Kristine Rojo always had her nails done. When the end of high school seemed to loom over her, she decided that she at least didn’t want to have to pay to get her nails done forever so she would learn to do them herself. A small handful of years later this Nail Studio graduate’s private Vancouver studio is booked five months in advance, with no room for new clients! She dubbed her booming nail business Kaebaby Nails: “I named my business after my modeling alias. It’s actually a little embarrassing now because I could’ve chosen literally any.other.name! But it’s who I am now!”
Your Kaebaby Nail books are closed! That takes quite a few clients—how long have you been building a clientele for?
After I graduated from Nail School, I started working from home in 2015 but realized that I still wanted to learn as much as I could from others. So I moved to a salon, and then I worked at two more after that. It was after the third salon that I went off on my own. The number of people that followed me from the salon helped me so much. I didn’t even need to take hardly any more clients, my nail business was booking so far in advance. I couldn’t keep up! I’m booked until the end of the year right now. It’s the weekend spots that go quickly—even with COVID.
Browsing your Instagram feed, it seems like every single set you do is opulent and intricate. Do your clients give you some direction or do you just create on the fly?
I usually message my clients the day before their appointment to see what they want, whether it’s specific or just a certain vibe, and what their budget is. Some people send over some photos of what they want or they’ll say “I don’t know what I do want, but here’s what I don’t want.” In that case, I look through saved photos of my own to see what I have that they might like. I have SO MUCH reference stuff saved. If we can’t or don’t nail down a plan the night before, I’ll have to think quickly during their appointment and be inspired by the stuff I’ve looked at myself. Then of course you talk about the design and what I was looking at and thinking of creating and then it’s go time!
The number of people that followed me from the salon helped me so much. I didn’t even need to take hardly any more clients, my nail business was booking so far in advance. I couldn’t keep up! I’m booked until the end of the year right now.
And where do you draw your inspiration from? Who are some of your favourite accounts that you follow and where do you learn new techniques?
Mostly Instagram though I just got into Pinterest and I’m all like ‘Why wasn’t I here sooner!?’ But on Instagram, I follow a bunch of nail artists but my favourite to get inspiration from are: @nail_0408, @cits_nails, @tink_nail, @mananails, and @palettecarys! I will sometimes watch a YouTube video on a new technique I’m looking into or if the artist has an IG TV video tutorial then I watch those. But mostly I learn new techniques by practicing on my own nails through trial and error! A new word I learned recently for the type of creative style I like to go for is called “nuance” art. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s just more on the abstract side of nail art!
Were you artistic growing up?
I would say so! I’ve been artistic since I was born. My parents met in art class outside of high school, and I took a lot of inspiration from my older sister who is a graphic designer and my brother can draw as well.
How has COVID-19 affected your day-to-day operations of your nail business?
Now that we can take clients again, I take a lot more precautions and I make sure there’s time to clean between appointments. In a salon, this kind of thing would be so hard to consistently carry out, but for me, I just have to clean more and get the plexiglass separator installed. That’s one of the great things about having your own in-home nail business! As far as clients, I’ve got some younger clients who still live at home that text me being all, “My parents won’t let me come get my Nails done!” But that just makes room for new people I guess!
What is your secret to keeping such loyal clientele, especially in the weird times we’re living in now?
Vulnerability and passion. No question. One thing that my clients always tell me that’s kept them away from other techs is the feeling that they’re not working from a passionate place for Nails. It’s such a personal service that the feeling like your tech is cold and unfriendly or just not into it, it kills the enjoyment—you know? It’s so much better to be kind to your clients and interested in them. I’m always there to be a shoulder or an ear for my clients. Also being physically gentle with your client! That’s so huge… and so overlooked for some reason!
I only considered Blanche... from all my research and word-of-mouth from everyone I talked to, it was clearly the best option with the most post-grad success. It was SO worth it!
So, what led to the decision that starting your own nail business was what you wanted to do?
I was always getting my Nails done and it was getting VERY expensive. Eventually, my senior year came around and I had no plans for post-secondary so I thought “Well, maybe my mom will let me do it?” I asked and she was all “… are you sure?!” I thought at the very least I would learn how to do my own Nails and save money. It wasn’t until I started doing other people’s nails that I realized I actually DID want to do this as a career. Thank God I was good at it… I don’t really know what I would be doing otherwise!
And how did you end up in the Nail program at Blanche Macdonald?
I only considered Blanche! I think I looked at one other school but from all my research and word-of-mouth from everyone I talked to, it was clearly the best option with the most post-grad success. It was SO worth it! Min and Yuri were my teachers and they were just so knowledgeable and so incredible.
What is your favourite thing about doing Nails?
Making people feel pretty! You probably hear that all the time, but it really is the most satisfying part of the job. I think also one of my favourite things is when people use me as a therapist so I know that my clients are leaving feeling better than when they came in. I know SO many things that I don’t need to know. Clients really do tell you things that they don’t tell anyone and I’m here just like ‘SPILL THE TEA!’
One of your favourite sets you’ve done lately would be:
I did a hand-painted Takashi Murakami set a few months ago and I LOVED it! But really, I love anything pop-arty, cartoons, or with lots of hand-painting. My favourite is when a client will come in and let me do whatever I want on them. The best part of getting your Nails done is getting someone to FUCK YOU UP! With my hand-painted sets, the real skill is on there and THOSE are Nails.
My favourite is when a client will come in and let me do whatever I want on them.
Top 3 most used products at your station are:
Akzentz Shine On
Luxio Blush Gel Colour
Bio Chic Basecoat
The advice you’d give the Kristine of five years ago?
Be careful who you work for. Is that too saucy? Make sure you know who you’re working with. Research everything before you work there.
In five years where can we find you?
I hope that by then, I’ve been able to branch my nail business out into a storefront somewhere. I also would love to teach people how to do Nails. I don’t know if I will want to only do Nail sets forever but I would love to pass these skills on to other people so they can take it and make something new.