A salon in Tennessee has converted its nail stations into sewing ones.

It is well known that Vietnamese immigrants have dominated the nail industry in the U.S. Click here for a studies on manicurists from the UCLA Labor Center in 2018. It shows, for example, statistics from five states that Vietnamese make up 62% of manicurists in Florida, 69% in California, 73% in Georgia, and 76% in Texas. At 13%, New York is an exception due to a greater presence of Chinese American and Korean American manicurists. Although I haven’t looked up statistics from other states, I suspect that most have a majority or a plurality of Vietnamese manicurists.

Like many dental and veterinarian offices, hair salons, tattoo shops, even high school labs, a growing number of salon owners and workers, especially Vietnamese Americans, have responded to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis by donating masks, gloves, sanitizers, and other needed materials to hospitals. Some have gone a step further by making masks to meet the needs of healthcare workers. In Seattle, for example, a childhood friend of mine, owner of a hair and nail salon in Little Saigon, has sewn hundreds of masks at home during this past week.

Here are other examples of Vietnamese salons donating and sewing masks and other materials. Click on the links for more. 

Starting in the Midwest…  From Lincoln, Nebraska:

Sue’s Nails and Spa, located near 48th and O streets, wanted to give back to the Lincoln healthcare community as hospitals in our state continue to respond to the coronavirus.

After hearing about the shortage of medical equipment, Sue Nguyen, the owner of Sue’s Nails and Spa, got to work right away. The salon donated 2,000 pairs of paper masks, which nail techs usually wear while giving manicures and pedicures, to Bryan Health earlier this week. However, Nguyen felt this still wasn’t enough. So, Nguyen and her employees decided to make more – 2,000 more.

From the Kansas City metro area:

Only one person in the group, which calls itself COVID Mask KC, knew how to sew when they began a week ago. The others, who learned quickly, now make up several groups of ten who have put out 500 masks, all while practicing social distancing. “Instead of staying home, cooking and get (sic) fat, I come up with idea so everybody has something to do,” Rose Doan, Owner of Bella Romance Salon in Independence, said.

Doan and Trinh Tran, who owns Hot Nails in Clinton, Missouri, came up with the idea of making masks for hospital workers after Tran found out about the shortage in Kansas City. Tran worked with a friend in the medical field to design masks that could be used in hospitals and by first responders. She then went to several different cities, buying up as many supplies as she could find. “It has to be 100% cotton. We need flannels and elastic to make the medical masks,” Tran said.

Salon owners and suppliers are also helping to provide hospitals and police departments with other supplies. Man To, owner of  Quality Nail Supply, donated 22,000 gloves, 40 gallons of alcohol and 2,000 masks to Truman Hospital Friday. Kim and Tom Tang, owners of Nail Perfection Salon and Spa, are one of To’s biggest clients. They helped him deliver the supplies.

From Holland, Michigan:

Sammy’s Nails owner Lien Nguyen donated 10,500 gloves and 1,000 masks to Holland Hospital, 630 masks to Resthaven Care Community and 700 masks to Freedom Village Senior Living Community. While the masks aren’t the highly sought after N95 face masks, medical professionals say they’re still better than nothing. In a time of extreme need the protection the gloves and masks could be a difference maker.

“I love my city, Holland. I love my community,” Nguyen said. “Holland Hospital and nursing homes need more than us.”

It is a family matter for Nguyen. Her two sisters both own Sky Nails and Zeeland Nails. Both locations have donated supplies like rubbing alcohol, masks and gloves of their own to Holland Hospital, Zeeland Hospital, Spectrum Hospital, Sinai-Grace Hospital and Beaumont in the Detroit area.

Indeed, another outlet interviews the Sky Nails salon:

The nail salon, 2027 North Park Drive, had masks and gloves on hand because the Sky Nails staff regularly have to wear them while doing nails, said Owner Man “Steve” Le. “All the people on the front lines should have them to make sure they don’t get sick,” Le said.

When he saw on the news that a lot of hospitals were running out of masks and other equipment and asking for donations, Le dropped off 2,000 masks to Holland and Zeeland hospitals, and 5,000 masks to each location — donating a total of 4,000 masks and 10,000 pairs of gloves. “I just want this to be over with, for my family, community and the U.S., that we get together and make sure we’re safe and get (through) this,” said the salon owner.

