OPI Pro Spotlight: @thenailsmith
It’s February Pro Spotlight time and Black History Month! Get to know Lia Smith, aka @thenailsmith on IG.
Since entering the biz in the 80s, this pro has built an astounding career that includes being an OPI education manager and working with celebs. In our interview, learn about her journey and amazing insights on women of color in the nail industry.
OPI: Tell us about the start of your journey as a nail artist and what inspired you to begin?
OPI: How do you feel that the nail industry has been changing for women of color? Are there ways in which you'd like to see it grow further?
Lia: I am excited by the strides woc have made in the industry. When I started in the 80’s in California I didn’t see women who looked like me really represented. Of course, there was Sheril Bailey, who wrote the book “the Sheril Bailey complete manicuring and nail care handbook”. At the time she was the only manicurist of color with visibility in the fashion and print scene. Sheril, along with some of my early successful work colleagues helped me develop the vision of nails as a career. Years ago, at the height of beauty trade shows, when I became a brand educator, I would go from show to show, rarely ever seeing manicurists that looked like me. I am thrilled to say that today the diversity, knowledge, skill, and passion for nails is broad. I am also excited to see men in the industry too. When I went to school there was 1 man in my manicuring class and at most of the salons I worked in, there were no male manicurists. I am excited to see that with the rise of social media, the breadth of products and techniques, the career opportunities are plentiful.
OPI: As an OPI EDUCATION MANAGER, what do you enjoy most about teaching other nail artists and the community about nails?
OPI: What are the ways you feel that nails tie into your culture as a black woman?
Lia: Nail care, long nails, nail art are fashion statements that women of color have embraced for decades, since the introduction of acrylic nails in the 1950’s. The 1st black supermodel, donyale luna, sported almond acrylic on her revolutionary vogue in the 60’s, diana ross and donna summer wore the enhancements in the 70’s, janet jackson wore lavish, pierced, long acrylics for her 80’s album cover and florence griffith joyner, a former nail tech, raced to the top of the 88’ olympics with her vibrant, bejeweled nails and unmatched speed. In the 90’s we saw lil’ kim’s “money manicure” created by nail artist bernadette thompson, which is now the first nail set on exhibit at the museum of modern art. There was a time when the “mainstream” frowned on long nails, nail art and embellishments, as unprofessional or low class. Black women have been unapologetically bold in their choice of self expression with their nails and we see today that what was once looked down upon is sought after across the globe.
OPI: You have done SO much in your career already! What are you most looking forward to in the next few years in nails?
OPI: We see that you have celebrity nail clients, ARE AN EDUCATION MANAGER, and a nail tech! How do you juggle so many amazing aspects of your career and what tips do you have for others working toward doing the same?
Lia: I am a wife and mom too; the juggle is real and as I have progressed in my career, some elements stand out:
Time management is paramount. From scheduling to workflow, time is queen. We’ve heard that early is on time and on time is late. It’s a good rule of thumb to follow. For editorial or set work, there is no being late if you want to be asked back. An entire production team could be waiting and you don’t want it to be for you.
Same goes for booking clients, as pros we know if a client is late that can throw off our whole day. No magical thinking here, if it takes you 90 mins to do a service today then book that time, don’t think yesterday it took 90 but today i’m gonna do it in 60. You may disappoint yourself and definitely your client.
There is always something to learn. If you want to increase your speed of service, learn a new technique; experience new products- take a class, repetition and refining your technique are the answers. Learn about nail anatomy, nail product science, explore the aspects of quality customer service, study good business practices. There are opportunities available for a career in nails but like anything else we have to go after it.
OPI: Your nail art and use of color is stunning! How did you develop such a great understanding of color and style?
OPI: Where do you draw your inspiration from for nail art?
Lia: The first place I draw my inspiration from is the color chosen. When I started with nail art there were not any examples of nail art looks from which to draw inspo. Sometimes the inspo was a specific holiday, event or the shade of outfit the client was wearing. I was never a portrait artist, which is a serious talent, so my nail art is more abstract than literal most of the time. I used to say the color would tell me what it wants. As an example, a client might be wearing a shade like cajun shrimp for a tropical party so I would start with the shade and create from there, always with the client's approval of course. I loved having clients who allowed me to create from my imagination. Today with ig, tiktok, pinterest many clients show you someone else's art and want you to recreate it. I say I am not a copy machine copying someone else's work. I often ask if I can use the work shown as inspo and create from there. In some cases, I think art can be missed for the sake of copying someone else line for line.
OPI: As a woman of color, in what ways do you hope to inspire other women of color who are looking to start a career in the nail industry?
OPI: What has been your favorite memory from being a part of the OPI team?
Be sure to follow Lia, AKA @thenailsmith on Instagram!