For many New York women (especially young, underpaid, ambitious ones), the $10 manicure has felt like a personal risk with a worthwhile upside. So what it’s not totally clean? It’s $10! Until a New York Times reporter opened everyone’s eyes to an important fact: it’s not about us.
Sarah Maslin Nir’s groundbreaking story found that many nail salon workers are not only being paid unfair wages, some aren’t being paid at all or have to pay employers for the “opportunity” to work. That’s not to mention the serious health risks technicians are exposed to on a regular basis.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t totally shocked, but disheartened and sad to say the least,” says Eleanor Langston, who owns Soho salon Paintbox and in the wake of the news sent out a statement to clients about the salon’s policies. “When the prices are really low, you have to wonder what corners are being cut.”
Governor Cuomo has already issued emergency orders—including salon investigations, rules to protect manicurists from chemicals, and a campaign to inform workers of their rights. In the meantime, we spoke with some women who’ve made it their jobs to do things differently about how they’re taking steps to improve the industry by example.
Owner, Sweet Lily
In order for a manicure to be profitable, it would have to be $30. We’re running such a slim margin charging $26—all of that extra money [between the $26 and $10 price points] goes to cleaning, laundry and towel services, making sure everybody has licenses, and giving people paid vacations. It’s hard to validate our price point to the client, but this is what it costs to run a proper nail salon.
We also close at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and we’re not open on Sunday–my techs have families, so I respect that. It makes it a little difficult for business sometimes, but at the end of the day, I have a really insanely loyal staff, and we all work together as a team.
We spend weeks and weeks training manicurists, whom we consider artists, and we use only the highest quality polishes, tools, and equipment.
Our architect designed a top-notch HVAC system. It constantly circulates the air, and that’s one of the first comments we get—it doesn’t smell like a nail salon. That’s because we don’t use acrylics or low-quality polishes.
We also use state-of-the-art dry heat sterilizers. We take cleanliness really, really seriously, and tools are cleaned after every service in a six-minute, almost surgical-grade process.
From day one, we wanted to help the situation as much as possible. We’re hiring.
When I started SpaRitual [a vegan nail polish line used in luxury spas], I was of the mindset that I wanted to offer something healthier for the service providers knowing they’re exposed to it the most. We do a lot of education, and screen the salons that offer it.
When you’re in a salon, every technician should be using tools that come out of the [sealed] bag, so you know they’re sanitized. You can also bring in your own.
In terms of how the workers are treated, one article recommended to sit down across from the person and start asking them; I don’t recommend that. Go online and research green nail salons, and call ahead to ask questions. —Lisa Elaine Held
(Top Photo: Paintbox. Photos on right, from top: Donna Perillo, Eleanor Langston, Shel Pink)