Cruelty-Free Shop Offers Totally Vegan Tattoos

Common Difference is revolutionizing animal-free art

Trina Lee at Common Difference

Veganism is about a whole lot more than tofu and lentils and animal-free fare. It's a lifestyle that spills over into every facet of day-to-day life, including where you get inked. Which makes new-since-October tattoo parlor, Common Difference, pretty special: The whole enterprise is totally vegan – the artists, the ink in the cabinets, and the owners, Trina Lee and Michael Limongelli, also known for his other local plant-based venture, Anti Social Ice Cream (formerly Vicecreme). What do tattoos and ice cream have in common?

"Nothing. The only thing that keeps them aligned is veganism," Limongelli laughed.

And maybe style. The cruelty-free South Congress shop's interior looks like West Elm and Ikea had a love child, but Common Difference is more than a sleek, modern, well-designed space. The same light-and-dark, accented with trendy tile aesthetic also defines the dairy-free scoop shop (located at the Oasis). Anti Social closed for the cold season, opening the door to adventure into something new – tattoos, a testament more to Lee than Limongelli.

Their relationship began as many do these days, when tattoo enthusiast Limongelli followed gifted tattoo artist Lee on Instagram. Her work was based out of a small vegan shop in Portland, Ore., and after some online chatting, she came to visit our fair city and, of course, stayed. "I kind of just fell in love with Austin," she said. When she realized she had found the perfect business partner in Limongelli, she ditched the idea of opening a bigger shop in Portland and the two joined forces to start the business here instead. Together, they are the perfect balance of art and industry.

"I love tattoos," Limongelli professed. "But I can't even draw a stick figure."

"He's the business guy," Lee said, pointing out that she couldn't have done it alone. "Once I had a partner in crime, it was way easier to make happen."

If they were going to go into business together, however, they agreed it would never be about them, but the animals instead. That meant the shop would have no place for products that contain animal ingredients or were tested on animals. None of their inks contain animal-fat-derived glycerin; everything from hand sanitizer to after-care ointment has been animal-free tested, and their transfer paper is a version without gelatin (made from animal bones).

"They sneak that shit in everything," Limongelli said.

While some tattoo shops carry those vegan products, Common Difference is intentional about it. Plus, all three artists on board are also vegan, an important factor to Lee and Limongelli, who want to offer a safe space for vegans to spend their cash without feeling like somewhere along the line it will go to organizations that don't align with their values. It also opens up a lot of opportunities for discussion.

"It's an amazing platform for conversations when customers are stuck in a chair for four to six hours," Limongelli said. But they're not proselytizing to an uninterested audience. "Our mission isn't to convert people, but to have meaningful conversations that make the world a better place."

"Kindness is our message," Lee added.

And that goes for animals and people alike. The artists and owners make a point to create a welcoming, friendly environment where clients can voice their opinions – particularly about the art they're about to get permanently affixed to their bodies – and feel at ease with the whole process. "There's so much intimidation in the tattoo industry. We wanted a whole different vibe," Lee explained. A vibe where clients can be comfortable requesting changes or asking questions.

And the animals win, too. Not only are they removed from the entire tattooing process, once a month, Common Difference offers a full day's proceeds to a nonprofit shelter or sanctuary – in November, it went to save turkeys from becoming Thanksgiving feasts. Going forward, recipients will also include human rights organizations as the business aims to show that veganism can – and should – be about the well-being of all species.

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