THE LUXURY LIE: FAMOUS SALONS WITH INFAMOUS PRACTICES

With branded products, trendy furnishings, and aspirational marketing, luxury salons occupy an enviable position in the beauty industry. But from the perspective of actual service providers, abusive behavior from salon owners, managers, and clients makes their position not just unpleasant, but unacceptable. Editorial manicurist Gracie J describes her experiences dealing with discrimination and exploitation while working in famous NYC salons.

Show Notes

Resources:

Gracie J’s Website: The Editorial Nail
Instagram: @theeditorialnail
New Single: Cut Me Dat Check

Department of Labor (DOL) – Nail Salon Workers Wage and Hour Rights

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) – How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination

NYS Department of Labor – How to File a Discrimination Claim

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – Employment Tax Enforcement

New York Times (5/7/15) – The Price of Nice Nails

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Edited for length and clarity.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

JAIME: Welcome to Outgrowth: A Slice of Pro Beauty with your hosts Jaime Schrabeck.

ASHLEY: And Ashley Gregory. Luxury salons position themselves as the destination for high end, eco-conscious, organic services in a curated, aesthetic environment.

JAIME: Unfortunately, as we learn more and more, these high-profile beauty businesses can hide an ugly truth, worker exploitation and discriminatory practices.

ASHLEY: We welcome New York editorial manicurist Gracie J to share her thoughts on why appearances may be deceiving. Let’s grow together.

ASHLEY: Opened by girl-boss, B-school owners, these salons often tout their ethical practices and disruption of the beauty status quo while taking illegal shortcuts and exploiting loopholes. How do we bring these practices into the light and support those who’ve been taken advantage of? 

JAIME: For today’s discussion, we welcome Gracie J, and for those of you who are not familiar with you or your work, would you please tell us about yourself and your history in the nail industry?

GRACIE: My name is Gracie J. I am the founder and creator of The Editorial Nail. I am a celebrity and industry nail artist. I am a creative director. I produce my own engaging content and, while creating nail art, I strive to integrate conversation and just bring nail art into spaces other than beauty and fashion.

JAIME: We are definitely here to have a conversation, Gracie J, and thank you so much for joining us. Salon owners create an illusion for clients of happy workers ready and willing to perform services. It’s not unusual for clients to expect more when they pay more, but good customer service does not mean allowing clients to mistreat the service providers. Gracie, we know you’ve worked before as an employee. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? What kind of training did you receive as part of your employment? And as part of the staff, were there opportunities to influence the way the business operated?

GRACIE: Throughout my career, and I’ve been doing this for six years professionally, and I’ve been doing nail art since I was 13, so collectively for 17 years, I’ve been in the nail art world.   I’ve had two salon experiences, and while I can say the first one really did give me a great foundation in how I operate as a nail artist in terms of how I treat clients and customers, in terms of having a high safety standard for how I maintain my tools and, you know, client hygiene and everything, there’s just such a disconnect in the industry. And what I’ve observed is, basically, it’s these white women that are coming from corporate America or whatever background that they have, and they see the nail business as a big money making opportunity, which it is because the nail industry is worth billions of dollars, and they have this amazing idea. They have this amazing aesthetic they want to portray, and they start these businesses without truly knowing what the experiences are from the business perspective of the beauty and the nail industry, as well as the perspective of the artists. Now, the first place that I worked at, it was a little posh nail salon in the city, and every nail artist wanted to work there, but our input as artists was not always welcome. It was more so, do as I say, and don’t complain. And I, along with my coworkers, along with the other artists, we experienced our employer basically silencing us. We couldn’t speak out against not having proper lunch breaks. We couldn’t speak out about proper ergonomics in the space. We couldn’t speak out about their entitled clients who treated us like crap. And when we did speak out about anything that was met with retaliation, in which artists were either fired under the pretense of other policies or violations that were brought up before, or they were suspended. And my experience with that salon was just, it was just terrible. And we felt like we were stuck in a dystopian madness in this space where we’re being treated so badly, but we were being gaslighted because it was like, oh, but look. Look at where you are. We  were being made to feel like the crumbs they were giving us were, we were supposed to be happy about it. And after a long time, it was like, I mean, I’ve had another artist, in front of the manager, threaten to assault me and the manager just standing there and not saying anything. And then later claiming that she didn’t hear the person say that. Multiple times, I brought up concerns because I’m a very outspoken person and I’m very happy that over these years, my ability to be outspoken and to speak about certain things has magnified. And during that time, it was just so much pressure and it was just so debilitating when you’re not only dealing with clients who look down upon you and who will blatantly to your face while you’re sitting there giving a service speak down to you or speak down about you to the people sitting next to them, but then your employer wasn’t supporting you. And so the day that I left, they threatened to suspend me because I had spoken out about some chairs that they claimed were more of an investment than their artists were. And they were like, we’re going to suspend you. And I was like, why? They’re like, for insubordination. And I’m like, yeah, no. And I just kind of like peaced out and left. And even thereafter, they still continued to harass me, you know, cease and desist, then sending legal documents to my new employer and just continuously harassing me. I was just in such a bad mental state at that point. It was just terrible. It was trash.

