Jin Soon Nail Salon – Jinsoon Hand & Foot Spa West Village

In our long-running series “How I'm Making It,” we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.

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Jin Soon Choi is arguably the hardest-working person in the beauty industry. At this point, that's more of a fact than an opinion. In addition to having a decades-long career as fashion's most sought-after editorial manicurist, she also runs four popular New York City nail spas, helms an editor-beloved eponymous nail polish brand and is a backstage staple for designers like Marc Jacobs and Prada. When I arrived at her Tribeca spa recently for our interview, she was stationed at the front desk, answering phones and booking appointments. 

I have a personal conspiracy theory that there is a secret army of Jin clones, all pitching in to work on photo shoots, backstage and checking to see that the salon operations are running smoothly. Because for one person to have accomplished all that Choi has — not to mention to have started from scratch with a mere $400 in her pocket, after immigrating to a new country without knowing the language — is nothing short of incredible. 

But would Choi consider herself a success? Not quite. “I don't know if I would ever say I'm successful, I feel like that's a little bit snobbish. Sometimes I feel fulfilled, yes…But I never say I'm successful,” she told me during our interview. In an industry often dominated by ego and hubris, Choi's humility is refreshing. And with an incomparable work ethic, attention to detail and always-sunny demeanor, it's no wonder she's so beloved by her colleagues, clients and editors. 

During our discussion, Choi opened up about being a beauty industry pioneer, how fashion has changed since the start of her career, what it's like working with the industry's top talents and how both personal relationships and Shakespeare in the Park helped her along her way. Read on for the highlights.

Did you always know that you wanted to work in beauty?

I had no idea. I just wanted to change my life, I wanted to come here , because my sister lived in Olympia, Washington. I had my own wholesale clothing business in Korea; I guess I always had the entrepreneurial spirit. But I decided to quit and to come here . I went to see my sister, but Olympia wasn't for me. It's beautiful, but I need a busy, more artsy city.

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So you always knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur, but not necessarily in the beauty space?

I was into having my own business, but when I came here I just wanted to study and survive. I wanted to learn English first, but as soon as I came here , I had to work right away because I had to feed myself, of course. I had no one — my sister gave me $400 because she thought that when I ran out of money, I'd have to go back to her. That was her clever idea, but I survived here.

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What prompted the move to New York?

There were two cities I was considering: One was LA, the other was New York City. New York appealed to me because I'd heard it was an artsy city.

At what point did you start your nail career, and what drew you to it?

Being a manicurist was my third job in New York. Before, I waited tables in a Korean restaurant, which lasted one day. Then I had a job as a grocery store cashier, but that was so boring. I got a job as a manicurist, which many Korean immigrants did at the time, and liked this job particularly because I could sit down. I could talk to clients, so I could learn English. I got to become friends with clients. That was a big asset for me.

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