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Natalie Martins is the ultimate girl boss, CEO and founder of Nail Swag, who travels around the world as part of Ariana Grande’s beloved glam squad.

She also happens to be hilarious, the life of the party, and a dear friend of mine.

We sat down for lunch this past weekend and talked about everything from style, to awkward moments, to how this eccentric, ‘authority- resistant’, college drop-out friend of mine followed her instincts and became the successful businesswoman she is today!

Here is the story of Nail Swag, and Natalie’s heartwarming advice for any business owner…

LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR STYLE.  YOU’VE ALWAYS HAD YOUR OWN LOOK. WHO OR WHAT IS YOUR INSPIRATION?
My style changes a lot, I like to morph.  I think clothes are a great way to represent different versions of yourself.  Dressing up as a new character everyday is fun for me.  Right now I’m kind of going through a French moment.

I’m definitely a vintage girl, I prefer older patterns and classic, simple, shapes.  They’ve always looked good on my body type.  There’s just something about 1950s-1970s design that’s so classic, it will never go out of style.

 

ANY REGRETTABLE LOOKS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS?

Oh god, yes!  In high school… it was so bad.

I was going for this scene look but clearly, I was not hard at all.  Like, actually, I was a very soft person, trying to look hard!  I dyed my hair black and I cut it with a razor…. ugh it was so bad!  Remember that era?  I look terrible with short hair.

WHAT’S AN AVERAGE DAY IN THE LIFE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

If I’m here in LA and working at the salon, I’ll get up around 8am and go to the gym if I can.  Then I usually see about 3 clients a day.  I’ll get to the salon early to make sure everything is looking good.  I’m offering an elevated service, so it’s important to me that the aesthetics are on point.

Then I’ll come home and cook dinner for my fiance and I.  I love spending that time together in the kitchen after we get home from work.  After that, I cuddle with my dog and we go to sleep.

But if I’m with Ari (her nickname for Ariana Grande), I’ll be up by at least 7am and working with the rest of her glam squad to make sure she’s ready for whatever is going on.  Sometimes it’s a show, sometimes its the Met Gala, and other times it’s a photoshoot or press. We just did Jimmy Fallon recently, that was really fun.

I’ve worked with other celebrity clients too like Rebel Wilson and Emilia Clarke.  I am a huge Game of Thrones fan so that was really exciting for me!  I mean, she’s Khaleesi dude, that’s like what I want to be in life!

SO, HOW DID YOU START WORKING WITH SUCH BIG NAMES AND CELEBRITY CLIENTS?

I worked at a club in LA called Rhonda, and that was how I got my foot in the door.  People knew that I had been doing nails on the side as a hobby, but once they found out I became certified, it all took off from there.  And then, once you get on a production, you’re name and number is on that call sheet, and producers will pull up old call sheets to get your contact information for their next gig.

Also, Instagram really started to take off around this time, and once my celebrity clients starting tagging me in their pictures, my numbers really started to climb.  I think I got like, 10,000 followers in one day from Paris.

It was cool because no one had to do that for me, but they did, and it really helped me a lot.

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR NAIL SWAG COME FROM?

Well…I was in college, barely chugging along.  I got decent grades, but I wasn’t really enjoying it.  I thought I wanted to do PR, but I realized quickly that wasn’t for me.  I happened to take a trip to New York, and I met this girl who had these 3D Ice cream cone nails, and I just thought they were the coolest things I’d ever seen!  I needed to know immediately where she got them from!

I started researching Japanese gel nails and became obsessed. I made it my own hobby because I wanted my nails to look like that, but I couldn’t afford that kind of manicure here.

When I started posting my nails on Instagram for fun, my friends started asking me to do their nails too!  So then I thought, well maybe I can do nails on the side to make some extra money during college.

But remember… I hated college.  I remember being in class and not hearing one word that the professor ways saying because I was looking at nail blogs all day.  I just didn’t care.

Soon after, I called my dad when I was at Coachella (lol) and told him I was dropping out of college to start Cosmetology school.  I started school within a week, and within 2 months I had my license!

One week after I graduated, I got my first celebrity client, Carmen Electra.

