Fashion design student talks about starting a plus-size clothing line and her experience as a body piercer

Sociology and fashion design student shares what it's like working as a body piercer and starting her new plus-size clothing line.

May 30, 2018

Kaelin explains the piercing process in the shop hat she works at, Liberty Tattoo and Body Piercing in Gardena. Photo by Miyung Kim.

Vibrant sample sketches coat both sides of the wall. A natural shade of light bamboo conceals the floor. There, an African-American woman with a septum piercing, unbuttoned red plaid shirt, and black tee shirt stands.

She has on a pair of dark denim jeans and wears her hair in big curls that softly frame her face. Her eyelids are painted with black eyeliner, creating a cat eye that make her brown eyes pop. Bold, pink, matte lipstick coats her lips that outlines a welcoming smile.

Her office is no typical college student’s office. Red on the middle wall, white on the left and right. The main attraction is the huge, black leather seat. This is where many customers get jabbed with piercing needles and ornamented with body rings.

Kaelin Francisco, 28, is a sociology and fashion design major who attends El Camino College. She is also is a body piercer at Liberty Tattoo and Body Piercing in Gardena, just a five-minute walk from El Camino on Crenshaw Boulevard. In addition she, is starting a plus size line called “Pink Parlor.”

The name of her line was inspired by the pink toolbox she’s had since the beginning of her piercing career.

“Since I’ve always been around guys, I had to have something that stood out. So no matter what shop I go to, I have my pink box,” Kaelin says.

When she was 17, Kaelin began her piercing career at a mall kiosk called Piercing Pagoda.

She was offered an apprenticeship when she was 18 after a piercer messed up on Kaelin’s medusa piercing (a piercing between the nose and upper lip).

It took her seven months to learn how to pierce in order for her to get her license. She learned how to pierce by doing three of the same piercings on her friends.

“I had to bring in three friends of each. Three friends to get a belly button, three friends to do tongue. First time ever. I couldn’t do anything on the public first,” Kaelin says.

Kaelin’s first job was at a plus-size store called Torrid. She says the store was limited in the styles that plus-size women could wear.

Kaelin begins cutting fabric for her plus-sized clothing line in the fashion room in the ITech Building. Photo by Miyung Kim.

Being plus size herself, Kaelin didn’t like the options the store offered. The store sold mostly gothic clothing and there was always something she didn’t like about the fabric, colors, or design.

She used to take some of their clothes, seam-rip them, and recreate the clothing for herself.

“This is way before Forever 21 put out plus size,” Kaelin says.

This was before more plus size options were available as they are now.

This inspired Kaelin at an early age to create a variety of styles for women who wore plus-size clothing. She stopped creating her clothes for a while but ever since she got to El Camino, Kaelin has been working on creating plus-size clothing.

“I have a few pieces of the collection put together,” Kaelin says. “I’m just kind of piecing stuff together because honestly going through school, I was just doing stuff for assignments [in fashion class] so I have stuff that doesn’t even really match or it’s not cohesive, yet.”

She has created swimsuit cover-ups, skirts and bodysuits so far. She has also purchased fabric and plans on doing a plus-size swimwear line, cover-ups, and two outfits, as well.

Her designs will be modeled in El Camino’s 36th annual fashion show.

She is on the modeling and designer committee, which means that she sees all the pieces coming in and decides which model will look good in what has been made so far by the designers.

“I’m trying to determine if I’m gonna do a two-piece jumpsuit type thing. I don’t know. I’m kind of nerve-wracked about making the pattern of it, making sure it fits right for the fashion show,” she says.

Kaelin has had a few jobs previously that she didn’t like but has settled in at Liberty Piercing and Tattoo Shop.

An artist from Liberty reached out to Kaelin on Instagram and told her that Liberty was hiring.

Kaelin will celebrate a year working at Liberty in May.

Vitor Matera came to Liberty about three months after Kaelin. They have been working together for one year.

“Kaelin? Best piercer ever,” Vitor says confidently. “She’s a good coworker.”

Vitor is originally from Brazil and has been in the USA for two years now. He moved for a “new experience.” His English has improved since Kaelin has been teaching him.

“Everyday, she does everything on this floor right here,” Vitor says.

Kaelin works on her designs on the floor of the tattoo shop. She brings her sewing machine, lays her fabric out on the floor to sew and cut fabrics.

Kaelin hopes to own a beauty studio that does body waxing modifications, piercings and own a plus size boutique.

“Beauty to me is universal. It even comes from piercing. I have pierced people that have crooked noses and crooked body parts. Let alone if they’re big or small. I see beauty in everything,” says Kaelin. “I feel like everyone is beautiful, not to sound weird or cliche. You know what I mean? Everybody’s got something.”

Kaelin’s pink tool box. Photo by Miyung Kim.