3 nail artists, 1 city, an ethical working code & abundance of creativity – all blend to serve up Supernatural Nails
By Alex Fox | 30 July 2021 | Feature, Salon & Spas
A former graphic designer and illustrator, Lucy Allen based in the Kelham Island district of Sheffield, has moved her creative focus onto nails as the owner of Supernatural Nails, having trained as a nail tech three years ago. Opening her nail salon to address concerns she was having on issues of safety, ethics, sustainability and cruelty, Lucy notes, “I provide a highly professional service in a unique private studio space, tucked away in the Kelham Island area of Sheffield . I specialise in all types of gel nails, which are virtually odourless – there’s no acrylic used in my studio. The salon is run as ethically and sustainably as possible, whilst maintaining the highest standards of hygiene. We operate on an appointment-only basis to ensure that you’re given our prescriptive, one-on-one care in a relaxed, non-judgemental and friendly environment, resulting in some scheduled ‘you time’ and the nails you’ve always dreamed of. My aim is transform nails beyond expectations, to make the client feel amazing and to leave every appointment feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.”
Starting her nail career by training with the Bio Sculpture brand, Lucy expanded her skills by adding UV/LED hard gel, acrygel and e-filing to her repertoire after further training with INK London School. “I’ve also completed Celina Ryden’s online nail training, which was a lot of fun,” Lucy enthuses. ” Looking up to educator, Simone Radley of Ink London, Lucy cites, “Simone is an all round lovely human, who creates absolutely stunning nails and is an excellent, and patient teacher. Celina Ryden’s beautiful UV hard gel work inspires me and I want to give a big shoutout to Faime Bass, for creating BeautAbility, which raises awareness of, and hosts a support group for, disabled and chronically ill beauty techs.”
Moving onto nails after changing her career path due to illness, Lucy shares, “I became debilitatingly ill in 2012 and was forced to stop working in my previous careers as a graphic designer/illustrator & florist. I physically couldn’t work for the next six years as I was so ill and my mental health suffered as a result. After getting my own nails done in an NSS salon for a holiday (I’m sorry), and being horrified at the state of the nails and overall experience, I spent the entire holiday researching reputable professional brands and training courses. Two weeks after I got back from my holiday, I started my Bio Sculpture training! I knew exactly what type of nail services I wanted to offer and felt that Sheffield was missing it. I wanted to specialise in nail art and gel nails (to be free of the sometimes overwhelming monomer smell of nail salons), offering fully vegan nail services and run as ethically and low-waste as possible. I started working part-time as a mobile nail tech, which lasted about nine months until I couldn’t physically carry my kit around with me anymore. I rented a desk in a friend’s hair salon for around a year and grew my client base. I did further training with INK London in UV/LED hard gel, e-file and acrygel, and then in the first lockdown I took the plunge and got my own studio space, despite not knowing how things would turn out due to the pandemic. It was the best decision I ever made! The studio is on the first floor of a former industrial building in a rapidly evolving area of Sheffield called Kelham Island and was being used as a meeting and store room before I took the space over.”
In the HOT SEAT…
How would you describe your salon? “It’s cool, yet welcoming. Laid back yet very professional. Visually, it’s a veritable eye-gasm haha!”
What feeling/vibe are you trying to create ?
“I wanted the studio to reflect my own eclectic personal style, be warm and welcoming, so the client experience is like visiting a friend’s house. I make sure the space smells amazing by using aromatherapy diffusers and Tisserand oils and we usually play lo-fi or trip-hop music, so it’s all very relaxing even if we’re busy. I also want the space to be creatively inspiring, to give clients the ‘ok’ to ask for and have whatever they want on their nails without feeling silly, so there’s loads of stuff to look at on the walls, including polaroids of client’s nail art. There are pieces in the studio from my home, some of my artwork and I created a lot of the decor too, such as the pom-pom door curtain and the plant walls.”
What makes it unique?
