Two women embracing on their wedding day


Hello Sailor

Hello Sailor’s owners make an impression: Vegan Pride in Blackpool

We sat down to talk to the owners of Hello Sailor, which is an inclusive tattoo studio in Blackpool owned by queer women. They aim to make the studio as welcoming as possible, and at the time of the interview, are celebrating Pride Month!

V-Land UK (V-L): Hello Nic and Mesina! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, especially during Pride Month! Would you like to introduce yourselves? 

Nic Sanders-Gittens (NS-G): My name is Nic Sanders-Gittens, pronouns she/her, and I identify as queer. Growing up, the term lesbian never sat right with me, and I feel more comfortable identifying as queer. 

Mesina Sanders-Gittens (MS-G): I am Mesina Sanders-Gittens, pronouns she/her, and I also identify as queer. I’m originally from the States but moved over here and met Nic, now we’re married and have been for four years, together for eight. We own an inclusive tattoo studio, raise children together in a blended family, and have lots of pets.

V-L: What are your coming out stories?

NS-G: I came out at 15/16 to my friends, and everyone was fine with it. I came out about 19/20 to my mum, who was not okay with it. She’s great now, but she wasn’t great back then. She said it was just a phase and to not tell my dad, I was scared to go home - I didn’t go home for about two years because I was so afraid of my dad finding out. It’s funny because growing up, the word lesbian was a dirty word. If you were someone female who came out as gay, the term lesbian would be used in a very derogatory way.

MS-G: I came out later in life, it’s a bit of a slow story. I officially came out in my late 20s when I announced to social groups that I was definitely gay and expressed my interest there. My parents were absolutely fine, my dad’s side of the family had a very strong gay couple in the family, and in the families’ eyes, they were, in effect, married - two strong, gay women raising children together. So, my dad’s family had amazing connotations of gay relationships, whereas my mom’s side was a little different. I had a really easy transition. My mom took a bit longer, but she was great. There are definitely people who disagree with my lifestyle, but I just don’t pay them any attention. I’ve lost family over it, but that’s life. Not everyone will agree with everything you do. 

V-L: Can you tell us about your studio?

MS-G: We aren’t just a studio; we are a family. We have been here for two years now and absolutely love it. We proudly have ourselves here, we are so incredibly proud to have an open trans artist and feel so incredibly lucky to be able to provide this service to the community. Blackpool is, of course, a very gay-friendly resort. It’s really lovely, though, for people from our community to come into our environment and not feel uncomfortable. The stereotypes around tattoo studios aren’t very nice, and the connotations of tattoo studios sometimes leave people feeling really intimidated.

A lot of studios just make you feel so unwelcome, and we want to do the opposite. We offer fully vegan aftercare and more natural products. Our tattoo inks are vegan, and I don’t think there are many inks left that contain animal products. We get asked quite a lot if we are a vegan-friendly studio, and we make sure that they know this is an inclusive, LGBTQIA+ friendly, welcoming space which is vegan-friendly too. 

Two smiling women in front of their tattoo studio (Hello Sailor) which has Pride flags flying in the windows

El James

V-L: When did you ‘come out’ as vegan?

MS-G: It was 2019, just after we got married, within the months that followed. It happened literally overnight. We had entertained going vegetarian for quite some time and explored plant-based foods. We then made a conscious decision as a couple that we would turn vegan. We had a few incidents where we would pass the trucks carrying animals on the motorway, and it made us really uncomfortable.

NS-G: It was a reality check as we’d been talking about it for years, and since we met, we were talking about changing our diets. Vegan wasn’t really an option back then, it wasn’t talked about. Vegan was a taboo subject where people expected you to live in the forest and never interact with anyone. So, we talked about being vegetarian.

