"Coffee, tea, or manicure?” So begins Holly Kalil’s award-winning essay that garnered a much-coveted and prestigious Beauty Changes Lives (BCL/CND/Tippi Hedren) scholarship earlier this year. American Airlines flight attendant, Kalil, who also attends Advance Beauty College (ABC), wasn’t even going to submit an essay, but during her first week attending the Garden Grove, Calif.-based school, her instructor encouraged her to apply. Kalil sent in her essay, and then promptly forgot about it. Soon thereafter, she was surprised and delighted to find out she was one of 10 winners. “I’m so grateful I submitted the essay,” Kalil says. “The scholarship made it possible for me to attend the advanced manicuring course at ABC, which is an extra 200 hours. And it has opened so many doors and been so valuable to me on many levels.”
One might wonder why Kalil, a veteran international flight attendant, would choose to take on the additional work of attending nail school. The reason was simple: after 25 years of flying, Kalil knew something had to change when American Airlines filed bankruptcy in 2012. She wanted a backup plan — an emergency exit, as it were. She started thinking of ways she could reinvent herself in a creative, artistic way. “I had always had weekly professional manicures, and I enjoyed doing my own nails as well,” says Kalil. “In fact, I often felt I could do a better job than what I was getting at some salons. And it occurred to me that beauty is economy-proof. Women have to present themselves professionally, with clean well-manicured hands — we don’t give up our manicures! So opening a nail salon seemed like the perfect solution.”
After that initial realization, Kalil began to brainstorm. Since her knowledge-base is customer service, she came at it from that angle and the ideas started flowing. “First I had the idea for a ‘Frequent Filer’ program, a program where clients could earn points with every $1 spent for services or gift certificates. Then I had the idea that it would be fun to have a retro airline-themed nail salon where all the employees are like a great flight crew,” Kalil says. “I knew it would require a leap of faith to pull it off, but it had become a calling. And I never wanted to look back and wonder, what if?”
In December 2012, Kalil took that leap of faith; she leased an 1100-sq.ft. space in Costa Mesa, Calif., and got busy outfitting the salon with vintage flight posters, old TWA food carts for storing supplies, and various other airline memorabilia. The clean, bright space features white walls and low blue carpeting — unusual for a nail salon — but Kalil wanted the salon to resemble a comfortable airline cabin. Kalil didn’t start school until March 2014, but she wanted to jump on her idea and get the salon open as soon as possible. “I knew it was a great concept and I was afraid someone else would steal my idea.”
PREPARE FOR TAKE OFF
By February 2013, FlyGirls Nail Art was open and ready for business. But Kalil decided to spread her wings even further. While the salon was just taking off, she began attending Advance Beauty College. She enrolled in the 400-hour program due to financial constraints, with the agreement that she could upgrade later to the 600-hour program that specializes in gel application. It was during that first week she heard about the BCL/CND scholarship. The problem was, Kalil was attending ABC as an “undercover” salon owner. “I was there to get my license,” Kalil says. “But I was also scouting for talent for Fly Girls. I didn’t want anyone to know I owned a salon.” In the end, Kalil decided to share her story in order to apply for the scholarship.
Attending school, running Fly Girls (with the help of manager Jessica Sanchez), and continuing to be a flight attendant has been a whirlwind. On the days she isn’t flying, Kalil attends nail school from 9 a.m. to 3p.m. and works at Fly Girls from 3:30 p.m to 7 p.m. Her hard work has paid off. Fly Girls is a success, and because of the scholarship, Kalil has been able to embrace a number of opportunities, including a stint as a CND-sponsored guest speaker at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and a collaboration with Young Nails to implement a job placement program at both ABC and Fly Girls. “I’m so honored that Jan Arnold of CND asked me to speak to/meet the donors of the BCL/CND/Tippi Hedren Scholarship,” Kalil says. “And I’m very excited about the job placement program with Young Nails. When I first started this endeavor, one of the things I wanted to do was to help other flight attendants who would like to get their licenses and do nails on the side.”
A SMOOTH LANDING
Fly Girls now has eight nail stations at the nail bar, four pedicure chairs, and a state-of-the-art reflexology. Each client receives a Fly Girls Nail Art “Boarding Pass” when she is seated that lists available services and upgrades. Flight attendant mannequin “Betty” greets clients, who can then peruse nail color samples while relaxing in two real first class airplane seats located in one of two waiting areas. Fly Girls’ six nail techs — who start out with silver wings in their first year and graduate to gold — are commission-based, and there are also two estheticians who perform skin care and waxing in the private “Sky Lounge.” Because Kalil travels — her routes are Brazil, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, and Hawaii — she is able to prospect exotic retail jewelry pieces. She also offers pieces from local artists, including unique wire-wrapped jewelry made by her two estheticians. The salon features OPI, Light Elegance, Azurture, Orly, CND, and Gelish, and a daily special, which is a gel manicure and house pedicure for only $45. Next, Kalil plans to offer a line of specialty pedicures with travel destination themes, such as The Provence Pedicure that will feature lavender.
When asked what the future holds, Kalil says she will continue to perfect her nail art, fly with American Airlines, and franchise her business. “Nail art is my passion,” she says. “And I’d love for Fly Girls Nail Art to be a household name.”
Read Holly Kalil’s winning essay and learn more about the BCL/CND/Tippi Hedren Nail Scholarship here.
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