Pictured here are two hands showing off their nails in front of a green bush. The nails are in the shape of a coffin and each nail is a different color. The colors include dark green, light green, coral and soft pink. The nails feature a 3D application in the shape of flowers. Each flower is surrounded in rhinestones.
Le experiments with 3D application. Courtesy photo: Evie Le.

After her parents opened a salon in Crete, 15-year-old Evie Le vowed she’d never do nails. 

But nearly 10 years later, at 24, Le is an educator, independent nail artist with over 2,000 followers on Instagram and the only Nebraskan to be featured as Top 30 under 30 nail artists in Nail Pro Magazine in 2022.  

Le doesn’t work for a nail studio, but instead works as a freelance artist. She has her own clients and rents out spaces to do their nails. Le said she is her business. 

Growing up, Le said she had a passion for art, but always thought she would go to college. Le, whose parents are immigrants from Vietnam, valued getting an education in the U.S. She said doing nails was never part of her plan.

“I just felt like, my parents came from Vietnam over to America and I got a full 12 years of education and then I could get the chance to go to college,” she said. “I just felt like, why would I do nails? It was not my first choice.” 

Le originally got her CNA license in high school and wanted to become a nurse.

“At the end of my classes, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m really enjoying this.’” 

Le said she always enjoyed being in the hair and makeup department for her high school musicals. That’s when she decided to go to cosmetology school. 

“I thought, hair is not nails,” Le said. 

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Evie Le is an independent artist from Lincoln who specializes in hand painted nail art. Courtesy photo: Alison Evans.

Throughout her time in cosmetology school, Le slowly discovered her love for doing nails. She would often do her classmates’ nails in hair school. 

“I remember in school I would stay up until two in the morning doing their nails,” she said. 

Le has a cosmetology license, but not a nail technician license. In  Nebraska, a person is allowed to become a nail technician if they complete 2,100 hours of cosmetology school. Because of this, Le considers herself self-taught, though she did have help from her parents. 

“I started at my parents’ salon right after cosmetology school,” she said. “My dad really taught me the basics of nails.”

Le said she spent hours on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, looking at different nail designs, but the exploration led her to compare her work to others. 

“I thought those nails are so good, why don’t mine look like that? My dad always told me, ‘It’s because you just started, you’re not going to be good right away.’ But I wanted to be that good.” 

Le said her drive to be great led her to look at the work of other salon’s around Lincoln. One in particular caught her eye. 

“I asked if I could job shadow them. They said no,” Le said. 

However, the next day Le saw they were hiring and applied.  

Le only worked at the nail salon for a few months, but the working conditions are what inspired her to become independent. 

Le described her time at her former salon as an “unhappy and unhealthy lifestyle.” She said there were a lot of things she wanted to do differently. Being an independent nail artist gave her that chance. 

“It took me two years to implement my own rules and self-care routine,” Le said. 

Now Le said she can focus on her own mission for her clients. 

“My mission is the health of our nails,” she said. “I just went to California last year and learned a service that promotes our natural nails.” 

Kelly Trang, who worked with Le at their former salon, said she loves seeing Le grow without the constraints of salon rules. 

“She advanced a whole lot more and she was able to blossom and make more creative choices,” said Trang, who now manages Maica’s Nails and Spa in Lincoln. “She’s a very creative individual.” 

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Le created Toy Story inspired nails for a client. Courtesy photo: Evie Le.

As an independent artist, Le said, she can focus more on the artistic side of nail design, even if the art takes hours to do. 

“There were other students in my high school that did art and I thought, ‘Wow you could see that in a museum.’ I never thought that about my art, but I always thought my art was creative,” she said. 

Le said every nail artist has their speciality. For some, it’s length and shape; for others, it’s applying gems. Le said she considers hand-painted nail art her specialty. 

“Evie was born with an acrylic brush in her hand,” Trang said. 

In December, one client asked for The Grinch to be painted onto her nails. Le said the whole process took three hours, something she wouldn’t have been able to achieve if she belonged to a salon because of time restrictions. She said most salons focus on the amount of clients a technician takes in a day and not the amount of time art takes. 

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Pictured is one of Le’s most ambitious designs. The design took three hours total for both hands. Courtesy Photo: Evie Le.

“She doesn’t think she’s at this level, but I definitely think she’s at a master level now,” Trang said.

Le went from never wanting to do nails to teaching a class on nail technique. 

In February, Kim Mai, the owner of Helen’s Nails Inc in Colorado Springs, noticed Le’s intricate designs on Instagram. She invited Le to her salon in Colorado Springs to teach her nail technicians an in-depth class. 

“I wanted to find an educator, and once I saw her work, I just thought ‘Wow her work is really good.’ I have to get her on board,” Mai said. 

Mai said she needed to give some of her nail artists a refresher on technique and design. Each woman ranged from intermediate to advanced. 

“Evie taught all of them as a whole, but then really broke it down for each individual,” Mai said. “She found a way to make it understandable, even when there was a language barrier.” 

Mai said another thing that drew her to Le was how young she is.

“She’s younger, she’s hip, she’s knowledgeable,” she said, “so I needed her power.” 

Mai said her favorite thing about Le’s teaching style was her willingness to share every aspect of her knowledge. 

“In this industry, it’s really hard because sometimes other nail techs just don’t want to give you feedback or they don’t want to cheer you on,” Mai said. “They just want to bring you down so you can so they can beat you or whatever it may be.” 

Mai said things in the nail industry are very different from 18 years ago when she started in the business. She said Le even taught her some techniques she didn’t know. 

“I’m like, ‘How did you achieve this?’ And so she taught us, like what’s the best method for this look and all the trending nail stuff. It’s hard to keep up. Nails have evolved.” 

Le said she used the same teaching tactics on students as she did on herself when she was first learning 

“I told them what I told myself,” she said. “If I do a set of nails and it doesn’t look the way I wanted it to, analyze, see what you did and see what you could do differently to make it look like what you wanted.” 

Le said she values mentoring other women in the craft she’s passionate about. 

“If I could travel and teach like I would love to do that full time,” Le said. 

In the future, Le hopes to open and run her own salon. 

“I want to start my own business because it’s nice having co-workers,” she said. “I love the beauty community; we can bounce ideas off each other.” 

With a mention in Nail Pro Magazine, a growing social media presence and making it into the final five of Lincoln’s Top Choice awards, Le said she is surprised by her success. However, she credits her values to getting her this far. 

“I just want to be unique and different,” Le said. “I want to stand out.”

Savannah Redl is a senior journalism and broadcasting major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She was apart of an Pulitzer prize winning team at The New York Times tracking COVID-19 in U.S. Prisons. She hopes to continue doing important work in journalism.