It sometimes pays to stand out. The diaspora of male nail technicians is larger than one would likely think, with personalities and experiences varying far wider than the scope any article can feasibly cover. But in every case, the simple fact of being a man immediately sets them apart from the norm in the nail industry. Men are a small subset of nail technicians, overall barely topping 3% of the entire industry. In the Vietnamese market, it’s higher — 27.2% of nail techs are men.
While a male nail tech remains an oddity in the salon, the opportunities for guys to create a career and livelihood in the salon are many. Motivated and clever male techs contribute every day to this industry in ways that might surprise you.
Vu Nguyen, Oceanside, Calif. • Years doing nails: 10 • Specialty: nail art
Nguyen started out as a tattoo artist with his talent transferring seamlessly to nails as shown in his detailed and ever-inspiring nail art. Together with his brother Robert, Vu racked up a number of competition wins during the ’05 and ’06 circuits and now is an OPI educator. The brothers have a nail art step-by-step book and Vu has done serveral covers for NAILS and Vietsalon.
“My mom got me into doing nails in 2002,” says Nguyen. With a natural talent in drawing, he was an accomplished tattoo artist when his mother asked him to attend beauty school with her. “She was saying that a lot of Vietnamese people do nails and that it looked pretty easy so I should try it out.”
Nguyen accompanied his mother to every class, bonding with the one other guy enrolled, and made it to graduation.
Quickly stunted by the conservative salon clientele in his first salon, Nguyen transferred to Platinum Nails in Oceanside, Calif., and came under the tutelage of Sang Chau. “He was the one who got me started trying to do quality nails and bringing out the artistic side,” says Nguyen.
Nguyen built a clientele quickly and easily and entered the ISSE Long Beach nail competition in 2005. After placing second, the industry took notice of his exceptional skill and commissioned him with magazine cover and promotional work. He moved to another salon and became an educator for OPI specializing in the Vietnamese market. He now takes clients on personal appointment basis only, and also works special party events where nail art booths are featured.
Thomas Huynh, Regal Nails, Fargo, N.D. • Years doing nails: 13 • Specialty: gel polish
Born and raised on a cattle farm in Charlotte, Ark., Huynh first started doing nails to help pay his bills while he attended Moorehead State University in Minnesota. His father had been a nail tech for some time back home in Arkansas, which is why Huynh first reasoned he could make some money in the trade. He figured after his graduation his nail career would likely end. But the money was so nice he kept at it, and he now owns five salons in Fargo, N.D. He still regularly services clients and is an avid educator for Young Nails.
The man who invented the glitter press technique is also an avid outdoorsman. When he’s not doing nails and running his salons he’s taking hunting and fishing trips back in his native Arkansas. His old friends have long since accepted his profession. He does well for himself and his employees. And he has also become quite adept at nail art.
“It was a mistake, for real,” says Huynh of his discovery of the glitter press technique. He was doing a gel set on a client using Young Nails’ ManiQ color soak-off gels. The client had requested glitter, but Huynh was in a zone and forgot to apply the glitter before giving the client her final cure.
The client removed her hand, with Huynh staring blankly at the glitter-less tacky layer. He apologized profusely and said he would apply glitter to her next time, but that because he had already cured there’d be no way to put glitter on — and then it hit him.
“What if I just push the glitter into the tacky layer?” He applied the glitter to the tacky layer lightly with a brush, and then smashed it flat with his finger. A final top coat and cure, and the holographic glitter press effect was born.
“I thought for sure it would chip, so I offered the client a free fix and said for her to come in as soon as needed. But I didn’t hear from her for three weeks, and she said it was perfect. We tried it on the girls at work, and then started offering it to clients and it’s been a huge success ever since.”
Chris Mans, Jeweled Nails, Irvine, Calif. • Years doing nails: 4 • Specialty: Bio Sculpture gels
Mans started his career four years ago when he became part of the marketing team for Bio Sculpture Gel USA. He was still a college student at the time with a passion for graphic design. But after working with gels during the boot camp that’s required for all Bio Sculpture employees, Mans’ creativity piqued and he dove headfirst into nails. He quickly earned his license and now works trade shows at the Bio Sculpture booth and is helping to further develop the company’s education program.
