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Julianna talks to Nina Park (@ninanailedit) about why no one in retail cares about the nail polish industry, and the secret to having perfect unbreakable nails.

[JD]: Hi, and thanks for listening to The Highlight, a podcast about the beauty and wellness industry hosted by myself, Julianna of Deco Miami Cosmetics, and soon to launch Souki. Whenever I have conversations with other founders about the beauty industry, I think, wow, I wish we could have recorded that. And that's exactly what The Highlight is.

Nail polish, the most boring category in beauty and wellness… according to mass retail. Nail polish has been a shrinking segment in the industry for the last few years, and consumers don't seem to be very excited about buying their own nail polish for a DIY mani-pedi at home. Being in the thick of the nail industry, founding my own nail brand, I've heard a few explanations for this. But it's not really clear why in this beauty boom, nails haven't had a comeback.

Today, I talk to one of my favorite nail artists and friends on Instagram, Nina Park (aka @ninanailedit on Instagram) about her hot take on all this. Not only is Nina an OG IG nail artist, most recognizable for her equal parts classy and adorable floral designs, but she also runs a nail accessory company called Go Scratch It. Nina, thank you for talking to me today. Very excited.

[NP]: Thank you so much for having me, Jules. I'm equally as excited.

[JD]: We've been talking about this for a little bit. Every time I email with you or when we talked on the phone recently, I'm like, “Oh, I need to get her on the podcast because we just have such great conversations.”

[NP]: I know. It's always so good to connect with you. I really appreciate it.

[JD]: Before we dive into the topic... I actually don't know how you got started in nails and I would love to hear your story.

[NP]: Oh, thank you. I'm surprised I haven't regaled you with it yet.

[JD]: Right?

[NP]: So, I started painting my nails, actually, when I first moved to Boston about 15 years ago or 12 years ago. I was doing my Master’s in Secondary Education. I was student teaching, and I was learning how to play roller derby. So, I had so much on my plate and whenever I did have time to just sort of relax, I was looking for a hobby.

So, I just started painting my nails one day. I went into like the deep dark hole of YouTube and Pinterest and I found out you don't have to just paint your nails one color. So, that just sort of started me down this path of nail art, and here I am now.

[JD]: That is so fun, and yeah, I do remember the roller derby piece. Is there like a costume? Is costume the right word?

[NP]: Yeah. I mean, I guess. So, we had uniforms.

[JD]: Okay.

[NP]: I was a part of my home team was at the Cosmonaughties. So, we would have like a space theme. It was very fun. I would always paint galaxies on my nails for every game.

[JD]: I remember that.

[NP]: Yeah.

[JD]: I remember seeing really cute galaxy nail art [on your feed]. Okay, now it makes sense. That's so fun.

[NP]: Yeah.

[JD]: Cool. Well, I'm glad that I asked because that again, I had no idea.

[NP]: I know. Thank you.

[JD]: So, as I mentioned, it's no secret that retailers aren’t excited about the nail polish category. Especially if you've been painting your nails and really been into it for a decade. You have probably noticed, too, that the assortments in Sephora and the drugstores have really changed over time. While it's obvious that everyone's obsessed with beauty right now… we had the liquid lip obsession and now the highlighter thing, but nail polish seems to be disappearing. I was really shook when I noticed that Sephora pulled all of their nail polish from their brick-and-mortar stores.

[NP]: Yes.

[JD]: That happened like a year ago. They just had like an Advent calendar and it was just like a teeny tiny little Sephora nail polish. That was it in the whole store.

[NP]: I remember that.

[JD]: So, what's your hot take on this? Why do you think nail polish has lost its hype?

[NP]: My opinion may be super controversial and people might not agree with me, but I think the hype is there, and I think the retailers are missing out. I think flat out, it's a market that they need to be investing in. Because how many people either get their nails done at the salon or do it at home? Regardless of how you get it done, they're done. Right? Your nails are done. If people's nails are done all the time, and I think that because retailers like Sephora aren't investing in nail polish and carrying nails, people are focused on doing them. They have one avenue of getting their nails done, which is going to the salon.

[JD]: Sure.

[NP]: But I think if you offer people the opportunity to do it at home and educate them on how to do their nails themselves, I think it's a market that could explode.

[JD]: That’s actually a good take on it. I never. I've always felt snubbed by retailers just kind of like, Mm, yeah, sorry. We don't care about nail polish. I mean, even with the subscription boxes. I remember talking to one the other year and they were just like, “Our subscribers don't care about nail polish.”

[NP]: Right.