ASHLEY: I’m sitting here completely flabbergasted by what you’re describing. And sadly, this is something that’s been going on behind the scenes across the world in salons. And I’m excited that we get to have this conversation because this is information that might be shocking to a lot of people who are clients of salons, but also for other manicurists to understand, and beyond nail technicians to other disciplines, to understand what it really should look like and what a situation is that is bad and how to recognize it. So I want to take you back to before you knew this was going to be your reality and you decided to start working at these types of salons. Talk about your role and what appealed to you about working for someone else? Did that give you any great opportunities? Did you get some specialized education from that experience? What ways did that really build you up? And then, because they’re such high-profile salons, did you feel like you were given more in that department or less versus working at the shop on the corner?

GRACIE: I mean, what is the difference between, you know, the shop on the corner and these posh salons who treat their workers the same way? I mean, I guess, the difference is, we are a bit more aware of what some of our rights are, whereas in the shops, you know, a lot of these technicians are not aware of what their rights are and they essentially have no rights in those types of salons. Was I given the opportunity to expand my education in terms of nail safety, and proper hygiene practices, and the basics of nail art? Absolutely, but did I have the enriching experience that I wanted and had the opportunities for growth? Absolutely not. Going into the nail industry or just going into the workforce after I graduated college in general, I’ve never wanted to work for anyone. And this is something that’s been ingrained in me since I was a kid. My first email address at like 15, 16 was entrepreneur16@aol.com. So I knew I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. In high school, I used to make these little tape and paper wallets, and sell them to my classmates for like two bucks, and make mad money in a day to like buy my little snacks, and go out and buy like nail polish and stuff. I’ve always taken entrepreneur and business classes thanks to Mr. Kramer, I believe, in high school. He was so keen on providing us with the tools that we need and needed, of which I think every single student needs in school, to have the option or at least a foundation of business, and marketing, and all of the above, and being an entrepreneur, and owning a business, and being, and having that financial and professional freedom. Always taken marketing classes throughout college, and I’ve learned so much from that. Going into the nail salon space is not something that I wanted to do necessarily, but I knew it’s something that I needed to do. When I decided that I was going to go into nail artistry, a lot of people within industry were like, oh, you know, you don’t really need to get a license. I know a lot of manicurists that work on set. But I was like, you know what, I’m the kind of person where once I decide that I want to do something, I want to start it from scratch and do it from the ground up, because I want to get at every single one, a bit of the experience of what it takes to get there. I don’t want to miss anything. So I went, got my license, started working at the salon and I was so eager. I was eager. I was naive. It was, you know, a brand new world for me. I was like, oh my God. I can make $150 doing an editorial. And for me, that was a lot of money, at the time. Making $150 in one day, I don’t have to like slave away or whatever. And just going into that space, I was just so bright eyed, and naive, and eager to learn, and wanting to engulf myself into the industry, and I was just so hopeful. And I was not met with the same energy, and it was exploitation after exploitation, and just watching my fellow artists and my peers just get exploited, and watch us and break our backs to work long hours, and not get the raises, and something as simple and as legal as getting a lunch break was being taken away from us because they wanted to cram in as many clients as possible to make money. I was told, when I brought up to the first salon that I worked at, when I brought up to the owner, I said, hey, I don’t like the way that I’m being treated here. I dedicate so much to this space. I bend over backwards. I do anything and everything you guys ask of me. If I’m not going to be treated properly, then I’m going to have no choice but to leave because at that point, I started seeing and believing that myself and my peers were an asset to this business. Because if you don’t have us, then how can you operate a business? And I strongly believe that if you treat your employees right, then your employees are going to treat your clients amazingly, and then that’s going to help you really escalate. What’s the word, escalate? You know, elevate, elevate as a business. And they didn’t understand that concept. There was a disconnect between owner and clients, a disconnect between clients and artists, a disconnect between artists and management, and it was just a hot mess. No one wanted to listen to each other. No one wanted to procure any type of change. And when all these things were happening, and I was like, listen, I’m going to have to go if this doesn’t work out. And I was told by the owner, well, if you leave, what are you going to do without us? You know, so and so, insert salon name. And I just looked at them and I was like with, or without you, my career is going to be fine. So, at that point I had to make the conscious decision that moving forward, I had to really not give a million percent anymore like I was giving because it just seemed to me at that point that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. During the time when we were working at that salon, the staff, like the artists were so talented. I don’t think there even exists a space anymore where all the artists in one space, well there’s, I’m pretty sure that exists somewhere, but just for me personally, I don’t think I’ll ever experience that again. Where working in a nail salon, all of us were just top notch, and to them we were just disposable. At that point we just kind of had to really meet them where they were at and just decide when the time was right. It was time for us to leave.

