Tattoo Artist Feature: Meet Shelby Downey – Founder of Randburg-based Tattoo Studio ‘SheKnows Ink’
Hailing from the underrated coastal town of East London, Shelby Downey has made quite the splash in the City of Gold, and in SA’s tattoo scene in general.
Words by Carmen Gee.
Shelby Downey founded SheKnows Ink tattoo studio in 2019 when she was just 22, which made her the youngest female tattoo studio owner (in a commercial space) in the country – a title that she still holds today.
‘SheKnows Ink’ (SK.I) is the personal tattoo brand that Shelby went by after completing her tattoo apprenticeship (once she had valiantly dropped out of university). It only made sense for her to use the catchy name that clients had come to know her by as the name of her new studio.
The phrase ’girl power’ is definitely over-used, but in this case it certainly rings true. She Knows Ink is currently the largest ALL female tattoo studio in South Africa.
SheKnows Ink was met with almost overnight success, with lines of tattoo enthusiasts snaking around the carpark, hungry to book their first appointment at the studio.
The phrase ’girl power’ is definitely over-used, but in this case it certainly rings true. SheKnows Ink is currently the largest all female tattoo studio in South Africa. In addition to Shelby, there are a handful of talented, hand-picked tattoo artists that work at the studio, specialising in a diverse range of styles.
Shelby’s mom, Amber, who is a tattoo-enthusiast herself, is also a big part of the all-female team, and handles the shop’s admin and bookings.
Together, the women at SK.I are truly a force to be reckoned with.
The Space at SK.I
Calling the SheKnows Ink tattoo studio ‘appealing’ would be the understatement of the year. The space is striking as well as inviting. It is light and bright, with splashes of deep teal and gold used generously throughout. One-of-a-kind artefacts bring the space to life, and stunning local art hangs proudly on the walls.
“I think the stereotypes are changing, and the more we can educate and also show that tattoos aren’t for ‘scary’ and/or ‘bad’ people, the more open people are to it. Tattooing is a form of expression, culture, growth, art and self.” – Shelby Downey, SheKnows Ink.
Shelby’s creative eye has definitely played a huge role in the latest studio revamp, but there is more to the space than just the pleasing aesthetics. It was Shelby’s vision to create a warm, friendly and inviting space for all. The priority was for people from all walks of life to feel safe, comfortable and welcomed from the moment that they stepped through the doors.
Sharp Needles, Kind Hearts
One of the most admirable aspects of SheKnows Ink is undoubtedly the charitable work that they are involved in. With so many in need in this country, the SheKnows Ink team certainly uses their powers for good.
Shelby holds animal welfare especially close to her heart, and the team has hosted dozens of charity drives for various animal shelters, including SPCA, Cat Family Foundation, CLAW, WoodRock Animal Rescue and numerous others.
In 2019, SK.I also did a huge gender based violence fundraiser that was successful in raising over R40k in aid for GBV charity.
Shelby is grateful that the SK.I team, as well as many of the studio’s clients, share the same sentiments, and are always supportive of any fundraising events.
Quick Fire Questions for Shelby
Best music to listen to in the studio?
This is a hard one. Normally ‘older’ classics or anything chilled and slightly upbeat. Something that everyone will enjoy, and maybe even sing along too.
How would you describe your particular style? And what do you enjoy tattooing the most?
I specialise in fine lines and I really enjoy illustrative, florals, and fine line ornamental pieces (I’ve fallen in love with that recently).
How do you think attitudes towards tattooing are changing in South Africa?
It’s definitely becoming more accepted, I think the stereotypes are changing, and the more we can educate and also show that tattoos aren’t for ‘scary’ and/or ‘bad’ people, the more open people are to it. Tattooing is a form of expression, culture, growth, art and self.
Are there any upcoming events, specials, or fundraisers that you’d like to mention?
We have an international guest artist from Spain coming to SK.I in May, so we are very excited to host her!
Do you have any long-term goals for SheKnows Ink?
A lot more charity work, and hopefully expansion in the future? I’d just honestly like to build the brand more and do more for the community as well.
Follow Shelby & ‘SheKnows Ink’
Shelby, and her ‘SheKnows Ink’ journey, is truly worth keeping up with. Check out her tattoo art at:
“The stories in our hearts, stained on our skins”. (SK.I slogan)