Caitlin Iley

TECH TALK: Nikola Clifford of Beauty Box

By Callie Iley | 10 October 2020 | Feature, Tech Talk

Nikola Clifford Feature Pic

Scratch chats to Nikola Clifford of Beauty Box in Balloch, about her journey into the nail world and her passion for nail art…

Since 2015, I’ve had my own salon in my garden called Beauty Box. I studied a HND in Beauty Therapy at Clydebank College in 2003, but found my calling as a nail technician.

I was always saving up my pocket money from the age of 13 so I could go and get my nails done! Back then, people didn’t really get their nails done often unless they were getting married. This made it hard for me to get a job doing what I loved in the beauty industry, so my career path took a different route for a while.

Fast forward a few years to 2010, people were beginning to get their nails done regularly, and experimenting with colours on their nails, instead of just classic French tips. 3D nail art, particularly giant bows and rhinestones became popular. This is when I decided to start back up again.

Initially, I just practiced on family and friends then through word of mouth, I started to gradually do a little more. Over time, I built up my client base and decided to take the plunge and go self-employed when I was pregnant with my son, Lewis. Being a mum of two now, I’m so happy that I did – I feel so lucky to have such a flexible job where I can work around my family, plus being right at home means I get to see my husband and kids throughout the day. I can honestly say I love my job.

Nails have got me completely hooked! I absolutely love the transformation, and how a simple thing like having nice nails can make you feel.

Creating is my happy place, it’s so therapeutic for me. I really love making people happy, and best of all they leave feeling good about themselves. Almost all of my customers expressed how rubbish they felt during lockdown not having their nails done. That’s because it’s not like years ago, where you’d get your nails done only for a special occasion – now it’s a part of who you are, your identity, and when you don’t have these things you don’t feel like you.

During lockdown, I’d noticed a few nail techs had started doing press-on nails, so I decided to give it a try. This was a new learning curve for me as it was a totally different process going contactless with my clients! It felt so strange not having someone there to talk to, but I soon adapted to the process and after watching an amazing video on press-on nails from Lauren Wireman from Wildflowers, I felt confident to start producing them.

I decided on the name ‘Falsies’ and posted all about them on social media. I really didn’t expect the reaction I got – I was soon inundated with orders from all over Scotland and England! It was great getting back into working and creating again. I got really good feedback from customers. It really helped to cheer them up. What I love about Falsies is that they appeal to a whole different clientele, like if you have a job where you’re not allowed nails, you can have a set of Falsies ready to use on your next night out!

When it comes to techs I admire, Gemma Lambert has inspired me for years. In 2013, I arranged a venue so she could come to my area to do an acrylics skill and one stroke course. I was beyond excited! Meeting Gemma, I must admit, I was so nervous, but she’s so nice and down to earth and I soon relaxed.  I’d always dreamed of being taught by her and she did not disappoint.

One of the things I admire about Gemma is that she’s always there to give advice. As busy as she is, she will take time out her day to help me out. After taking on board all of her advice, I really brushed up on my attention to detail, making sure every angle of the nail was perfect. Some of my clients have a chuckle at me as I move from side to side analysing the structure and filing away any slight imperfections!

The nail world is huge now, I love it! My social media is just full of amazing nail techs from all over the world. Chantelle from Clawgasmic is brilliant and so nice, I joined her network as soon as she launched it! Tony Li too, he’s fascinating to watch! Young Nails is amazing for helpful advice and tips and Tracy-Lou’s work is so inspiring! Rose Marie Jones is amazing for her abstract art.

There’s just so many great local nail techs and beauty therapists too – I’m always liking all their posts and supporting them, as I think it’s really important to build each other up in this industry.

Nail art is a real passion for me. I really enjoy doing any sort of nail art, especially animal prints, floral, geometric or vintage designs. Abstract and alternative French are my absolute favourite; it’s so much fun using gels, pigments, foils, dots, lines, shapes, and more, to create a little masterpiece. I also love trying out different textures, like sugaring and bubble chrome. My other most favourite is milk bath nails, using tiny dried flowers, they’re just so pretty and delicate. My nemesis seems to be striping tape, but I’ll keep trying… we’ll be friends one day!

My favourite style at the moment is a mid-long almond shape. I update my nails every couple of weeks, and I like trying new products and ideas out on myself. Sometimes, if I can’t decide what to have, I’ll try different styles on each hand. I’ll be out in my salon for hours sometime just lost in nails. For me, it’s so important as a nail tech to keep my nails looking good as much as possible, and we all love it when someone compliments our nails… Although I’ve usually got a few scuffed ones from the filing, I don’t think I could cope without my nails done.

An average day in my life consists of infills and gel polishes. It’s great now that more and more clients are craving nail art, even if it’s just a little something on the ring finger to make the nails pop. I absolutely love it when I’m given free rein. I have a few clients that trust me to pick something for them, which is great as I get to try out any new ideas. I get excited when I know the ‘nail art clients’ are coming as they always bring fresh and funky ideas to the table!

Every morning I always wonder what I’ll end up creating that day, which is the exciting part of the job.

I’ve always kept the cost of nail art low, as I want my clients to keep getting it so I can keep doing what I love, at an affordable cost to my customers.

This industry is so fast moving. Nail art in particular has just exploded the past few years. The standard of work out there is insane, it’s so inspiring! You’ve just got to keep expanding your knowledge and updating your skills. I believe it’s something that you need to put your heart and soul into. I’m still learning every day. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m always open to seeing different nail technicians’ way of working, so I can learn from them.

I watch lots of YouTube videos, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are just full of nail inspiration too, which really helps to spur me on to keep improving. There’s nothing worse than when I hear someone saying they had a bad set of nails that fell off within days, as it’s generally just a case of poor education or knowledge.

Social media is great for keeping myself up to date with the latest trends and ideas. It’s such a nice industry to be a part of, with nail techs out there giving away free advice, demonstrations and even courses, just to help their fellow nail techs improve their skills.

There really are so many opportunities out there to learn and develop, so there’s really no excuse not to! You just have to keep believing in yourself, and stick at it, and you’ll get there eventually.

I think it’s so good to look back to see how far you’ve come. I used to feel ashamed of previous work because it wasn’t “good enough”, but now I try to see it from a more positive angle. I try to look at how I’ve improved from then, because at the time that was my best work, so as long as you’re trying your best that’ll do! It’s hard for me not to be critical of my work, but on the upside, it keeps me striving for better. I’m constantly seeking better techniques, products and tools to make things easier – just a simple thing like a decent nail art brush makes all the difference.

I really enjoyed lockdown for the simple fact I was able to do lots of The Nail Team’s online courses, most of them were free! The courses really helped me brush up on and develop my skills, plus I learned so many more techniques.

I think my favourite courses were the vintage and inky art courses. I plan to do more in the future. Going back to work was so exciting, as I had lots of new ideas on display for my customers. I’ve found this has encouraged the ones that didn’t normally get nail art to give it a try!

Follow Nikola’s nail journey on Instagram, here