Nail salons are hardly the place one would seek help at. Of course, a good manicure can brighten up the gloomiest of days, but it won’t help climbing out of the ramshackles of unemployment, or with resolving the ghastly residues of traumatic events. Beautiful nails are great, but they don’t last past a week. At best, they can offer an indulgent quick fix. Or at least, so goes the common perception.
Recent years have seen an upsurge, in the opening of nail salons, that take on the task of salvaging issues that run a little deeper.
With this list, we look at places that set out to tackle real, political problems with a few coats of shellac and a bit of glitter.
Dublin-based Tropical Popical opened in 2012. The all-round glamourous, proudly gimmicky salon is decorated with fluorescent neon lights, beach-themed wall coverings and tiki hut-appropriate bric-a-brac.
Founder Andrea Hanson quickly recognised she could give her customers more than beauty treatments. When the 8th Amendment was announced by the Irish government in September 2017, the flocks of disappointed guests caught Hanson’s attention. Shortly after, Tropical Popical became the place to go to for gellac masterpieces that spelled out ‘Repeal the 8th’.
Hanson has since turned the salon into a hotbed of political discussion, where women can meet and organise freely.
Violence against transgender men and women remains largely ignored. Street-harassment, systematic oppression, housing and employment difficulties and complications with keeping up long-term relationships, are issued still faces by most members of the community.
Whilst queerness is becoming increasingly accepted, there’s nowhere near enough initiatives that fight for the improvement of the life paths of trans people.
Charlie Craggs began running nailing events in 2013 and dedicated manicure sessions to educating cis people about what it means to be transgender. With the profits she ran self-defense classes for transwomen and has since expanded the enterprise. Craggs now also offers make-up and trans-makeup masterclasses, run by the legendary Grace Vee.
Charlie, who in 2016 topped the Observer’s New Radicals list, is most definitely one to watch. She’s starred in campaigns for Selfridges, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Stonewall; and regularly writes and speaks about trans issues for publications such as the BBC, ITV and Sky.
ART AGAINST KNIVES
An organisation founded by Oliver Helmsley, Art Against Knives, has grown extensively in recent years, developing projects related to nails, since 2015.
Struggling residents near Barnet are encouraged to pop by at the Dollis Dolls nail bar, at the Dollis Valley Estate. Here they will find a safe space, free nail care, mentoring, skill training and more.
The Vales Nails offers a similar set of options, except that guests can also chat confidentially to independent domestic violence experts. For those interested in looking good and making good-looking things, there is a programme for learning fashion design called DESIGN+MAKE and a sound lab called the LAB.