We had the good fortune of connecting with Vanessa Sanchez McCullough and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Vanessa, how do you think about risk?
Risks are scary, but without risk, there is no growth. I have taken so many risks in my career(s) and each one of them brought me right to where I am now. At 16 years old, as a manicurist, there wasn’t much risk involved in the beginning. However, making a decision to not take over my family salon and go to college instead, that was my first risk. Because of it, I worked in TV and Film Production for about 10 years in NYC with an exciting career as an assistant editor and ultimately, Managing Director of a TV and Film Production Company. With a more business based job, my creativity was lagging. I longed for something else and missed my days of working in the salon, but I feared that I couldn’t have a career that would match the income I made in TV and Film. I took a risk and I did it anyway! I worked for a couple great salons in NY and was was signed on by the professional nail brand CND as an educator. Education gave me the ability to share my knowledge and hopefully inspire other nail professionals. I still wanted more so I decided to do it on my own. I took a risk and opened my own salon studio. I worked a 5 day/week schedule with 8-10 hour days. On the 6th day I was traveling around NY educating. I busted my bum. I thrived. A few years in, my husband’s work took us to Northern California. A new risk. Time to start over again. I was able to continue educating, but now in California. I waited about 6 months before I took yet another risk and opened a new salon space, in a new city and a new state. I only had about 5 clients to start, but was confident I could grow…quickly. I did. I became more of an exclusive destination for clients for to get their nails done. About 95% of my clients wore nail art and it was always a custom look that no one else had. It was going pretty amazing but then another move, and another risk. This time we went to Los Angeles. Still educating, I had no idea how I would succeed in this crazy city. There was so much competition, so many salons, so many manicurists, and tons of talent. I needed to “make it’ in this city and took yet another risk. I tried to get signed with an agent. With no professional portfolio under my belt, I needed to build one so I took a risk and put myself out there. I worked for free and built a beautiful portfolio. The agency signed me! I worked with amazing talents, like Lupita Nyong’o, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Lizzo, and so many more and incredible brands like, Samsung, Google, and Lancome. I realized that I was “making it”. I realized then that all of my hard work and all of the risks I had taken over the years were literally paying off. 4 years later, I’m still here in LA and I am still with an agent and working on fun projects that allow me to be the creative person I longed for. I know that without all of the experiences I had before this time, I would not be where I am today. If I never took my first risk of going to go college, I would never have been able to make it to where I am today. Risks promote growth and I know I am still not done growing.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am an artist and my canvas is nails. Everyday I create art looks on nails that are fun, beautiful, edgy, and sometimes flashy. Two weeks later, my art is removed, and new art is created. My art will never been seen in person again and can only be seen in photos that I have taken, It’s a really fun process. I strive to be extremely educated in not just current trends and looks but also the science of my craft. I want clients to feel confident when they sit with me that I won’t damage their nails, cut live skin, or cause any trauma to their nail plate. I alos stay educated in the products that I use on my clients to ensure longevity and quality. Each of my clients know the ins and outs of what I am doing and more importantly why. One of the challenges I found was trying to retrain clients to make time for their nail services. Many people are used to just walking into a salon without an appointment. I never accepted walk-ins and it always was something that clients needed to soak in. To work with me, they need to plan and schedule time. It’s never easy, but always worth it. I came to realize that people want to pamper themselves. They want to sit a chat and share stories with me. They wanted the nail experience I was offering. Some resisted at first, but once they experienced one of my services, they were hooked. This whole process helped me realize that I am worth it. I have spent so much time perfecting my craft and trying to stay one step ahead of the game but with competition from salons charging about half of what I charge, I needed to believe in me and my talent. Now, my clients can see that I am setting nail trends on the red carpet and am able to give them these gorgeous looks as well. With me, I will always be striving for perfection and beauty, healthy nails and safe practices, and most of all respect and love.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
During a pandemic, no one is coming to visit, but once they can return, I assume all of the friends I have made along the way of my travels, will return to visiting us here in LA. We’ve had so many guests come stay with us and see what this beautiful city has to offer. A few of my favorites would be a morning hike at Runyon Park or afternoon bike ride in Venice or a day long trip to Broad Beach – staying till the sunsets of course. We’d have to grab a quick easy lunch from Neptune’s. Dinner would have to be at Pace Restaurant, as I live in Laurel Canyon so this is a must! Drinks would take us to Lost Property Bar for the BEST cocktails in town. That could be just one day of activities. I’m in love with long weekends in Palm Springs. The desert is an experience that is a must! Because I am still not an official Angelino, I am still learning about this amazing city and all it has to offer. I feel really lucky that I get to explore it with the people I love. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many people have been here to encourage me along the way however two people stand out to me for their encouragement, inspiration, and motivation. The first is my husband Bill. Each decision I made for my career affected our family dynamic. Each time I expressed interest in trying something new, he encouraged me to do it. He showed me that without risks I would stay stagnant. He knew what I needed in my professional career and pushed me along every single day. I look at what he has done with his career and I try to mimic it within my own industry. We both work hard, work passionately, thoroughly, and always with a smile. A manicurist who inspired me was an amazing woman named Shelena Robinson. She made me strive for perfection in my craft. I wanted to be the best version of myself and she helped give me the means to improve and better myself, she gave me tons of encouragement, and helped me believe that I was as good as I hoped to be. Shelena gave me a piece of confidence that I hold close to my heart and rely on daily. Both Bill and Shelena were really needed in my corner to do this. I needed their encouragement more that they know.