“The visual style is definitely unique, but I think the thing that sets SuperNatural Nails apart is that we’re a fully vegan nail art studio. I wanted to open an ethically run and inclusive nail studio that meant investing in top quality brands that were suitable for vegans. It can still be difficult to get a fully vegan nail service, whether that’s because of a kolinsky brush used to apply acrylic or create nail art, or due to animal-derived ingredients in skincare products. Being an openly vegan salon means vegan clients don’t have to ask if a product is suitable for them and, of course, non-vegans can also feel good about having made an ethical choice too. We offer different gel products to suit different nail types and lifestyles, so offer a pretty ‘prescriptive’ service rather than one-size fits all, which I think really appeals to clients, especially if they’ve previously found that gel polish didn’t last for them. We make a point of talking to clients about the products we use and why, discussing any concerns or reservations clients may have, (which are often due to previous bad experiences), and discuss why our services take longer than they might be used to. It helps put clients at ease and reassures them that we know what we’re doing!
“The studio is a welcoming, non-judgemental safe space where clients can relax and talk to us about anything they want to, safe in the knowledge that it’ll go no further. I have several autistic clients who find a smaller, quieter environment and more personal, less rushed service much easier to deal with and less draining for them. This means a lot to me as my son is on the spectrum and I know how difficult seemingly minor ‘ordinary’ things can be and what a toll it can take. I think autistic women struggle even more for various reasons, so it feels good when I can put them at ease and give them a relaxing experience. Basically, I like to take an holistic approach when it comes to running the studio and providing services!”
How does the salon fit into the surrounding area/local community?
“SuperNatural Nails is based in a former industrial building in the Neepsend/Kelham Island area of Sheffield, which is now home to several independent businesses, including a hair salon, a veggie/vegan cafe, brow salon and a graphic design agency. I think we fit in really well! Clients love that they can make a day of it and book hair, brow and nail appointments and have an amazing lunch all in the same building, before heading over to one of the many local bars or restaurants for dinner and drinks. Kelham Island is a really up and coming area and has seen a huge amount o investment in recent years, including the construction of an eco housing estate and the conversion of former industrial buildings into luxury apartments and to support that, various independent eateries (including exclusively vegan restaurants) and shopping arcades have sprung up to serve the local residents. It’s definitely an interesting and vibrant area in which to live or work!”
Do you have a lot of competition/other nail salons close by?
” There are a couple of local places, which offer nail services and at least one other nail art studio close by, but I’d like to think we were all pretty supportive of each other and that we recognise each other’s talents and specialisms, which means there’s enough clients for all of us. Our styles are very different from each other and we cater to different markets.”
Which clients do you target – do you service all ages or a type of client?
“I marketed myself squarely at the vegan market and at people with a desire for more than the average cheap, 30-minute gel polish manicure in an NSS salon. I think I probably appeal mainly to clients in the 30+ age bracket, but I’ve got clients in their teens, right through into their 70’s and they all eventually end up pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and trying something they wouldn’t usually choose! It’s always great to see the confidence boost that an amazing set of nails gives them.”
What is your background in beauty/nails?
“I’m actually a qualified graphic designer and also hold floristry qualifications… absolutely nothing to do with nails, but which definitely influenced my nail artistry!”
What work ethic/mottos/principles do you work by?
“Be authentic, determined and committed, but ensure you take enough time for yourself and others outside of work. Charge your worth! Know and enforce your boundaries so you don’t allow clients to talk you into things you don’t want to do (eg: working on your day off, dictating to you how to do your job, or giving unwarranted refunds.)”
What nail brands do you use in the salon?
Do you have any incentives/offers for clients?
“I give clients a discount off a service for their birthday and also a smaller discount off every sixth full price gel treatment.”
What does your most luxurious nail, hand or foot treatment incorporate?
