Scroll down through Ami Vega’s Instagram, and you’ll see an accomplished manicurist – one who V Magazine recently featured and who celebrities like Kylie Jenner fawn over. But if you’re dazzled by how much she’s able to fit per square inch of fingernail, you may have missed that she’s actually one of the wokest in the nail art game. In her nearly 2,000 posts, she celebrates black beauty, women, and our culture. There’s also plenty Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Vega’s first foray into nail art began about two decades ago. In middle school, she started experimenting with nail polish, and by the time she graduated high school, the Dominican American’s skills had evolved. According to ABC News, the first time she realized nail art spoke to others, she wore crackle polish. “A girl at Staples yanked my hand and said ‘Lemme see your nails! What is that?'” Vega said. “That’s when it started… I thought, ‘oh you could do something different with your nails.'”
Years passed, and nail art became increasingly popular online. It wasn’t until she messed around with PhotoShop one day that she got the idea of creating a salon with a bodega-like feel. That’s when she dreamt up El Salonsito, and her younger brother, Gabriel Vega, pushed her to chase her dream. They didn’t open a brick-and-mortar as she envisioned, but they did launch their Washington Heights-based business in 2011. She credits him with being the go-getter and helping their traveling nail art service take off. All of their hustling even led to her writing her first book, titled Designer Nails: Create Art at Your Fingetips. But despite her shyness and modesty, the creativity – an important component in this business – is all her.
“From a distance my job may seem like a vain one,” she told Business News Daily, “but I see it as an opportunity to help people express themselves.” And those who seek her out to express themselves will undoubtedly end up with some fly nails, but she’s also the woman to go to if you want some socially conscious nails. Check out nine of her creations below: