POLISH UP YOUR ACT
Meet the woman at the FOREFRONT of a movement to create a TOXIC-FREE environment in the nail salon INDUSTRY, that BENEFITS the wellbeing of BOTH employees and clients.
When I was younger, I would go to a temple with my mum to pray and meditate,” says Amy Ling Lin, who from an early age was interested in wellbeing and complementary treatments, such as mindfulness and meditation.
But it wasn’t until she was granted a scholarship to study fashion and retail management in 2010 at Syracuse University in New York State that she became interested in the beauty benefits of the nail industry. Despite having never been to a nail salon, a conversation with a friend about the shockingly unfair practices behind the scenes of so many mani-pedis peaked her interest.
The New York Times reported in 2015 that manicurists are regularly underpaid and exploited. Despite soaring growth (the number of salons in New York City tripled to over 2000 in a 10-year period) in the industry, it was discovered that employees, mostly immigrants, were paid below minimum wage, sometimes as little as US$3 per hour, and were suffering ongoing health issues due to chemical exposure.
“I always want to help immigrants, and the nail industry has many immigrant employees,” says Amy. “My dad wanted me to become an immigration lawyer but that’s not my passion – he disagrees with my interest in beauty and fashion. To him it’s not a very decent job, but, to me, I just love making people feel beautiful.”
Amy’s family is from Chang’an in southern China. Her father relocated to the United States when Amy was seven. She didn’t see him again until she too moved to the US in 2006, aged 19.
“I heard crazy stories about immigrant life [in New York]. When [my father] arrived in the US he was washing dishes. He’d had a business in China so it was a huge transition. Suddenly he was making $300 a month and didn’t speak English. He gave me a lot of strength and encouraged me to do something for the community, to give back.”
Amy felt that she’d be supporting the immigrant community if she could make a positive impact on the nail business that in the US is largely unregulated.
“In 2012 I’d finished my retail course and I was working for a marketing company. I studied beauty after hours and took some business courses. That’s when I started looking for locations and asking if anyone was interested in investing in the business.”
What proved most difficult for Amy was finding a location that would allow her to sign a lease.
“I didn’t have a credit record, and my salary wasn’t high so I got a lot of rejections,” tells Amy, who eventually rented from a landlord who initially declined her application.
“They told me my business would fail in six months. They thought they were doing me a favour.” Amy didn’t give up. “I reached out again and told them I understood their concerns, but that I knew the risk more than anyone else. I said, ‘Please trust me, if I didn’t have the confidence in this, then I wouldn’t do it.’”
They TOLD me my BUSINESS would FAIL in six months.
Amy was approved and opened her first nail salon on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 2012.
“That made me believe that we can make something that seems impossible, possible,” she says. It was in the throes of running that business that Amy realised the high level of chemical ingredients that were contained in many of the nail products. That was the catalyst to launch her latest business venture, a salon that’s free from harmful ingredients that have a negative effect on clients’ nails and the health of salon owners and technicians.
Manicurists handle chemicals and breathe fumes from a range of polishes, solvents, drying agents and glues all day – some of which have been linked to cancer, miscarriages and compromised fetal growth. >