In 1995, actress Tippi Hedren, also known as the Godmother of the nail industry, ran a program to help settle 20 Vietnamese refugee women in the United States. At the time, Hedren visited a refugee camp in Northern California, Hope Village, and empathized with the difficulties the women had faced in light of the Vietnam war. Most of the women refugees were the spouses of high ranking military officers who lost everything in the war–their houses, their families, and their livelihoods.
Hedren wanted to teach the women trade skills that they could use to support themselves in light of their new lives. Wanting to introduce skills that could easily be learnable due to the language barrier, Hedren brought in seamstresses and typists to teach the women acquirable skills. But instead, her nails caught their attention. After taking notice of this, Tippi Hedren had her personal manicurist visit the refugee establishment to teach the women how to manicure nails the ‘Beverley Hills’ way. This sparked the Vietnamese (and eventually other Asian immigrants’) interest in the nail industry.
The women went on to teach others the art of mastering the perfect manicure. Aside from their initial interest in Tippi Hedren’s nails, the women learned that they could get by working as manicurists with only a few basic English words under their belt, which increased their attraction to the profession.
Vietnamese involvement and interest in the nail salon business radicalized the industry. What were once $50 manicures and pedicures found back in the 1970’s are now being offered for $20. 40 years after Vietnamese induction into the business, over half of the nail salons (51% as of 2015) and 80% of the nail salons in California are found to be Vietnamese owned. Originally intended to introduce trade skills to refugee women, Tippi Hedren transformed the nail salon business into a primarily Vietnamese run 8 billion dollar industry.
Center for Asian American Media. “Nailed It.” WORLD Channel, WGBH Educational Foundation , worldchannel.org/episode/arf-nailed-it/.
Garcia-Navarro, Lulu. “How Vietnamese Americans Took Over The Nails Business: A Documentary.” NPR, NPR, 19 May 2019, www.npr.org/2019/05/19/724452398/how-vietnamese-americans-took-over-the-nails-business-a-documentary.
Morris, Regan. “How Tippi Hedren Made Vietnamese Refugees into Nail Salon Magnates.” BBC News, BBC, 3 May 2015, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32544343.
To, My Ngoc. “The Hidden Lives of Nail Artists.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 June 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/21/nail-salons-vietnam-refugees-atlanta-georgia-snellville.