ASHLEY: Do you think or feel that things improved for you after the New York Times article came out?

GRACIE: Absolutely not. 

ASHLEY: Okay.

GRACIE: Absolutely not. It’s just, it’s the same thing as the Black Lives Matter movement that’s happening right now, where people are putting up Black squares and be like, oh my God, you know, we’re supporting you. We support you. And then things go back to regularly scheduled programming, and everyone goes back to doing the same that they were doing before, or no one is really intentionally putting in the work that needs to be put in in order to procure said change or to make things better. And neither did we expect that there were going to be any changes because we’ve seen the New York state board come in to check the place and, you know, check out the vicinity, and they didn’t speak to us. They didn’t talk to any of the workers. They didn’t ask us a single question. They sat at the table outside and sip their little wine and their little champagne with the owner and the management, kiki-ed, and went about their way. No one was really concerned. They came in. They saw how beautiful the space is, which it is, and really were just like so impressed because it didn’t look like your typical shop or whatever they’re used to going out to see. No one asked us any questions. And we weren’t surprised either when the New York Times exposé came out because, first and foremost, we all knew this was happening anyway, and no one really said anything or did anything about it. So it was just one of those things that everyone has known about until somebody decided that they were going to make it a public thing in a sense, where it’s on a bigger platform for more people to know about it, or for it to just be so in your face, that you can not ignore it. After the New York Times exposé came out, the owner who’s former position in the industry was a beauty editor at a major publication, and she had all her little editor friends or whomever came out, and they wrote about the place. They came and did interviews. They did not speak to a single one of us, the workers, who the New York Times exposé is about – employees in the salon space. They didn’t speak to not one of us. They didn’t ask us any questions. No one said, are you okay? No one said, how are you being treated? And it was a very traumatic experience. And especially for someone like myself, I grew up in an abusive household and my family, I lived in a single parent home, and we lived in an apartment complex, and my parent was physically abusive. And I just remember the neighbors calling the cops all the time, and the cops would just come in, kind of look around, and not really say anything. So it was traumatic for me in that sense where I’m like we’re being mistreated, and everyone’s coming in, okay. Because this space looks, it looks clean, it looks like a well-to-do home. You’re being fed. You’re getting clothes on your back. So it doesn’t really matter how you’re being treated. And it just brought up that traumatic experience for me all over again, because I recall like a cop coming in and just being like, well, at least, you know, you’re not in the foster care system. That’s even worse. So experiencing that at the salon, it was like, well, at least you’re not working in the shop. So you kind of have some rights. So, that’s worse, but it’s fine here. No one cared, and till this day, no one still cares. Because artists go on social media all the time, day in and day out, since the first day I’ve stepped foot into this industry, artists have been speaking out about the mistreatment that they have experienced, or their peers have experienced in the salon space, and no one has done anything about it. No one is listening. People are listening, but no one’s doing anything about it. So it’s, what happens now? Does a New York Times exposé really help if it’s not just being used just for click bait, just to have, you know, a major breakthrough story? Cause nothing changed. It just went right back. If anything, it got worse. Because at that point we were like, oh, so the world is watching. So we were even more outspoken then, and in the most respectful way possible, and I have the emails and receipts to prove it. No one was getting out of line. No one was disrespectful. That’s kudos that I have to give to these artists because in the environment that we were, I don’t even know how we made it through that, even still being respectful and professional. That still wasn’t good enough for them to change or to do anything no matter. Oh my God. Can I just say? We had artists that had tendonitis. These are young women in their early twenties. They are like 20, 21, 22 getting tendonitis, arthritis, contact dermatitis. I know this one artist who her contact dermatitis was so bad on her fingers, where it was painful for her to work, and they gave her a hard time about taking days off to go, and recuperate, and heal. There’s no reason why my vision got so bad working in that space and working in the salon, to the point where my eyes were so stressed, that by the end of the day, my vision was blurry and I couldn’t. My eyes would not focus. The last time I went to the eye doctor to get a new eyeglass prescription, they told me not only do I have a stigmatism in both of my eyes, but one of my eyes is farsighted, and one of them is near-sighted. So, basically my eyes were struggling to focus and that’s why my vision was getting blurry, and I had never experienced anything like that in my life ever. It was just crazy. It was just crazy. They didn’t care. They didn’t.

