Introspective business owner April Thomas found her home behind the lens of a camera and eventually in the background of a booming tattoo and piercing business. With a desire to help others find and live their truth, she is becoming a different kind of grassroots community leader.
For April Thomas, tattoo and piercing experiences are very personal spiritual journeys. “Everything we do is permanent or at least going to last for a long while and the memories are going to be with you forever,” she tells me. “Everything we do is equally intimate and important.”
I’d never really thought about it like this before. But she’s right. Getting a piercing or a tattoo isn’t a decision that you can change moments later, and for many people, the process of getting one isn’t a random decision; it takes time, planning, introspection. Each tattoo means something; it usually tells a story. And as I sit with April, I begin to understand why her leap into the visual storytelling world of tattoos back in 2011 seemed so effortless to her.
You see, April is a people person. She always has been. And it truly started to shape her life when she began taking photos. “Photography has always been a passion of mine,” she tells me. “I’m a photojournalist at heart.” April focused on capturing “taboo subjects” with her camera as she explored the path to getting her own body art, she says. “You learn a lot through that journey.”
She did the wedding and baby photography gig for a while, but it wasn’t until she began to take photos of people in their own environments and engaged in their passions that she found herself wanting to learn more about their paths and loving the stories they told. “I love showing people how strong and beautiful they are,” she says. It’s interesting, because this is exactly how April describes the Born This Way Body Arts mentality.
Born This Way was meant to be a place where body positivity and acceptance of self and others converge. “Wanting to see everybody realize their vision of themselves is something that I have really tried to push out into the community and help others embrace, too,” she says. And she has tried to weave that mentality into not only how she approaches her clients, but also how she approaches her team. “It’s a wonderful thing to have created a space where artists are supported. They can live their dreams and do amazing, industry-changing work, but not have so many of the stresses that come with working at a lot of studios. It’s so wonderful to see how they grow.”
April commits herself to her team’s growth, but she also has grown a lot since she began her people-focused life. When I ask her what she wishes someone told her early on, she’s quick to answer. “I wish somebody way early on in my journey had told me it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to lose money. It’s okay to hire and fire. It’s okay to learn,” she says. “I was so nervous about messing up, and I was so hard on myself about all of those things that if somebody had told me to let loose and let the failure flow, maybe I would have been here sooner.” It’s taken time for her to trust herself, she adds.
But she knew that eventually success would come. And when I ask her how, April’s true philosophy on life shines through: “The universe always has our back, and everything that we think doesn’t work out was better for us in the end, even if we don’t recognize it at the time.”
It brings us back around to April’s why. We began our conversation talking about how critical it is to lead others by helping them accept themselves and live their truth, and once again we organically arrive here. “I hate to say body art can bring people together, but because we are so accepting of all people… it really does,” she says, adding later, “It’s a huge part of our community now, and I feel like Knoxville has been on a really positive path of everybody accepting one another more, and I feel partly responsible for some of that.”
Stepping outside of the studio, you will surely find April behind the camera lens, but you also might find her helping someone sell their home; she has her real estate license. And if she’s not there, she’s gardening on her four acres and cooking vegan and vegetarian dishes with what she grows. “I want to convert it all to be a food forest in my retirement,” she says. “I’m currently learning about soil regeneration.” She’s also in the process of planning a spiritual retreat in May. She is hoping to give attendees a chance to learn about “manifesting their dreams.”
Everything April does focuses on the idea of helping others to believe in themselves and achieve what they truly want in this life. When I ask her if she could ever picture herself participating in yet another industry, as long as it has people involved, she knows the answer: “I would be all in.”