In California, manicures are big business. Nail services nationwide represent a booming $8.3 billion industry that hit a record high in 2013. For Southern California graphic designers, illustrators and painters, nail art is a way to make some money off their work.
In a tiny West Hollywood studio apartment, nail artists Natalie Minerva and Britney Tokyo sit with a friend and client, Roxy Ferrari. Tokyo pulls out a binder thick with nail decals and slides it across the table to Ferrari, who lands on a design by local artist Ana Guajardo. "Oh my God. I have to," Ferrari laughs, selecting her decals. "She has Biggie Smalls stickers, that's awesome. He's giving a face for sure. He's mean mugging."
Tokyo gets to work filing Ferrari's nails, shaping her cuticles and applying a few decals of 1990s rap icon.
Guajardo, an L.A.-based graphic designer who made the Biggie decals, started her business, Cha Cha Covers, a few years ago. She was up late one night watching YouTube videos about nail art when she came up with an idea for a new product. "A light bulb went off in my head," Guajardo said. "I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, can you imagine the Virgin of Guadalupe on your nails? Or Frida Kahlo on your nails?' What that would look like?"
Ana Guajardo of Cha Cha Covers applies decals to her 6-year-old daughter Fatima's nails. She designed a vintage sweater pattern and snowman for the occasion. Photo: Caitlin Esch/KQED
Guajardo wanted to create a line that reflected her style as a 30-something, Mexico-born, Texas-bred, L.A. resident, nostalgic for the hip-hop fashions of her youth. "Our identity is so much more complex than what you see on these major Spanish-language networks," she said. "And I think what I'm doing, it really speaks to like being bicultural in the U.S."