MS-G: When we discovered veganism, that was it. Overnight we were done, and this was the lifestyle for us. We have two young boys, and we gave them the choice, and they proudly chose to lead a vegan lifestyle with us. We don’t pressure them, we don’t admonish them, we’ve empowered them to make their own choices. They love veganism, and we are so proud of them. We are happy to let them do their own thing, but they’re so passionate about veganism.

V-L: Have you struggled with any elements of veganism?

NS-G: The only thing we struggle with is my coeliac disease meaning that I have to be gluten-free, and when choosing a vegan diet, it became challenging for me to discover safe foods. 

MS-G: It’s not been a struggle in terms of comfort and morality, but the gluten-free aspect is definitely difficult sometimes. I have watched Nic go from viewing food as fuel to loving food. She is so much more open to trying new foods and gets really excited by food, whereas before, food was just fuel to her body, and she didn’t really experiment; in all the years we’ve been together, she’s never enjoyed it as much as she does now. 

V-L: Do you find that WFPB works better for you because you’re able to avoid gluten and processed foods that contain gluten?

NS-G: It’s definitely been a lot easier to go vegan and gluten-free at the same time. You have to be so clear about what you’re eating, and the cleaner the diet, the easier it is on my body. I think that having someone next to me, like Mesina, makes me so incredibly proud, not just of her or our relationship, but it comforts me to know that she understands how sick I can get if I eat the wrong thing. She goes out of her way to make sure we eat the cleanest, healthiest meals possible, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

MS-G: You definitely have to think about eating as clean as possible because processed convenience food doesn’t always exist in our world, which is actually okay because cooking vegan food is so easy and so much easier to prepare. Right before we went vegan, Nic saw a doctor who told her she would potentially need blood pressure medication because her blood pressure was skyrocketing. She refused the prospect of medication, and three months later, her doctor was praising her for lowering her blood pressure to that of an athlete. The only thing that had changed was our diet. 

V-L: It’s quite interesting that someone who looks fit and healthy on the outside can have such high blood pressure. Have you noticed any improvement in your coeliac disease due to a vegan diet?

NS-G: I was so, so ill. I was in the hospital and couldn’t function. I was ill all the time - going vegan helped me so much. We are so much more aware of the foods that we eat now. 

MS-G: Going vegan helped Nic tap into the maximum potential of her body. Suddenly she had energy, she was able to actually function. It’s the constant awareness of everything you eat. I think that she would have gone much farther downhill had we not explored a vegan diet.

V-L: Have you noticed any weight loss or bodily changes since adopting a vegan diet?

MS-G: Yes! Veganism helped 1000% - I love to eat, that is no secret. I had lost some weight before I turned vegan, but I plateaued. I’ve noticed that with veganism, I stopped trying to lose weight and allowed food to fuel my body in a healthy and nutritious way. The weight just fell off of me. Suddenly I wasn’t focused on weight loss, I was focused on how the food made my body feel. I didn’t struggle to lose the rest of the weight.  

I think that a lot of my weight issues were not just a result of unhealthy foods but also trauma from childhood and also, I think that it also had something to do with me not coming out as gay. I didn’t want attention from men, yet that’s all I was getting, so I felt like being heavier protected me from people who would comment on my body. People when I was younger would make comments which, although they never crossed any boundaries, I had the feeling that their intentions were not good. I was really uncomfortable and didn’t like it.

V-L: Do you have any studio plans for Pride Month?

MS-G: Yes! Everyone in this studio has some connection, one way or another, to our community. We hosted a discounted flash session on June 6th and will be running LGBTQI+ pride sheets for the rest of the month. One of our artists wants to focus, as an artist, on tattooing surgery scars. It’s amazing for the trans community, and he really wants to specialise in that. 

NS-G: We are in the process of finding safe space stickers and just lots of little things that will make people aware that we are a safe space for everyone! 

Happy Pride Month to all of our readers - we see you; we love you. If you enjoyed hearing about Pride Month celebrations at Hello Sailor, why not check out our interview with Fat Gay Vegan or our list of amazing LGBTQIA+ people to follow.

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