The erasure of the contributions of Black women in the nail industry has made room for easy appropriation of acrylic nails, a staple in Black American culture. An NBC News report found over 78% of the nail salon workforce in the United States were foreign-born people as of September 2020, with about three-quarters being Vietnamese.
Despite the competition, Black nails technicians have been on the rise, including many IU students. Although they face the challenge of building clientele during a pandemic, they have still created successful businesses.
IU senior Diamond Pinkston started her journey as a nail technician last summer.
“I want to give people the feeling of getting their nails done and being satisfied with what they’re getting.” Pinkston said “I want to be the person who cares about your nails and not just the money behind it.”
After struggling to find a nail technician who prioritized the health of her nails, Pinkston decided to enter the industry herself. She now runs Pinky Nailed It, which operates out of a suite at 5619 E 38th St in Indianapolis.
“It’s more than just doing nails, it’s more than just posting my work, it’s the connections I make with people and the energy that transfers.” Pinkston said. “With every new client I make I gain something from them and they gain something from me.”
According to Jaylinn Sims, Pinkston’s client and friend, her quality of service exceeds any salon she has attended.
“When I go to the nail shop I just tell them the color and that’s it. When I’m with Diamond we talk the whole time.” Sims said.
Not only does Pinkston take pride in fostering a relationship with her clients, but she’s also mindful of their health as well.
In the 1970’s, the FDA banned Methyl Methacrylate (MMA), a liquid adhesive that some manicurists use to attach nails. Although it was banned, some shops still manage to obtain it, using unmarked bottles to disguise the illegal usage.
Pinkston uses labeled products that allows clients to know the ingredients being used on their nails.
“I make sure that my clients can see all of the products that I use.” Pinkston said “I also make sure to sanitize my instruments before I switch over to each client.”
IU junior Shyonna Floyd created her own nail practice as well, starting last spring.
“I wanted to find a way to invest in myself. ” Floyd said. “I went to CVS and bought a nail kit and started practicing everyday.
She hopes to be a manicurist full time after graduation.
“I wasn’t artistic in any way before I started doing nails.” Floyd said “Now it’s what I love the most. I love making women feel better about themselves and their nails.”
Floyd’s customer service has made an impression on her clients that keeps them coming back.
IU junior Lashe Hill said their connection makes communication easier, so she never leaves unsatisfied.
“Not only is she my nail tech but she has become my friend.” Hill said.
Floyd's establishment, “TheNailGuru,” is located in both the Indianapolis and Bloomington area. She works out of her apartment basement while in Bloomington. She hopes to eventually sell her own acrylics and powders.
In 1966 African American model Donyal Luna pioneered a trend that would last for decades to come when she wore them on the cover of Twen Magazine. At the 1988 Olympic track and field trials, Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner broke the world record for the 100 meter dash three times. After sporting colorful acrylics, her lightning quick speed wasn’t the only thing that caught the world's attention.
In the 1990’s, rapper Lil Kim took the cultural wave in a new direction with her legendary dollar bill set.
These IU students are keeping the rich history of nail art in the Black community alive. By effectively communicating with their clients and keeping up with the latest trends from encapsulated nails to nail piercing and jewelry, they are contributing to a rich legacy of culture.