Tracey Lee - going from Nail Student to Nail Professional to Global Educator to International Judge to Winner of NAILS Next Top Nail Artist! Ask Me Anything!

Tracey Lee
Mar 9, 2018

Getting into the nail industry after relocating from South Africa to The Netherlands gave me a new lease on life and the opportunity to start my second career. I have enjoyed my journey through various phases of the industry, starting off in the seat of a student and currently being in the position where I am doing the education. Part of education is sharing my knowledge, experience and passion with like-minded individuals, so please Ask Me Anything regarding nails in the salon, in the classroom, during competitions and I will do my best to share my experiences with you.


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Is there a nail art school where one can attend? Is education necessary or is experience still the best teacher when it comes to this business?
Mar 13, 3:04PM EDT0
What’s the competition like in the nail art industry? Is there huge potential for this as a business?
Mar 13, 12:28PM EDT0

Thanks so much for your question. Competition is huge in the industry and has seen such growth in the last couple of years. It is still showing more growth right now. This is awesome for the industry as it creates a healthy industry keeping suppliers on their toes to offer new and exciting products to nail professionals. I really do believe there is huge potential for nails in the industry, in so many ways, for nail professionals, consumers, in the fashion industry, in retail stores, its everywhere. Nails are an extension of any outfit, who doesn't want to be dressed for success!

Mar 13, 2:54PM EDT0
What are some great ways to maintain or care for newly painted nails, especially ones with complicated nail art?
Mar 13, 12:17PM EDT0

Thanks so much for your question. If the nails are painted with nail lacquer I would definitely suggest starting with dehydrating the nail well first, then a layer of base coat, two layer of polish, then the art and finishing off with either two layers of top coat, or alternatively there are also Nail Art Sealers available that are slightly thicker than the standard top coat and offer a little bit more protection without creating too much bulk.

I do most of my nail art on a gel polish base which allows me to seal my art with a gel top coat for several weeks wear.

Mar 13, 2:52PM EDT0
When did you realize it’s time to quit your day job to focus on nails?
Mar 13, 5:52AM EDT0

Thanks so much for your question. It happened really by accident because of my move to the Netherlands. In South Africa I had a high powered job and probably the thought of trading that in to do nails would never had made sense to me, however when I got to Holland and couldn't find the same type of job because of the language barrier, it opened my world to a whole lot of other possibilities of which nails was one of them. I didnt have to give up a career to choose nails, it just gradually grew into what it is today.

Mar 13, 2:49PM EDT0
What do you love most about what you do?
Mar 13, 5:20AM EDT0

Thanks so much for your question. The great thing about what I do is that each and every day offers something different. Every client is different and every student is different. You have the ability to be creative in the work that you do too. I think it was Oprah that once said if you love what you do, its like you will never have to work a day in your life again. This is so true!

Mar 13, 2:46PM EDT0
What would you be doing if you weren't in the nail industry?
Mar 10, 8:43AM EST0

Hi Clement, thanks for your question. I think I would have done something else related to education and training as before nails I was also working as a Training Manager in the recruitment industry. I love sharing my experience and knowledge with others and seeing them grow and prosper. I love the idea of project management so I guess that would have been another avenue to explore.

Mar 10, 11:18AM EST0

What motivated you to specialize in nails and not hair?

Mar 9, 4:44PM EST0

Thanks so much for your question. It happened quite by accident. In South Africa I worked in the recruitment industry for 10 years. Every three weeks I went to a nail salon and had my nails done. When I moved to the Netherlands in 2002 I was confronted with the terrible news that my work permit had not been organized and the first thing I thought was "how am I going to pay for my nails???". The price of nails here was four times more expensive than in South Africa, so the only answer was to do a course and learn how to do them myself, and so I did. I started off with manicure, then gel, then acrylic, then the bug took over and I went onto nail art, design, etc, etc. After completing my training the company asked me to become an educator for them and I have never looked back. Nails gave me my second career. It was much easier to find a hair salon in Holland and quite honestly I don’t visit the hairdresser as often as I visited my nail salon so it was an almost logical choice for me.

Mar 9, 4:49PM EST0
Will you be having a meet and greet with possible fans of your business?
Mar 9, 1:11PM EST0

Thanks so much for your question Chris. I do do meet and greets when I am on location at trade shows. Generally I advertise this via my Facebook or my website when and where I am going to be. Next week I will be at a show in Houston Texas where I hope to meet up and network with other nail professionals.

