Meet Fatima Azimova & The "Nails at Barnard" Salon

What would you do if you had an extra closet in your dorm room? Barnard first-year Fatima Azimova uses her extra space as a nail salon! Yup, you read that properly: you can get your nails done on campus. Fatima Azimova decided to open up a nail business giving gel manicures for Barnard students. Curious about the unique initiative, I interviewed Fatima about her business inside her nail salon closet.

The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

  1. 1. When did painting nails become something you did regularly?

    In summer 2017, I went back to Kazakhstan where it is very common for women to develop their skills within the beauty sphere, whether that be learning how to do gel nails, haircuts, makeovers, etc. [The industry] was blooming there and I realized it was something I’d be interested in doing as well. [M]y aunt, who was in the nail business at the time, taught me all the skills. ... At first, however, I only practiced on others to get comfortable with the techniques. As soon as I practiced the skills on others in Kazakhstan and a bit on myself, I ended up buying my own materials and tried painting my friend’s nails during the school year in Brooklyn.

    Soon, people started hitting me up, asking me if I could do their nails as well, and I’d always accept. I’d only paint strangers' nails, however, once every two months — it wasn’t a regular thing. Then, one day, while recollecting the fact that I was moving to an all-girls school, an idea popped in[to] my head. I thought of taking my nail supplies to both keep my nails in shape and offer gel manicures to whomever wants one!

  2. 2. What was the motive behind opening your own nail business here at Barnard?

    I decided to keep painting nails with gel nail polish since I didn’t want to forget how to do it on other people. I also heard getting long-lasting gel nails done in [Manhattan] is quite expensive compared to Brooklyn. ... [In] Brooklyn we pay between $25 and $28, while in [Manhattan] I’ve seen salons that charge $40 for a manicure. As [a] college [student], I know that the majority of us can’t afford a pricey manicure, so I decided my nail business could save first-year students and upperclassmen a few dollars and give them a professional nail makeover all at once! I thought opening the nail business would make manicures a bit more convenient in terms of location for everyone since I live in Brooks. Now, with my business, people don’t have to go far to get a quality manicure done. I really did it to offer a service to students.

    I also like getting to know people while I paint their nails; people are always talking to me and sharing their stories! ... Sometimes I play music in the background while I paint nails and many customers find that they’re extremely calm and relaxed when they’re in my nail space. I love hearing students say, “This is exactly what I needed” when they leave. There really was no financial motive behind the business. However, it’s really nice to have cash on me every now and then because I ... don’t have to rely on my parent’s income and [can] start living off my own income.

  3. 3. What type of manicures do you give?

    I only use gel nail polish to paint nails. The gel stays [for a long time] due to the consistency of the gel. The UV lights also cause the molecules to get closer, therefore causing the gel to harden and provide a hard, shell-like layer on your nail.

    Painting nails with gel is a multilayered process (pun intended). First, I have to scrape off the natural nail oils with a flyer. Next, I apply the primer and base, preventing the nail [from turning] yellow and nourish[ing] it instead. Once I apply the two layers of colored gel nail polish on the nail, I cover the nail with a fortifying top coat. I ask customers to put their hands under the UV light after each step of the process.

    This whole process takes between an hour and 30 minutes to two hours. The time can change depending on whether I have to remove old nail polish, shape people’s nails, or paint particular designs on the nails. It takes a long time because I want my customers to walk out of here with quality nails.

  4. 4. What are your biggest concerns when you paint other people’s nails?

    I’m worried about a few things when I paint people’s nails. First, I’m worried my manicure won’t align with their preferences. I’m always very careful about meeting people’s nail preferences. I try to avoid making the customer upset. In order to do so, I ask for their approval after each and every step in the gel manicure process. If they don’t like the shape, for example, I go back and change it. My business mantra is “the client’s always right”: therefore, I’ll do my best to meet the customer’s desires.

