How Nail Artist Ami Vega Is Adapting Her Business Amid A Global Pandemic

Nail Artist Ami Vega shut down her Washington Heights saloncito on March 15, just five days before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued stay-at-home orders for the entire state. “It’s with great sadness, that I make the difficult decision of cancelling the remainder of my March appointments. As someone who works so closely with people, I just can not jeopardize their health or mine and those around us,” she wrote on Instagram. 

Vega’s books are often closed. Her captivating nail art and editorial success has made her salon a sought-after space for nail fans in and out of Washington Heights. But as coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on WOC-owned businesses nationwide, Vega admits it’s been difficult for her to even figure out how to shift gears from one-on-one appointments to social distancing. Still, she’s found a way to carve out a space for her business, creating custom press-on nails and teaching online classes for technicians. 

Emperifollá caught up with the Dominican nail artist to talk about why getting nails done at home is a form of self-care and how she’s rethinking her business in the age of Covid-19. 

How has Covid-19 impacted your business? 

The first thing was definitely the uncertainty of income and how I’d go about making it because I work so close with my clients, even on set when I’m working with the models and the talent. It’s literally no more than 2 feet apart. I had a bunch of shoots lined up and, of course, clients. All of that came to a halt. The biggest thing for me is that because I’m a single mother and I’m the sole breadwinner in my home. So it’s scary. 

How have you transitioned your business now?

I was thinking of doing more teaching online. Some nail techs are now wanting to work on their skills, so I do one-on-one classes online. But then a client requested some [press-on] nails. I posted it and from that it became a thing. Now, the demand is overwhelming. But I’m happy to be working and getting up every day and having something to do. 

I love working with my clients, even when it’s face to face and having a cooperative process and taking their ideas and making it work for what they want. So people email me and I’ll send them a response email with measurements. I only make 10 nails. They are gel tips – the Japanese full cover. I use them for my clients for extensions but you can use them with glue as a press on. I create all the work in gel and I seal it in a hard gel so that way it’s reusable. 

It seems Covid-19 has really impacted WOC working in beauty the most, how do you see your community being impacted? 

I live in Washington Heights. This is a big mecca for beauty. Every block you go to, you see hair salons, barber shops and they are all busy all the time. It’s a big part of our culture. Viene el viernes y el cuerpo lo sabe and you have to be set. It’s scary because when we talk about the phases of opening up, hair salons and aestheticians and nail people, we are going to be the last to open. We are all up in each other’s faces. Another thing I’ve been thinking about is once the doors do open, how am I going to handle having clients? Wear masks? Sneeze guards? I don’t have a clear vision. 

Why is getting emperifollá still important? 

Now that I started doing these press ons, I get up in the morning. I shower. I dress up in outfits that I’d normally wear to work, which, for me, is pretty casual. Me peino, put on some perfume and work. Just to have some sense of normalcy. I think it’s about holding on to what we knew to be normal before all of this. I can tell you. In the first couple of weeks, I broke down. Yo me quité las uñas. I didn’t care about my nails, I was just down. Finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. I did my nails in one of my favorite designs – pastel french. And I’m like, okay I feel like myself. 

What’s your advice for other creatives that are struggling right now?

First, you have to give yourself space to mourn. Mourn the situation, mourn what you’ve lost or what you might lose. In order to get that out of your system, you have to think about what would work for you. How would you rethink your craft? For me, it’s press-ons. For other people, it’s consultations via the web. Virtual right now is the strong suit. We have so much technology at hand that we can do so much with. As a nail artist, I went through art school for more of my life. So that’s another thing I’ve considered – maybe selling prints. Finding ways to remix it. People are still buying things, so there’s ways. More than anything you have to allow yourself to go through the feelings. 

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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