DID YOU EVER THINK NAIL SWAG WOULD BE AS SUCCESSFUL AS IT IS TODAY?

No, I did not.  I guess I still don’t even think of it as wildly successful, because you know, I’m with it everyday.  There’s still more progress to be made in my eyes.

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE YOUR OWN BOSS AND HAVE YOUR OWN COMPANY AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE?

It feels good.  I didn’t think that I would end up doing art for a living.  I always knew I was a weird, creative kid but I never thought that I would be a painter for a living.  Because that’s what I really am, a painter.

And also, having a company that survived is a really good feeling.

You know, I think people forget that every little store you walk by, every mom and pop shop, that’s someone’s dream that they poured their heart and soul into.  And I hate when I see a place closing down, because that’s someone’s dream closing down.

I don’t think people give small business owner’s enough credit, because it’s really a challenge.

 

WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING TO OVERCOME WHEN YOU WERE BUILDING NAIL SWAG?

Owning a business is like having a baby.  In it’s infancy you have all these idealized visions of what it is, and you’re like “oh my god it’s so cute, it’s everything i wanted“.  But then, that baby starts to get fickle, and you really need to figure out how to tend to it so it can grow.  You have be there every single second, at least for the first couple years.

There are things that you think will work, but they end up totally failing, and when that happens you’ve just got to chuck it and move on.

It’s also scary when you’re in debt.  You’re like “OK, yeah, I own this salon….but I’m eating ramen tonight“.  But you just have to have faith that if you tend to the business like you should, then the business will pick you back up. 

 

DID YOU EVER WANT TO GIVE UP?

Cheya.  There were times when I would call my business partner and just tell her that I can’t do this anymore, and she would tell me to just take the day off.

I had days where I was like, F this.  But I always got through it.

 

HOW OFTEN DO YOU CHANGE UP YOUR OWN NAILS?  OR DO YOU USUALLY ROCK A FAVORITE LOOK?

I’m lazy, but I try to do mine every 2 to 3 weeks.  I’m really not doing a lot of nail art on myself because I don’t have the time.  But I also don’t want to be the person with shitty nails doing other people’s nails.  I want people to know they can trust me.

I usually do an oval shaped extension and one color.  Something simple and classic.

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY CAREER ADVICE YOU WISH SOMEONE WOULD HAVE SHARED WITH YOU?

Be patient with your business, and be forgiving of yourself when you make mistakes.  Because you will make mistakes.  Every person becomes successful because of all their failures, and how they learned from them.

The feeling of failure used to feel shameful to me, but then you realize that’s just how it goes.

But also remember to pat yourself on the back when things do go well, no matter how small of a success you might think it is.  Don’t become so jaded you can’t enjoy the milestones.

 

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF NAIL SWAG LOOK LIKE, OR THE NAIL ART INDUSTRY IN GENERAL?

People have asked me if I think nail art will stick around?  And I say, of course!  People aren’t going to revert back to the old way after knowing they have all these options.

Nail art is just like fashion, it’s really no different.  You have crazy moments of bright colors and bold patterns, and then it tones down to simple, pretty and feminine.  It will evolve through time and trends will change, but the technology is here, and nail art is not going anywhere.

I think social media plays a big part in it too.  People pay attention to details now, and nails are one of those details.  Nails have a time to shine.

When I started doing nails 5 years ago, the hashtag #nailart was at 14,000 tags on Instagram.  Now its at 46 million.

I think it’s one of the top 5 hashtags on Instagram now…. it’s one of the biggest ones.

And as far as the future of Nail Swag is concerned, I’m currently in the works of launching a product line.

It will be great for the girl at home, but also for the professional nail tech.  It’s an all-around easy to use, simple product.  But also has a throwback vibe… I’ll just say that it reminds me a lot of Lisa Frank… and that’s all that I’m gonna say 😉

I had SO much fun sitting down and catching up with Natalie.  Her salon is a true representation of her personality and style.  It’s so unique, so cool, and so completely different than any other nail salon I’ve been to before.

Natalie’s love of nail art lead to the organic growth of what Nail Swag has become today.  I can’t wait to see what Nail Swag has in store for us in the future 🙂

With Love Always,

CC

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