Honouring UK Black History Month in Nails
By Scratch Staff | 02 October 2020 | Feature, Tech Talk
Scratch magazine offers an extension to its feature in the October edition in honour & recognition of the UK’s Black History Month. Celebrating the work & styles of black nail professionals across the UK. Alex Fox & Callie Iley report…
The Roots of Our Nail Narrative
As L&P acrylic artificial nails, gained popularity during the 80s and 90s, they developed into a sign and symbol of female empowerment. Modern day celebrities, such as Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, are often seen furnished with long, tailored nails and tend to get credited with promoting and celebrating many of the nail art and style trends seen in the industry. However, many of the new trends in nail styles labelled by the media as ‘bold’ and ‘fashionable’ that white women are celebrated for, are often styles that black women have been wearing and indeed pioneered for decades.
Although L&P acrylic nails isn’t an invention born exclusively from the black community, the community’s contribution to the cultural emergence of long acrylic nails and elaborately styled nail art, dates as far back as the 60s. This is interesting to highlight, since this fact is often left out of the historical, fashion and creative nail narrative, despite prejudice the black community has often been subjected to for wearing these bold and unique styles.
The unforgettable 1966 Twen cover of iconic African-American model, Donyale Luna, shows her posing with long, light coloured acrylic nails – she also went on to be the first black woman to model for the cover of Vogue in the same year. Despite clearly being a hugely important figure in the Civil Rights Movement and the push for equality, a New York Times article from 1974 describes her as ‘an exotic black girl’1. Statements like this fuel the idea that women of colour don’t fit into ‘normal’ (white) beauty stereotypes and feed into the narrative of white supremacy, while also dehumanising black women.
Olympic track and field star Florence Griffith-Joyner’s (AKA Flo-Jo), long, brightly coloured acrylic nails clashed with the white, middle-class beauty standards of her time. This led to media coverage focusing more on her nails than the fact she made world records in 100m and 200m, also often sexualising her because of them2. Flo-Jo was a sporting hero and a woman who possessed a deep love for flamboyant nail design.
During the 80s, nail styles worn by the large majority of white women were still mainly pale nude and ivory shades, as well as the timeless French manicure. Nail styles like Flo-Jo’s, seen on many other women of colour, were often described in terms of ‘artificiality and impropriety’3, continuing the perpetration of stereotypes of black women.
These stereotypes still negatively affect black women in today’s modern society. In 2016, New York Times magazine staff writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones was questioned about the validity of her employment as a writer, before being asked if she was, ‘leaving early to get her nails done’ by Gay Talese, an American journalist4. Clearly being asked on the grounds of race and gender, this highlights that the struggles for black women are far from over. Women are often objectified on the basis of their appearance, with things such as hair, make-up and nails being overly sexualised by some media. With term such as ‘exotic’ historically used to describe women of colour, combined with the objectification of women generally, black women are quickly reduced to objects of sexual gratification. Additionally, black women have been hypersexualised throughout history, with the roots of this demeaning pathway beginning during slavery, where black women were sexually exploited for the benefit of white men.
A 2017 Vogue article, describing long nails with jewels and embellishments, referred to ‘manicure sculptures’5 as a cool, stylish new trend, despite the style being worn by women of colour for decades. This white-washing of a nail style that gained momentum from women of colour, shows how easily black women are erased from the narrative. Similarly, Kim Kardashian was celebrated in Elle for ‘taking her game to the next level’6 for wearing pierced nails, a style which had been seen on Janet Jackson, Missy Elliot and Little Kim nearly 20 years previously and had been reduced to the description of ‘ghetto’ and ‘classless’. This shows, that despite black women’s major contribution to the trends, they are often overlooked for the likes of white women and suffer prejudice for the same styles that white women are praised and applauded for. The negative connotations of these styles only apply to women of colour and act as another means of which to attack women in general as well as black culture.
However, the struggles black women have faced are not all in vain. Despite racism still being widespread today, there’s still progress being made. Professional tennis player, Serena Williams, has made headlines across the world receiving praise for her nail art worn on the tennis court. At the Australian Open, Williams made a statement through her nail art paying tribute to the koalas affected by the Australian wildfires, with Allure describing her as an ‘all-around amazing person’7. Moreover, Williams partnered with OPI to create her ‘Grand Slam’ Nail Lacquer duo. It’s encouraging to see that the narrative is changing, albeit at a snails’ pace, and black women are being welcomed into the industry and finally receiving some of the recognition they deserve for their iconic contributions.
The cultural emergence of L&P acrylic nails and nail art is largely thanks to women of colour, and they should be recognised for their pioneering role in bringing nail design to the mainstream. Elaborate and intricate nail styles can be empowering for women of all races – it’s an art style that should be celebrated by and for all.