Mar 9, 1:22PM EST0
Do you have specific platforms where you share your experience, knowledge, and passion with others who are interested?
Mar 9, 12:27PM EST0

Thanks so much for your question. I am using a couple of resources at the moment and share these sources with several of my colleagues. I am finding the best interaction via Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. On Facebook there are several nail groups that encourage sharing of inspiration, trainings, knowledge etc.

Please take a look via the links below:

The majority of my time is spent giving live trainings for other nail professionals and educators. I still find this the most effective method especially with techniques. Just recently I have started doing online training for experienced nail professionals via Lably. This is a great way to meet international training needs without even more traveling. Please take a look:

Mar 9, 1:06PM EST0
Is your nail salon exclusive to women or can men are welcome as well?
Mar 9, 9:42AM EST0

Hi there, thanks a mil for your question. I had a salon for several years, however now I only have a select group of people that I do as I travel excessively giving training. While I had the salon it was open to men and women, however I have never had a man come into the salon. It does not appear to be a big thing here in Holland, however on trade shows occassionaly a man would approach me for a manicure.

Mar 9, 9:48AM EST0

Hey Tracey! ^_^ <3When you believe is the right time for a nail tech to participate in a nail competition? I mean how she or he will know when is ready? Thank you!! 

Mar 9, 9:00AM EST0

Hi Sophia, thanks so much for your question. The moment you start thinking about it is a good time to start doing it. There are so many types of competitions that I believe there is something for everyone. To start off with if you cannot get your nerves under control for a live competition, then it is possible to start with photographic competitions or tipbox competitions that can be done in the comfort of your own home until you get your confidence up. Then there are competitions that are more salon related -salon succes (shorter nails in a salon time service), and then there are even higher levels. Most competitions have different categories like starters, and more advanced, so you will never be competing against a winner of a previous competition if you do your first competition. I would say give it a bash, what have you got to lose - nothing! What have you got to gain - a huge amount of experience!

Mar 9, 9:19AM EST0
Do you plan on writing a book or a magazine article to help promote your knowledge? Do you blog?
Mar 9, 4:05AM EST0

Thanks so much for your question. I am the author of various articles in trade magazines, both here in Holland and in the US. This year I am fortunate enough to be guest editor of NAILS Magazine in the US. These articles give me a great opportunity to share experience and knowledge with others. I have a YouTube account for step by steps of my work and occassionally I do an educational video too, taking a look at the challenges nail professionals face, but then in a light hearted way.

Mar 9, 9:21AM EST0
Why did you move to the Netherlands? How does it compare to South Africa?
Mar 8, 11:30PM EST0

Thanks for your message Kevin. I moved with my boyfriend to the Netherlands. He had just been offered a contract with his current company to move to the branch in Holland. He asked me if I wanted to go with and we packed up both our houses and off we went! For the first couple of years I always said I was going "home" when we went on vacation to South Africa, because South Africa always felt like home. The longer I am away and now that we have kids I see that that has changed and Holland feels more like home now. I guess the biggest difference for me is the feeling of security. In South Africa we live in houses with security bars on the windows and doors and with electric gates and garage doors. Quite honestly when you are there you dont think anything of it, but when you come to a country like Holland where there is none of that you realize just how free and open it can be. Each country is different and has their challenges and one just adjusts accordingly. Another major change is the weather! Oh man, the winters here are cold and the Dutchies keep telling me you are going to get used to it. After 16 years I am still not used to it! Luckily the houses are geared up for the cold winters, so it is just getting to and from the car thats a killer! The Dutch were among the first people to come to South Africa years ago, so the language is very similar. I am very fortunate to have found love here in Holland and who knows, it may take us back to South Africa one day!

Mar 9, 4:03AM EST0
How did you get started? Was it intentional or the job came along and became a passion later on?
Mar 7, 9:55PM EST0

Thanks so much for your question Sarah, it happened quite by accident. In South Africa I worked in the recruitment industry for 10 years. Every three weeks I went to a nail salon and had my nails done. When I moved to the Netherlands in 2002 I was confronted with the terrible news that my work permit had not been organized and the first thing I thought was "how am I going to pay for my nails???". The price of nails here was four times more expensive than in South Africa, so the only answer was to do a course and learn how to do them myself, and so I did. I started off with manicure, then gel, then acrylic, then the bug took over and I went onto nail art, design, etc, etc. After completing my training the company asked me to become an educator for them and I have never looked back. Nails gave me my second career.

