40 Under 40: April Thomas makes a bold statement through custom tattoos and body art

April Thomas, 39, Owner, Born This Way Body Arts

Whether serving in the U.S. Air Force or volunteering at a baboon sanctuary Africa, April Thomas just wants to make a difference. Her mission when anyone visits her inclusive spa-like body arts studio in Knoxville is to help them discover and embrace their authentic selves. Thomas is running a million-dollar business, but she also understands the importance of balance and self-care. She’s currently developing ways to provide mental health resources for people working in the body arts industry.

When you reflect on your career so far, which achievement stands out most?

I am a cover model, award-winning photographer, business owner, real estate agent, retreat host, and veteran. In each of my “careers” I have reached goals I never thought I would: I can’t decide if it’s receiving the Airmen of the Year award or the Air Force achievement medal when I was only 22, or when Born This Way Body Arts made our first million dollars, when I helped create a sold-out women’s retreat or when I sold my first $1 million home as a real estate agent, or when my photography was printed in the baggage claim area of the airport.

What is the greatest professional obstacle you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

Choosing to focus on one passion has always been the hardest thing for me.

40 Under 40 Class of 2023 member April Thomas, Owner, Born This Way Body Arts.

What will you focus on in 2024?

Hosting another sold-out women’s retreat in May, expanding Born This Way Body Arts, learning more about real estate, sharing more of my photography surrounding conservation in South Africa.

What is your biggest professional dream?

To make a difference. In every area I have my hands in, I am committed to making positive changes in the lives of others. This is more a personal dream as much as professional dream… in my retirement I want to host retreats and private events in the food forest I’m creating on my 4-acre property.

What mistake did you learn the most from?

You either win or learn…there are no failures. But if I had to look back on my biggest lessons learned, it would be to always get a second opinion, and to always trust my intuition. My only regrets happen when I “knew better” and did something against my better judgment.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by helping others. Born This Way Body Arts helps people find their authentic self, the artists find their authentic style and voice, and all the other projects I have my hands help people in some way as well.

What is the most overrated piece of business advice you’ve heard?

Sacrificing yourself for hustle is an overrated piece of business advice. I run a multimillion dollar business and everyone there works reasonable hours, and isn’t expected to work off the clock or sacrifice their family life for work. Finding the proper balance is so important. Self care, prioritizing family and overall well-being should never become less important than the business. You won’t make any more money by causing yourself stress-related illness. The hustle mindset is toxic and we need to reframe what success looks like for the average entrepreneur.

What trait do you most want in a co-worker?

Someone who can crush it, reliably, while not taking themselves too seriously. I can always rely on my team to solve any problem and also bring a smile to my face in the middle of stressful times. Those are important people.

What about Knoxville would you like to improve?

I would love to see more community spaces for performers and artists! Everything from dinner theaters to open markets. We need more spaces for Knoxville’s creative culture to thrive!

What don’t people know about you?

Most people see me as this entrepreneur but may not realize that I am very passionate about our ecosystem and want to see more conservation efforts and new ways of running the economy that are better for the environment. My passion for nature transcends profit margins, whether it’s promoting sustainable practices within my company or actively participating in conservation projects in South Africa.

  • Years worked at current company: 12

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

-Devarrick Turner

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