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Ways People of Color Shaped the Modern Nail Industry

Today is International Women of Color Day. To honor powerful women of color, we’re looking at how nail trends and the nail industry have been shaped by people of color. From the nail industry in America to the popular nail art and trends you see today, people of color have touched many aspects of the modern nail scene we know and love today.

41% of workers in the nail industry are Vietnamese.

As a result of the influx of immigrants after the Vietnam War, many nail salons in America are run by Vietnamese technicians. The story goes that Tippi Hedren, a movie star from the 90s, saw that Vietnamese women from a refugee camp she was volunteering took an interest in her nails. Hoping to turn this interest into jobs for the immigrants, she brought her manicurist to teach the women, many of whom later opened and owned their own nail salons.

Nail care became more mainstream, accessible to not only the rich but also the common everyday people.

Elaborate and bold nail art originated from black and African American communities.

In the 80s and 90s, black women were already rocking eye-catching and ornate nails. While the trend for daring and intricate nail art became popularized in pop culture by influencers, the African American community was largely uncredited. Even now, white women may feel braver experimenting with unconventional nail art, but black women are often less likely to do so for fear of being labeled “unprofessional.”

Charlie Vo and Olivett Robinson opened Mantrap, the first nails-only salon in South Central LA.

This salon left a legacy that continues to this day. Opened by a Vietnamese woman and a black woman, it provided a space for both Vietnamese and black women hoping to enter the nail industry. It was an inspiring moment for the nail industry and the two communities.

Check out Adele Free Pham’s documentary, Nailed It, for more about the nail salon and its impact on the industry:

Long acrylic and artificial nails worn by black women were once looked down upon.

Florence Griffith-Joyner (Flo Jo) holds the world record for the 100-meter race. However, in 1988, racing in the US Olympic track and field trials, her long tiger-striped nails caused a stir in the media. Her nails, a practice retained from her upbringing in LA, were considered deviant and abnormal then. While nail trends related to bright colors and long square shapes are often miscredited, black women continue to express themselves through nail art and manicures.

Check out this article to learn more about the nail industry and black culture:

Black celebrities continue to express themselves through their nails.

Celebrities are unapologetic about their style and brand. From Cardi B’s signature long nails to Missy Jackson’s embellished nails, they impeccably express themselves through nail art.

Thank you to all the inspiring women of color in the nail industry continuing to advance and diversify the industry. Give credit where credit is due.

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