JAIME: When you’re an employee you’re hired to execute the vision of the salon owner. And when we have these salon owners coming to our industry from outside, they are bringing their perspective as clients to our space, not as business owners necessarily, and certainly not as service providers. They’re not licensees themselves. They don’t know what kind of lighting we need. what kind of chair we need to sit in, what kind of table we need to work at, what tools work best, all of the things that make our work enjoyable, and that’s just like working with the product. That’s not even the interactions with the clients and management. I often have been criticized for saying that I think one of the things that makes me successful is that my clients look like me. And when I say look like me, I’m not necessarily pointing the fact that they may be white women, but they’re educated white women and I’m educated, and Gracie, you’re educated. You’re a college-educated beauty professional, and yet I imagine that the women who sat across the table from you didn’t know that about you, certainly didn’t realize what skills you had and enthusiasm you had that could have benefited the business. I think we’re at a huge disadvantage when workers, or employees, or however we want to call these people who are actually providing the services, when they don’t look like the clients, or the management, or the owners, it gives them ample opportunity to dehumanize you. And the relationship that you could have had had you owned your own business, that, that client-tech relationship that you could have controlled is different because now it’s not a relationship they have with you. It’s really a relationship that that client thinks that they have with the salon or the salon owner. And you guys are just this collective identity. You’re just the staff. You’re not appreciated for your individual contributions.

GRACIE: In terms of, like with the first salon experience that I had, and that’s just that one salon, we’re going to dive into the second one later, we were a diverse staff, and we were all educated, and we were all well-spoken. We had Latino women. We had Asian women. We had Black women. We had white women. We were all an educated staff, whether we had a college degree or not, and the way we carried ourselves was very professional, and piggybacking off of what Jaime is saying in terms of just, you know, having the artists be staff, at some point, we were mandated to wear uniforms. And, and it’s not to say that, you know, uniforms are bad. I understand if there’s a certain aesthetic, but it was just like the ugliest thing, and there was nothing. It’s just, it’s so hard for me to explain it. It’s like there was a conscious decision made for us to look like just one entity, but also not only just look like one entity, we matched with the furniture. So we were made to look like we’re blending in with the furniture, and we were just supposed to be in the background. And that’s what I had a problem with. And the shirts were just so ugly. They were ugly and they were just, it was just terrible. And like Jaime is saying, to have clients that look like you because people are going to resonate more with people that look like them, but at the same time, it’s just such a major disconnect because it was just like when you realize how much more you know about the industry than your employer does, and you’re really sitting here wondering, okay, cool. You want to make money? We all want to make money. We all want to run successful businesses and make profit. That’s a fact. But at the same time, when you’re running this posh salon, and you have all these beauty editors, or these influencers, or celebrities coming in, or PR reps and marketing strategists coming into the space that, and I can pinpoint who all these people are. I know their names because I do my research. Because I’m in the industry, so deep in that I know who this person is and who that person is. I know their names, I know their social. I know what they do. I know what company they work for, and I know who they know, and these people don’t even know me. So those are the type of artists, like myself, they were dealing with. And the same way we’re having this discourse right now, you know, this conversation, these are the same type of conversations that we were all capable of having in sitting with a client. But when the employer puts you in a position to melt in with the aesthetic, and to basically erase you from the space that you’re just a pair of hands, then that’s just like kind of just telling you, you don’t matter. And therefore, the way the employer treats the employees, then the clients are gonna start treating us that same way. And that’s exactly what happened in that space.

ASHLEY: So taking it a step further, Gracie, what role do you feel race plays in the dynamic between salon owners coming from outside of the industry and nail technicians?