[JD]: And I'm like, “but I don't think that's the right way to think about it.”

[NP]: I think it’s straight up not true.

[JD]: Yeah. I mean, because everyone gets--. I mean, when you go outside and you walk around, how many people have their nails done compared to people who have nothing on their nails?

[NP]: Exactly.

[JD]: It's crazy. I mean, everyone has their nails done, and the people who really go crazy with the acrylics, there's so many people. So…

[NP]: Oh, there's so many people. Nail art is exploding. It's everywhere now.

[JD]: Yeah. So, one thing that I was thinking about… do you think that it's a price point problem, maybe? Like there's a misalignment with what people are willing to pay for a bottle of nail polish and like kind of the cooler brands? I'm thinking when I'm asking this question, about like the $15 plus nail polish options versus the under $10 options.

[NP]: I honestly think that people, if they think the product will work and that they can apply it and that it will last, I think there's a large chunk of people that will pay the $15 and up. I think part of the misalignment is the lack of education on how to prep your nails and how to paint your nails and how to sort of take care of your nails.

We have culture of people going to get their nails done. Spending the time and the money to spend more than the cost of a bottle, a whole bottle of nail polish, on a manicure. When, if you knew that you could give yourself a manicure for the cost of like a $12 or a $10 bottle of polish and you knew you could do a good job with it… why wouldn't you do it at home and on your own?

[JD]: Sure. That a great point, and it's giving me a little bit of PTSD when I'm thinking about all of the comments that I've heard from people trying to give themselves at home manicures. “Oh, I just, I can't find a nail polish brand that works for me. I'm so bad at painting my nails,” and I'm always like, “Okay, well, let's talk through it. Why don't you explain how you give yourself a manicure?”

Then I find one friend was talking about one time how she, “Oh, my nails always chip. I can't figure out what my nails are always chipping,” and like, “Well, what kind of top coat do you use?” And she's like, “Oh, I don't use a top coat.”

[NP]: Yep. What?!

[JD]: I’m like, “Well, that's why.” People also don't realize too. If you're doing a lot of work with your hands, you're getting your hands wet all the time, you’re doing dishes. I don't know, did you take long showers or whatever? I mean, that's also going to affect your nails and what kind of manicure you have over top of them because your nails shrink and they get bigger as they get wet and they dry and it's cold.

[NP]: Oh, it’s so true.

[JD]: You know, there's so many things.

[NP]: You know what, I think that's part of the problem is that people don't know that your nails expand and they shrink with heat and moisture, and so they think it's the nail polishes problem, or it's the person who painted my nails. They didn't do a good job.

[JD]: Right.

[NP]: Some of the times, it is. But honestly, if we were, again, more educated about it and maybe we would be more willing to try things, or we'd be more willing to sort of take chances on new products. You know?

[JD 0:08:24]: I agree with you. That's a really good point. So building off of those questions, I guess this is kind of like a chicken and the egg question, but do you think it's on the brands to really do more interesting things and to come out with more innovative products to get consumers excited about nails?

[NP]: I think it’s a lot of different things. I think number one, it is in a brand's interest to educate consumers on their products. So like, for instance, an interactional nail polish brand, one that's been established for a really long time, they have the avenues to be able to either in their social media or in their email marketing to educate consumers on their products and how they work, and I don't think a lot of them do enough of that. They have a lot of resources and I think a lot of people working for them with a lot of insight. So I think, yeah, brands could be spending some time focusing on education.

I also think that they're working on like new colors and what's exciting and what's new and what's shiny, what's different, to sort of separate themselves from other brands. I also think that influencers and people who use these products could do more. Myself included, right? We always focus on putting out something that's pretty, or something that we know that will excite people, but you know what? It's also on us to be like, “Look, this is something that you can do at home. This is how I do it and these are things that work for me.”

You're starting the conversation of what works for you, how do you do this? I think that's something that's engaging people in a brand new way that doesn't just engage you, it also educates you on how to use the product. So yeah, I think there are a couple of things that could be done, but I think the responsibility relies on a lot of different groups.

[JD 0:10:12]: You mentioned brands putting out new colors. Do you consider constantly putting out new, like creme polishes, “new colors”? Like, is that innovative to you? Because how many times, for example, can you put out a red nail polish? And I think about this a lot for my own brand, and I kind of wonder, is that maybe one of the reasons why retailers aren't super excited about nail polish? Because it's like, well, how many shades of red… how many shades of pink, do we need on the shelf? Like when the nail polish is on your nails, the colors all kind of become the same thing. So, yeah. What do you think about that?

