Tattoos that don't last attract over R285 million in investments in one go

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A US startup that developed a tattoo ink that lasts about a year has raised some R286 million in a single funding round.
A US startup that developed a tattoo ink that lasts about a year has raised some R286 million in a single funding round.
Ephemeral Tattoo
  • A US startup that developed a tattoo ink that lasts about a year has raised some $20 million (around R286 million) in a single funding round. 
  • Appointments have doubled in the four month since it opened its first studio. 
  • Ephemeral Tattoo says the funding will go towards developing coloured inks and opening another studio.


Ephemeral Tattoo, which developed an ink that fades away in about a year, has raised $20 million in a funding round just four months after opening its first studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Series A round was led by Anthos Group, which also invests in the popular Conor McGregor-backed sports recovery system TIDL. The funding came after Ephemeral quickly found TikTok fame among those who can’t commit to a permanent tattoo. The company said in a statement that appointments have doubled every month since its opening. There’s now a seven- to eight-month waiting list. 

"The problem that we’ve solved is one that really is felt universally," says chief executive officer Jeff Liu. A third-party study commissioned by Ephemeral found that 60 million Americans have considered a tattoo but are deterred by its permanent nature, be it for cultural or religious reasons, family disapproval, or simple indecisiveness.

Ephemeral’s new funding will go to developing coloured inks (they only offer black for now) and to opening a second studio in September in Los Angeles, the city where the highest number of appointment deposits came from. (This is straight from the Tesla playbook: Customers put down $20 to secure the right to make a reservation once slots are available.) Liu says he hopes Ephemeral will grow globally.

"Our goal with this fundraising is really to expand wide and quickly to enter as many markets as we possibly can," says the CEO. "And so while we can’t reveal the exact cities we’re going to go into, the goal is to be able to enter at least ten to 20 markets with this fundraising."

Ephemeral is open to licensing and to wholesaling its ink down the road, says Liu, but reinventing "the tattoo studio experience" at its owned properties is the primary focus for now. 

How it works

Getting an Ephemeral tattoo is like getting any other tattoo - so yes, the experience involves needles and gritted teeth - unlike other temporary dermal embellishments, such as henna or long-lasting stickers, which are applied only topically to the skin.

The company spent six years on 50 formulations and hundreds of tattoo trials to perfect its ink, composed of medical grade, bio-absorbable polymers that are slowly dissolved and completely removed by the body’s immune system over nine to 15 months. The ink can be used in traditional tattoo guns and require no additional training, although there is some nuance: artists work "somewhat slower" to get consistently saturated lines, says co-founder Joshua Sakhai. Healing time can be slightly longer than traditional tattoos, on average four to six weeks. 

Fading could start to become noticeable within the first three to six months. To keep the integrity of the tattoo design over time, customers are advised to focus on line work and avoid designs with shading, which can’t be done with Ephemeral’s ink - artists resort to stippling or crosshatch instead. Skin tone is also a consideration. "For example, with folks with darker skin tones, fading may start to be noticeable sooner, because the ink is up against a darker canvas," says Sakhai. "Bolder lines that are spaced out farther apart tend to work best." 

The studio experience

Ephemeral specialises in two types of tattoos: "Subtle Style" designs ($175 to $225) offer smaller, more simple line work that normally doesn’t take more than an hour to complete, and "Statement Piece" tattoos ($350 to $450) are larger, say, on a bicep or calf, and usually take an hour and a half. Pricing is all-inclusive, from custom design consultations to gratuity and an after-care kit.

"We are the first tattoo brand to offer guaranteed salary to tattoo artists," says Sakhai, as opposed to the commission or profit-sharing setups of traditional street shops, a notable benefit to some after the vicissitudes of the pandemic. The goal is to create "a more inclusive tattoo culture" beyond even the ink, he says, which already factors out the most hardcore element of tattooing: the life-long commitment. 

As such, Ephemeral’s Williamsburg studio reads more spa than rock 'n' roll with a diverse staff of eight salaried artists, the majority of which are women, and several part-time artists that come in occasionally. Guest artist collaborations are in the works, including pop-ups in locations beyond New York and LA.

Liu says the studio’s backlog equates to about $1 million in revenue and "continues to grow at a faster rate than we are fulfilling appointments". Some back-of-the-envelope math would equate that to a monthly waitlist that’s about 278 to 714 people deep, over the next eight months, depending on the size/cost of the tattoo booked.  

Who’s getting them

A made-to-fade tattoo has attracted all types of clients: from first-timers to those who already have multiple tattoos, and from millennials to Gen Zers and their parents. Liu says 30% of Ephemeral’s clients have tattoos and "can’t rationalise just continuing to use up all their real estate on permanent tattoos." Millennials make up the bulk of the clientele, but Liu expects that to change.

"In terms of social following [on TikTok], we have a lot of Gen Z; they’re not at the age of 18 yet," says the CEO. "We have countless parents who email us, who are asking, ‘Hey, my child is turning 18. Can I make an appointment on their behalf? We’d love their first tattoo to be at Ephemeral, instead of them committing to a lifetime.’"

The ultimate goal, Liu says, is to change the way tattoos are seen: body art as shifting fashion statements rather than a decision forever etched into your skin. "There’s absolutely no reason to be concerned" that the tattoo won’t disappear, he says.

"Ultimately we get really jazzed up about a world where people can more authentically express who they are," says Sakhai.

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