Courtesy of Julie Kandalec
- What inspired you to join the professional nail industry?
“I always used to say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a manicurist’ after a field trip to a local beauty school. I remember seeing the tiny gold gems in one of the student’s Caboodles, and I knew right away that nails are what I wanted to do. I got my license at 17 and have not stopped since.”
- When and how did you get started in your career?
“I began my career in Ohio, at a large, full-service salon. After 10 years there, I knew I had grown as much as I could, and I wanted to create work that was more tangible. I began the journey to build up my body of work to show to an agent in NYC. After a serendipitous meeting in New York with my first agent who asked me, ‘Why don’t you live in NYC yet?,’ I said, ‘If you sign me, I’ll move.’ I flew back to Ohio that same day and began packing to move to NYC for good two months later.
“Being in NYC then catapulted so many opportunities for me, like leading dozens of shows for NYFW, becoming Paintbox’s founding Creative Director, and opening my own private atelier, Julie K Nail Artelier in Manhattan.”
- As a female leader/professional, what are some obstacles you experienced, and how did you overcome them? Have you confronted gender-related roadblocks in your career?
"In the nail industry, we deal with a very large amount of misinformation, and we are constantly trying to re-educate clients and the general population. In late 2020, a piece on the nail industry that was full of incorrect facts came out in one of the largest publications in the world. A group of nail pros got together on Instagram to create awareness of all the ways the writer was wrong.
“Another obstacle we constantly face is the time it takes us to work. Clients have gotten used to getting in and out in 30 minutes, and that simply is not realistic for so many of us—especially those of us who are doing intricate nail art and enhancements. On my website, I say that clients should expect to be there for two to four hours, and I have a piece of artwork up in my Artelier that says ‘Don’t Rush Me.’
“Lastly, charging what we are worth based not on what other professionals in your salon or area charge. Artists should charge based on your time in the industry, education, skill level, rate of client retention, hours of availability and the level of products you use—and if you are a mobile tech: charge for your travel time!”
- How can women support other women in this industry?
“Mentorship, allyship and giving back to the communities. There is enough room for all of us to thrive and shine, and we can only get there by supporting each other's work. Collaboration over the competition as well. I also love giving back to the communities through my work with TradeWorks and teaching at salons and hotels in underdeveloped countries through my own Nail Academy.”
- Tell me about another woman who has inspired you.
“I am blessed to be surrounded by many incredibly inspirational women daily. From former bosses to other NYC nail pros, beauty editors and my clients. Each teaches me something different, but my best friend is the person who teaches me something new and valuable every day.”
- What is one thing you know now you wish you would have known when you started in this business?
“We are not taught how to properly budget for a volatile career. When we were in school, everyone assumed that everyone would have a salaried, 9-to-5 job, and that is not the case at all. There are peaks (wedding season, holidays) and valleys (post-holiday, or even nationwide lockdowns) that we are not taught how to navigate.
“Also, how to grow your business so it is profitable and how to scale early on. We cannot sit behind a desk 40 hours a week—our hands will give out, our backs will give out, and there is always going to be a ceiling of what you can make. Learning other ways to grow is crucial, like the skills to create an e-book, an online course, or making a line of locally sourced hand scrubs and oils. Those have no ceiling on earning or growth potential.”
- Where do you find education, and how do you continue growing your skills and business?
“Education is so important to me. That is why I launched Masterclass Nail Academy, which is a custom-curated educational experience that brings the classroom anywhere in the world. My past classes have been held at 5-star resorts such as Moon Palace in Jamaica, The Residence Maldives, and Le Blanc Spa Resort in both Cancun and Los Cabos. The workshops are fully customized and can include anything from my experience on what it takes to work with A-list celebrities, supermodels and the most particular clients to other nail and salon professionals. I also teach nail professionals how to create a stellar spa experience so they will continually have loyal guests, higher retention rates and elevated income and tips.”
- What tips do you have for aspiring and budding nail techs?
“Networking, kindness and being nice to everyone are so important when you are in the process of launching a career. You never know who you will cross paths with down the line. Spend time on perfecting your craft, and take every opportunity to learn from others. Perfect practice makes perfect. Make sure to keep education at the core of your field and consistently stay on top of new educational training and certifications.”
- What other key learnings and practices do you wish to share with other professionals?
“Learning directly from the manufacturer is really important. YouTube is great for continuing education, but when you are getting a new product, asking the manufacturer directly will prevent product breakdown, allergies and wasted time and money.
“Etiquette of being a professional. On Instagram, I see so many no’s in nail tech bios: no working on top of other people’s work, no plain nails, no short nails, no kids, no refunds, etc. I can imagine it would be such a turn-off for a potential client. I would love to see more positivity on what techs DO want in their bios, like ‘Long, intricate nails are my jam!’ or ‘A salon is not a safe place for kids—please come alone.’
“Also, knowing how to combat misinformation, and being an ally to the BIPOC and communities that are consistently discriminated against in the nail industry.”