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A Response to "The Price of Nice Nails"- New York Times article.

Posted by Kat Nguyen on

A Response to “The Price of Nice Nails”- New York Times article.

On May 7th, a New York Times article was written by Sarah Maslin Nir regarding wage abuse in certain New York City nail salons. It exposes that many salon workers are underpaid, often receiving only $10 a day while working up to ten hours a day. See the article here:

It has been just about a month since the publication of that article. Within this one month, the story has been covered and examined by countless news sources, from NPR to Newsweek. “The Price of Nice Nails” (the name of Nir’s article) became the viral investigative story of the year. It seems as if everyone heard about it. City officials, consumers, and the general public have expressed a strong, socially conscious reaction to the injustices of underpaid salon workers. We applaud New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo’s quick reaction to the expose. However, the article has done more than just open up people’s eyes to wage theft in the New York City area. Just as the sensationalized writing of the article was effective in making people feel impassioned about this issue, it also inadvertently caused a misleading stigma against the nail industry.

Many news sources that reference Ms. Nir’s article will specify that it focused on a culture of salons in New York City; however, certain sources such as Business Insider and Glamour alike have written articles as a blanket response to the entire industry. Headlines and tweets have generalized the state of the profession with phrases like “..the difference between #nailsalons and #sweatshops is…” and “Your manicurist is an exploited wage-slave, according to the #NYT..” There is a missing link in all these newspaper articles, which is that there are not enough voices being heard from people WITHIN the industry.

Those in the nail industry all across the nation understand that this problem is not the norm. Phrases like “[she] worked in silence, sloughing off calluses from customers’ feet or clipping dead skin from around their fingernail beds.” (an excerpt from Nir’s article) implies a sense of misery across the entire industry. Such services are normal in the profession, yet are patronized by the article.

The public needs to be assured of the professional characteristics of nail salons. A group of salons in one area does not reflect the entire industry. Nir writes “Step into the prim confines of almost any salon and workers paid astonishingly low wages can be readily found.” However, this sentence fails to remind the reader that the 100+ workers interviewed by the Times were from salons in one condensed area in New York. It certainly does not reflect the majority of salons across the nation. The ability to pay a legal wage should not be an issue, considering how many salons across the nation have only a slight increase of prices from those in New York, yet manage to pay minimum wage and overtime when necessary. According to the Times, an average manicure in New York is $10.50. A Huffington Post article that compares New York’s practices to that of California’s lists one salon’s manicure price of $15, yet the workers in that salon start off with the pay of $11 an hour.

The nail industry is full of passionate individuals who strive to make others feel beautiful and healthy. Many new city ordinances and regulations have recently passed in order to ensure the healthy environment of the nail salon. In 2012, the International Mechanical code listed the specification that nail salons are required to have ventilation with a source capture system at the point of the service. Since the passing of this code, a plethora of salons have been proactive in upgrading their ventilation systems, and even introducing more toxin free products into the salon. All states have requirements in regards to sanitation and sterilization of tools and implements.

With that being said, looking at the industry as a whole does little when the issue at hand is figuring out how to help a demographic within the industry that is suffering. One should not marginalize a group because they are not representative of the whole. For nail salon customers who are unsure about the practices in the salons they frequent, the New York Times wrote a follow up article listing ways to be a socially conscious nail salon customer

Such suggestions include to interview your manicurist, to look around for indications of accurately measured work hours, and to simply go to a salon that has higher prices (suggesting that it is less likely to underpay workers when services are more adequately priced). If trafficking or wage abuse is suspected, one is advised to call the state’s department of labour hotline.

The problem that persists in these salons are deeply rooted and can not be vanquished immediately, but governor Cuomo’s steps of mandating a salon worker’s Bill of Rights and stricter enforcement of salon requirements is going in the right direction.

The nail industry is as diverse as our melting pot of a country. It is filled with different cultures and demographics. Whether a nail technician has always been drawn to the beauty of nail design or is simply working to provide a living for him/herself, it is a profession that takes precision, safety, creativity, and drive. It is important to support one another in this industry. If one lacks the resources and understanding on how to succeed while maintaining ethical conditions, then the rest of the industry should offer their knowledge and experiences. The beauty industry is ever changing, growing, and strengthening. It has rarely declined and faltered, and even persists during times of peril and war. Just as innovations in technology and products affect and strengthen the industry, so will revelations in social justice. 

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About The Author

Kat Nguyen is a student at Stephens College Columbia and studies Digital Filmmaking with an emphasis in Graphic Design and Marketing. She currently works as a marketing intern at Allure Nail Supply.

Growing up with parents who owned nail salons and a beauty supply, Kat has been immersed in the beauty industry since a very young age. She considers beauty a platform for creativity- and believes that creative endeavors have the ability to promote great causes. She hopes to use her filmmaking degree to create platforms of social change.

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