[NP]: I think that's a really good question. I haven't been doing this for as long as some people, but I had to doing it for quite a while, I guess. And you're right. If I think about all the different collections that sort of come through, like in the spring, you get the pastels. In the fall, you get the rich creams. You're right.

What is exciting though is the way that they sort of package them and like making the so-called collections. Like, I just got the OPI Mexico City collection. And honestly, I was really excited about it. The way that the collections are packaged and put together can make a color that you've seen before exciting and make you think about it again.

So, overall, I mean, you have a really good point where retailers are sort of brushing nails aside because it's the same color over again. But I think if you can sort of take a look at something that you've seen, like that sweater that you've had in your closet for 10 years, but then you get a new pair of cans and you're like, “Oh wait, the sweater now looks great with this new pair of pants.” I compare it in this new way. You get this whole new outlook on the same color. You know?

[JD]: I love that, and it reminds me. A few years ago when I was working on Deco’s starting lineup. I had like a little Christmas nail polish set. I think it was from Claire's.

[NP]: I love it.

[JD]: It was like two shades of green, two shades of red, and maybe a gold, and I remember looking at it and I just kind of was like, Eh. Whatever, Christmas colors. I just kind of cast it aside, and I recently noticed that I have all of the colors in Deco’s collection that are in that set, but--.

[NP]: Oh my god.

[JD]: --when I saw them as a Christmas palette, I was so unexcited about it. Just like I don't care about that. But no, you know, when I see a green next to a mustard, or like a blue, it looks different. It gets you thinking about it in a different way. So that's a really good point about the packaging.

[NP]: Yeah, and it keeps it fun and exciting. So I think, you know, it’s the same color, but it's okay as long as you're looking at it from a different lens or a different viewpoint.

[JD 0:13:04]: Sure. Now kind of in the same vein, what do you think of the new trend of nail salons starting their own brands?

[NP]: Ah, I love this. I actually really, I think it's great because nail salons are the ones who are out there. They're out in the fields. They're giving the people what they want. These people are coming in, they're spending their hard earned money on getting a manicure, and they can sort of see what people are asking for and what looks good and who their clients are. So, I think as long as they're being true to who their clients are in their sort of vision on colors and our aesthetic, I think it's great. You know, do something for you.

So, these companies, they're run by these creative individuals, and I think the more people we can get creating and making thanks for nails, I think the better the industry is overall for that.

[JD]: That's a really good point. And one thing that I always think about too, that must be so amazing for people who go in and get their nails done at these salons that offer their own brands. To be able to walk away with that color that they used on you.

[NP]: Exactly. It’s yours.

[JD]: I also think it's cool that you know, if you, some of the brands that have been doing this, Tenoverten, Olive & June, Paintbox, Sundays, just to name a few off the top of my head. Those are coastal city, New York, LA, the salons. So, if you're living in middle America and you are following these brands on Instagram, I guess, unless you're in those cities, you can't get your nails done. Yeah, I agree that that's a fun trend to take that away with you or get to experience that brand, even if you don't get to go to the salon.

[NP]: That's such a good point. I love it so much.

[JD 0:14:50]: We didn't really talk about how we define innovation in the category yet. So, when you think of nail innovative products and things, what do you think of? If you think of your own brand, don't be shy if you want to give it a plug, because I was going to do it for you if you didn’t.

[NP]: I appreciate it, and I think it's such a hard question, right? Because if we all had the answer to what is the innovative thing in our industry, we’d be making millions of dollars, right?

[JD]: Sure.

[NP]: I think in my head because I'm an individual person, I do like campaigns for brands and I post on Instagram and I have my own company, but I'm not a salon owner. I don't do nails every day. So what is something that's innovative? And to me, I think innovation is giving people the ability to put what they want on their nails and have their nails really be a reflection of who they are or their mood at that moment, or you know, how they're feeling in general.

I would really like to see the industry focus on giving people the opportunity to be creative with their nails. Which is what I try to do with the nail wraps, right? I like to put out a sign that you can wear it on its own, or you can pair it with your favorite polish. So, it's really sort of giving the power back to the consumer and allowing them to be creative.

[JD]: That's a great point. And I love nail polish is the window to the soul.

[NP]: Yeah, I love it.

[JD]: I also liked your point about innovation. It's up to the consumer really about what they want to do. It's not up to brands.

[NP]: Yeah.

[JD]: How I interpreted what you said is: brands are not giving consumers the tools to do whatever they want.

[NP]: Exactly.

[JD 0:16:40]: With that in mind, if it is up to the consumer to do whatever he or she wants, how do you think Instagram has shaped the nail industry?