On Facebook, the president of the Vietnamese American Association of Michigan wrote the following about the organization, which appears to focus in the metro Detroit area (emphasis mine):

As of March 28th, 2020, Vietnamese American Association of Michigan, VAAM have pick-up and delivered medical protective supplies

~ 220,000 pairs of disposable gloves

~ 30,000 N95 and Surgical face masks

~ 100 gallons of Alcohol to our local hospitals such as Beaumont Hospital, Detroit Medical Center, St. John, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland and Samaritas in Detroit.

VAAM is very proud of our Vietnamese community where Nail Supply and Nail Salon owners in Michigan have come together to help and contribute to protect our healthcare professionals. VAAM would like to thank Y & B Nail Supply, MVN Nail Supply, Lucky 9 Nail Supply, US Maxim Nail Supply, Nhóm Tri Ân and all the Nail Salons owners and friends for your donations.

Delivery of donations from salons and suppliers in Michigan.

Moving to the Northeast, from Attleboro, Rhode Island:

Kyle and Nicole Vo run Bonsai Nail Bar in Attleboro and donated more than 300 masks to their local hospital too. “I go on Facebook and saw that Sturdy Memorial in Attleboro, they need the surgical face masks. I have like 350 available,” said Kyle Vo. Vo called the hospital and dropped off his supply of masks, and said he has thousands of pairs of gloves to donate as well. “Small things, but it’s big when they need it.”

From Worcester, Massachusetts:

Tony Nguyen was born in Vietnam, but has lived in Worcester since 1991. He opened Gold Star Builders, Inc. in 2004. On Thursday, Nguyen donated $400,000 worth of medical supplies — masks, gloves, and gowns — to UMass Memorial Medical Center and Saint Vincent Hospital. “I just try to do my best. Whatever I can do at this time to help the people, the nurse, doctor and patient,” Nguyen said.  Nguyen said hid goal is to keep his community safe.

A Vietnamese-language TV channel has interviewed Tony Nguyen and his wife Sarah Vo. 

Moving to the South, from the unincorporated community Pisgah Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina:

Responding to a call from the N.C. Board of Cosmetic Arts Examiners, local salon Grace Nails Professional Nail Care Salon found 1,000 gloves and 100 masks to donate to frontline medical providers and researchers. N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) picked up the supplies and delivered them to Transylvanian Regional Hospital.

“It’s good Samaritans like Kelly Thai and Grace Nails that will get us through this crisis. With personal protective equipment in short supply, we need everyday North Carolinians to step up and donate supplies if they have them. The people of our state owe Kelly, her team, and thousands like her a big thank you.”

From Brentwood, Tennessee:

Employees and volunteers from Zen Nails have so far made 2,000 face masks, face shields, and patient gowns. The raw supplies were donated.For owners Diep Luc and Trang Nguyen, the effort is a way to give back. “We’re trying to do whatever we can at this moment to give back to people,” said Luc. “We’ve been in this country and it’s done a lot for us, so at a time like this, at this moment of time, it’s really hard for everybody. So whatever we can do, we have to do it.”“I encourage the community, everybody can help,” said Nguyen. “If we can help, everybody can help.” The owners plan to donate most of the supplies this weekend to area hospitals.

From Mobile, Alabama:

Hien Pham, a pharmacist in Mobile, Alabama, helped organize a supply drive benefiting Providence Hospital. “The other day I was on my Facebook and saw a story of a salon owner, who, because of coronavirus, closed his salon and donated all his unused masks and gloves to local hospitals. It touched my heart,” she said. “I thought, ‘How about I reach out to my friends who own nail salons? Many salons are owned by Vietnamese people. I posted on Facebook asking for donations and so many people offered to help.”

On Sunday, 13,000 pairs of gloves and 6,500 masks were dropped off at the hospital. Pham shared photos of the donations being given to medical workers.

Also in Mobile:

A local nail salon — Maria’s Nails on Airport Boulevard — is doing what it can to help ease the shortage. Owner Maria Nguyen — says she has a lot clients, friends, and family members in the healthcare industry and wants to do her part. She says while her salon isn’t using as many masks and gloves during this time — she wants to put them to good use and get them in the hands of doctors and nurses putting their lives on the line to combat Covid-19.

Nguyen is donating — 500 surgical face masks and 30,000 gloves to Providence Hospital. “It’s a lot of gloves and masks, but I think it may be a drop in the bucket. I don’t think it will go a long way because with all of the virus going around now — they use a lot to save people’s lives. And I want to do my part to help our community and hope to save all the nurses and doctors and healthcare workers — so they can save our lives,” said Nguyen.

At Sue’s Nail in Lincoln

I’ve seen three stories from Florida. First is Gainesville:

The multitude of chairs and foot spas are empty, but that isn’t keeping the owners and workers of I Love Nails and Spa from staying busy. Despite closing due to the coronavirus until at least April 3, the spa is filled with people as legally allowed.

