My article about Rescue Beauty Lounge founder Ji Baek came out in Inquirer last Friday.
I will post a link to the online version and paste the longer version of the article in a bit but first I want to talk about the impact Ji has had on my life.
I’ve interviewed a ton of people – everyone from Glee cast members to Leonardo Di Caprio. There are people you talk to, write about and then forget about until you need to write about them again. Then there are people like Ji, who aren’t just names on your pages, who leave a mark on you, who leave you inspired.
Like any nail polish addict, I’ve read a lot of great things about Ji and Rescue Beauty Lounge. Cool, I thought, but Ji and Rescue Beauty Lounge are in faraway New York and nobody sells her polishes here in Manila so I didn’t think I’d get to enjoy Rescuing anytime soon.
Then, one day, I decided to look up Rescue Beauty on Facebook. And I realized that Ji herself was handling Rescue Beauty’s page. Yes, she posts updates and answers questions and comments herself. And on Facebook, I saw just how hands-on Ji is – she actually packs nail polish orders personally. She ruins her manicure, gets cuts from boxes and stays in for hours and hours preparing packages for shipping when she can easily ask the people who work for her to do it. I was impressed.
I’ve been dying to get my hands on some of Ji’s polishes (the Surfs Up collection blew me away) and was worried because there were rumors that Diddy Mow was about to run out.
So I posted this on Rescue Beauty’s page:
Dear Ji, Please please please do not discontinue Teal, 360, Diddy Mow, No More War and Orbis Non Sufficit until I get to New York later this year. Love, Pam
And Ji replied:
When are you coming?
And I said:
october you think they will still be available by then?
And she said:
Oh I think so: want me to hide and stash it?
I was touched. Really touched. Because seriously, how many people would offer to do that? Let me say that again, how many brand heads would offer to do that?
Then it hit me. I didn’t need to wait until October to enjoy being Rescued. All I had to do was find a copy of Ji’s book Rescue Your Nails.
And a couple of days later, I found it in National Bookstore in Shangri-La Mall. And I felt sorry that we were going to watch a movie that night because I wanted to start reading the book. And after the movie, I did. I started reading it in Starbucks (and ignoring my friends – but they understood) and I continued reading while baking cupcakes (it wasn’t easy but I did it). I read the entire book in one night and just loved it. Loved it.
Do your nails a favor and find a copy. Rescue Your Nails will inspire you to love your nails more and it will inspire you to go the extra mile to care for them. I love that it reminded me that as much as I love polish, nail care is not just about painting your nails. I love that Ji owns a spa and yet so willingly teaches people how to care for their nails at home. And I love that she devoted a chapter of her book on nail-biting and helping nail biters get over the habit. As a former nail biter, this struck a chord with me.
This is someone people need to read about, I thought.
And so I asked her if I could interview her. And she said yes.
And I promise, I will post the full interview in a bit, just let me talk about Ji a little more.
So we did our interview and I wrote my article. And then days after, I received an invite to go to New York for work. It could have been my chance to meet Ji and visit Rescue Beauty but I had to say no – I have so much stuff to work on here, I couldn’t afford to be gone for a week.
But James went to New York and James, the lovable boy that he is, once again offered to bring home polish for me.
I knew what I wanted.
I told Ji that James was going to be New York. She processed my order, had the package messengered to James’ hotel and it is now sitting there safe in his room, ready to come home to its mommy.
I can’t wait.
And now, finally, if you want to read the online version of the interview, go HERE.
But you might want to read the full interview right on this page:
JI BAEK, NAIL GURU
By Pam Pastor
Ji Baek thinks her face must be on a dartboard at the lab that produces her nail polish.
Ji, who owns and runs Rescue Beauty Lounge in New York, is notorious for sending nail polish samples that do not meet her standards back to the lab. She refuses to sell her polish unless the colors and textures are perfect.
But being a self-confessed control freak has its pay-offs. Rescue Beauty Lounge has earned the respect of many for producing durable, long-lasting polish without harmful chemicals. The different shades, which are all hand-mixed by Ji, consistently sell out and there is a constant clamor from nail polish fans from around the world to bring back colors that have been discontinued.
Creating polish colors that drive women wild is just one aspect of Ji’s busy life. She has her hands full running Rescue Beauty Lounge, a place that has revolutionized New York’s nail salons since it opened its doors in 1998. Her book “Rescue Your Nails” is considered a bible by many. And when New York’s beauty editors need tips on nail care, they turn to Ji.
When it comes to nail polish, when Ji talks, everyone – from magazine editors and celebrities to the nail polish addicts who worship at the shrine of Rescue Beauty – listens.
But Ji didn’t set out to be a nail guru. She was on her way to becoming a professional viola player when an injury cut that dream short. She ended up pursuing a career in restaurant management instead – a job that had her constantly standing, leaving her feet tired and sore. It was her search for the perfect pedicure that led her to realize how lacking New York was in good hygienic nail salons that could pamper aching feet.
Ji decided she would open her own. Ignoring the fact that she felt like a cliché (Another Korean woman opening another nail salon?), she headed to beauty school and soon, with the help of her husband, was able to launch Rescue Beauty Lounge.
