By Micha Green
For many African American women, going to the nail salon is a form of self-care and their nail art is a mode of artistic freedom and expression. Yet, according to a 2018 study from UCLA, only two percent of the nail industry is made of Black professionals. As many African American women are setting the nail trends when they sit in a technician’s chair, they’re not getting a piece of the economic pie nor supporting Black nail artists and entrepreneurs, who are working to combat these low numbers.
London Ward, founder and CEO of Snob Nails, 3737 Branch Avenue Temple Hills, Md., is changing the face and narrative of Blacks in the nail and beauty industry.
“We are the originators of a lot of the things that take place within the nail industry, so it’s really amazing that we have become the minority and we’re filtered out,” Ward said in an exclusive, interactive interview, as she did this reporter’s nails. “So it’s amazing for me to be able to come in and pioneer something super cool, super great, but not only that, be able to really help my people and pour into my people to become what I am today and them see that they can do that and say: ‘I can grow up and do nails. I can go into the beauty industry, and be Black and be successful.’”
Ward was not always a beauty industry entrepreneur. She was a successful nurse and mother who faced a challenging time and needed a sensible fix for her life and family. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, starting a business made most sense.
“My youngest daughter was born disabled, and their dad ended up suffering traumatic brain injury, all within the same nine months of each other and I was trying to find something I could do that wouldn’t require me to do patient care every day in the office, dealing with clients and the day to day hustle of being a nurse,” she said. “I wanted to start a business. I didn’t know what it was going to be, didn’t know what was going to come out of it, but I knew that no matter what, entrepreneurship is what I wanted to do. So I made a list, I put about 16 businesses on there that I thought could potentially make a profit and nail salon was one of them, and here I am four years later.”
Snob Nails is far more than a salon- it’s a lifestyle, educational and beauty brand. Not only does Ward have the thriving brick and mortar salon at the basement level of Iverson Mall, but she also has a flourishing educational program, Snob Nails University, and a prosperous product line.
The Snob Nails educational component was originally started two years ago when Ward would hold classes for students in the D.M.V. and nationally. Ward also allowed aspiring nail technicians to apprentice under her at the salon. With the success and demand of her educational ventures, having trained 648 students and counting, Ward has transformed her simple tutorials into a nine-week program that will leave students fully equipped to work in the nail industry.
“Now you’re coming to me and literally within nine weeks you leave fully licensed. You can go on and start your own business; you can go on and work for someone else. However it’s not as long of a process, and you won’t leave with just an apprenticeship, you’ll leave a licensed nail tech,” she said.
From January to June of 2020, the nail educator is also touring her five-hour “Acrylic 101 & Nail Art for Beginners,” course from 12-5 p.m. in several major cities, including: Long Beach, Atlanta, Charlotte, New York City, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, and two stops in her home-base, the D.M.V.
The Snob Nails acrylic merchandise came from Ward’s genius and demand for quality products. She explained how when she first began doing nails she could not find an acrylic that met her professional standards.
“It was really hard trying to teach myself how to do nails and be great at it, when the product I was using was not easy to work with, so maybe about two and a half years into doing nails, I started saying, ‘I’m just going to start my own line,’” she said. “I had been working with a few products that I really loved… that really worked for me, the way I needed it to work. So I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to mimic the three things I like about these products, and put them all together in one, and have color.’”
A modern Madame C.J. Walker, when Ward got in the kitchen, put on her chemist hat, and began mixing chemicals to create the perfect acrylic, she found a product that made her job easier and more enjoyable. She lists three reasons why the Snob Nails acrylic is better than any product she’s used before.
“1) You can increase the amount of clientele you see in a day, 2) you can get your clients out quicker because of the way that it lays and it applies, and 3) also to say we have something,” she explained.
The nail technician further emphasized the importance of ownership in her merchandise. “I don’t know many people in this industry that are Black that can literally say they have products out here that are really helping, versus them collaborating with a private label and them sticking their name on it…. My product is handmade by me, in the kitchen, mixing it. It’s really real.”
In addition to the product itself, Ward is great at what she does. Making it look effortless, she meticulously shapes nails in the trendiest of fashions, takes time on every brush stroke and caters to clients’ personal needs as well.
Further than just a nailpreneur, Ward is an exhorter and inspiration to those she meets.
“I find myself interacting with my clients a lot. To me, I’m just being me, and my clients really take advice and take heed.
Ward said her interactions with customers also set her apart from the normal salon experience.
“I just feel like we’re talking, having a conversation. But I think that matters, because so many women, and men as well, don’t get that. They get the regular run of the mill- especially when you go to the nail salon- you darn sure aren’t getting anybody that understands. But they look at us as therapists, friends.”
Ward not only serves as a motivation to her clientele, she is a source of inspiration to her children as well. A child of the entrepreneurs who started the first Black-owned life insurance company, Ward, like her parents, is now inspiring her children by bringing them to work and encouraging them to be entrepreneurs in their own right.
“I enjoy having my kids being here and them watching, because they now have their business, so it gives them something to aspire to and it makes me say, ‘Even though I’m busy and I’m working, I’m still able to spend time with them.’”
When asked why they started their own business, the girls immediately said their mom was the source of their inspiration.
“We wanted to follow in our own steps, so we did edible nail polish,” SaMii explained.
Ever a businesswoman, the busy mom is not letting the holiday rush slow her down. She has Black Friday deals with full sets starting and $35 and special promotions for the first 15 customers in line. In addition, Ward is offering $10 off of Snob Nails merchandise. She explained how these deals help further connect her with her clientele.
“It’s for me to get my product out, for me to continue bringing awareness- for people to be able to really see what it is that I’m curating and learn, grow and be able to purchase from a Black-owned business. But also that will help in their nail career, or taking it to their nail tech and having colors that are by us for us. For Black Friday, this is what I’m going to do,” Ward said.
To keep up with all things Snob Nails, Ward encourages people to follow her on all social media platforms, under Snob Nails. In addition, for more information visit https://www.snobnailsindustry.com.