Nail Artist Vivian Xue Rahey Turned Her Tech Dreams Into A Nail Entreprise
Sometimes while trying to figure out the path you desire — one unthinkable finds you. For nail artist, Vivian Xue Rahey, her former dream of Silicon Valley success unexpectedly led her to a path of becoming the CEO of her own nail salon — Pamper Nail Gallery. Rahey started her career as an aspiring Silicon tech entrepreneur. She sought out to design a software that would marry art and logic. At just 19, the tech-enthusiast had already co-founded her own Q&A platform that intended on modernizing Yahoo Answers. As a software designer, Rahey’s first venture influenced a passion for creating things that could make a difference in people’s lives. While her first company fizzled (along with a few other ventures), her love of software design led her to a job that would spark a new mission to revolutionize the nail industry. In 2012, Rahey juggled between roles at a new on-demand massage platform, working as a UX designer, front end developer, and customer service representative amongst other various roles for the company. Increasingly, Rahey became knowledgeable about the health, beauty, and wellness industries, and thus led to her vision to create an ethical and safe space for skilled laborers. These newfound interests bred a brand that equitably values the art, customers, and artist — Pamper Nail Gallery. The nail salon serves as a place where nail artistry is treated professionally, and therefore it holds the power to become a lucrative and steady career. Rahey’s business eventually drew the nail entrepreneur to toy with nail art herself. It led to eventually crafting in demand designs that appear to come straight out of your favorite comic book or fine art canvas.
The CEO discusses advocating for the nail art profession, running her own business, and plans for future growth.
How did you discover your talent for nail design?
My talent for nail art was a byproduct of me needing time to relax while building the company. I like to keep busy, and my mind is always racing with ideas. A very talented gal named Regina who worked with us, gifted me a watercolor set a few months before the salon opened (January 2017). I was familiar with watercolors, so I sat down to paint a portrait of Sailor Pluto on my own nails. The product was actually pretty good! I was hooked. Over time, by creating new technical challenges for myself, by trying different products, and creating intricate designs, I got pretty good at nail art. I think my success in getting good in a fairly short amount of time is due to the fact that nail art is something I do to unwind. I often put off things I should be doing for my next nail idea.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I enjoy that it’s a mix of everything. I have a wide range of interests and am very research-oriented. I enjoy that building Pamper has been filled with a variety of challenges, as is common for young companies. What’s really rewarding is that I get to retreat into my artwork when things get overwhelming. I view my artistic journey as one of self-fulfillment and growth. I try to challenge myself every time either by choosing a more difficult subject or by testing my speed.
Describe a typical day of work.
What a typical work day was a year ago is certainly not what it is today. My goal is to optimize my day to day to work on bigger picture things as time moves forward. A year ago, I was managing the store myself from open to close, six days a week, and had a half day off weekly to spend with my husband. Today, I wake up early to scour all the customer messages on social media, via email and take care of administrative issues that are sprouting up for the day. It sometimes can be firefighting personnel issues or recognizing things we can start improving for when we scale to multiple locations. I end my days extremely late (2 - 4 am) as I spend a lot of time doing my art or mentoring my staff after their shifts end at 9 pm. I try and plan my week by setting one or two goals of things I’d like to have completed by week’s end.
Where do you find inspiration for your nail art?
I think about things that make me smile. This happens extremely haphazardly. I could be watching old TV reruns, or pick up a book somewhere, or see something in the market. Lately, I’ve been really into medieval stuff and Renaissance art. I also have other ulterior motives in the form of trying to capture the attention of people who don’t normally have an appreciation for nail art. As you can probably tell, my favorite nails are the ones that get a lot of attention from a variety of people. They’re not “pretty,” they do better at getting a chuckle out of you (e.g. Dwight Schrute, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Thanos).
There’s always music at the nail shop! What is on your playlist?
I have multiple personalities when it comes to music. I listen to my 90’s pop (Backstreet Boys, N*SYNC) in the same hour I’ll switch over to Paul Hardcastle and Pat Metheny. I have my emo periods and I’ll listen to My Chemical Romance. I don’t have anything I don’t listen to, except maybe heavy metal. I try to stay open-minded and even listen to stuff from different countries.
What makes a good polish?
I think more specifically for me is what makes a good gel polish? I like thick and viscous gels for setting base layers on my artwork, and then in contrast, thinner but more heavily pigmented gels for outlines. I don’t really think of these things as polish anymore, it’s more of what the art I’m doing demands.
Which nail products are your personal favorites and why?
Valentino Beauty Pure top coat is actually a godsend. I don’t know how he did it, but by God, it’s amazing. Vetro makes the best gel pods for doing a huge variety of drawing. Max Estrada makes the best liner gels.
What has been your personal key to success?
I don’t worry about anything except staying true to things that make me happy. When I was in school, I worried about what my teachers thought of me. When I was in tech, I worried about gaining favor from venture capitalists. I got tired of it. I think my biggest achievement in life so far is learning to do things for me and not feeling guilty about it, and a lot of that comes out in the art I produce. A lot of that also shines through in the team we’ve built at Pamper Nail Gallery and the culture we’ve cultivated.
Name the top nail trends this season. What do you predict will be the biggest trends for the summer?
Natural Stone Acrylic Encapsulations (Nature Series): We’ve been heavily successful at Pamper with popularizing acrylic nails that mimic natural stones (jade, lapis lazuli, opals). This has been more of a menu item as it gets warmer. We call the collection of our creations the Nature Series.
Clear nails: Incorporating negative space in the form of clear acrylic has been a growing trend. Using tinted jelly polishes or tinted clear acrylic has become a staple.
Discuss how social media has helped build your brand. Any advice for fellow women entrepreneurs looking to maximize social media to grow their brand?
I’d say, focus on what you’re trying to get out of your account. A lot of us tend to place too much value in how many followers and how many likes, and there’s a real danger to attaching too much of your identity to your social media accounts. If your focus is to get clients, if your focus is to create a gallery of art to attract the kind of clients you want, if your focus is to sell products, you can really start to be a lot more objective and detached when it comes to running your social media. Use data to drive your posting habits and always, always, always, keep contact information and location everywhere you can (hashtag, location tag, mention in your bio).
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
In the short run, I’d like to grow Pamper across the United States and realize the goal of turning nail artistry into a legitimate career with growth potential and retirement options. My long term goal is to continue to create things I currently don’t have the financial capacity to create. In essence, nurturing Pamper to success is an exciting stepping stone to creating an even larger conglomerate of projects. I’m not the kind of person who could ever retire, so I’ll always be looking for new things to innovate.