Mar 9, 3:56AM EST0
What is it like when you have to compete against other nail salon's?
Mar 7, 8:12PM EST0

This is a really great question and one that I hear on a regular basis from techs coming into my classes. My answer may sound a little strange, but I promise this has worked for me. I don't believe I need to compete with other nail salons. When I started out I used to constantly look and see what they were doing and would maybe even adjust my services accordingly. Now I make more of an effort to focus on what is working for me and do more of that! We dont know what the expenses are at other salons, we dont know where they are getting their products from, we dont know if they are following trainings or not, so how can we compete with them pricewise. Know your own worth and make sure that you offer a level of service, customer service and skills according to your price. Make sure you are up to date with the latest techniques, colors and skills and focus on that. I do believe you need to keep a finger on the pulse of the competition, but you cannot let it drive you.

Mar 9, 3:52AM EST0
How large is your company and when will it be branching out?
Mar 7, 5:34PM EST0

Lara thanks so much for your question. My company is me, myself and I and the three of us work well together. Just kidding! For the first 12 years of my career I worked for an international nail company doing their product development and education. End of 2015 I decided to start working for myself. As a freelance educator I work for several brands doing education and development. I have not taken the step into expanding my company with products at this stage as that may cause a conflict of interest with brands that I work with, but I cannot say it will never happen.

I believe that through education I am preparing others, both techs and educators to improve their skills. I have started online training in order to create a wider reach as being a mother and wife I cannot be global all year round, so this creates some opportunities.

Mar 9, 3:48AM EST0
What have you learned about the nail industry so far? What about it is unique? How much does it come close to art?
Mar 7, 3:41PM EST0

Thank you so much for your question. I have learned that only once you enter the nail industry do you realize just how dynamic it is. Each day is different whether you are in the salon or in front of a class. Each client has different requests, each student has different needs. It makes it so challenging and exciting. It is unique in that nails are an extension of your outfit and the entire look and feel of your outfit needs to be expressed on 10 tiny canvasses. It is may be easier to get your message across on a canvas of 2m x 2m, but to do the same on 10 canvasses of 1cm x 1cm is a different story. Yes it does come close to art in that you need to get a feeling across when people look at it and that each and every artist has their own distinct style.

Mar 9, 3:42AM EST0

Do you have tips to work faster or more structured so that a sandwich with double fill can be realized. Haha. or Perhaps a training for this? :) 

Mar 7, 1:40PM EST0

Thanks so much for your question Anna, this is a good one. I know you are a competitor, so you look at nails in a very critical way which may be the cause of you taking a little longer with your service. I dont believe that that is a problem, but if you are going for perfection you need to ensure that your price matches that. I think the important thing is to figure out what your hourly rate is first. Then how long do you take for a service, multiply that and add your product and electricity costs. It may be more expensive than other salons in the area, but they do not have the titles that you have. Your experience and awards should also factor in when determining your price.

You can speed up your service, however to start off with your work may suffer a little before it gets better. As you know it takes time to implement a new technique. So this is definitely worth a try.

What are you charging at the moment for a new set - reverse french, almond and how long are you busy with it?

Mar 9, 4:10AM EST0
How long has your journey taken in terms of years? What would you have done differently if you could go back?
Mar 7, 10:38AM EST0

Thanks so much for your question. I had to really think hard about this one!!! So my journey in the nail industry has taken 15 years. I believe at each stage of those 15 years I have learned something that helped me get to where I am now. I think if there was something that I should change (but knowing me I still wouldn't) is that I could have learned earlier to celebrate my successes before highlighting the areas for improvement. After 15 years I have come to realize that the perfect nail is a diagram on a piece of paper or a computer generated image. I still have not created the perfect nail, but this is what drives me to continue to improve. Now that I have that knowledge, I understand it and it still makes me work hard, but to look at the result in a more positive, constructive way.

Mar 9, 3:38AM EST0
Is there some organization and/or some places where everyone gets their updates and trends when it comes to manicure?
Mar 6, 12:18PM EST0

Hi Michael thanks so much for your question. There is not really a specific organization that does this, I believe this is shared via the various brands to their users via their social media sites. Some countries have governing bodies where training is compulsory before entering into this profession, however in many countries, such as Holland they do not exist. In terms of the natural nail and developments in the industry on a more technical level, Doug Schoon is someone I follow as he has a wealth of knowledge regarding scientific issues.

Mar 9, 3:32AM EST0
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