pursuing a cleaner facility and think “I can emulate these ideas.  I’ve learned something today”.  Frustrating in that I often think to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that myself”.  My guest spot at Nomad in SF was a lesson in jewelry display and shop layout.  The crew there just did an amazing job every step of the way.  I got to see the inside of Christina Shull’s new shop, Integrity, in Washington.  It’s inviting, clean, organized.  I loved it.   I drove through the US this summer, and stopped in at Saint Sabrina’s in Minneapolis.  Derek and Co. have such amazing style, and such an envy inducing facility I left Minneapolis in a daze.  Just last week I saw photos of what Ash Misako was doing with her new Kira Kira location, and my jaw dropped. Beautiful. Inspiring.  These are just a few of the folks that are doing mind blowing shop designs with a variety of different locales and budgets.

I try to focus on the positive, but it is important to note: Piercing studios are really going two different directions.  The shops that were somewhere in “the middle” are either getting a lot better quickly, or they are seeing that place they got to, “good enough”, slowly become substandard.  In addition, the price war studios seem to slowly get cheaper and cheaper and there is less room for the mediocre.  You can make a choice, be excellent, be awful, or go out of business.  It’s exciting to see so many people stepping their game up for their client’s safety and their own pride in a job well done.  There will always be bad piercing studios.  What’s nice to see is the divide between bad and good continues to expand.  In the future, I see APP membership being something clients demand of their piercers, and that will only help improve those middle-of-the-road shops.  

CJ: What are the top five piercings you and the most common jewelry choices?

JS: Top 5 I like or the top five we do?  Either way… it’s pretty much the same list.
1) Nostril : we use lots and lots and lots of genuine diamonds set in gold.  We use a combination of threadless, threaded, and nostril screws because all of our piercers have their personal favorites.
2) Helix: We use a lot of titanium threaded prong set gems from Anatometal for helix piercings.  We have trouble keeping the 2.5 CZ prong in stock.  I love gold clusters in helix piercings too.  
3) Navel: We have been using a lot of bezel set double gem navel curves.  I have found that the number of these I do at 12g rather than 14 g has increased dramatically.
4) Nipple: Our nipple clients really seem to like standard 12g straight barbells custom anodized rosey gold colored.  We do a lot of these with forward facing CZ gem ends.
5) Septum : It’s either a septum retainer or a wildly unique BVLA septum clicker lately.  Kelly designed her own, the Tesseract, and that has really opened doors for our clients who might have feared bigger gems before they met Kelly.

CJ: You have two locations, one that just recently opened, can you tell us if there is anything different about them that visiting clients should expect?

JS: Our Thayer Street location is in the heart of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design campus.  That means that there are students everywhere, and a ton of restaurants aimed at an academic crowd.   It’s really thrilling to be in the heart of all that energy!  Our Thayer Street shop is on the second floor, has somewhat limited seating and usually a bit of a wait if you try to get pierced without an appointment.  We have an astounding amount of jewelry at the Thayer location.  Almost every gemstone Anatometal offers in 16g and 14g, as well as nostril screws and navel curves.  We carry a huge selection of plugs, and high end natural companies like Diablo and Maya.

Our Atwells Avenue shop has a parking lot.  That may seem like a small thing, but in Providence, and especially on Atwells, a parking lot is an unheard of luxury.  Atwells Avenue is a great place for a family lunch and a stroll, and has a completely different hustle and bustle from Thayer, but an energy nonetheless.   The Atwells location is much bigger, with brand new everything.  It’s new and it’s my baby, all I can say is it’s the shop I’ve always dreamed of building.  Add to that it is a slightly more relaxed pace.  Atwells jewelry selection is geared more towards precious metals and genuine stones and our displays reflect that.

Both  facilities feature the same piercers, just on slightly jumbled schedules.  Both shops offer in house anodization and StatIM sterilization.  And of course, both locations have enormous selections of jewelry. 

