Customized Ladies of Tucson may look different but it's their hearts that matter most

Sitting in a corner booth at a local Denny's on a recent evening, Bre Mercier and Beth Mulcahy look a little more colorful than the average customer. Mercier wears a diamond stud in her lip and has tattoos visible from the top of her arm to above her elbow—known as half-sleeves. Elsewhere, she has more than 10 tattoos on her body. Mulcahy also has arm tattoos but hers are separate pieces including a woman's face and a dust bunny. As they eat appetizers, we chat about tattoos, false impressions, etiquette and their charity group.

Mercier and Mulcahy are co-managers of Customized Ladies of Tucson, a nonprofit group whose motto is "changing the face of charity." The group started in May and has members who live "alternative lifestyles."

"We're all different," says Mercier. "We all have tattoos, some have piercings. ... One girl is a Druid Princess; another has pink hair. We're open to rockabilly girls, punk girls, transgender girls—anything outside the norm." Mulcahy adds that the alternative lifestyles they refer to are anything where grandpa would say "Oh my gosh!"

Mercier says all members of the group have felt the negative impact of being judged by their appearance. "There's a bad stigma associated with being a woman who is (heavily) tattooed. People think you are trashy, classless and unemployed. We're here to show people that just because we look different, people shouldn't make assumptions. Don't assume that we're not helpful because we are heavily tattooed or have a bright-pink mohawk. Not all (people) who have tattoos are horrible people. Not all (people) who look different are horrible people."

Members of the group have all dealt with people's stares, pointed fingers and rude comments. Mulcahy recalls a time when she went to pick up her daughter at school and was stopped and questioned. Apparently the inquisitor didn't realize moms can have tattoos.

The group has several moms, including Mercier. Mulcahy works construction and Mercier is a secretary at a high school. There are also students, military personnel and self-employed members. Women must be 18 to join, and currently most are in their 20s and 30s. There is no age limit after being 18, and tattoos are not required. They are also open to working with new venues, charities and vendors. Both Mercier and Mulcahy have had boundary-breaking experiences out in public. Some people walk up and touch their arms without asking. Mercier has had people rub her arms thinking that the half-sleeve tattoos have a different texture. They say the proper tattoo etiquette is for a person to ask if they can take a look at the tattoos first.

Mercier and Mulcahy are native Tucsonans who like to promote local artists and businesses. Some of the shops Customized Ladies have used are Tattoo Artistry, Broken Clover and Fastlane, among others. They also give a shout out to Aaron Kibz and Turtle Laviada. Their logo was designed by local artist Frank Corral.

Each month, Customized Ladies of Tucson host an event for a different charity or do event hosting for other groups. In May, they joined with Arizona Desert Dolls to raise money for the Ronald McDonald house. In June, a bike show and barbecue raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project. An event fell through in July, but their next event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 24, at Pep Boys, 7227 E. 22nd St. A car show and ice-cream social will raise money for the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. There's a $5 car registration fee and ice cream will be sold by donation.

"Each girl has charities that are near and dear to them," says Mulcahy. "When they join, they pick three charities. (A member is) given a month to plan their event. They have creative control of their month. (The rest of us) help plan the event."

Even though they may look different than members of other nonprofits, Mercier says they share similarities with others and just want to give back. "We go to work; we go out with friends; we have kids; we have issues. We have a lot going on just like any other moms out there. We're just like everyone else besides what we look like."

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