Nigeria’s First Lady of Nails

Being a nail pioneer in Nigeria isn’t easy. But Adetokunbo Awogboro is blazing trails right and left, with a little help from loyal clients, and a friendly customs officials or two.

The Colorful

Orange, khaki, and white technicians’ uniforms add a warm yet professional touch to the recently redecorated salon. The security man in the parking lot cheerfully opens car doors and starts engines so customers won’t smudge their nails. The latest beauty and fashion magazines from Europe and the United States adorn the tables in the reception area. You could say The Nail Studio in Lagos, Nigeria, pays attention to detail.

And it’s watching those details that has made The Nail Studio so popular, says owner Adetokunbo Awogboro. “Lagos is a very cosmopolitan city, and we have clients of all nationalities who travel far and wide,” she says, noting that many of her customers are used to being pampered at the finest nail salons in Europe. “Therefore, we have to offer a wide range of services.”

In fact, it was the search for such nail care services for herself that led Awogboro to open The Nail Studio in 1987. The Nigerian-born owner, who also has a home in London, had become accustomed to having her nails done regularly when she stayed in England. But there was no similar service available in Nigeria. “I opened the salon out of frustration,” she says, noting that she trained under some of England’s top nail artists before opening her own shop.


A Ready-Made Clientele

Once open, word of The Nail Studio spread quickly. “The average Nigerian woman, irrespective of income level, places beauty and outward appearance high on her priority list,” says Awogboro. “Most of our clients are working-class women, but even low-income clients come in,” she adds. “For Nigerian women, beauty and personal appearance are often a higher priority than even shelter or food. It’s amazing.”

While personal income in Nigeria is relatively low (averaging about $1,875 per year in U.S. dollars, according to Awogboro), “in the typical Nigerian family, everyone pitches in,” she says. “We have no social security or welfare here.” In African society, she explains, resources are pooled and less personal income is required for each individual. Because personal appearance is so important to Nigerian women, clients at The Nail Studio are happy to pay $8 for a full set of acrylic nails, Awogboro says.

The local community greeted The Nail Studio warmly as soon as it opened, in part because it was the first (and remains the only) nails-only salon in the country. “There are probably about 50 hair salons in Nigeria that have one or two tables for nails, but that is about it,” says Awogboro. Before her salon opened, she says, Nigerian women who could afford international travel were the only ones who could seek out a top-notch salon manicure at a nails-only salon.

But Nigerian women aren’t the only customers who keep The Nail Studio’s seven nail technicians and six natural nail manicurists busy all day long. “We have a large following of non-Nigerians, too; they are mainly Americans, Lebanese, Indians, Germans, and French,” Awogboro adds.


Beyond the Basics

At The Nail Studio, the nail technicians and manicurists provide all the basics: manicures, pedicures, acrylics, fiberglass, gels, hot paraffin treatments, even reflexology. But it’s the little extras – like staying open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate working women and offering clients scented flannel towels straight from the steamer as an after-manicure luxury – that keep customers returning to the salon.

To make her clients feel extra special, Awogboro and her staff do more than just recommend the same “special of the week” to everyone who walks through the door. “Knowing our clients’ particular needs is important to our success,” she says. “Since most Africans have very dry skin, the paraffin dip works wonders for our clients’ dry hands and feet.”

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