CJ: We all know it's not as imperative to own a statim as much as it is to understand having good studio sterilization methods, can you explain your shops sterilization standards?

JS: Sterilization intrigues me.  I especially enjoy learning ways to improve.  When we built the Thayer Street location 12 years ago, we had a pretty standard setup.  As we made improvements I was really heavily influenced by classes I took at the APP conference with Brian Skellie.  We opted to up our tool reprocessing game and installed a Hydrim instrument washer.  For those that don’t know what that is, it’s basically a very exceptionally safe and effective dirty instrument “dish washer”.  What I like about it is that it doesn’t just make our clients safer, it makes everyone processing tools safer.  That’s awesome, and improvements in health and safety tend to work that way: better for clients AND employees.

When my partner and I built our second shop I wanted to do
better.  I knew it was possible and I decided that the only thing cleaner than the best instrument reprocessing we could buy was no instrument reprocessing.  That means any tools used at our new Atwells location are disposable.  Obviously that can get quite expensive if we were using conventional tools, so instead we’ve modified our techniques to use as few tools as possible, and found disposable options for tools we couldn’t do without.  It’s been a slow but steady learning process, but on the other hand, challenging myself to think more critically 15 years into a piercing career has been really rewarding.

The rule that I set for myself with reducing tools in our process was always this: would I like to be pierced this way?  If the answer was no, I used a tool and took the loss by throwing it away.  I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have both Kelly and Laura adopt this approach wholeheartedly.  We also had help along the way by having Lou Quino guest pierce for us and show us some of his tricks.

CJ: With such a huge growth in the industry, there are so many people wanting to be a piercer and work in a high end studio, can you explain what it is you look for when you are exploring a new addition? And what would you tell those aspiring to become a professional piercer from a studio hiring standpoint?

JS: First and foremost, I look for Fakir Intensives attendance.  When you’ve attended the Fakir Basic class it gives us a common lexicon to work with, and I know that this piercer I am speaking with is at least familiar with Fakir’s inclusive, “spirit plus flesh” approach to body art.  Any piercer I hire would have to at least respect Fakir’s approach, but ideally incorporate it into his or her piercing.  

Next, I am looking for Association of Professional Piercers membership.  Make no mistake about it: membership doesn’t make a piercer good.  What it does mean, to me at least, is  that they support the industry that supports them.  They’ve met important educational, health and safety, and jewelry quality standards and I have tremendous respect for that. I will always see APP membership as a big plus.

Their portfolio should be good, obviously, but what does that mean? I’d like to see the piercers pictures are in focus, well framed, with good jewelry.  Jewelry styles change often, and your portfolio almost needs to change seasonally.  I caught myself recently:  I was looking at my Facebook portfolio and it was old work.  I wouldn’t have hired me based on that, so I updated it.  My portfolio should always be a work in progress and it’s easy to forget that sometimes.   I don’t really care about surface anchors or corset piercings in your portfolio.  Can you do a triple ear flat?  Can you do a good navel?  A good septum?  A good daith? That’s huge to me.  

Finally, and probably most importantly, you’d have to fit with the shop.  That isn’t an aesthetic or a deep interest in karaoke (although the karaoke thing doesn’t hurt!), it’s primarily an attitude.  That attitude must be positive.  You’ve got to enjoy your clients and enjoy your job.  You have to deeply love people and working with people and, frankly, that’s an uncommon point of view for lots of piercers.  Several members of the Rockstar staff, myself included, have diamonds tattooed on our palms, but they are “upside down”.  I got that because the diamond isn’t for me, it’s facing the world.  It means, “I like you and I want you to be happy.  What can I do for you”? 


I want to thank Jef for giving us a look at his studios. I really took a lot out of this and now I really want to go and visit this fun industry loving bunch. If you are on that side of the USA please stop in and get something pierced! 

If you have questions, comments or any ideas please email

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