The emergence and rise of the hip-hop and R&B scene became a platform for new fashion and style ideas with black artists such as Missy Elliot and Lil Kim popularising ornate long L&P acrylic nails. The now famous ‘money manicure’ on Lil Kim by celebrity manicurist, Bernadette Thompson, has since taken residence in The Museum of Modern Art. It’s the first and only set of nails to be showcased in the MoMA.
Overall, this obvious and shocking lack of recognition shows the hold the patriarchy still has over female beauty standards and that racism is still prevalent in society, especially the beauty industry. The popularity of nail styling, truly flamboyant art and design, was birthed in the 90s by the black community – it’s when nail art – this huge global trend was born – so by recognising this we can say that progress has certainly been made, but there’s still a long way to go.
An extension of the article published in the October 2020 issue of Scratch magazine – meet a further selection of black nail professionals profiled in honour & recognition of the UK’s Black History Month
Kej – London – home-based – @nailedbykej
At 24 years old, Kej is currently undertaking a professional course with Stonebridge College and hopes to be qualified soon. “I’ve been obsessed with all things nails since I was a child; nail polishes, nail equipment, nail art. When I was old enough to get acrylics done, I fell in love with the artistic and practical side of the whole process and never looked back,” Kej alleges. “Some of my biggest nail inspirations include Natali Carmona (@getnailed32), Chaun Legend (@chaunlegend) and Xis Nails (@xisnails).
“My goal is to run my own neo-nail salon. Not your typical nail salon. I use Hollywood Nail Supply for my products since it’s local to me and the staff are incredibly helpful.
“My vision for the future is to keep learning and growing as a business and in terms of my craft. I hope to invite you to the opening of my neo-nail salon in the foreseeable future.”
Theodora Adeniyi – T.acrylix – London – home based @t.acrylix
New tech on the block, Theodora admits to being so fascinated by the process and beauty of doing nails that she was spurred into action during lockdown. “During quarantine I saw a lot of black nail techs creating amazing content, which intrigued me. Thinking to myself, worst case scenario, if I’m not good enough to do it for others, at least I’ll be able to do my own nails, I started to take it seriously. I fell in love and was encouraged by family and friends to practice on them and to finally create a business – and here I am.
“I’m unsure of my long-term goals professionally, as it’s all very new. I aim to one day open my own nail salon while venturing into accredited teaching or providing nail supplies. Other plans include becoming a secondary school English teacher.
“Wherever God leads me I’ll go. I started this business not anticipating much at all. I trust that the Lord will lead me to great heights, because practice truly makes perfect and what God wants for me will come to plan. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for my business and how far I will go.”
Elisa Tladi – EMTnails – Coventry @EMTnails
Elisa is a self-taught tech, who’s gained a series of qualifications via online sources and is insured by AXA. “I went to the University of Kent in Canterbury,” she reveals. “And while there, I really missed my regular nail appointments. I’ve been getting my nails done since I was 15 years old and loved my pamper time and a catch up with my nail tech. As a student, I realised I could no longer get my nails done frequently, as it’s just too expensive, and thought to myself that I couldn’t be the only one going through this. Some of my friends managed to get their nails done when going back to south London to visit family every other week, but I’m from Coventry, so there was no way that was possible. Then I thought…why not start doing it myself?
“At the time, I had no idea how wide the nail industry was and how many inspiring people were working in nails. I follow many with my biggest being Chaun Legend and Nailsbymayaraa on Instagram as well as flynih__ because she’s 100% herself and highly skilled.
“Often people tell you to not mix your personality with business, but I disagree to an extent. How can you not be yourself when doing nails? Following flynih__ always reminds me that it’s okay to be yourself, be human and be an amazing tech – all at the same time!
“ As challenging as it was for me to paint and decorate my home salon during a time when money was tight, due to my mum being made redundant and having to pay bills at home, I’m proud to say I didn’t quit. I had a target, to be open in time for when it was safe for nail techs to work again, and I met it.”
A Glitterbels liquid & powder fan, Elisa claims she loves its consistency when mixing her ratio and reveals, “They smell so good!”
A walking promotion for her craft, Elisa never repeats a set of nails as she’s keen to keep reinventing her looks. “I change my nails often to completely different styles, although I do love wearing stiletto nails. I make them so sharp that I now have a permanent mark from scratching myself,” she chuckles.
“My vision for the future is for EMT nails to expand. When I’m in more suburban areas I see less black or diverse employees in the salons. I want my salon to be in every neighbourhood reflecting how diverse the world is. I want to walk past outer suburban nail salons and see people of all ethnicities. I think representation on all levels matters, especially in beauty. I want to make and create amazing products that are affordable and cater to all customers, so everyone can have the chance to get their nails done safely!”
Sephora (ESSVIBESS) – Hapin Hair Lounge – Camberwell, London @hapinhairlounge
Inspired by CCBeautyLab due the speed with which she has built her career and the many things she’s already involved in, Sephora also cites Queenofnails as another she follows for design ideas. With a desire to become a business mentor, stylist and open up her own nail salon in the future, Sephora is currently working with the Glitterbels brand as she loves how smooth its acrylic powders are to work with.
