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The Vietnamese Nail Industry: Where Are We Now?

by Kimberly Pham | April 30, 2015

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. Hundreds of thousands of harrowing stories of survival are the foundation of the Vietnamese community in the U.S. The Vietnamese-American nail industry has come a long way in this time, and it has allowed us to give back to the country that has given us so much and allowed us to achieve the American Dream.

This is also a day to reflect on how the end of the Vietnam War indirectly started the Vietnamese nail industry. Vietnamese nail technicians helped build the nail business into a $7.5 billion dollar industry, making nails readily available and affordable to women and men from all walks of life (albeit, sometimes too affordable). The industry is thriving with help from the Vietnamese community, and this trail of success can be followed back to the Vietnam War and to the help from one courageous and selfless woman, actress Tippi Hedren.

The history has been told time and time again.

Hedren volunteered as a humanitarian during the war entertaining troops through the United Service Organizations (USO) and making sure Vietnamese refugees were treated well at a Camp Hope in Sacramento, Calif. There, she met 20 women who she took under her wing, paying for their nail education and exams. The 20 newly licensed nail techs went their separate ways, working in salons, opening their own salons, and spreading the word to family and friends that they, too, could make a good living in this new country. #NailedIt: Vietnamese & the Nail Industry, a documentary by director Adele Pham, is well on its way to completion, telling some of the told and untold stories of the industry’s humble beginnings.

On the set with the #NailedIt: Vietnamese & the Nail Industry crew, who interviewed Tippi Hedren, actress Kieu Chinh, and five of the original 20 Vietnamese women in the U.S. nail industry.

On the set with the #NailedIt: Vietnamese & the Nail Industry crew, who interviewed Tippi Hedren, actress Kieu Chinh, and five of the original 20 Vietnamese women in the U.S. nail industry.

Slowly, Vietnamese manufacturers, schools, and distributors emerged. Slowly, Vietnamese educators began representing larger nail brands. The rest is history.

However, it hasn’t all been roses. There are major health risks to salon workers and clients that can be avoided as long as proper protocols are followed in the salon, and that includes reducing the risk of exposure to chemicals by carefully following labels and instructions and properly ventilating the salon. This important information is getting lost in translation.

Many salons also continue to compete with each other by lowering prices, and lowering prices means less quality products and services. It also means spending more time doing nails for less money.

But thanks to social media and the nail communities that have formed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there has been a positive push to share content, share nail art ideas, help each other through obstacles, and really shine through our accomplishments.

So on this 40th anniversary commemorating the Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, we also honor the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnamese-American nail industry. We’ve come a long way, and there’s a bright future ahead of us.

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