GRACIE J: It plays a major role. Not only does race play a major role, but with any type of service-based business or service-based employee, there’s this level of subservience that you’re expected to have. That because you’re a service provider, then you have to come, with your head down, lowering yourself. And not only is that a stigma that’s already automatically attached to service providers, one, but there’s also a stigma that’s attached to the nail industry where nail techs, nail artists, nail stylists, however you call yourself, we’re not respected in the industry. I don’t understand why, because the level of artistry, and talent, and skill, and experience that I’ve seen from my peers is just astronomical. But, there’s that. And then also, because, historically, in the salon space, there has been a lot of Asian service providers and also the stigma attached to Asian men and women, how they’re supposed to be submissive and keep their heads down. I’ve had an agent blatantly to my face tell me, you know, I don’t mean for this to come off wrong, but the reason why Asians do so well in the industry is cause they’re quiet and they keep their heads down. I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to say. And I had to give that little awkward laugh because I was just like, did she say what I think she just said? And it was one of those things where I had to really go home and process what she said, and I had to unpack it because I was like, wait, okay. She just made this comment about Asian people. First of all, that’s terrible. But also, as someone where my family has taught me that when you’re listening to someone pay attention to what they’re not saying. Because what you just said without saying it is that, that I’m not submissive enough as a Black woman. I’m not submissive enough, and that no matter how professional I show up in a space, no matter how in my lane, I show up in a space, no matter how I’m not going to speak, unless I’m spoken to, I show up in a space, that’s still not good enough. And when you’re in a salon space as a service provider, as women of color, as Black women, and Black women by society, and it’s a known fact ,are like at the bottom of the totem pole in how we get treated, and automatically when you’re in those spaces, there’s this whole, like, I guess Napoleon complex that the salon owners have, where they know their background. This is where I come from. I’m from the beauty industry. This is my salon. It’s posh. It’s cute. All these publications are giving us all this attention. We’re all of that.   It’s like mean girls. We’re all of that. And you’re working for us and we’re going to look down upon you. So it absolutely plays a role, especially as a Black woman in a space that’s predominantly managed by white people, owned by white people who haven’t, who know nothing about nail culture, who know nothing about the industry. Historically, we’re not supposed to talk back. If you speak out of turn or if you speak against something, if you’re speaking or if you’re calling something out, you’re making an observation. You’re not supposed to do that. Who are you to say anything? We don’t respect what you’re saying. So absolutely whether it’s intentional or not, it’s there and that’s where like little microaggressions come in. And if you say anything at all against what they’re doing, then you’re a mad Black woman. Why are you upset? Why are you giving a hard time? Why are you being so difficult? Why are you being so problematic? Everything was fine until you said something. So, it plays a major role and I think it affects a lot of us. Some of us more than not, and of course it affects us differently because, you know, we’re all different people, so things are gonna affect us differently. But you know, it definitely plays a major role because it’s the same example that I was giving before, where one of my white coworkers stood in the back of house and said, excuse my language, I’m going to punch the shit out of you. I’m gonna punch in your face. And the manager just stood in the back, didn’t say anything. And when I filed a complaint, she said she didn’t hear it. But had it been a Black woman, back of house, had it not been a white woman that said that, then it would’ve been a problem. I would have been written up. I would have been fired, probably even had the cops called on me. And it’s the sad truth. I don’t like to bring these things up, but it’s my reality, along with a lot of other women’s reality. These are things that we experience every day. So, for me to ever say that race doesn’t play a role in salon structure, or in any structure, in any system whatsoever, would be really irresponsible of me.

JAIME: These salon owners are in this position because they enjoy privilege. They’re able to open these salons because they have resources. They have connections to financing and to   other individuals who can prop them up, whether it’s through the press or through other manufacturers, or whoever it may be, and I think it’s so sad and I’m feeling my frustration growing, that the most valuable resource, your talent, has been completely wasted. Your individuality, your ability to connect with the clients has not only been wasted, it’s been abused and mistreated, and I’m exceedingly getting angry here just listening to this because it’s just the opposite of what I think an ethical salon owner should be doing. So that being said, what would you advise salon owners to do to create a better environment for their employees, not just the clients?

GRACIE: Listen to your employees. It’s that simple. Listen to your employees. Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing when you have things like the New York Times exposé. Do the opposite of that. But also it’s just, it’s so simple, but it’s not that simple. Because when you have people that are operating from privilege, it’s seldom that they’re going to be able to do that internal work, and actually stand in front of the mirror, and acknowledge that they’re doing something wrong. It’s really hard for people to look at themselves and take accountability for the things that they do cause I think people would rather be in a state of blissful ignorance then to be like, what I’m doing is wrong. But instead, it’s a simple solution, but even that simple solution is not simple. Because an employee can talk until they’re blue in the face, but if they’re not listening, nothing’s going to change. In the second salon that I worked at, that place was a revolving door because the owner was insane. They just refused to listen. If you’re not listening, and you can’t have a constructive conversation without threatening your employees to fire them or to suspend them, then people are not going to feel like they’re in a safe space. I, honestly, I really do feel like there should be a human resources, like a third-party human resources option in all nail salons. If you’ve gotten multiple infraction, there needs to be a safe space where artists can, when they are being treated unjustly, they can file complaints and those people will listen. I mean, is the state board even a safe space when they’re coming into those salons, and not asking us any questions, and just writing off everything like it’s great? No. There should be safe spaces where nail artists can go and say, hey, this is what’s happening. There needs to be some type of mediation and salon owners to be open to that. If they’re not open to doing right, they’re not going to care and they’re not going to want to change. Then that causes tension. But I think a great start would be actually listening to your employees. And not listening as in, let me just sit here and just watch you speak, actually listening, active listening, and then putting into practice some of the suggestions that your employees are giving you. Because if they’re not in a safe environment that they’re going to flourish in, then your business is not going to flourish.

