Ami Vega had her first brush with nail art in middle school. She and a friend would experiment with different polish colors on their hands. It wasn't until high school that the Dominican American teen graduated to more elaborate ways of nail décor.
That's when crackle polish happened.
Vega remembers rocking a baby blue color with a black crackle coat on top. "A girl at Staples yanked my hand and said 'Lemme see your nails! What is that!?' Vega recalls with a smile. "That's when it started… I thought, 'oh you could do something different with your nails.'"
More than a decade has passed since then, and Vega is now 29 and the co-founder of El Salonsito, a NYC-based traveling nail art service. The nail artist travels anywhere in the tri-state area to bring her services to clients at their homes. She works nail parties, sets up pop-up Salonsito stands at flea markets and fashion fairs, and she welcomes clients at her apartment as well.
Vega and her 25-year-old brother and business partner Gabriel Vega kicked off the mobile nail salon in September 2011 and since then, have experienced a steadily growing clientele. On a weekly basis, Vega (whose day job is managing a pharmacy) has an average of 10 clients. She works nights and weekends and, if business is slow, she will take a weekend off. But not really. She recently enrolled at Manhattan Nail School to take her talent to a professional level. Not that she needs it.
Seated at her dining table in her Washington Heights apartment, which serves as El Salonsito HQ, Vega shares the story of how the playfully-named El Salonsito was born. Since graduating from Manhattan's famed LaGuardia High School (where she was an art major), Vega has never stopped being creative.
One day, she was messing around with PhotoShop (just because she likes to sometimes) and thought to herself, 'What if there was a salon that looked like a bodega?' A random thought, yet Vega came up with a sketch of a logo - an image of a bodega with 'El Salonsito' on its awning. Her brother noticed the image and told her they should go ahead with it. Open a nail salon.
"I owe a lot to him, because he's the mover and the shaker," Vega says of her younger brother, who graduated with a degree in business administration from Berkeley College. "I can be a bit shy sometimes, but he knows how to get out there. Marie Claire, that was him. Fader, that was him." Vega is referencing the two magazine features she has had recently – a neon half-moon pedicure design in Fader in its June-July issue, and her work in July's Marie Claire.
If she could open the nail salon tomorrow, Vega would. She estimates it would take another year or two.
Vega remembers her mind churning.
"I had been following a couple blogs for the last year and a half and I thought 'this nail art thing is really picking up,'" she says. She saw other nail artists being successful, such as Naomi Yasuda and artists in the UK.
Fast forward time and here we are. Vega's clientele has grown through word of mouth –- and the aid of social media giants like Twitter and Instagram. To date, the nail artist has more than 2,000 followers on the photo-sharing app, where she frequently posts images of her nail designs.
Vega's clients are all very different, but have a common thread. "They are definitely people who want to express something on their nails and they want to try this new nail art. I have a lot of crazy nail ladies like me, who are obsessed," Vega says with a laugh.