What it’s like to be a nail technician in Singapore: A manicurist at 8Twenty8 Nails tells all

What it’s like to be a nail technician in Singapore: A manicurist at 8Twenty8 Nails tells all

Unsung heroes

Text: Buro. Singapore

Image: Instagram | @8twenty8nails

Unsung Heroes spotlights underrated — yet, indispensable — individuals within the beauty industry in Singapore. All stories as told to Beauty Writer Emily Heng.

I don't think there was a specific moment in time when I discovered my love for nail art. As a child, I made it a point to keep my nails neat and pretty at all times. I just liked the way they looked, you know? I moved on to nail polish as a teenager and I remember looking up YouTube tutorials for hours on end, painstakingly learning how to do these elaborate designs. Everything inspired me. Looking through magazines, an intricate print on a blouse or dress, even handbags. My parents were not very supportive though. I expressed an interest in pursuing nail art for a living, but they insisted I study accounting instead. I enrolled in an ICCL diploma course to please them, but I didn't last long; I dropped out after discovering that it really wasn't for me.

My parents conceded once I told them how much I hated accounting. My first job was at a nail salon in Kuantan, Malaysia, where I was taught the basics, like how to cut and polish cuticles. You'll be surprised to know that there are quite a few nail technicians here who don't know how to do that. I stayed on for six years before moving to Singapore, where I joined an established nail salon right off the bat. Here, I learned how to do nail extensions and developed my nail art skills further. Unfortunately, there were a lot of ongoing politics in that salon that made it increasingly hard to stay. I took the plunge and left after two years when a friend introduced me to my current boss, Victoria.

Then, 8Twenty8 Nails wasn't a reality yet. I went for an interview, during which I asked Victoria point blank, "What are the odds of your business surviving?". It's a competitive market, and it felt like such a risk, going from a reputable salon to a fledgling one. Still, I took a chance and went for it. And so did she, because she hired me without evaluating my technical skills.

8Twenty8 Nails started with just two manicurists — me and a colleague — and grew to what we are today.

Challenges are natural in my job when dealing with customers. I've had clients come in hours late, demanding to be served immediately despite there being no technicians available. Some patrons also insist on a specific design, even after I point out its unfeasibility. There have even been instances when men call up the salon, requesting for "waxing services" in a "private room". Here's a memorable incident: I was asked to do nail art services for a friend of my boss, who is an artist herself. I was working on her nails, and she was micro-managing me the entire time, asking why I wasn't doing it in a certain way, or if it would be easier if I tried so-and-so technique. It reached a point where I stopped what I was doing, looked her in the eyes, and handed over the brush. So, she tried it herself, and when she couldn't do it, she agreed to do it my way. [Laughs].

It doesn't happen often, but I've definitely had people question my skills, or assume that my job is an easy one. I think what people need to understand is that being able to draw on large surfaces and canvases such as paper, for instance, is different from doing it on a nail. What I — and other manicurists's — bring to the table is an entirely unique skill.

I'd say it's worth it to be able to do something I love daily. And it's nice when the customers recognize it too, of course. I never planned to stay here after I started a family. In fact, I remember telling Victoria that it was always in the cards for me to leave once I've had a baby. In the end,  I found that my job was too fulfilling for me to quit. My husband and child live back in Kuantan, and I visit them twice a month. It's hard, but we're making arrangements for them to come over here instead. I'm taking classes at Singapore's first beauty school, Top to Toe, so I can apply for an S-Pass. There's too much here to give up, otherwise: the trust I've developed with my boss and team, the relationships I've built with my regular customers, and the opportunities I have to further hone my skills. There is a better future here in Singapore for me and my family. It's what I'll be working towards, always.

8Twenty8 Nails
Address: Level 2 #02-01, 50 Tras Street (Tanjong Pagar), 078989
Contact: 6225 1828

This story was told by Sharon, Manager and Manicurist from 8Twenty8 Nails, to Buro. Singapore. Contact us at [email protected] if you have one to share.