“Warm mitts/massage / special creams etc… all of my manicures are finished with an application of Dadi’ Oil and a relaxing hand massage using Luxury Dadi’ Lotion, which smells amazing and also gives fantastic moisturising results. Our full Elim Spa Pedicure starts with a foot cleanse using hot towels steamed with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil and a few sprays of the amazing smelling Spa Sanitiser on the feet, before proceeding with the Elim MediHeel pedicure. I offer the client a heated blanket if they want to be extra cosy while I run the warm water for the heated Belava Trio PediSpa, which also features vibration for extra relaxation. The client’s lower legs are cleansed with more hot towels to remove AHA exfoliator & mud mask, before another shorter leg and foot massage with moisturising balm and I finish the service with a spray of Elim’s Gold Spritz for an extra special skin finish. Clients have commented that they feel like they float out of the salon!”
How did you choose the décor?
“I wanted the decor to reflect the business name and be completely different to other salons, so I spent a long time creating mood boards and inspo pins on Pinterest and browsing retailer’s websites.”
What inspired the colour scheme/ furniture choices etc?
“My own personal taste and style played a huge part, so there’s lots of botanical print wallpaper, crystals, animal
prints, plants and pops of bright colour.”
Where was it all sourced?
“Oh god, I spent so long trawling the internet in search of the perfect furniture and light fittings! I had really specific ideas in mind, but then had to find somewhere that actually had them and within my budget. I originally saw our palm leaf light fitting for some ridiculous price online, but with a bit of research, I found the manufacturer selling it direct from China on eBay at a significant saving! I actually made some of the feature pieces, including the pom-pom door curtain, plant walls and a three-tier ombré tassel lampshade, and I upcycled a couple of pieces of furniture, including turning an old china cabinet into my red & leopard print retail cabinet, complete with LED lighting. The pink leopard head planter was originally a beige resin one from Dunelm, which I spray painted hot pink! The overall result is a high-end eclectic look, achieved at a price I could afford (albeit with some hard work). My design degree definitely came in handy!”
How is your salon laid out?
“There are 2 rooms, but the studio is open plan. Clients enter straight into our pedi area and then come through the pom-pom curtain into the large main room, where all three of us have our nail desks.”
What ambiance have you tried to create; relaxing, funky, upbeat, dreamy, tranquil…?
“I wanted to make the studio as welcoming as possible, like visiting a friend’s house, but still give the client a luxurious and relaxing experience. I make sure the space smells amazing by using aromatherapy diffusers & Tisserand oils and we play a lot of lo-fi and trip-hop music, so it’s all very relaxing even if we’re busy. That said, it does get very lively sometimes!”
How many staff members are there?
“We’re a team of three, all self-employed. There’s myself, there’s KarolynJessop @karolyn_quantumnails who is a fellow nail artist and also qualified in hard gel enhancements. Jess Brough @volpenails is our resident natural nail specialist.”
Why are you so passionate about nails?
“There are so many amazing creative techniques and ideas for art, which is really up my street, but more than anything, doing nails can be a transformative experience for the client and we can genuinely make a difference in their mood and confidence with our skills.”
What was life in lockdown for you?
“Although I spent a lot of time working on the business and my plans for the future, the lockdown also made me reflect on what was most important to me. I’d been neglecting myself and working too hard before lockdown hit, so my conditions flared up and I spent weeks in bed as a result. Thank god for Netflix! I practiced at my nail art (and won a little fun competition in the process), bought a silicone hand so that I could carry on creating content for social media and practiced on my other half too. I did lots of dog walks with my faithful Shar Pei, Missy, and had lots of cuddle time with my cats too. My pets have such a positive impact on my mental health and definitely helped get me through lockdown!”
What have you learned & how has your business changed in response?
“I increased my prices and restructured my working schedule, so I have plenty of time for rest and recuperation, and I also stopped squeezing clients in on days off or after-hours. Some clients didn’t return after the lockdown ended, but that’s ok because plenty of new ones replaced them. I don’t have thousands of followers on Instagram, but I’m fully booked eight weeks in advance and have a waiting list for appointments, so if that isn’t proof that likes and followers don’t necessarily reflect success, I don’t know what is! I’m actually considering having to close my books to new clients as I’m so busy. Now that Karolyn and Jess have had the chance to actually get going properly post-lockdown, they’re both getting busier too and building their client numbers week on week.”