Businesses hold a lot of power. What they choose to sell, who they employ, and the beliefs they advocate will not only shape their brand, but also the minds of their customers, employees, and community. In other words, their reach is wide and their potential is limitless!
So, it’s always wonderful to hear businesses embracing said power for the good. Take The Nail Social for example. This socially-conscious nail salon is one of the gems of Haji Lane — it offers nail and foot reflexology services (while you watch Netflix for free!), drinks and desserts, a fair trade retail selection, and the best part: vocational training and an employment programme for disadvantaged women, such as single mothers and ex-convicts.
The women behind this socially conscious business are Cheryl Ou and Germaine Monteiro, who first met when Germaine trained as a manicurist at Polished Divas Nail Lounge, Cheryl’s first business. The catalyst for The Nail Social actually came years later, when Cheryl had the unfortunate experience of working with a greedy and unscrupulous investor, who kicked her out of her then-business, and left her without a single cent of profit.
It looks like adversity does breed greatness, because this made Cheryl decide “not to be the kind of entrepreneur who was motivated solely by money”. Germaine, who grew up in a single-parent household and saw first hand the challenges her mother faced, naturally welcomed the idea of a social enterprise. The two started planning, and finally opened The Nail Social in January 2015.
Highly interested in their motivations and achievements, we speak to Cheryl about her socially-conscious business.
You provide Vocational Training and Employment Programmes for disadvantaged women. Tell us more about it.
We run the programme with several family services centres and social service agencies in Singapore, and our main aim is to provide women with an interest in the beauty industry. We give them an opportunity to learn a professional skill that could increase their chances of gaining employment.
After two weeks of in-house training with myself and Germaine, as an introduction to the industry, we enroll them for a professional manicurist course at the The Pink Room International Nail Academy, the largest nail school in Singapore that is registered with the Council of Private Education.
This means the certificate they receive after passing their exams is fully recognised by MOE and other advanced learning institutions! We sponsor the full course fees and provide all materials for them to learn and practice, and mentor them throughout their learning journey.
What are some of the challenges the marginalised face?
One is a lack of confidence; many women who have entered our programme never completed primary or secondary school education due to various reasons, and so they have a sense of inferiority, feel they are not good enough, and give up easily. Another challenge is that they may have other commitments, such as with a single mother with family commitments, which limit the days and time they can attend training.
What has your experience in The Nail Social taught you about society in general, and the marginalised groups in society?
While financial help such as rations or groceries are useful, I don’t think it is very sustainable. The women we’ve met do not want to rely on handouts. They want to be able to support themselves and their children; unfortunately poverty is a vicious circle.
I hope for society, especially more business owners and employers, to realise that they are in a position to make a difference, be it through giving the women an opportunity or by making it a point to support other business who do.
We’ve also learnt (the hard way) that the women need to help themselves first. While most of the women that join us try their best to make the most out of the opportunity, we have also encountered those who are happy to rely on hand outs. We realised that we can’t help them, if they don’t want to help themselves.
What do you think women can learn from each other?
Women need to give themselves more credit. I work with some of the strongest women I know, and even though everyone around them can see it, they still feel weak and inadequate. I think it’s about time women stood up and pat themselves on the back, and give credit and encourage each other whenever possible.
What are some memorable instances that have come out of The Nail Social?
We were presented with the Commendation Award at the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise Awards in November last year, and we are very proud of that. It was an affirmation of our efforts and social mission. Plus, we closed the salon that night, and it was the first time the entire team got dolled up and attended such a grand event, so that was a great experience for everyone.
What does it mean to be the best version of ourselves?
To me it means acknowledging and accepting our flaws, and still loving ourselves and giving our all in spite of it.
#NKMGDoGood is a campaign initiated by Nookmag to spread positivity and inspire deeds of kindness. Let’s do more good, shall we?