UT students turn their passion for nails into businesses

Avery Hough, Life & Arts General Reporter

During quarantine, unable to engage in the simple pleasure of getting her nails done, Paige Hawkins said she felt frustrated and incentivized. If she wanted artistic, flashy nails, she needed to do it herself. While Hawkins’ nail art journey started in her bedroom — where she used cornstarch as an acrylic substitute — she now invests time and money in making her work come to life.

“My cousin was like, ‘Oh my gosh, do mine.’ Then my mom was like, ‘Do mine.’ I realized, this is actually really fun,” Hawkins said. “I decided to make a page for (my nail art and) started taking clients. It just progressed from there.” 

Hawkins, a human development and family science senior, is one among a handful of full-time UT students with an established business. Hawkins said being her own boss helped her grow, learn and adjust to new circumstances. She said she now hopes to inspire others to follow their passions too.

Hawkins, @nailedbykaela on Instagram, said as a senior with a more manageable course load, she can focus on growing her business and being her own boss. 

“You set your own hours, decide what days you want to work, don’t want to work, (and) set your own prices,” Hawkins said. 

Hawkins said she prides herself on being highly motivated. Between school, her nail business and working another job, she keeps herself busy; however doing nails remains a fun, relaxing activity. 

“It definitely is stress relief,” Hawkins said. “It’s so satisfying when I do that process and the nails turn out really nice and sleek.” 

Selina Li, a psychology and human dimensions of organization junior, started her nail business this summer — showcased @nailsxselina on Instagram. At first, she said being her own boss felt very intimidating. 

“Looking for clients was a really challenging thing because you have to get your name out there,” Li said, “It was scary at first because I had to invest a lot of my own money into the business, but I had so many great clients that supported me.” 

For Li, following her passion meant exploring different artistic styles and finding a lifelong stress relieving outlet. 

“In my family, my sister is the artist … I could never draw anything,” Li said. “Hand painting nail art really helped me become more creative. I feel like I challenge myself when my clients ask me to do really hard designs.” 

Emily Wilkinson, one of Li’s repeat customers, said she loves going to a student to get her nails done instead of sitting quietly in a salon. This way, Wilkison said she develops a relationship with the business and business owner.

“It gives off the vibe that you’re getting your nails done by your best friend,” Wilkinson said. “(Li) wants to make it a special experience by bonding with you.” 

Li and Hawkins both said they accumulate clients because of their friendly behavior and skillful work. 

Hawkins plans to continue being her own boss and maintaining her nail business after graduating from UT this spring. 

“Go after what you are passionate about,” Hawkins said. “As long as you’re good at what you do and you put in the effort to learn and market, the opportunities are endless.”