jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on every kind of business and industry. The required shutdowns and social distancing have sorted businesses into “essential” and “non-essential” categories, and for the most part, the beauty industry has been considered the latter. It’s hard to be told you’re not an essential service, but I think any reasonable person would agree; receiving a beauty service is not required to live. jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
However, the ability to perform those beauty services is how most beauty professionals make their living, and the shutdowns, confusing guidelines, and required reductions in capacity have decimated many salon businesses. The months-long closures have resulted in the permanent shuttering of more than a few salons, and beauty pros are reeling while they try to determine their next move. jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
The nail industry has been arguably the hardest hit sector of professional beauty, and it’s not difficult to see why. In California, for instance, hair and barbering were allowed to reopen much sooner than nail salons, and the allowance of outdoor services was like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound since most nail products are UV cured and temperature sensitive.
The demographic makeup of the nail industry leans mostly toward women of color, immigrants and/or first generation Americans, and those with a high school education plus vocational school. The job market for nail technicians can be limited, especially when other more entry level sectors such as grocery, retail, and rideshare driving were being flooded with applicants during the first few months of the pandemic. When government mandated shutdowns occurred, many beauty industry members flocked to file unemployment, only to find that they had been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees, creating even more hoops to jump through to secure Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA.)
Labor abuses in the nail industry have been well documented and profiled, especially nail technicians in the New York/New Jersey area. Many nail technicians remember The New York Times exposé, “The Price of Nice Nails,” published in May 2015 that resulted in the creation of some knee-jerk statewide safety protocols, but had little effect on any manicurist’s daily work life.
The horror stories included in that New York Times series were hard to forget. Manicurists related early morning panel van rides from their dormitory into the city to work 10-12 hour shifts for little more than $50 a day. Inhaling dust from illegal nail products that likely contain MMA coupled with poor ventilation, a lack of required breaks, and the physical toll such hard work took on their bodies. The article cried out for reform, but almost no one was held accountable.
Five years on, we see that little has changed in the nail industry, and that is the fault of so many. Labor departments, the IRS, local city and state governments, exploitative salon owners, and perhaps most importantly, discount salon clients who never really considered how a $25 mani-pedi with a $2 tip keeps food on the table. The article created awareness, but beyond a few head shakes and tongue clucks, the machine kept on grinding, meeting the demand for fast, cheap nail services in our country’s largest metropolitan area. jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
Now, with most of the nail industry back to work in some form, some manicurists report slow schedules, clients no-showing, and a real fear of being shut down again as coronavirus cases reach record highs. It is in this climate of uncertainty, that The New York Times has decided to again weigh in on the nail industry, this time in a beauty puff piece by Jessica Defino entitled “Is this the End of the Manicure?” published today.
I’ll save you the click. It’s a hit piece on the nail industry wrapped in the guise of reporting on a trend. Apparently naked nails are de rigeur in 2020 when it’s tough to get a manicure. Who would have thought? The piece includes quotes from session manicurists and nail polish brand owners who have seen their sales fall off from what they attribute to be a lack of interest in painting one’s nails. jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
While color beauty sales are down worldwide due to mask use and Zoom beauty filters, the skin care category has seen a major uptick in units sold. The article cites increased sales in the nail treatment category as well as hand creams and serums. Does anyone remember the way our hands were wrecked from all of the hand washing and sanitizer use? Of course people sought out solutions to those problems throughout their quarantine time.
Manicurists similarly rode the first wave of shutdowns by creating nail kits and providing coaching on how to care for nails at home, since no one saw this pandemic lasting more than a few months at its onset. Now, nail techs are staring down another pivot and potential shut down as PPP loans and back rent amounts come due. What perfect timing to write an opinion beauty piece about one’s own experience and try to extrapolate that out as if it is the reality for an entire $8 billion industry. It’s equivalent to me writing a guest article for the Washington Post about the death of all print media because I no longer subscribe to a daily newspaper. jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
I won’t address the claims of dangerous chemicals made in the article because they are indicative of a surface level of understanding of our industry and its products, and much has been written elsewhere to debunk these claims. The article actually says “Long nails are preferred, and sometimes acrylic nails are glued on top of natural nails to achieve this effect,” (emphasis mine) so this is not exactly an informed opinion we’re dealing with here.
Essentially, this article could not have come at a worse time for the nail industry and its predominantly female population. At this point, it would be easy to convince me that The New York Times won’t be sated until every nail tech in New York is jobless or homeless or both.
Beauty overall has taken a hit. Services where one cannot socially distance have declined since this time last year because of reasons which should be obvious. To paint the nail industry as “dead,” when access has been limited for months is both irresponsible and shameful. jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid
If The New York Times insists on continually kicking our industry when it’s down, it should at least have the decency to get a pedicure first.
-Ashley Gregory Hackett
jessica defino new york times death of the manicure covid