Spa History—How One Actress Launched A Thousand Nail Entrepreneurs
Did you know that over 50% of nail salon owners nationwide are Vietnamese? With a whopping 80% of nail salon owners in California being Vietnamese?1 But how exactly did that happen? How did one nationality take over an industry so completely? Well, the answer involves an actress most famous for being attacked by birds – Tippi Hedren.
Tippi Hedren and the Vietnam War
Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds found herself visiting Hope Village, a refugee camp in Northern California after the Vietnam War. She was working as an international relief coordinator at an organization called Food for the Hungry. There were women there who had lost everything—their families, their friends, their country. They needed a fresh start, something that they could do. Tippi found herself attracted to the cause. She brought in seamstresses and typists—various skills she could train the refugees in. But it wasn’t until she brought in her manicurist that things took off.
Tippi’s personal manicurist trained 20 refugee women who then went on to transform an entire industry that is now worth eight billion dollars and is still dominated by Vietnamese Americans.
One of the reasons why learning to be a manicurist was so successful was the lack of language barrier. A nail tech would only need to learn a few phrases in English to be able to get by. Perhaps that’s why, in 2003, Vietnamese American stand up Dat Phan pitched a show called “Pick a Color” on season one of Last Comic Standing inspired by his family’s manicure business.1 While our tastes in humor might have evolved in the last 20 years, our hunger for manicures has only grown. It’s no surprise that mani/pedis are a top five spa treatment!
A Business Transformed
The Vietnamese refugees who were professionally placed all over California by Hedren also transformed the manicure business into what we see today. Manicures used to be incredibly expensive, not the mid-luxury splurge it is today. That meant that only celebrities and wealthy women could enjoy the pampering of a manicure and a pedicure.
With the influx of Vietnamese Americans into the industry, the price point for a manicure dropped and manicures and pedicures became a wellness treat almost everyone can enjoy. Plus, it is a spa treatment that can be easily found and enjoyed on a regular basis.
It’s why Tippi Hedren is now known as the ‘Godmother of the Vietnamese nail industry2.’ And it’s a perfect example of a small spark of an idea can launch an entire industry— paving the way for more Vietnamese Americans to launch their own salons, spas and nail facilities.