[NP]: Oh, that's like such a crazy question.

[JD]: I know, really loaded.

[NP]: It is. So, on one hand, I think it's great because it's almost normalized nail art and brought nails to what I would consider to be like mainstream culture, which is awesome. Right? You've got these Nails on 7th, right, with these huge crystals and the bling and the beautiful like creations. Then you have one of these really artistic, beautiful pieces of art that you can wear on your nails. It could go from minimal to maximum.

I think social media has really allowed the range of nail art and nail polish to come to the forefront, which is really cool because it makes it not so crazy anymore to have long nails or to have like coffin nails or to have, you know, every nail painted a different color.

The other point that I love about social media and how it's really sort of supported nail art is that lets everybody see so many different kinds of nail art that you can say, “You know this is, I like this,” or “I think I can rock that.” It allows you to sort of shape your own identity because you can see so many different kinds of nails everywhere, which is so fun.

[JD]: That's a great point. I love the point about nail art becoming more mainstream, because I remember not so long ago, if you wanted to have long nails that had rhinestones all over them, it wouldn't be allowed in my high school, for example.

[NP]: Right, exactly.

[JD]: It’s like, “Nope. You can't do that.” But the funny part is, now that I'm in the industry and I know what that costs to get. It isn't a cheap thing. That's not a “cheap look”, even though it was treated that way. But now if you look at what the celebrities wear at the award shows, they go all out on their nails--. It's incredible to see what they have on their nails, what they can do.

[NP]: It’s so awesome.

[JD]: Yeah, it is. It’s so fun, and I hope that retailers are really noting this. Like who was it that had crystals dripping from her nails at the Grammy’s? Was that Lizzo?

[NP]: Lizzo.

[JD]: Okay, yeah. Who wouldn't want that? And if someone is wearing that, you know. She's wearing it to the Grammy's.

[NP]: I know.

[JD]: Like, so if you could wear that look to the Grammy’s, why not? Why is this considered not appropriate look for, I don’t know, another black tie event, or whatever?

[NP]: Exactly. I’m so with you.

[JD 0:19:25]: So, do you think that we're going to start seeing a shift in 2020 now that this is becoming more mainstream and in the assortment? Am I expecting too much if I want to go into a CVS and get my bling?

[NP]: You know, I’m not going to lie. I still need nail stuff at CVS every once in a while in a minute pinch, and I'm not going to lie, CVS, like I feel like I'm seeing more, you know, press on nails. I’m seeing more stickers, more decals. Their nail art selection may not be growing exponentially, but the range of products that they're offering, I think, is starting to diversify a little bit which is encouraging. And you know, even Ulta, speaking to the names that you just mentioned. I think Ulta has recently expanded to do more nail art.

So, I am with you. I want like an explosion to happen, but I think in order for that to happen, I think consumers need to feel empowered. And I think brands need to give the consumers the tools that they need to be creative and to be able to then spend their money on those products in stores. So, I'm with you, but I don't know that it's going to happen in 2020.

[JD]: We might still need another decade to be able to walk into a drug store.

[NP]: Don’t let it be that long.

[JD]: Get your dripping crystals and whatever.

[NP]: I love it.

[JD 0:20:47]: Okay, so you were the one who told me the secret to having amazing, long, natural-looking nails, and I am so happy that you told me what to do. Whenever people ask me about my nails, I'm like, “Okay, here's the secret!” Why don’t you explain it because it is 100% yours? It is not my thing. Everyone needs to know about it.

[NP]: Awe. Thank you. Well, so I actually, I was looking for the secret for a long time. I used to do my own acrylic overlay where I would just put like a thin layer of acrylic over my natural nails. I went to nail school to get my nail license, and I heard about hard gels.

So, let me back up a little bit. When I was doing the acrylic overlay. I would prep my nails and clean them. I would try them. I did everything I could to make sure that the acrylic would last forever. But no matter what I did, it would always sort of chip at the edge or it would start lifting. And then, you know, I had this like burden, right? Like how is a nail artist not able to keep her nails on?

[JD]: Yeah.

[NP]: So, I finally went to nail school, and I learned about hard gels. I learned that everybody's pH and their body is just a little bit different. So, you know, an overlay system that may work on one person, doesn't work for another.

So, I tried the hard gel overlay and it, lo-and-behold, it lasted forever. It seriously just stayed on until I would have to file it off or until it grew out. So, I've found that this system worked for me.

