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Women Shaping Design Series: Jaimie de Klerk

Jaimie de Klerk is a Zimbabwean-born, Cape Town-based creative and nail technician exploring with nails as an artistic expression

By Esihle Mngini  | August 2, 2022 | Design

From moveable exhibitions to curating, nail art and illustration, this year’s cohort is a multifaceted representation of women visionaries conquering the design space on the African continent and abroad. Here, we speak to the Zimbabwean-born, Cape Town-based creative and nail technician exploring with nails as an artistic expression.

Take us through your background.

I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until I was 14, after which I moved to Cape Town. I studied politics and languages at university and then worked in a travel agency before I fell into the world of nails. I am an artist, nail artist and musician. I am obsessed with dogs, tattoos and fashion. I love good food and being out in nature.

What intrigued you about exploring nails as an artistic expression?

I have always loved painting and drawing, having grown up in a very creative and artistic family, so I have always been passionate about art. My partner’s mom, Erika Breytenbach, encouraged me to try it, as did a colleague at my travel job who had started painting nails. I took a nail art class with nails by Matthew and fell in love with it! I love the idea of creating insane, beautiful works of art on tiny canvases. I love to see what boundaries I can push within myself, how steady my hand can be, and how I can help someone express themselves. It is my favourite thing ever!

Nail art is growing, with many people interested in experimenting with it. Where do you see it going?

Identity and expression are crucial. I see people making social and political commentary with their nail art and pushing aside gendered barriers of clothing, beauty and society. The more people that wear nail art just because they love how it makes them feel, the more freedom we give everyone wishing to access it without fear of violence or judgement or having to explain themselves.

Any art has its limitations, so when it comes to nail art, where do you draw the line between too much and conventional types of designs, especially considering the Eurocentric standards of doing nails?

I think nail art is subjective and particular, so perhaps limitations are based on a client’s preferences and the wearability of the art. There are also perceived limitations on earnings and what we, as nail technicians, feel we can charge. I have heard many complaints about other spaces because ‘they do not offer nail art’, but so many of those salons or studios work on commission, resulting in technicians not earning for a set of nails but the number of clients they can get in their seats. So, it makes sense to me that maybe they shy away from complex styles because, in this industry, time truly is our money. And it can feel uncomfortable and terrifying to charge high rates for what we do, even though our work is deserving of it.

What advice would you offer young, emerging nail artists who want to advance themselves?

Set boundaries on your time and be wary of hustle culture – it may help boost your business but lead to burnout. Charge what you are worth. Research and measure against what other nail techs charge. When starting, we tend to charge way below our level of expertise. Start small and grow accordingly. Do not punish yourself by being afraid of how long it takes to do a set – communicate with your clients, and you will be fine. Lastly, have fun with it, experiment and explore. Follow other artists and reach out to them if you have questions. Most of the time, people in this industry are willing to help.