A host of staff members along with owners Jeff Clancy, his sister Victoria Pham and her husband Joseph Pham have been spending the past week sewing medical masks for people around the state. From first responders to hospital workers to police offers to the elderly, the workers have been hard at work pumping out orders of masks and shipping them out as fast as they can.

“After we came up with the idea, our workers volunteered to come up here every day,” Clancy said. “We get here about 9 in the morning and work to about 9 at night to make the masks. We bought supplies with our own money.” The masks are made out of 100% cotton with carbon filter in between two layers with elastic straps for a universal fit to faces. They are also reusable and are able to be washed.

From Tampa, Florida:

Another local hero, Nga Pham, has already donated 12,000 medical grade masks to local hospitals. Pham, who owns Premier Nail Bar located at 13875 W. Hillsborough Ave. in between Westchase and Oldsmar, remembers her family’s struggles when they arrived in the U.S. from Vietnam in May of 1997 in search of a better life, more opportunity, and freedom.

Together with her friends and family—especially her Premier Nail co-workers Vanessa Le and Julie Nguyen who drive to and from hospitals, assisted living facilities and urgent care centers—Pham is connecting with local health workers and getting the word out about her trying to do her part. “I couldn’t have done it without their helping hands,” Pham said as she also expressed gratitude for the doctors, first responders and healthcare workers risking their lives to help others. Her masks are obviously limited, but she’s encouraged facilities in need to message the nail salon through Facebook.

From Pembroke Pines (20 miles north of Miami), plus New Jersey:

Yvette Dang kept hearing about hospitals running out of medical supplies as the coronavirus strains the health care infrastructure, so she called on her fellow idle nail technicians to donate whatever they could. Her manager and coworkers at the Venetian Nail Salon in The Shops at Pembroke Gardens in Pembroke Pines rallied and delivered about 26,000 pairs of rubber gloves to Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines this week.

Dang moved to South Florida from New Jersey eight months ago. Her former coworkers heard about the donations and followed her lead. “My old boss in New Jersey saw it and she donated 6,000 masks to AtlantiCare in New Jersey,” she said. “Now I’m trying to figure out how to make masks.” Dang believes people with sewing skills who are essentially confined to their homes can make up to 20 masks per day.

Store owner Kate Nguyen of Signature Nails and Beauty in Monroe decided to lend a helping hand to healthcare workers at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus by donating all of her inventory on Monday.

Nguyen closed her store March 20, just days before Governor John Bel Edwards’ “Stay at Home” order placed limitations on all personal care and grooming businesses. Although she said this has been difficult, she felt this was a good time to give back by donating all of the store’s masks and gloves.

“People’s lives could be taken away, any minute, any day. What’s the point of sitting on piles of inventory when you know people are dying, people are being infected?” said Nguyen. She said it all started with a Facebook post, and the response from people in need of supplies was overwhelming. But the main priority was making sure facilities directly dealing with coronavirus patients and testing were covered. Some of these included Affinity Health, Glenwood, and St. Francis Medical Center.

Crossing the country to the West Coast… From San Mateo in the Bay Area::

A group of women in San Mateo found a creative way to help health careworkers who say they’re short on protective gear… In a matter of days, nearly 3,000 masks, 59,450  pairs of gloves and other items were bought by the salon owners and collected in the garage of a home to be given to health care workers. “They’re helping us. I think in a time of need that it’s important that we serve them,” said Lori Jabagchourian, who organized the donation drive.

Linda Pham, owner of Soleil Luna Nail Spa said her 22-year-old son is serving in the U.S. Navy. During this time of crisis, she’s ready to answer the call to service. “I just feel very sorry for the doctors and the nurses when they go out and try to save lives,” she said. “They don’t even have enough protective gear to protect themselves.” The salon owners said they spent thousands of dollars to buy the safety items from wholesalers. “They were closed for business, but I was able to get a hold of them by their personal phone. They were nice to open up for me and sell these to me,” said Vivian Nguyen.

These efforts join the spontaneous and from-below mobilization against the pandemic. They are small in comparison to the production of large companies such as 3M, which seeks to make 100 million masks per month. Those masks are also superior in quality than most of the masks produced by the manicurists. But it is besides the point, which is the navigation and participation against coronavirus among many immigrant salon owners and workers during this lockdown. 

Daniel Deloon
My childhood friend Sơn “Danny” works from his sewing machine at home, typically from 8am or 9am to well past midnight. He said that local hospitals have asked for more.