“Go big or go home” is a mantra Mans has been repeating since way before his nail career ever started, and now as his momentum gains he’s determined to get the most out of everything the nail industry has to offer. He has become an integral member to Bio Sculpture’s education program, having recently developed the Bio Sculpture USA nail art course and taught the entire group of Bio Sculpture USA educators at the annual seminar.
And by the time this article is printed, he will have just returned from a whirlwind schedule that started in Seoul, Korea to compete in the Global Nail Cup — an international competition that attracts thousands of competitors each year — and then flying straight to Japan to give a nail art seminar at the Empire NY Nail Academy of Tokyo.
He plans to travel to several trade shows in 2012 to give demos, compete, and educate. “I have several photo shoots booked this summer and will turn my attention to the entertainment industry to continue growing and challenging myself. I am launching my website, www.jewelednails.net, which will not only provide basic information and details for making appointments, but also become a go-to informative site with everything from art galleries, client FYIs, professional troubleshooting, nail industry updates, nail fashion, and of course a blog!”
Tai Nguyen, Q Nguyen, Rick Hoang, Tempe, Ariz. • Years doing nails: 10 each • Specialty: nail art
Nails By Males takes the male tech meme directly to its customers. Situated on the campus of Arizona State University, Nails By Males is co-owned by three male techs who have a combined 30+ years of nail experience. They decided to open a salon targeting the female student population with fun, colorful nail art, and it has become the place to get your nails done. Tai Nguyen, Q Nguyen, and Rick Hoang are in their late 20s / early 30s, and are having a great time.
“We’re right on campus, so we focus on Rock Star Gels and glitter — those are very popular here,” says Tai. In the last six months, Nails By Males has become a smash hit with Arizona State University coeds. Its mission statement is clear: at Nails By Males the technicians are licensed professionals who care about the quality of their work, and their attention and enthusiasm are part of the overall Nails By Males experience.
The kids can’t get enough of it.
“It’s going great,” says Tai. He owns Nails By Males (in Pink’s Salon on the ASU campus) with his brother Q, and friend Rick Hoang. When Tai first moved to Arizona, he didn’t know anyone, but he was a licensed nail tech. And the first friend he met was Rick, another licensed nail tech, and they decided to open a salon.
The concept of a guy doing nails, the rarity of it, is attention-getting and thus most male technicians with skills can secure a proper clientele in a reasonably short amount of time. With Nails By Males, they come right out with it, and the result has been a great success with the guys offering the gamut of fun, glittery nail shades that express the school spirit and youth of its wearers.
David Fowler, Signature Nails, Düsseldorf, Germany • Years doing nails: 11 • Specialty: acrylic pink-and-whites
Fowler came up behind industry trailblazers like Tom Bachik, Tom Holcomb, Trang Nguyen, and Sam Sweet, and like them he made a name for himself in the competition arena and developed a great reputation through his education work at CND. He currently lives in Germany, where he runs Signature Nail International, an education academy and consulting service.
“At the beginning of my career UV gel was virtually an unknown in the U.S. market,” says Fowler. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he can do one mean acrylic pink-and-white. Starting his career in Salt Lake City just to make some extra income, Fowler mastered the acrylic pink-and-white look among a clientele of traditional taste and style. His precision sets gained the interest of CND (Creative Nail Design back then), and he worked events like the Sundance Film Festival and national beauty shows. “In working with a manufacturer, I recognized the potential opportunities and took advantage of them,” says Fowler.
In the studio and on the U.S. show circuits, pink-and-whites and regular nail polish was the norm. Upon moving to Europe, Fowler developed his reputation through nail art in more extreme variations that appealed to the European market.
“I have been receiving more and more recognition for my nail art and decided to return to my passion — pink-and-whites. But now I have the added value of the nail bed elongation through a camouflage powder. Although UV gel has become stronger worldwide, my love for liquid and powder remains.”
David Fowler taking 3rd in the U.S. Invitation Acrylic competition at the 2010 IBS Las Vegas show. [right] An example of Fowler’s competition nails and his promo and marketing work.