Natural Nails: At Work with Jane Park

Jane Park wasn’t one of those women who got manicures every week, or even every month. It was a social thing for her, a way to celebrate a special occasion with girlfriends. Even though she wasn’t a regular, she says, “I noticed nail parlors were toxic environments for workers and customers. The first thing is the smell—walk into any nail place and it’s the first thing you notice.” So, three years ago, the ex-lawyer who once worked on an Al Gore initiative to get technology into public schools, opened Julep, a nail salon in Seattle.

But not any nail salon—this one specializes in “natural” nails—one with its own line of formaldehyde-, phthalate-, and toluene-free polishes called Nail Vernis. “People told me the business plan wouldn’t work because for natural nails, you have to rely on a customer to come back, while people with artificial nails need maintenance.” And there’s no real way to do eco-friendly artificial nails. But this is Seattle after all, where it’s all about natural and Park hit the right tone at the right time.

Beyond the eco-friendly nail polishes and products used at Julep, the space itself has LEED elements, including walls covered in low VOC paint, LEED-certified flooring, dual flush toilets, a “Just in Time” water heater, and it uses phosphate-free laundry and dishwashing liquid. “In a nail salon it is impossible to be organic,” she admits. “But we try to be mindful in everything we do.” This includes offering healthcare to her almost entirely female staff, many of who are single parents.

Today there are four Julep salons in the Seattle area, and Park, the one time mani-phobe has become a mani-addict. “All our colors are named for women we love—like Angelina and Gwenyth. Today I am wearing Sandra, in honor of her Oscar win. When we get a new color, I just can’t wait to try it.”

Rima Suqi
Rima Suqi

Latest posts by Rima Suqi (see all)