JAIME: It’s as if they see their investment in terms of the things they’ve purchased, and the image that they’ve created, and perhaps the experts that they’ve brought on board, whether they be publicists, or lawyers, or whatever, and the primary investment should be the staff. That should be the main investment. And you brought up this issue of accountability, who does hold these salon owners accountable when the state board regulates health and safety, and the labor board should be responsible for these things, but if you’re acting alone, it’s hard to get their attention sometimes. And what role do the clients play in holding salons accountable?

GRACIE: Yeah. It’s like, where do you turn to? It just shows that it goes beyond just the salon space, and who do we turn to? Like, who do we go to, if something’s going awry? That’s actually a great thing to think about, who do we turn to when they’re, in fact, not doing the due diligence of protecting employees?

ASHLEY: That is something that we can definitely link to in the show notes as well, resources that are available for any workers that are feeling like what you’re describing, Gracie, is just a little too familiar. Because there are definitely entities out there that can provide resources or guidance, whether it’s a governmental agency, or just an association, or whatever it is to give you resources and support because those confrontations and conflicts can be really scary, especially when your very valid concerns are falling on totally deaf ears. 

JAIME: These salons have built their reputation on this image, and I think to acknowledge that they somehow have failed their staff, or to acknowledge that they are individuals with their own talents somehow, in their minds, minimizes their own contribution, when their contribution was to like pull these things together. It wasn’t that they had the talent themselves because they’re not the ones doing the services.

GRACIE J: Right, and they forget that. They forget that they’re not on the front line. That’s what I was speaking about before when there’s just this major disconnect and, like you were saying in terms of, these salon owners thinking, oh my God, you know, we invested so much, so the space and all these things. But if you don’t have quality people working there and interacting with your clients, what do you really have but just a pretty space and nice things? I think where the disconnect lies is people fail to understand and recognize that there are different types of relationships that exist outside of just romantic, and friendship, or family dynamics. People fail to recognize that when you have employees, there’s a relationship dynamic there too. And when you have a relationship dynamic, you kind of want that relationship to be healthy. You don’t want it to be dysfunctional, so you have to operate in a way that’s going to be productive and progressive for both sides. There has to be a level of mutual respect. There has to be a give and take. It’s not just, work your employees, so the bottom of the barrel, and work them dry, and not give them anything in return. That relationship dynamic has to be acknowledged as well to know that, okay, I have these people that are essentially running my business. There has to be some type of, I guess, gratitude there. If I don’t have these people running my business and, and doing all this amazing work, then I won’t have a business. And I think people just really need to understand that different type of relationship dynamics exist outside of what they typically experience. It’s not just, oh, you just work for me. No, there’s a relationship dynamic that is founded on mutual respect, mutual consideration, mutual honesty, the same pillars that you would apply to a healthy relationship. So if you’re just viewing people as objects, and just as, you’re just a part of this machine that keeps this business running, and you’re not acknowledging that these people actually have concerns, and they have feelings, and emotions. They’re actually human beings. Then, you’re going to have a beautiful space with terrible work culture, and just people that hate you, and I would never want my employees to hate me.

ASHLEY: What advice would you have then for new nail techs entering the industry about red flags or things to avoid, and what would you like to tell the clients who idolized some of these luxury salon brands that they see in the media?