    Second, some people move when they’re getting their nails done, making it harder for me to apply the gel. Any small movement, like laughing, can potentially mess up the gel. Every time I make a slight nail mistake, I have to start the nail all over again — no one deserves messy nails! Very regularly, I kindly ask people to stop mov[ing] around for the purpose of having quality nails by the end of the session.

  5. 5. How has the nail business been so far now that we’re a couple of weeks into the school year?

    Everything’s been going incredibly well. I only schedule appointments on Fridays and Sundays in order to leave some time for school and my social life. My free blocks are filling up quite nicely. For example, last week I gave three manicures on Friday and one manicure on Sunday.  I have manicures scheduled in the future as well! … I think my availability will also depend on my workload, but for now, four appointments a week works really well for me.

  6. 6. What type of gel nail polish do you use and why?

    The gel nail polish I usually use is Pudra. It’s used by professionals across Eastern Europe. It was created by an infamous Russian nail stylist. He created this nail polish while listening to advice from professional nail stylists across Eastern Europe.

    Inside the Pudra nail polish is a serum invented by the Japanese ... which gives each coat of gel a gleaming and smooth consistency. I value the quality of the gel nail polish. I don’t like it when you can see the layers of nail polish stacked up on a nail, so I I do my best to find polishes thick enough to hide the layers of nail polish applied beforehand. Pudra nail polish also has a really nice smell.

    Fatima opened the nail polish and let me smell it. I can confirm that it has a sugary sweet scent!

  7. 7. How can people reach out to you if they’d like to schedule an appointment?

    So, I created an Instagram account (@nails_at_barnard) a few months ago and ... uploaded pictures of the manicures I’ve painted — some pictures of my own nails and others of my friends’ nails. As soon as I did this, people started commenting and direct-messaging me, saying they loved the idea! Next, they ask how much I charge for nails and often schedule an appointment thereafter. I’m also thinking of opening a Google Calendar page in which people can make appointments during my open hours.

  8. 8. Do you have any prospective plans for your nail business?

    I’m still figuring things out, but I like where things are at right now. As of now, the nail business is in my room, which is fine! I guess I could start a nail club in which I’d teach people how to give quality gel manicures.

  9. 9. Tell me about your life beyond your nail business: Where are you from and why did you apply to Barnard?

    I’m from Kazakhstan. I was born and raised there. I moved to the United States, specifically to Brooklyn, in 2016. It was very unexpected and we left because my Dad thought it was necessary to get a green card. ...

    I was interested in Barnard as soon as I joined Barnard’s Science Technology Entry Program (STEP) with my cousin (also a current Barnard student) my junior and senior years of high school. STEP basically provides academic enrichment in science and mathematics content areas to underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students prepared to enter college. Taking medicinal and math classes as well as doing chemistry research here at Barnard for several semesters made me realize how vibrant the Barnard community was. So, I immersed myself in the Barnard community early on and decided to stay in it.

  10. 10. Any tips you have for nail lovers? Do you have products or hygiene habits you recommend?

    I’ve seen students bite their nails and the skin around the nail, but I really advise people not to do so! First of all, biting the skin beside the nail can cause an infection. Second of all, some nail biters make the tips of their fingers bleed which is incredibly painful too!

    I also advise people to file their nails rather than clip them should they need to shorten the length of their nails. Filing simply allows people to manage the nail shape. Also, nail clippers sometimes cut the skin if people place them too low and we all know how painful that type of cut is!

    In terms of giving advice about products to use, I highly recommend people to use hand cream. The best type of hand cream ... incorporates various natural essential oils, nourishing and hydrating our multilayered skin!

It was a pleasure getting to know more about Fatima and the special business in her own mini nail salon. From installing her nail salon in a dorm closet to using Eastern European products, Fatima brings unique qualities to her personal nail salon. Plus, she’s a smiley human being radiating really good energy! If you ever need a high-quality, affordable manicure, I highly recommend you schedule an appointment with Fatima. She’ll make sure you’ll have fab nails!

Don’t forget to follow her business on Instagram at @nails_at_barnard.