Ink N’ Iron Inspiration

Weeks into the lockdown, we caught up with Ontario’s all-female bodyshop and got inspired by the mentorship that sets it apart.

by Autobody Source staff

If you’ve never heard of Autobody Barbie or her all-female brand, there’s more to her mission than just tattoos and hot rods. “INK & IRON isn’t just a facility owned by a woman, or a facility that employs women. It’s nothing less than a training ground for the next generation of great professionals,” is her mantra.

Headquartered in Canada, INK N IRON AUTO offers restorations, custom work and paint, painting, minor auto body repair, exterior detailing/paint restoration, and a tattoo parlor onsite, with plans to expand locations in the future.

Our Barbie fascination started earlier this year with a campaign honoring trailblazer Rosie the Riveter for National Women’s History Month. We’d recently toured Girl Gang Garage, later saw Barbie the Welder in the campaign, and got our Barbies mixed up. See? Barbies… Iron… Garages? No? Yeah, there’s really no excuse.

Still, we think you’ll forgive our excitement over the real Autobody Barbie, named Hilary by her mom. Hilary (@autobodybarbie) founded INK N IRON AUTO in 2015, but she set out to inspire women into the trade long before that.

Barbie’s Beginnings

Hilary’s auto body journey began in high school 20 years ago, at age 17. “I got a co-op placement at a local body shop, and I was hooked from day one! I’ve always known that I wanted to have my own shop, but knew it would need to be unique in order to stand out from the crowd,” she relates in her online backstory.

“When I first started in the trade I was the only female in my workplace, as well as the only female through all 3 levels of my schooling. As time went on I started to meet more. They came to work for the same company I was at, and I met a few when I was teaching auto body at Centennial College. That’s when I decided that my shop would be all female! Seeing what amazing work they did, how they had to work twice as hard for half the respect, and hearing their individual stories of discrimination and how they overcame it was my motivation. I wanted to provide a safe, judgement-free work environment where we can all learn from each other as well as training the next generation of female techs.”

Today, it’s a marvel to see Hilary’s vision in action, and even more so the welcoming sisterhood she’s built for the next generation of ladies looking to get into this trade. Just ask her baby sister, Emily.

INK N IRON trio (L to R) Emily, Tiegan and founder & owner Hilary share a combined 32 years of experience at their bustling shop in Oakville

It’s All in the Family
Before INK N IRON, Emily joined auto body life with her big sis at another shop. “I was working a landscaping job and was off for the winter when she called me one day and said “Our boss needs someone to intake cars, help mix paint, and do other stuff,” so I started and realized I don’t totally hate this,” Emily says.

Despite a recent relocation and the quarantine, the team rolls with the flow of building an all-female empire. “I moved shops about a year ago, so getting set up and building a paint booth and growing a business in a new city is challenging,” Hilary says.

INK N IRON’s mentoring structure means the team’s lineup changes frequently, with volunteers, apprentices, college students and part-time workers soon off to their own careers. “The only constant is change,” she laughs.

The Newest Squad Member
A permanent and welcome change to the INK N IRON squad is Tiegan Alysse, a panel beater from Australia who joined the shop just as the pandemic kicked off.

“It was always my goal when I was younger to work on restorations, and this was the perfect opportunity to come up for me,” Tiegan says.

“Weirdly, I didn’t know I was going to be in this trade when I started. I left high school with no sort of ambitions. I’m not big on paid work and studying and university-style working, because my brain just can’t cope with it. So at the time, I looked into different car apprenticeships, applied for a few, and auto body came up first. I fell into it and it turned out to be perfect for me.”

Tiegan’s advice to her younger self would’ve been “not to get so hung up on the small shit. I over-worried and overthought a lot when I was younger, and it wasn’t helpful. But I guess it was probably part of the learning process. I would also tell my younger self ‘stop worrying about how cool you look and wear your bloody safety gear!’”

You’d be right to call Tiegan the poster-child for wearing safety equipment on the job. On Instagram, her @pinkhairrepair logo sports an N95 respirator, and you won’t find her photo’d working without one where it’s required.

“That gets lost so much on younger people, whether it’s just the look or the lack of knowledge on how important it is. It was a huge thing that I didn’t do back then, and I regret that.“

Hilary’s advice as INK N IRON marks its 5th year: “There’s never a ‘right’ time to start a business. Stop waiting for that perfect moment that will never come, and just do it!”

Co-op and Training
INK N IRON heavily support youth and adult automotive career training, partnering with Ontario’s high school co-op education programs to provide vocational exposure to the trade. This January, the shop began hosting weekly Shop Saturdays workshops for women newly interested in the industry and experienced ladies looking to expand a skill set. The crew hopes to resume the seminars post-lockdown.

The Ink and The Iron
Now, back to that custom ink: The shop’s resident artist, Alx Tattunes, recently announced her tattoo studio Grand Opening for July 2020. Sessions are currently by appointment only (no walk-ins) and booked via email under strict health safety procedures. So if you’re in or plan to visit Ontario, quarantine’s the perfect time to plan out your next tattoo. Just saying.

We also asked the crew what type of ride they’d choose to rebuild as the official INK N IRON, well… auto.

“For it to be useful as a work car, a ute or truck with a trailer so we could pick up parts and actually have it be useful rather than just a pretty truck,” Tiegan says.

“Obnoxious pink or purple shop truck,” Hilary laughs.

Follow the INK N IRON AUTO squad online:


@alxtattunes | Email [email protected] to book private appointments




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