GRACIE: I think my focus, honestly, would just be the nail artists entering the industry. Because at the end of the day, when you have clients that are entitled and their behavior is just so appalling and disgusting, I don’t think there’s really anything I can really say to that, because that would have to be a whole personality change, and an internal work, and I don’t have the professional credentials for that. That’s something that their therapist needs to help and work on, becoming better people. In terms of those types of entitled clients who are just terrible, I don’t really have any words for them, cause if they’ve grown up and they’ve operated that way their whole entire life, and that may be how they go about in the world and treat other people, there’s nothing I can really say to that. Go see a therapist. Go work it out, not on my dime. In terms of, you know, nail artists, trust your gut. When you feel like you’re not being treated quite the way that you’re supposed to, 99.9% of the time you’re right. When you’re noticing that there are things going on in the salon that just don’t seem right, pretty sure you’re going to be right. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and to say something because a lot of these employers operate on fear. They want you to be afraid. They want you to be too afraid to speak out, too afraid to say anything on the pretense that if you do, we’re gonna hold you accountable, and make you suffer, and pay for it. When in turn, it’s going to cost you less money to be a decent employer then for me to file a lawsuit for, you know, whatever way that you are mistreating your workers. But, you know, with nail artists, certain red flags, legally, you’re entitled to a lunch break. So if your employer is telling you things like one of my employers have told me where so a majority of the artists that were working at the salon were Asian women, and some of them were getting paid out on the table, and we were being worked to a pulp, to the point where we were working eight to nine hour shifts, maybe sometimes longer, without a lunch break. And when I brought that up to the owner, and I was like, hey. And it’s just absurd to me that I really had to make a case for why we needed lunch breaks. I had to like write this whole email, which felt like a college dissertation, of, if we get lunch breaks, we’ll be more productive. In turn, that’s gonna increase your sales. We’ll be in better mood and, why do I have to do that? Legally, you are entitled to a lunch break. So right off the bat, if your employer is taking away your basic rights as a human being, then you know something’s off, and you know that should be called out because those are grounds for litigation. Like you cannot have employees working in a space for a certain period of time, and I don’t know if it varies or not in different states, but I know in New York state, you can’t have employees working for a certain amount of hours without giving them certain amount of minutes or an hour of lunch break. And this employer had the nerve to tell me, well, I can’t afford to give you guys a lunch break. That’s not my problem. That’s your problem. And I just really urge, you know, nail artists to really unite. I really feel like there should be a union, like there should be a union for nail artists. I really have been doing research and trying to figure out how that can even be a thing. Stand together. Have each other’s back. Because it’s going to cost that employer more money getting sued than to just give you your basic human rights. And even in calling out the things that were happening in the nail salon, I was still pretty naive and still a little scared as well, cause I was like, oh my God, is this whole thing that I was carrying with me as a Black woman that, you know, if I’m going to speak out about something, I have to handle this. I can’t show that I’m upset. I can’t really show that I’m angry. I have to handle this in a professional way, or I’m not going to be heard. And even then, I still wasn’t heard, and even then, we were all still not heard. But definitely know that when your employer is doing something wrong, that you should call them out on it, number one. And knowing that if they retaliate, then you can bring a legal suit against them for not giving you a lunch break, or not treating you properly, or saying racist things in the nail salon, which I’ve heard certain employers do before, or assault, which certain employers have done before. Actually, we’ve witnessed a salon owner physically assault one of the, one of the employees. When things are wrong, it’s wrong. And when things are wrong, you’re going to know it’s wrong. You’re going to see that red flag. Speak out. Say something. Hold them accountable. Collectively, have your peers back, because if everyone comes in unison and everyone has each other’s back then, you know, what can they really say? They can’t really say anything. If you have other artists in the industry that you look up to, reach out to them cause chances are they may have experienced the same thing you have, and they might be able to help you better articulate yourself, and, you know, the demands that you want to request of your employer, or  provide you with the resources, whatever those resources are, whether it’s legal resources,  consultancy resources, whatever it is, they’re going to be able to help you and provide you with those resources in order to make the decisions that are best for yourself and for your peers. Cause if we’re not collectively uniting together, it’s never gonna change, and these employers are going to just keep doing the same things over and over again.

JAIME: In a healthy relationship, both parties should be valuing each other and respecting each other. Too often, new nail professionals devalue themselves and try so hard to impress a potential employer with their skills and talents, which may or may not even be used once they get hired. More should be done or more should be asked of employers to prove that they’re a good employer, even before you get yourself into a situation where you’d have to make demands. If you could know in advance that someone was not operating their business legally, despite how beautiful their salon space is, or how much publicity they get, you could make a more informed decision and move on, and I know that’s something that you’ve done. You have moved on, so I want to focus on what you’re doing now.   

