Not just a hobby: Lowell nail artist following her passion

Seven year old Jianna Cariño sits atop her bathroom counter, brow furrowed. She’s concentrating on her right hand, carefully dabbing brightly colored nail polish onto her fingernails. She’s so engrossed in her work that she doesn’t notice the hours passing as she paints intricate designs onto her nails. When Cariño finally finishes, she leaps off the counter and dashes out of the bathroom, proudly showing her nails to her relatives in the room next door.


Cariño has come a long way from painting nails on her bathroom counter. 


The Lowell senior now runs a thriving nail business, where she designs and paints acrylic nails. Her work has been rewarding, and an opportunity for both personal and artistic growth. However, running a nail business has come with some unique challenges. A lack of family support, along with perceived norms of what career a typical Lowell student should pursue, have been significant obstacles for Cariño and her nail art career aspirations. 


Cariño started her nail business in February of 2021 through the Instagram account @nailssbyjianna. Over the months Cariño has run her business, she has amassed over 500 followers, as well as a loyal group of clients. Cariño specializes in acrylic nails, a process where an acrylic paste is bonded to a person’s fingernail, before designs are painted onto the nail. Prepping and shaping acrylic nails requires patience and skill; the whole process often takes around four hours. But the commitment Cariño has made to her nail business has been worth it. For Cariño, running her business has sparked an interest in pursuing nail tech as a career after high school.

Photo courtesy of Jianna Cariño

Cariño didn’t always consider being a nail technician as a possible career. Although she has been interested in nail art from a young age, Cariño struggled with pressure from her family to pursue a more traditional career. In her family’s eyes, running a nail salon is a job that doesn’t provide a stable source of income. So, when Cariño first decided to start a nail business on social media, she dismissed the possibility of pursuing nail tech professionally. “At the time, I didn’t really think of it as a career, only as a hobby,” she said.


However, her perspective changed once she began taking clients. Cariño set up a nail salon in her garage, and after maintaining a steady stream of clients for several months, she decided that a career in the nail tech industry was a realistic option for her. The continued support from her clients gave Cariño confidence in her ability to run a successful nail business. Additionally, she fell in love with the creative freedom and the community that came with running her business. “I started doing nails and I was like ‘This is it, this is what I want to do,’” she said. 


Cariño sees painting nails as a way to express herself creatively. Nail art has been an outlet for Cariño’s artistic talent, and she’s been able to translate her experience in painting and drawing into the nail designs she does for her clients. Cariño especially enjoys when clients book “freestyles,” appointments where she is given the freedom to experiment with different styles and designs for their nails. “It lets me paint the things that I have in mind, rather than being told what to do or having to use a reference photo,” Cariño said. 


Cariño’s nail business hasn’t just helped her grow as an artist: it has been a way for Cariño to overcome her social anxiety and connect with the people in her community. When she first started her business, Cariño found the four hours she had to spend with each client daunting. “It was very nerve wracking when I met with new clients, especially because I have anxiety when it comes to talking to new people,” Cariño said. “In my head, I’d be like ‘what am I going to talk about with them?’” However, with each new appointment, Cariño grew more comfortable chatting with clients. Now, talking with clients is one of the things Cariño looks forward to most during appointments. “I like to know what my clients are up to and just get to know them,” Cariño said. 


Photo courtesy of Jianna Cariño

Despite the success Cariño has had with her nail business so far, she still faces judgement from family and peers for her interest in becoming a nail technician. Cariño feels that in the academic focused culture at Lowell, there isn’t the space for her to experiment with more artistic pursuits. She worries that she’s sometimes judged for her choice to attend cosmetology school after she graduates, because it differs from the traditional path that most Lowell students choose to follow. “I think that Lowell puts a whole lot of pressure on you to become a doctor or a lawyer or follow a more typical job path, something people think you’ll succeed in,” she said. Cariño feels that careers in cosmetology aren’t always taken seriously by the community at Lowell, despite the commitment and skill it takes to run a nail business. “With any cosmetology career, I think people think of it as not a ‘real job’,” Cariño said. “Especially because you’re self-employed.”


In spite of the pushback she has received, Cariño is still intent on pursuing her dream of opening her own nail salon. She isn’t afraid to take a more unconventional career path in comparison to her peers, and she has learned to look past the expectations of her family. “I think what gets me through all of the pressure is just letting myself know that everybody takes their own path,” Cariño said. “I’ve stopped caring about what others think and I’ve started doing things for myself because I enjoy them and because they bring me happiness.”