“My favourite nail colour definitely has to be sheer nude, which is evidently also everyone else’s favourite as this shade always gets the most love on my page,” smiles Sephora. “My favourite shape is a tapered square, as I’ve mastered this shape and and love sculpting it. The majority of the time, I have long nails due to self-promotion as they stand out and get noticed. I really like to try out different crystal designs and encapsulations as well to create unusual and eye-catching designs.
“During lockdown, it was quite tough as my income stopped, as nails is the only job I do. However, the time out allowed me to take time for me and allow myself to practice and perfect my craft. Post lockdown, I believe my nail work has got a lot better. However, during lockdown I eventuallyfound an outlet and began selling press-on nails. That was quite fun, as I got people asking for nail art, which allowed me to practice my art further.
“I harbour an idea of opening up my own nail salon after I finish university and aim to teach people to do nails as I further my career in the future.”
Nicolle Mitchell – The Nail Trait, Trio Salon – Ilford
Not the easiest time to start up a business, however the pandemic of 2020 has not pushed Nicolle off her path and this year saw her nail journey begin. “I’m a start-up nail tech with a desk inside a salon in Ilford,” she enthuses. “I was attracted to the nail industry particularly for the artistic expression it allows, which allows me to be creative and individual in my designs.
“I look up to nail techs such as ‘Jhohannails’ and ‘nailsbymayraa’ for their precision of shape to creative their techniques. I find these nail artists inspire and encourage me daily!
“My greatest achievement was being given the opportunity to collaborate with amazing social influencers such as ms_dfs, Lani_Good and many more!
“In the next six months I will continue to grow my client base and invest in myself by attending training courses to help me develop and enhance my work and skills.
“This year has shown that to be proactive and channel your energy into something positive is the way forward, despite the negative that is apparent. My business was birthed during 2020 and I will always be grateful for that.”
Ruth Juma – RCJNails – home based – North London @rcjnails @shoprcjnails
Another new tech on the block, Ruth admits she did her first set of nails in January and booked her first official client in July this year after taking a New Skills Academy online course. “Like many who end up as nail techs, I was tired of not being completely satisfied with the nails I was getting done at the salon,” laments Ruth. “I also wanted to save some money, although I ended up spending a whole lot more building my business! So, I went on YouTube and searched acrylic nails at home and fell down a rabbit hole. There are so many educational videos on how to do nails by amazing nail techs, that it fed my passion for nails. I’ve always loved nails but the more I learned, the more I loved it.
“My absolute favourites are Jhohannails, Miata Nailz, Joelyoceannails, ccbeautylab, Theenailembassy, deenailslayer and sydneyalexiiiss. Their work is so clean and perfect
“Since focusing on nails, I’m proud of how much I’ve improved since starting and proud of reaching 500+ followers. I’m excited to have started my own business and am selling cuticle oils and press on nails too. I’m grateful for every milestone I reach.
“My plan was to start my business in March. Coronvirus said ‘No’, so I practiced to improve my skills during lockdown. Now I’m open, business is slow, however I feel as though it’s for the best as it reduces the risk to me, my family and my clients. The clients I have are the most loyal, kindest, sweetest souls; I’m so grateful for them.
“I wanted to footnote my piece by saying that honouring black nail techs means so much more than people realise. I see my fellow black nail techs get frustrated because their businesses are not taken seriously, whether they’re home or salon-based, under the stigma that they’re not professional. I see my fellow black nail techs being told they charge too much when they’re simply charging what they feel their talent and skill set is worth and personally a lot of them aren’t charging enough. I see my fellow black nail techs not recognised enough for all their hard work, professionalism, perfection, high hygiene standards and the range of skills they have and continue to learn. So, this is such an honour to be recognised for a skill many look down on.
“Thank you to Access Beauty, EATOW and Scratch magazine for this opportunity. And thank you to all the black nail techs that inspire, teach and motivate me.”
1 Bernadine Morris, The New York Times, “The Black Models – Success Is Beautiful”; January 19th, 1974 (p39)
2 Phil Hersh, The Chicago Tribune, “GRIFFITH-JOYNER NAILS 100-METER DASH FINAL”; July 18th, 1988
3 Julie Ann Willett, The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia; 2010 (p218)
4 Amy Littlefield, “Meet the Poet Who Inadvertently Took Down Gay Talese, and the Journalist Talese Insulted”; Apr 5, 2016
5 Liana Satenstein, Vogue, “’Manicure Sculptures’ Are the Most Extreme Nail Art Yet”; March 30, 2017
6 Kristina Rodulfo, Elle, “Kim Kardashian Takes Her Fake Piercings To The Next Level”; January 26th, 2017
7 Gabi Thorne, Allure, “Serena Williams Wore Koala Nail Art at the Australian Open”; January 24, 2020