Caitlin Iley

Nail Tech Talk: Nicola Julian of Oakwood Nails

By Callie Iley | 05 August 2023 | Feature, Tech Talk

Nicola Julian Nail Tech Talk

Overcoming self-doubt to pursue a career in the nail industry, Nicola Julian of Oakwood Nails discovered her love for nail art during the pandemic before completing her training in 2021.

Having had an interest in make-up, hair and nails from a young age, Nicola Julian initially pursued a career in accountancy after she left school. “I had wondered what it would be like to be a hairdresser or a beauty therapist but I thought that I wasn’t arty enough or very talented in that way,” she remembers.

“I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and was always very shy and quiet, so the thought of having a career where I would be talking to lots of clients wasn’t something I thought I could do. So at that point of my life, having a career where I concentrated on numbers and reports suited me just fine.”

“In my late 20s and early 30s, I had my two beautiful children and my accounting career fitted in really well with being able to work whilst looking after them. The problem was, I was not passionate or excited about my job, and I felt that there was something else out there that would be my thing. I wanted to do something specialist, to work for myself and for it to be something that felt more me.

“At school, I loved art and design, but after finishing school at 16, I went to work at a horse yard as I had no idea what I wanted to do at that point. I eventually went back to college to study my A Levels, and then went to work in an accountancy firm. Since leaving school, my love of art and beauty was pushed into the background as I concentrated on having a more academic career, which I thought you needed to be able to make a decent income.”

“When my youngest was one year old, I decided that something needed to change, as I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my career choice and was getting bored and frustrated. By this point, I often painted my mums, nans and my own nails.  I’d collected so many colours and tools that my mum bought me a beauty case to store them in on my 32nd birthday,” Nicola remembers. “This sparked something in me that gave me the idea and urge to do this for a living.

“I started to really get interested in nail art during the pandemic, and discovered all of the nail ideas and videos on Instagram. A new world had opened up to me and I was in awe of what people could create on such a tiny canvas. The fact that they then got to wear it every day was amazing to me – I was then hooked!”

After beginning to experiment with at-home gel manicure kits, Nicola unfortunately developed an allergy, experiencing an itching and burning sensation in her fingertips, followed by blistering and cracking. Worried that she would struggle to train as a professional with an allergy, Nicola spent time researching into allergies and how they occur.

“I found Jim McConnell’s Chemist Corner videos, and it was was so exciting to find out that I could still pursue a career in the industry despite my allergy,” she shares. “In November 2020, I signed up to train with Sweet Squared. It was really difficult to work on models during that time in between the lockdowns, but I eventually got my qualifications in May 2021 which is where my nail journey really started.”

“From gaining my qualification, I was on a very steep learning curve for about 18 months, perfecting prep, application and art, as well as the ability to talk and work at the same time, which I still struggle with. My main aim has always been to provide clients with beautiful, long-lasting nails in a relaxed friendly setting, so all efforts went into this first, then I concentrated on nail art after.

“I spent countless evenings doing my normal accounting job until around 10pm, and then I’d practise on myself and spend time doing research into how to market my business until the early hours of the morning,” Nicola recalls. “My drive for perfection and to succeed is what kept me going through these crazy late nights. I wanted to know everything about nails, and I wanted my potential future clients to feel confident and excited to come and have their nails done by me.”

“Since pursuing this career I feel like a whole new person. I’m more confident, passionate and determined. Talking to so many different people and making myself get out there and promote myself has done wonders for my self-confidence. I also owe a lot of this confidence to the amazing Zaara King, who has helped me gain so much confidence and has helped me gather vision and clarity on how to make my business a success.

“When I first qualified, I was working from my kitchen/dining room area until June 2022, when I opened up my home salon. My salon was built by my dad, and offers a little sanctuary for me and my clients to enjoy creating and talking about everything nails.”

“I have always naturally had weak, brittle nails, and I think this goes hand in hand with me having fine hair. A lot of my friends and family have complained of having weak nails, too. After researching and seeing results online from using builder gels, I was sure that this would be the answer to our problems. Knowing you can offer sculpted extensions with the product meant that a lot of people who would otherwise be so conscious about their nails could start feeling good about them again and want to show them off. To help people feel fabulous and confident, I needed something that was going to stand up to the task!

“I love the fact that clients are able to totally change the way that their nails feel and look, especially those who have bitten or damaged them. They can be rectified with either, one appointment by having sculpted extensions for that instant change, or by coming every two to three weeks to have hard gel overlays and naturally grow them long and strong. New clients get more and more excited at each appointment with the increasing choices of nail art as their nails and confidence start to grow, which is something lovely to be a part of.”

“I love so many different types of designs, but I do love a natural pink base with simplistic but eye-catching nail art on top. The art seems to just pop and stand out beautifully from the gorgeous pink tone underneath. A simple French is also a favourite of mine as it’s so classic and clean looking.

“Looks that require layering are also a favourite too, for example, rose quartz looks, torties and French ombres. I love seeing the look on clients’ faces during and after, as these looks really do have to go through a process before the finished product at the end. These designs have so much depth which you just want to stare into for hours,” Nicola enthuses. “With regards to building techniques, I have found that using a long liner brush to perfect the sidewall and cuticle area along with turning the nail upside down really helps to perfect the shape and finish thus reducing filing time and wasted product.”

“My clients tend to want all different sorts of designs, and so they keep me on my toes, which is great. They generally tend to go from a natural pink look with minimal art or French, and then change it up for their next appointment with something more bright and glittery and then repeat this.

“Lengthwise, most of my clients like to have short to medium length nails. For those that have medium or long nails, I tend to advise having almond or rounded nails, as they make the hand appear so elegant and the reduced surface area compared to square nails means they are less likely to take impact from knocks.”

“I love the positive vibe of the nail industry. Whenever you reach out to someone on Instagram, they’re always so happy to share advice. People are so lovely at supporting each other’s journey. I love the variety that the job brings, with the endless looks you can create and the relationships that you build with clients. It’s so lovely to catch up and hear about what is going on in their lives and be a support to them if they need it. I love being able to help them in some way by giving them a listening ear. We’re definitely not just nail techs!

“When my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 3, it hit our family hard, and I wondered whether I would be able to work again due to the care he needs. However, due to the flexibility of running my own business and the love, support and patience of my amazing clients, I was able to gradually increase my hours again after a couple of months.”

“Nails gives me a much-needed outlet. I’m able to focus on creating beautiful nails for those two hours, talking to them about everything and anything which makes my own worries fade.”

Nicola shares her plans to prioritise finding the correct work/life balance to suit her and her family, and reveals her hopes of competing in 2024 to increase her skillset. “I’m also hoping to go to events to network more and meet some of my online nail pals in real life. I’d love to get into education, specifically with the brand that I use to help other nail techs kickstart their journey.

“Another ambition of mine for the industry is to help spread the word that pricing correctly rather than cheap and quick services, to prioritise clients’ natural nail health as well as the industry as a whole,” Nicola explains. “It’s also important to find more environmentally friendly options when it comes to disposables and cuticle oils. One way I have started to be a bit more proactive with this is to sell little 10ml rollerball oil bottles to my clients which can then be refilled at each appointment for a small fee. This way less plastic is being disposed of and the rollerball design means that the oil is quick and easy to apply.”


Follow Oakwood Nails on Instagram and Facebook