by Jacqueline Fay, Owner

Jacqueline Fay, center,
and the Grit + Polish team.

I decided to open a nail and skin studio after reading a 2015 expose in the New York Times revealed unsanitary, illegal, and unethical practices in most nail salons. I believed then — and even more strongly today — that the Princeton area would value a salon that is run ethically and puts people first.

Although 80 percent of nail salon workers are women of color, owners are mostly men — frequently absent from the day-to-day running of the salon. As a woman of color myself, I was confident I could relate to my employees and create a better environment.

The first challenge I encountered was educating the public. I needed to explain why my prices were higher than at some of my competitors. A year ago, I wrote a widely read column that explained my prices, and why $25 is a fair price to pay for a manicure. The response was overwhelming.

My customers have learned that my somewhat higher prices are driven by three things: 1) high quality products; 2) the cleanliness of the salon; and 3) fair compensation and treatment for nail technicians.

High Quality Products. When I started my salon, I committed to using only the highest quality products, principally from PCA and FarmHouse Fresh, a new brand offering natural, organic, and cruelty-free products. The quality of these products is exceptional, and customers can be certain that they are getting the real thing. Some “cheap” salons refill empty bottles with counterfeit product, which can be a serious risk to health and safety.

Cleanliness. I also decided I needed to provide hospital-grade sanitation equipment and top-of-the line ventilation to minimize fumes that can harm clients and employees. I am glad I did. In my first customer survey, cleanliness was listed as the top priority for why clients prefer Grit + Polish to other salons.

I love to give “sanitation tours.” Stop by and I’ll show you the sound-proof ventilation closet that absorbs particles in the pedicure area; I’ll take you to the inventory room to see the hospital-grade autoclave. Spend a little time in the salon and you’ll see the thorough protocol for cleaning the pipe-less pedicure basins between every use. Other salons are cheaper, but what have you saved if you require a trip to a doctor’s office after a bad experience in a nail salon?

Fair compensation and treatment. Beyond the horrendous working and sanitation conditions of many low-priced salons, a new report on the nail industry in California has added statistics that are surprising to many people. It found that 61 percent of nail salon employees are paid below minimum wage, which is illegal of course.

After reading the 2015 Times article, I began a year-long process of researching the local industry. I visited my future competitors, and because I am bilingual, I was often able to talk confidentially with Latina technicians while on the job. Speaking Spanish in hushed tones, they confirmed for me that they were underpaid and often had tips stolen. This made me even more determined to do it the “right way” in the hope that customers would support this effort and commitment, particularly in a highly educated and progressive community like Princeton.

The nail industry is booming, growing at twice the rate of the national economy. Demand is driven, of course, by a desire to have healthy and attractive nails. But I think an even bigger reason is our need for the human touch, which is why nail salons are immune to the trend toward automation that is impacting many industries. The human connection is fundamental to what we do.

Which is why I think it is so important that the person on the other side of the table or pedicure basin — your nail technician — is compensated fairly and provided with a safe work environment. We’re doing more than manicures. We’re taking care of each other, too.

Grit + Polish is located at 160 Witherspoon Street and open Tuesday through Saturdays. Appointments are recommended and can be made at www.grit­andpolish.com or by calling 609-924-1549.

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