Gracie J


Instagram: @theeditorialnail


You grew up in Haiti after being born in New York. How did your time in Haiti shape you and your identity as a Haitian woman?

Being immersed directly in the culture and around the people was a really enriching experience for me. I learned the language and went to school with other Haitian children. It definitely played a big role in who I am now. I’m very clear on my identity, values, mindsets, and views. My love for Black people and Black women is connected to having been directly influenced by my culture.

How are you impacted by your roots in New York?

There is a certain demeanor New Yorkers hold that a lot of people don't understand. There's no room for failure or being stagnant or mediocre. New Yorkers don't play. Business is business and we don’t babysit feelings. That helped me to grow thick skin, learn to stand my ground and not compromise myself for anyone. When you don't compromise yourself, you start to attract the people that are supposed to be in your corner and push you to grow.

What drew you to nails as a young girl?

There's a part of all of us that denies that we're like our parents and for a very long time, I did even though I draw a lot of inspiration from my mom. As I get older I realize my mom was fly and thinking back, she always had her nails done. Long, beautiful, strong nails. I remember they were strong because when I acted up in public, she would pinch me. She had lots of nail polish and I always played with them. When I got my first job at 14 or 15, every single Friday I ran to Western Union after school, cashed my check and went to this little beauty supply store to buy nail polish. That's all I ever spent my money on. I would go through two or three different designs a day just because I’d get bored. Then I started doing my mom and sister’s nails and eventually my friends’ in college.

What was the journey from hobby to doing nails professionally?

Upon graduating college, I didn’t know exactly what I want to do, but I had a fascination with watching YouTube videos about makeup and nail art, so I went into the beauty industry. I started working for a website called LoveBrownSugar as an intern. I was promoted to Assistant Beauty Editor and I started a column called Style Play Polish where we did cute nail designs in five steps or less for readers to try at home. People started paying attention to my nails when I went to events. A photographer noticed and brought me on set to work with her. The whole crew was telling me  I could make a lot of money this, but I didn’t really believe them. Then, at my last corporate job at MAC Cosmetics as the Executive Assistant to the VP of Creative, an invoice came across my desk from a manicurist. She earned more from a two-to-three-day shoot than I was making in a 40+ hour week. Plus, I thought I could do a better job. I know I'm meticulous to the point where I polish a nail and they would have to do little to no retouching. I have pursued nails since then.

How did your skills grow as a professional?

After I got my nails specialty license, I worked at a salon that taught me about the business side of the industry and putting your client first. My skills really started to flourish at my last salon experience where I was surrounded by a lot of talented artists. I was there for a year and in that time, I went from doing minimal nail art to being able to draw a Salvador Dali piece on a nail. Being around very advanced artists inspired me to push myself. Now, my clients challenge me all the time. They are just as creative and into nail art as I am and come to me with ideas that I never imagined I would be able to do. My clients are very supportive, so we go through trial and error. They let me mess up and finally when I get it right, there is such a great satisfaction in it.


What drove your decision to become a freelancer? What are some of the challenges that you endured on that journey?

I always knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur. My AOL email account as a teenager was My mentality was if I have a talent, why would I slave away to make money for someone else when I could just be making it for myself. The struggle is wearing so many hats because you’re a one-woman band. This means as your career starts to progress, you're going to find less and less time for yourself because the responsibilities never end. It's one of those things you have to juggle until you start to trust people enough to build a team. Another challenge is managing client relationships when your clients are more than your clients. It's a good overwhelming feeling, but also it becomes stressful when you feel you're spreading yourself too thin. It worries you if you're not giving your clients as much attention, care, and respect as you need to because they are the reason you keep a roof over your head.

You have grown a significant social following and I'm sure that's how a lot of people come across you and your work. What tactics did you apply to build your profile on social?

I understand the psychology of people wanting instant gratification and knowing they have short attention spans. You have to make your content relatable and appealing. Over time, I started collaborating, doing test shoots and figuring out how to position my posts and how to curate my page so that people want to look at more. It is one of those things that you fall into through trial and error. I also engage with my audience a lot. I think that's very important because I wouldn't have the social following and certain opportunities that I have without them. I think they appreciate my genuineness and transparency.

Also, there’s the aspect of being a Black woman and taking back ownership of something that came from Black urban culture. There’s a major misconception that Japan and Korea spearheaded nail art, when in fact Black women from the hood gave birth to nail art and extreme nail art culture when it was then considered ghetto. Granted, there are a plethora of non-Black artists killing it in the industry just as we are, but credit goes to them or white artists before talented Black artists. So, this is my way of showing a relatable Black girl who gives no fucks and is out here killing the game.

Your Black History Month designs were super dope and were picked up by several publications. What made you decide to do the 28 different designs?

Prior to doing the Black History Month nails, I had done 30 Days of Minimalism for a series on my platform called Nails at First Sight. I posted minimal nail art every single day for the person who doesn't like to rock extreme nail art. I got great feedback from that, so my sister asked me what my next series was going to be. I didn't know, but I'm always trying to make my content interesting by connecting with different topics, and not just be a nail page. Then she mentioned that Black History Month was coming up and started sending me a lot of inspiration. I found this would be easy to do because I’m passionate about Black people and realized it could be a learning experience for everyone including myself. I wanted to show all the contributions that Black people have made that go unacknowledged by engaging people differently.

Can you tell me about landing the key nail stylist role on Claws and what it was like being on set for those five months?

When I got the call, it was very surreal for me. They found me on social media through some recent work I’d done with Essence Magazine. Without hesitation, I knew I wanted to take the role and I learned a lot as a result of working really hard. What stuck out to me from the experience was that whole New Yorker attitude I mentioned before. It all the more confirmed to me why I need to be the way that I am. You always have to be prepared and on your toes, because whatever industry you're in, it is going to be tough. You can't take things personally.

What's on the horizon for you?

I'm expanding my brand into the influencer world and putting myself out there. I want to show my audience what I'm capable of. I'm not limited to nails. I am an overall creative being, an artist first and foremost. It's just that at the moment, nail art is the medium I choose to express myself on.  I also want to show people who I am behind the scenes. I think my purpose is to make young Black women and girls realize that you can be successful and you don't have to be afraid to follow your dreams and aspirations. I want people to stop talking about what they want to do and just do it.

How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?

I have a family unit. I say family unit because I think we have the ability to create our own families, and that isn't limited to who you are related to by blood. Your family can be anyone you choose to keep in your inner circle and mine is amazing, beautiful, strong-minded ethnic women who keep me grounded. With my posts, I'm usually really positive and I try to keep everything light, but I'm also telling people this shit gets hard sometimes. It's not all butterflies and rainbows and there are days when you're not going to feel like you want to get out of bed but you have to keep going. If you stop, then your business stops. It's very important to keep a family unit around you and to be honest with them and yourself as to what is going on with you. There is something really powerful about women, especially ethnic women - this beautiful, strong, magical energy. I think magic is an understatement and that there's a deeper word for describing who we are and how we are. Without these women in my life, I don't know how I would be able to do it.