IMPACT 0016: NAILS FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Nail salon provides work for underprivileged women
One step into any The Nail Social outlet, and you’re immediately enveloped in a cocoon of peace and comfort. Wooden furnishings and a neutral, earth-toned colour palette lend a relaxed air to the intimate space.
Customers lounge in comfortable chairs, entertaining themselves with movies, games, books and podcasts on a personal iPad while getting mani-pedis and massages. Quickly and precisely, expert nail technicians buff and polish nails to perfection. All products used and sold are eco-friendly, fair-trade, and cruelty-free. But The Nail Social is not an ordinary chi-chi nail salon.
The hired staff are women from marginalised, underprivileged groups in Singapore.
The Nail Social brands itself as a ‘socially conscious nail salon’. They provide training and employment for women who find it challenging to secure stable jobs due to various problems in their personal lives. Their goal is to have these women transition from a vulnerable to a self-sufficient position.
34-year-old Germaine Monteiro and her partner, 38-year-old Cheryl Ou, are the masterminds behind the lifestyle nail salon/social enterprise. We spoke to Germaine to learn more about the story behind The Nail Social and her journey of uplifting other women through her business.
Beginning of The Nail Social
Germaine’s journey in the nail industry began 16 years ago. In 2005, she started training as a nail technician at the now-defunct nail salon, Polish Divas. The salon was Cheryl’s first business venture. Over time, Germaine honed her skills and gradually worked her way up to become the salon manager.
After six years of working together, Germaine got married and moved to the US. In 2014, she returned and met with Cheryl to catch up. Cheryl had had a nasty run-in with an investor and lost a large amount of her savings. The experience left a sour taste in her mouth, and she wanted to run a business that wasn’t solely motivated by money.
“Back then, there weren’t many social enterprises. Cheryl was telling me that we could make a difference in how we go about [doing business]. She was sharing about the various types of people that we could be helping, and when Cheryl mentioned we could help single mums, it struck a chord with me.”
Germaine had witnessed the difficulties her single-mum went through to raise her and her two siblings growing up. Money was tight, so Germaine and her sister decided to drop out of school to help the family finances. Starting The Nail Social was her opportunity to help other women, like her mum, who were struggling as single parents.
So, Germaine and Cheryl got to work. In 2015, The Nail Social was born.
How The Nail Social supports its employees
The ladies who work at The Nail Social are aged between 17 and 40. They are single mums, women from low-income families, women with mental health issues, youth-at-risk and ex-drug offenders. Germaine reaches out to the various family service centres, women shelters and youth-at-risk agencies on behalf of the salon to hold recruitment drives.
Suitable candidates are sent for courses in nail art and customer service. Over the past six years, Germaine estimates 20 to 30 girls have gone through The Nail Social. All genders are considered for the hiring process, but typically women express interest in the programme. Currently, the shop has a core team of five girls.
Managing their employees requires Germaine to assess each individual’s problems and provide unique solutions. For example, employees who are single mums have schedules that primarily revolve around their children’s needs.
Sometimes, they cannot come to work if their child falls ill or have no one to pick up their kids from school or daycare. It doesn’t help that single mums often lack support. To combat this, Germaine fixes nail appointments around their hours. This way, these single mums have more flexibility and control over their time.
Other ways The Nail Salon tries to help their employees include finding counsellors for those struggling with their mental health. They also set up a monthly savings fund to assist their employees in making responsible decisions with their finances. Additionally, Germaine organises staff outings, encourages staff to interact with their co-workers, and provides a listening ear.
Forming new friendships and providing social support for each other steers them away from spending time with negative influences from their past lives. This strategy is beneficial for youths at-risk who are trying to get out of their existing circle of friends.
Challenges working with her employees
As much as Germaine assists her staff, she is aware that they must be willing to change. If not, her efforts are for nought.
“As much as I want to help as many women as I can, it’s very disheartening when they drop out [of The Nail Social’s programme]. It happens a lot. And this really gets to you sometimes, especially after you’ve formed a bond with them.
“I wish I had a better answer as to how I could have done better or how I could have helped them differently. But I think it was just they were not ready to move forward and their lack of support from family and friends.
“You just have to move on lor. There [are] only so many people you can help. I guess you just have to focus on the people who are committed right now to improving their lives.
”However, Germaine shares that the door is always open for those who wish to come back. There is a staff member who was an ex-drug offender. She worked with The Nail Social for two years before relapsing and ending up in jail for a year and a half.
“The ones who are hardest to help are those who have substance abuse problems. Only one of the girls [who had this challenge to overcome] has managed to come back to us. She wrote to us and Cheryl, my partner, went down to visit her and check in on her. As soon as she got out she came to us and we gave her another chance to do better. So far, she’s on the right track and has been with us for a year and a half.”
Starting a nail salon as a social enterprise to empower other women
In the next five years, Germaine wants to pick up new skills such as doing lash treatments, threading or waxing, with the eventual goal of incorporating these beauty treatments into The Nail Social’s offerings.
Additionally, she hopes The Nail Social will be able to expand beyond its two outlets. The goal is to extend their capacity to train and employ more women and provide a broader range of services. Franchising the business is a possibility they’re looking into, but it is tough finding like-minded women to come on board as partners.
Ultimately, Germaine is in the business of empowering as many women as she can. To her, The Nail Social not only serves as a platform to integrate these women back into the workforce, but also as an incubator for them to hone their self-confidence.
“Because of my mum, I think women are like warriors, they’re like fearless. You can knock them down and they will just get back up. They have so much to prove and so much they can do. It’s like [women] can put so many things on our plates and still do it all.
“Honestly, I think what [these marginalised women] want is an opportunity to prove themselves. They need someone to believe they can do it and The Nail Social is just our way to give these women a chance and an outlet just to start.”