WATCH: 'I call him my little Buddha' - Couple who run Dublin tattoo parlour together will give you the feels
"I call him my little Buddha."
Sergejs (Sergey) Voitjuls and Helene (Lena) Lechifflart run The Black Hat Tattoo studio on Dublin's Parnell Street together.
Now a melting-pot city, Dublin is the spot where Sergey, from Russia, and Lena, from France, met after a serendipitous catch-up with friends. Soon after they fell in love, they decided to open a tattoo studio together.
Their artistic and business backgrounds seemed like the perfect alchemy, but what's it like opening a business with your partner?
Lena says: “It’s easy to be in love when everything is fine. When you have money and you go on holiday, everyone falls in love at the beach. It’s a bit harder to keep it going when you work seven day weeks and 9am to 9pm. If you pass this time, then you know everything is OK.”
Last year when they were taking a short holiday in France together, bewildered customers who'd booked appointments for that period rang them to ask why their business had closed.
It turned out that the staff Lena and Sergey had left in charge of the business had left.
“We worked almost seven-day weeks in our first year of business. In June of last year, we had two team members, and we went away for three days, something happened and they closed the studio and they left.”
“They behaved unexpectedly. In two days everything changed."
“All the customers called us to say the shop was closed down. We had to work seven day weeks from 9am to 8pm after that, because Sergey was tattooing people that should have been done by two other people.”
“We asked ourselves what happened, what could we have done better, and it came to us that maybe the people had a personal issue. Maybe this was the best option for them.”
“I’m saying this because you often see the success in business but success doesn’t really come without a sacrifice.”
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“We faced this time as a couple and said if we do it together we will be able to stay together a long time.”
She added: “We’ve been through a lot of feelings, including hate. What remains is a good lesson, a positive thing in the end, an opportunity to learn and grow. It was a hard time, a bit challenging.”
Sergey (38) has lived in Ireland for 18 years. The pair met when Lena (30), who was visiting friends in Dublin, spotted Sergey, a man whom she says had "a very big smile”.
“I’d been in Yamamori for dinner with my friends and I saw Sergey and he had a big smile and we just started talking. It just worked.”
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Quickly after they began their relationship, Lena decided to move to Dublin and set up a tattoo studio with Sergey. Sergey would do the tattoos, while Lena would use her business savvy to manage the business.
“Sergey is a work addict and I’m a work addict too. When you’re with a person who loves his job that much, it’s difficult to be together, especially when don’t you work normal business hours. I just wanted to be with Sergey, and working with Sergey allowed me to be with him. That was it.”
“Our relationship is the centre of everything we do.”
Lena has three tattoos while Sergey has seven, a relatively low count for people who work in the industry.
Lena explains: “I got two when I was in Asia, and one was done by Sergey. Sergey will not allow me to be tattooed by anyone else and it’s fully booked for two/ three months.”
“He did a jellyfish on the inner upper arm because I love the sea. The next one will be an octopus.”
“Sergey got his last tattoo in Japan, he got a nice one there. It was a very good experience. He got chrysanthemum flowers on the left calf.”
Did meeting each other on that fateful day in Dublin change each of their lives?
“I was already happy when I was on my own. You don’t find the right person if you’re not happy alone. Sergey and I are happy together because we were happy alone.”
But she added: “We are the same and different in the same way. We complete each other in a lot of ways. Sergey is strong, he can open the bottle I can’t open. I’m good in communications mostly having studied my degree, and I worked in sales in France and in Ireland, so I’m great to deal with the communication and contracts and paperwork.”
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