GRACIE: Don’t mind if I do. Okay, so as you guys know, quarantine has really done a number on all of us. And I think, not even think, I strongly feel that as creatives, one of the things that we should be really, really good at is shifting, and just being a chameleon, and that when change happens, that we can put on our thinking hats, and just really hit the ground running. And doing press-ons was something that I really, really, really was avoiding for a very long time, cause I was just like, oh, I’m like, it’s so time consuming and it’s so much hard work. But I really had to just start working on my press-ons and really try to expand my skin and nail health care line. I have my Juicy Cutie(cles) cuticle oil, and I have my What’s Pimpin’ Matcha Juicy Joint Moisturizing Body and Joint Butter coming out soon. It smells so good. It’s so delicious. I’m like obsessed with creating body related products now. So I have that coming out. I’ve been working on those. I have merch coming out. I’ve always been an advocate for change within the nail industry and also with certain social issues that are happening. I believe that we can use nail artistry for more than just some type of inspiration on a mood board. Nail artistry is a conversation starter. And I know, especially in these times, there are certain conversations that’s really hard for a lot of us to have, and really hard for a lot of us to open up to. So I use my artistry as a way to make people feel comfortable to talk about certain things and not make it as heavy as it is, cause it doesn’t have to be a heavy conversation. So I try to do that a lot with my work as well. I have, oh my God. Did you guys know that I put out a hit single? I mean, I don’t know if it’s a hit, but did you guys know that I put out a song? 

ASHLEY: No.

JAIME: I had no idea.

GRACIE: You guys have to check it out. It’s on Spotify. It’s on iTunes. It’s on TikTok. It’s called Cut Me Dat Check. And basically, I put my poetry, writing, and rap skills from my pen to paper, and I wrote a rap about industry politics, and how we’re all freaking sick and tired of being asked to work for free and for exposure, cause I’m tired of it. So there’s that. So do check that out. 

ASHLEY: And we will link all of these in the show notes too. We want to make sure everybody can enjoy. I saw a preview of Cut Me Dat Check on your Instagram. I shared it with all of my onset friends and they all just died laughing.   

GRACIE: Yeah, no matter who you are, this is not a situation that’s, you know, limited to just nail artists. It’s anyone, in any industry, that’s working independently as an entrepreneur, or even if you’re not an entrepreneur. Just pay us for our time. Pay us for our talent. Pay us for our labor and pay us our rates. Cut me dat check.

ASHLEY: Well, this has been an absolute pleasure. I know we have likely so much more to talk about, but I think we’re going to reach the limit of what one episode could possibly hold. And we’d love to invite you back for a round two, just as we see how things develop. Jaime, did you have anything else?

JAIME: Just to express my gratitude. The issue of worker exploitation will not go away. It-

GRACIE: It won’t.

JAIME: We see, particularly in New York, the large number of undocumented nail salon workers who have not been able to access any resources because of their immigration status, and are now forced back into their work situations, which weren’t that safe to begin with. So, we definitely have lots more to talk about Gracie, and I hope that you’ll come back and do that with us.

GRACIE: Oh, thank you so much. I absolutely will. And, you know, thank you, Ashley. Thank you, Jaime, for having me on. And thank you, Jaime, for being an advocate in the industry because you came to us at a time where we really needed it. And I think that experience having met you back in 2015 really, really solidified something in us where we were just like, we’re not going to take it anymore. So thank you for your advocacy. Thank you so much for stepping up and standing up for us when nobody would. So thank you guys for having me on and I’m looking forward to coming back on for a part two.

JAIME: Well, thank you. I just, when you go somewhere, and you do something, and you say something, and you leave, and you never hear what happened, or have the opportunity to grow relationships with people you spent time with, even if it’s just a day, you sort of move on to the next thing, and you think, oh, okay, well. You don’t really know, and uh, now I know.

ASHLEY: I thoroughly enjoyed that conversation with Gracie. I found myself nodding along throughout. I hope our listeners will take the time to connect with her on social media and beyond because there is just so much great information that she is sharing in really entertaining and surprising ways. So please do check out the show notes on our website outgrowthpodcast.com to see more from Gracie.

JAIME: Please subscribe, rate, and review Outgrowth on your favorite podcast platform. It really does help us reach more listeners like you.

ASHLEY: Leave us a review on Apple podcasts and we may read your review on our next episode. We have a testimonial from Instagram: “Interesting listen for those in the service industry regarding cancellation policy. Sometimes we forget if a client no shows or cancels last minute we are covering the costs. Well worth a listen.” And that was from kellyskinsolutions on Instagram. Thank you so much for that. That obviously refers to last week’s episode about salon policy.

JAIME: As always you can follow us and comment on recent episodes, just like Kelly did, on Instagram at @outgrowthpodcast.

ASHLEY: Until next week, be smart. 

JAIME: Be safe. 

ASHLEY: Bye.

JAIME: Bye.

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