Domination by chance!

In the USA, the Nail industry is of the size of 7.5 Billion USD. The number of Nail salons & ownership according to the statistics published by the nail magazine in 2013-2014 across USA states that 51% of them are owned by Vietnamese. In California the percentage is even higher at 80%.

How did this happen? Well it is rather an amazing story, how one person influenced this phenomenon!

In 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, the fall of Saigon led to the U.S.-sponsored evacuation of approximately 125,000 Vietnamese refugees. This group consisted mainly of urban, educated professionals who were teachers, medical technicians, and business owners in their own country. However that training did not provide them any employment in the USA.

Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds, was a volunteer with a humanitarian group that worked with these Vietnamese refugees in Sacramento, Hope Village.

Tippi Hedren
Tippi Hedren

Tippi meets with a set of 20 women who lived in this tent city and was drawn to their plight. She starts visiting them regularly and despite the language barrier is enchanted by the stories of their homeland. The women fall in love with Tipp’s well-manicured, long, beautiful coral nails and she was struck by the idea of getting them to learn ‘making nails’!

So Hedren flew in her manicurist once a week to teach the women how to trim cuticles, remove calluses and perform silk (nail ) wraps, a technique that creates long, natural-looking artificial nails. The women learnt all that was taught to them eagerly, without any clarity on how it will help them. Tippi then gets a nearby beauty school to teach the women and later persuaded them to help the women find jobs.

Thuan Le, a high school teacher in Vietnam, passed her nail licensing exam in four short months after coming to Hope Village. Hedren helped Le find a job at a salon in Santa Monica. It wasn’t easy work. Le did not have clients, manicures were not yet in vogue, and the tools of the trade were hard to find. She combed hardware stores for very fine sandpaper to use in place of a buffer.

Thuan Le, Tippi Hedren, and Kieu Chinh in   traditional Vietnamese dresses, to the  ceremony honoring Hedren.
Thuan Le, Tippi Hedren, and Kieu Chinh in traditional Vietnamese dresses, to the ceremony honoring Hedren.

Seeing Le’s success, one of her high school friends from Vietnam decided to get into the business. Within a few years, this lady and her husband, had opened one of the first beauty salons run by Vietnamese Americans.

Diem Nguyen, a former South Vietnamese navy commander, enrolled in beauty school himself and encouraged friends to get into the nail business. By 1987, the Nguyens had opened Advance Beauty College in Little Saigon, translating classes into Vietnamese.

Such success stories spread to thousands of Vietnamese refugees who came to the United States, hoping to rebuild their lives. Today, Vietnamese entrepreneurs have found whopping success in the nail business, such as the Happy Nail chain that is a staple in malls across Southern California, with more than 40 stores.

Waves of immigrants from different regions flock to the United States, in search of the American dream. The fact the Vietnamese have been able to deal with all the odds and create a niche, is quite impressive. Working in the nail industry has enabled the Vietnamese to buy homes, earn handsome revenues and in effect realize their American dreams.

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