Feb 4, 2024 - Culture

New Chicago studios glam up the piercing experience

Decorated pink walls with two salon-style chairs.

Rowan at Trib Tower. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Across Chicago, trendy ear piercing studios are popping up, a hot new alternative to the locally founded shopping mall staple Claire's.

Why it matters: For many, getting a piercing — particularly the first — can be a memorable milestone, and retailers are trying to cash in on the moment by curating personalized, celebratory and high-end experiences.

Driving the news: Rowan just opened its third studio in Chicago last month at Tribune Tower, and a similar shop, Studs, opened its first location in the Gold Coast late last year. Both tout cleanliness and customization as company pillars.

  • Rowan's founder started the company after wanting to commemorate a piercing with her niece. Studs offers deals like half-off piercings for best friends.

The big picture: Piercing's popularity has grown in recent years as a form of self-expression and personal style, especially now that many post-pandemic Zoom work interactions mean only our heads are on view.

  • Even big retailers like Target (which partnered with Rowan) and Ulta Beauty are getting in on the action.

State of play: New York-based chain Rowan hires only licensed nurses for piercings, marketing itself as a safe place to go for what's "essentially a medical procedure." Both Rowan and Studs avoid using the term "piercing gun," in describing the devices used for the procedure.

  • They focus on using needles and hand-pressure devices, which Rowan nurse Sarah Lacy tells Axios affords customers more precision and less chance of infection.
  • Plus, their colorful, Instagrammable studios make it easy for customers to invite friends or loved ones along for "piercing parties."

What they're saying: "I took my daughter and her best friend a couple weeks ago to get pierced," Rowan's chief marketing officer Robin Page tells Axios. "They get bravery certificates. The nurses are making sure that they're comfortable. They are supporting each other and cheering each other on."

The intrigue: Studs trademarked the term Earscaping, the trend of placing a variety of piercings around the ear. Stacking, aka multiple earrings in row, is also popular.

Two ears with multiple earrings in them.
Photo courtesy of Studs.

By the numbers: Piercings at these new studios can be expensive. Rowan charges $85 for a piercing with the earrings (all are nickel- and titanium-free), and prices go up depending on the jewelry you select and the number of piercings.

  • Studs runs $65 and up for the procedure and jewelry.

Flashback: With five locations in Chicago and dozens more in the suburbs, Hoffman Estates-based Claire's has been considered somewhat of a rite of passage since the '70s for tweens and teens getting their ears pierced.

  • And it's cheaper. Piercing is free at Claire's with the purchase of a starter kit, which starts at $29.99.
A Claire's store at the mall.
Claire's at Northbrook mall. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Catch up fast: The company filed for bankruptcy in 2018, but diversifying its brick-and-mortar footprint and staying on top of trends ushered in a big comeback for Claire's, Fast Company reported in 2022.

  • It rolled out a new, "edgier" brand last summer called Pierced by Claire's, with a new logo, images by a Lady Gaga collaborator and the company's second TV commercial in history.
  • Claire's would not tell Axios whether its Pierced campaign was in response to competition from Rowan and Studs.

Of note: Claire's postponed a plan to go public last year.

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