Temporary tattoos The golden business of the Swiss Miss

Kim Kardashian is a customer. Every project Tina Roth Eisenberg from Appenzell launches in New York is a success. She reveals why.

by Edith Arnold 24 Mar 2016
Business thanks to creativity: Tina Roth Eisenberg, better known as Swiss Miss, found a gap in the market for removable tattoos. Photo: Catalina Kulczar

Tina Roth Eisenberg, your tattoos are on sale in the design store at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. How did that come about?

I founded Tattly in 2011. Eighteen months later we had put together a Premier Set, which we sent to Paola Antonelli, who is senior design curator at the museum. When I saw the tattoos next to the cash register shortly after that, I jumped for joy. I turned to a customer I’d never seen before, pointed to the “Designed by Tina Roth Eisenberg” sign, then to me. She didn’t know what was going on.

Kim Kardashian’s young daughter wears your Gold Bracelet Set.

That’s right. My own ten-year-old prefers the Happy Poop. I’d love to see broadcaster Ira Glass with Nic Miller’s bear or astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson with a Space Camp Badge. Everyone has their own favorites. For example, we developed joints of meat for a butcher. We now have 600 designs by 100 artists.

The New York Times wrote that you turn art into tattoos.

We work with graphic artists like Jon Burgerman and Stina Persson. Stefan Sagmeister, who has designed album covers for the Rolling Stones and David Byrne, makes word tattoos for us like “Don’t Expect People To Change”.

You’re turning your business into gold!

We’re growing slowly, without having to borrow. Sixteen people work for us, twelve of them full time. The artists get a cut of every design sold. Last year, we paid them more than 250,000 dollars. That’s 15 percent of our turnover. Many people think we have a coffer full of gold. But everything we do is “Made in the USA”. The golden tattoos are the only ones we have to print in China. I want to support our community. Expressing appreciation through money is important to me. So many people in Brooklyn have to get by on a low income. We were once looking for 12 people to pack tattoos for 10 dollars an hour: in no time at all we had received applications from foreign professors, artists and students. I can’t save the world with temporary tattoos. But I can do something for the people in my own neighborhood.

What luxury do you afford yourself?

Community building is my big thing. Inviting interesting people into my home once a month is my idea of luxury. At first I used to do all the cooking myself. But then I noticed that meant I didn’t get the chance to really join in. So now an outside caterer supplies the food. They turn up with the ingredients, cook and serve the food then tidy up afterwards. I thought about what used to impress me most: dinner parties at home! Now my daughter is the one saying “I love it!”

You make kids part of the business

The Swiss Miss blog, Creative Mornings, Tattly: my daughter and son were the reason I started it all. I was thinking about the conditions I needed to let me work as both a designer and mother. Then my kids gave me ideas. It’s important for them to see how they can influence things in life. I go out for supper every Tuesday with Ella. I once asked her whether she knew what I did all day at the office. “Yes, Mom,” she replied. “You sit in front of your computer and laugh”. It’s true: I like going to the office because I love my job. Her comment “Wow, that’s so cool!”

Has Swiss Miss ever had any flops?

People are always asking me that question. Maybe I just see mistakes as a step in the overall process. And if I hadn’t explored those ideas nothing at all would have happened. I stick to my personal rule that when I catch myself complaining about something over and over, I need to either do something about it or let it go.

Swiss Miss

Appenzell-born Tina Roth Eisenberg (41) has lived in New York since 1999. She launched her Swiss Miss blog ten years ago. One million users were soon following her design recommendations. She has 433,000 Twitter followers. The online designer’s strengths include her use of modern communication channels. Hours after posting the first tattoos on the blog, numerous orders came flying in and the head of the Tate Modern shop called from London. The mother of two runs other projects alongside Tattly: in 2008, she set up the Creative Mornings – monthly meetings for the creative community, which now take place in 130 cities around the world. Organizers are being sought for Zurich. Tina Roth Eisenberg is currently in the process of building up an international creative directory that will be accessible to all.

Business tip from Swiss Miss

How can you tell whether a business idea is any good? Tina Roth Eisenberg believes in trial and error: “When I get the itch, I want to try out a project! That’s how I see opportunities grow. Money is great but it’s not what drives me. That means I can take more risks. When I got the chance to do an online project for the Museum of Modern Art 15 years ago, I gave it my all. If someone puts their trust in you, you automatically want to prove yourself. It gives you wings.”