Since coming to the United States as a teen refugee from Vietnam, Jacqueline Van has lived in 25 states.
But for the last nine years, she’s claimed Chicago as her home and has established a loyal clientele at her Wicker Park nail salon, Fantasy Nails.
Her nail tech skills have been developing since she started working at her parent’s nail shop as a teenager in Michigan, where she would take clients on a part-time basis while she finished school. She said the struggle of having to move all as a refugee, working at her family’s shop, instilled in her a strong work ethic.
While she developed those skills, she earned two degrees in business and in accounting.
“But I’m still paying all of my student loans,” Van said. “I didn’t like the whole cubicle scene and so I just continued doing nails.”
At Fantasy Nails, the atmosphere is like being in a room with all your girlfriends. Van described her strategy for creating the welcoming environment — staffing women of many different racial backgrounds and language capabilities.
The diverse atmosphere and beauty of the Windy City inspired her favorite design — the Chicago skyline.
“Chicagoans like to experiment with their nails, with their styles, they’re not afraid to try new things, and they want to try new things,” Van said. “I love when they come in and just give me free reign on what to do.”
When she gets the chance to be creative, she creates colorful, textured abstract designs or themed styles such as unicorns to celebrate gay pride, rainbows and clovers for St. Patrick’s day, or turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Van said working with a diverse staff is key to a successful business.
“It breaks down barriers between everyone,” she said. “If some people don’t speak English they could speak to this person, or that person.” She also wanted to shake off the negative stereotype that Asian-owned nail salons are “unfriendly.”
It also encourages a diverse clientele. One of the best parts of Van’s job as a nail technician is her access to meeting people from all different lifestyles and careers. At the end of the day, she said, people just want someone to vent to.
But still, sometimes customer service can be the hardest part.
“If their mood and energy is bad, it makes you go down with them,” Van said. “You can’t please everybody.”