Chung Lee may reject the notion that he is an “artist” out of some misplaced sense of modesty, yet the characterization is very appropriate as it describes a personal style, intensity and expression that is remarkably similar.
The term “artist” is too often used in its strictest sense someone who creates fine art, such as sculptures or paintings, that has impact beauty or presence. But art, and the expression of it, is not limited to such a narrow view. It is a state of mind.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creating imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” Art is both in the artist and the work, its the effort and the result. It is a commitment, a continual struggle ...it is a way of life.
As such, it cannot be limited to any one expression, but rather encompasses all of man’s endeavors.
Chung Lee, president of Nu Art Beauty Products, has channelled a similar creative energy toward his company and the design and development of his nail tips: products with a style and design as important as its function.
A relative newcomer to the nail industry, Chung has attempted to establish a reputation on the benefits and strengths of his product line. A Korean by birth, occasionally given to quoting proverbs to illustrate a point, he is a quiet, soft spoken man who seems bent on proving his product and, by association, himself. He is a man devoted to quality and to the industry that has given him his livelihood this past year.
“If there is one thing that I want the manicurist to understand,” he said in his clipped style of speech “is that Nu Art stands for quality,” His standard, repeatedly emphasized is “very important and very high.”
“We do our best I do not want to come across as if ours was the only product, that we are the only company concerned with quality. That is just not true there are several others as concerned. But what I do want to make clear is that before I put something out for the manicurists I examine it very carefully and very thoroughly to the point that it is something that I am satisfied is a great product.”
Nothing, he will add, is ever finished. The work continues, to improve the shape, to enhance they lit, to search for better and possibly newer materials...all in a continue effort to manufacture the best tips possible.
Chung’s first product, introduced early last year was the Nu Nail tip, designed for “a truly natural looking nail.”
“Before I get into the nail industry, I researched the industry and product for over six months. At that point there were about six or seven manufacturers making the nail tips, but I felt that I could improve the appearance of the tips, and their function.
“But before I marketed the tips, cut the plastic mold three times, over en eight month period before I came out with my first nail tip.” Chung said.
His goal with Nu Nails was to develop a tip that offered strength, less carking, was hear and impact resistant and was beautifully styles.”
“Nu Nails addressed these concerns,” he explained relaxing a bit as he reminisced, “but we did not stop there. Always there is the work on the tips, on the molds, to continually improve the product.”
His next step, once satisfied with the direction and acceptance of his Nu Nail, was to approach his tips from more of a fashion point of view. Sophisticated Lady tips were born with that goal in mind.
“Sophisticated Lady tips took me about eight to nine months to fully develop. It is completely different that the Nu Nail and required a great deal of effort. With the Sophisticated lady we were after the look, the styling of the tip it is for the professional look the fashion look...the tip is longer with a different curvature and contour.”
The initial stages of the Sophisticated Lady tips were delayed with concerns regarding the material and the lit of the tips, areas that were to challenge Chung and his staff chemist in ways they were not expecting.
“That first time we cut the mold forced us to take a long look at what we were doing and what we wanted to accomplish. It looked simple, in the beginning, just shaping a piece of plastic. But we found out just how out involved the process actually can be...the shaping, the contour, the style of material I found myself relying on my educational back-ground and some excellent work by our chemist. In order to develop the product to the level of quality we wanted.”
Chung’s education back ground in industrial engineering a degree he earned at the University of Southern California, provided the technical background, his 10-plus years in the beauty supply industry provided the marketing understanding)
During the testing and marketing of his nail tip line. Chung received invaluable assistance from three individuals he feels must be recognized for their effort, Katie Craddick, Shirley and Nancy.
‘These individuals, these friends, have helped me tremendously;’ he said, practically beaming at the prospect of showing his appreciation.
“They listened, suggested and helped me stay on track with the goal of developing products for the convenience of the manicurists and toward the improvement of the product”
Such assistance was invaluable, for example, in his review of buffers. Suggestions were accepted, examined and then followed through with the manufacturer of such items.
“If there is any way I can improve those buffers, I do it, even though I am not manufacturing them, even though they may ask for special die cut fees and research fees and the majority of the improvements we ask for are not exclusive for us.
“But I feel this way. My main business is the nail tips I want to return something back to the manicurists and the nail industry. If I come out with a better buffer, everyone will upgrade their products to compete, and everyone will win. But in the meantime we have succeeded in bringing better products to the manicurists.”
It is this attitude that repeatedly conveys the commitment this man has made to the nail industry. Obviously there is the profit motive, Chung readily admits this. Yet he has taken this commitment beyond just the making of another dollar. He is determined to prove himself and to help the fledging nail industry grow.
‘It is very important that we help the manicurist grow and develop as a professional,” said Chung, describing his position. “We can do this by producing better and better product, by introducing new product, by offering education, and by acting as an industry. The product aspect is one that is up to the manufacturers; they will continue to develop new products and address the needs of the manicurists. Education can also be the responsibility of the manufacturers, and Nu Art is doing something there as well. But the crucial area is in the forming of a manufacturer association.”
The educational materials from Nu Art are currently being developed and will encompass a written as well as a video presentation of product and how to improve technique. The idea of an association, Chung admits, may be further off.
“I want to see some kind of organization that will further the industry and address any problems that affect manicurists. But it must be a group of nail manufacturers. It is about time that we got together and planned for the future of this industry. There appears to be enough interest from other manufacturers, and the nail industry is growing so fast that an association could help us grow stronger instead of just bigger.
The efforts of such a group, argues Chung, would be to establish help for the manicurist by providing important educational materials, problem solving and possibly even an insurance program. Such an effort would in turn help all the manufacturers as it would more clearly define the nail aspect of the beauty industry as a separate industry with distinct needs and concerns.
“The point would be that this group effort can help keep this industry growing,” Chung reiterated, “to help the manicurist and to help us.”
If Aristotle, the greek philosopher, is correct in describing art as “a capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning,” then Chung rightfully should be described as an artist. He has the creative capacity to make and, if one looks at it from the woman’s point of view, to make something beautiful, something aesthetic, pleasing to the beholder. His approach appears to take the true course of reasoning, as he concerns himself with the design and the quality of the tips. And as the artist, he has a larger view, of his product and the industry, that at times borders on the visionary.
Chung Lee may be too modest to think of himself as an artist, yet all the indications are there. He may not be creating a painting or a sculpture, but he is creating art nonetheless art that is a state of mind, a way of life.