Valerie Sunder was a fan of the TV show, “Miami Ink,” when she was in high school, and Ami James was her favorite tattooer.
“I was just hooked after that show,” Valerie said of the series that profoundly influenced her life.
She dabbled in design in her notebooks, and dreamed of an enormous business featuring a tattoo and piercing shop, yoga studio, bookstore, gym and a coffee cafe.
At 16, “My teenage brain was inspired and Siren was born,” she said.
Valerie moved to Sauk Centre when she was 10, and considers it her hometown. She graduated from BlueSky Online School in 2003, and earned her associate degree in business from Ridgewater College. She spent a year at Alexandria Technical College, where she studied para medicine, e-commerce, and web design.
With her parents’ consent, Valerie had her nose pierced at age 16, the legal age in Minnesota for piercing with permission. At age 18, she got her first tattoo as well as had her face pierced.
The following year, at 19, Valerie became an apprentice to a dual licensed tattoo-piercer in Hutchinson, learning piercing first and observing the tattooing.
She then left Minnesota and moved around a lot, learning cosmetic tattooing, and the art of eyeliner, lip marks, beauty marks, freckles and cosmetic tattoos. Eventually she came back to Minnesota where she opened her first studio. About that time she also began her online body jewelry business.
Eric stopped in one day and there was chemistry. They were married in Vegas, and afterward decided to expand to Coer d’Alene, Idaho, where they opened a tattoo and piercing shop which also included Siren Coffee. Eventually they decided to return to Minnesota and Sauk Centre.
It wasn’t easy getting licensed in Minnesota, even though she has been in the industry for 10 years.
“I was well qualified,” she said, “but I had to bang down some pretty big doors to get licenses. But I did it.”
In August 2018, Valerie and her husband, Eric Sunder, opened their studio, SirenBody Jewelry Tattoo and Piercing, at 331 Main Street South in Sauk Centre.
“I love my job,” she said. “I like to make people happy. It’s really fun to work with people on big projects.”
The business includes tattooing, body piercing and Minnesota’s largest selection of body jewelry, most of which is designed and created by Valerie and Eric using their special anodizing process. The shop is licensed by the state, and abides by city regulations.
The shop includes the jewelry show room, separate artist’s rooms for Valerie and Eric, and a piercing room they both use. There is an autoclave room where all their piercing instruments are sanitized.
The walls are hung with Valerie’s original artwork. The central hallway is a gallery of her work. On the front wall hangs a large sign, “Siren Coffee,” a reminder of their business in Idaho.
All surfaces, including doorknobs, jewelry cases, and the floor are sterilized regularly.
“We are very, very picky,” Valerie said. No animals are allowed in the shop, and if people are sick they are not allowed in.
In addition to the strict sterile conditions, they complete bloodborne pathogen classes each year.
Most commonly requested piercings are nose, ears and belly piercings. Piercing guns are not used for sanitary sake.
The most requested tattoos are black and gray designs, which are faster and cheaper than color work. Only single use needles are used.
Valerie specializes in custom color tattoos. “Customers bring in an idea, and let Valerie own it,” said Eric.
One of her most memorable works was an infinity knot done in Spanish.
“It was very difficult. I had to use Google Translator for Spanish people,” she said.
They see their share of tattoos and piercings botched by unlicensed people or from house parties.
“We save them from that horrible experience,” said Valerie. “We do a lot of educating, especially the piercing.”
Eric has some advice about getting a tattoo: “Never put a name on your body unless it’s your kid’s name,” he said.
Customers show up asking how to remove a name. The best solution is to find a design to cover it up. Laser removal is time consuming and very expensive.
Piercings that are not wanted will eventually shrink down.
SirenBody has a website, and sells jewelry around the world. See SirenBodyJewelry.com.