Normally people who can wear, I don't know, if you can wear nail polish and it doesn't chip for very long, or if you hold on to gel nails for a really long time, those people with nails of that sort of capacity to wear acrylic nails for forever. Now, if you find that your nails chip when you wear just regular nail polish or gel polish, hard gel might be a good way for you to sort of, I don't know, elongate your manicure.

[JD]: You just taught me something. I didn't know about the pH thing, so that's really cool. I didn't know that.

[NP]: Yeah.

[JD]: Yeah, because I love it, and to be clear, since you know, obviously you can't see what our nails look like right now, but you get a clear coat. A clear like hard gel coat, and then you put clear soft gel over it and then you can paint your nails as many times as you want and you can hit your nails with acetone. I think I got to like 20 nail changes when I was like doing a bunch of nail videos one time before the soft shell started kind of coming off and I was like, “Oh crap.”

[NP]: Cool, 20 is great though.

[JD]: I know. I mean with like 100% acetone. But yeah, and I love it because what I notice when I go into the salon to get my overlay, all of the people getting their sets, and every time you get a set, they take your nails off. Then people complain, “My nails are so thin,” and it's like, “Well, yeah. It's because every time, you know, you're taking a layer of your nail off whenever you get a new set.” But if you just do a clear overlay all the time and you get fill-ins, not only is it cheaper than getting a new set, but you never have to take your nails off!

[NP]: Yes!

[JD]: And it's just when you finally do decide that you don't want your nails anymore, and you remove them, it's just the damage from one removal. Not twenty or whatever.

[NP]: Right.

[JD]: Yeah, I love it. Thank you again for telling me about that.

[NP]: Aw, I’m glad I can help.

[JD]: It's changed my life and yeah, everyone should know about it because the salons don't want to tell you about it because in their best interest financially, if you just keep coming back and paying for full sets.

[NP]: That's exactly right.

[JD]: It totally makes sense that because of your nail tech background, you were on a different level.

[NP]: Yeah. I was determined. I was like, “I need to find something that's sustainable that will work for my lifestyle, and how I'm functioning in the world.” And you know, having long nails, I played roller Derby, I washed my hands all the time, I do all sorts of dishes, and the hard gel just, it lasts forever and that's what I need.

[JD]: But yeah, the hard gel is amazing. That’s why I always ask for the brand, IBD.

[NP]: IBD is great.

[JD]: Yeah, IBD is amazing, and I think the frustrating thing, it's just the last thing I want to say for anyone who wants to try this. When you go to the salon and you ask for a hard gel overlay, they will probably try to do dip powder and you have to say no!

[NP]: Yeah.

[JD]: Hard nail overlay. IBD, liquid gel, hard gel, whatever. It's either. It’s one or the other. Again, they are going to try to do the dip powder, which is dip powder is acrylic. Right? I mean, that's my understanding of basically what it is.

[NP]: I've never worked with it, but from what I understand, dip powder is like, it's super glue and acrylic and super glue and acrylic.

[JD]: Here's another interesting thing. The chemistry behind hard gel versus acrylic. Hard gel has like multi bonds. I'm not a chemistry person, so I'm sorry if I'm butchering this. But because it has multiple bonds, it has a little bit of give if you bend that nail a little bit. It won't immediately break, but the acrylics are actually stronger, but it has one bond, so if there's any bend, it will snap.

[NP]: That makes more sense. I'm like picturing all the times where I've had a nail, an acrylic nail, snap.

[JD]: Right.

[NP]: Because I’ve totally been there. That's so true.

[JD]: Yes. So, it is very helpful to understand the chemistry behind the two different types, and I don't know the chemistry behind soft gel. I've actually never had soft gel before. I've never had a desire to just do that.

[NP]: That is so funny. Yeah, I had it once, and it like lifted all over. It basically just came off in like four days.

[JD]: I think it's because I see my friends that get the soft gel and they pick their nails or they like, you know, yeah, it lifts or whatever. I'm like, yeah, “I'm just going to deal with regular polish” or whatever, and I do that [crosstalk 0:27:15]

[NP]: I can see you just like tip toeing away from that, being like, “No, thanks.”

[JD]: Yeah. Go big or go home.

[NP]: Yeah. I love it. I love it.

[JD]: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Nina. This was such a great conversation, and I especially love what we just were talking about with gel types because that's something people who get their nails religiously, they don't know the difference. And you need to know the difference between all the stuff when you go in.

[NP]: It's all about knowing the difference.

[JD]: It is.

[NP]: I agree with you. Aw, well, thanks for having me Jules. I appreciate it.

[JD]: Thanks so much, Nina.

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