It’s not that common for someone to start their own business at the age of 24 – let alone in the midst of a pandemic.
But for Darby Whiting – who already had four years of practical experience as a microblading cosmetic tattoo artist and a fast-growing client base – the time was nonetheless right to consider opening a studio of her own.
Her childhood dream of owning her own business on White Rock’s waterfront came true in February with the opening of The Gatsby Studio at 14815 Marine Dr. – only a few blocks from where she grew up.
Microblading, she explained, is the most natural and hairlike form of semi-permanent eyebrow tattooing.
“We also offer scalp micro-pigmentation, the process of tattooing tiny dots in to the scalp to mimic hair follicles, which has quickly become a leading solution to hair loss,” she added.
Whiting said that, while she had been renting a bed in an existing studio, and considering a similar arrangement at another studio, the idea of opening her own space began to take shape.
“I had many people tell me it was crazy to try this right now, not only questioning my age, but also telling me that ‘times are tough right now’ and ‘people aren’t spending’,” she said.
Ultimately, she rejected pessimism.
“I couldn’t be bothered worrying about a situation that the whole world is dealing with together,” Whiting said.
“We have to push forward and live our lives no matter what difficulties lie ahead.”
Finding a location in one of the newest buildings on the Marine Drive strip offered its own set of challenges, she said – she soon realized that the venture would be “the total opposite of a ‘quick open.’”
Undaunted, she and her small team (her mother, father and boyfriend) got to work designing and building The Gatsby from scratch.
“A huge part of my vision was to have a place that felt ultra ‘luxury’ while maintaining a laid-back atmosphere,” she said.
COVID-19 impacted each part of the process of acquiring permits and approvals from the City of White Rock and ensuring that the studio met Fraser Health standards, Whiting said.
“Regulations, rules and restrictions are changing almost daily, so keeping up with that, while trying to design a new space, build a new business model and keep working out of a temporary space was extremely difficult and quite overwhelming at times.”
But Whiting said she’s proud of the result and how it came together from start to finish in only three months – even with the pandemic.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to be open during a time like this,” she said.
“Our capacity is restricted just like the rest of the businesses at the moment but a lot of businesses are struggling, while we enjoy regular traffic.”
Helping clients improve their eyebrows is just about the only beauty service that makes a difference at a time when everyone is wearing a mask, she pointed out, adding that – because of current health regulations – she has had to learn to apply eyebrows to a client’s face, without ever seeing the whole face.
“Because we can’t have clients remove their mask at any time while we are working with them, all of my measurements, drawings and (preliminary) work before actually tattooing their brows is done with only the eyes as a guide.
“(It’s) taught me things about my work that I never would have understood before,” she said.
“It really showed me just how much information we can get from the brow of a person and how it displays their eyes. While I used to examine someone’s entire face, I now find myself getting almost a purer form of inspiration from focusing solely on their eyes, and I feel like my work has benefited from this, in a way.”