Ji said, “When we first opened, it was for my own selfish reasons. I wanted clean sterilized tools, cool décor, fabulous products, none of those generic mysterious unlabeled lotions or creams, and a private space, a room where you can hang out with your friends or seek solitude to de-stress.”
She’s been running Rescue Beauty Lounge for over a decade now but remains as passionate about nail care as ever. Ji is extremely hands-on – she personally packs the orders people make through her website, not minding that her own manicures are ruined, that she gets cardboard cuts from the boxes and that packing sometimes takes days. “My management motto is simple: if I work hard then so will my employees.”
Ji also personally manages Rescue Beauty Lounge’s Facebook page, answering every post and every comment from her brand’s Facebook fans. “I adore our clients – they’re my favorite part of the job!” she says.
Inquirer Lifestyle spoke to Ji about Rescue Beauty Lounge, her new fall collection “The Real Housewives of the Tudor Dynasty,” her unwavering passion for nail care and why she doesn’t pay attention to what other brands are doing.
What do you think it is about Rescue Beauty Lounge that sets it apart from other nail salons?
Not only do I personally train the staff, I test them weekly, rotating from a roster of technicians. This results in more training and sometimes in tears. I’m a known germ-o-phobe so every single implement is tossed out after each use and we sterilize the mental implements in an auto-clave. I treat cross contaminations as you would in a dentist office or any medical environment. Most of our clients are germ-o-phobic crazies like myself – many of them have been members since 1998.
Despite being the boss, you continue to be really hands on when it comes to your business, packing people’s orders, talking to RBL fans on Facebook – why is that?
Control freak, right? It is extremely important to me who our clients are. I absolutely adore our clients from New York and our web clients—they’re my most favorite part of the job. We have an amazing number of regular web clients and I love that I can chat with them via Facebook. My management motto is simple: if I work hard then so will my employees. It’s a simple management style—you should know how to do everything in case of an emergency. We are a small company and I do not believe in ego-driven titles, which is why I have none in my business card that I rarely carry.
How did your own nail polish and nail products line start?
It was around a couple of years into our business. All our clients would complain about the wear and tear of chipped nail polish. At first, I thought it was the technique that we were using but after sleuthing around endlessly, I realized that every nail polish wore off differently— it was the formula! It took us two and a half years to make our first line of polishes but our die-hard clients approved and are now addicted.
Do you really hand mix your polishes?
Yes, it’s a painful process but it makes a vast difference. Who wants to just take a color trend forecast three seasons ahead, even before the Paris runways ends? Where is the fun in that? This is my creative venue. I will never listen to a forecast that also includes the weather.
What inspires you?
Anything and everything in this magical universe.
Your polishes sell really fast, with people begging you to bring back colors that have been sold out – how do you feel about that?
It humbles me to no end.
What’s the craziest e-mail you’ve gotten from a nail polish fan?
There’s this man who gives his wife a monthly pedicure – he even took some classes. It involved so many e-mails that led to “how to give her a “Goth” French pedicure.” I thought he was one of those crazy fans. I’ve gotten a bird feather via mail, a CD of Miles Davis whom I adore and weird distasteful letters from men with a shoe fetish.
Tell us about your Fall collection.
This collection of four colors was by far the most difficult to mix. Every time I would add more shimmer, the base colors will change. I shook and adjusted for three weeks, threw my back out in process and my right arm, which I used for shaking, is now noticeably more muscular compared to my left. How unchic!
Is it true that you don’t pay attention to what other brands are doing?
I don’t drink the Kool-Aid. I have to trust in my true self, that’s the most difficult part. I’ve noticed that if my brain gets even the slightest peek of any colors, it will imitate. There are many shades that did not make the cut in my nail polish cemetery. Another rule is I never go back to fix the colors, you have to keep moving forward.
You’ve worked with a lot of celebrities, beauty editors and personalities – any favorites?
My rule for past 12 years is I do not kiss and tell, infuriating many magazine editors. All of our clients deserve their privacy.
How do you feel about the existence of so many nail blogs – has this surprised you?
Yes and no. It’s a creative freedom but they should start a blog because they really are passionate about the subject and not for the free samples, which I think is in poor taste. The original nail bloggers have purchased our nail polishes online and commented about the shipping and the customer service, they don’t just e-mail companies requesting the samples. Now that’s dedication to your passion. If you want to review, treat it as business and invest. Building a slow relationship with the company is a key.
Your book is considered a bible by a lot of people and continues to sell worldwide. Why did you decide to release it?
Because I’m a type A, when an editor from Workman Publishing approached me, my response was, “Really? Who wants to read about nails?” Much arm-twisting later, I started to research and they were right – there were non-friendly step-by-step DIY guides that existed, just textbooks with gross pictures of the nail maladies. It’s a joke in my circle, everything I touch turns into a two-and-a-half year project. The book was a labor of love. I put my heart and soul into it and it was worth it. I can sleep peacefully at night reviewing all the e-mails that readers often send, saying that the book had changed their lives.
You devoted a chapter of your book to helping people who want to stop biting their nails. Tell us a little more about Nail Biters Anonymous.
I have a deep affection for nail-biters. I believe a habit is a comfort to the soul and we all have them. If you really want to stop biting you are already fifty percent there. Read that chapter, charge on and do not go out to brunch with your mother, your rebel-self will want to bite the nails even more with gusto because she will say “put that finger out of your mouth! Surround your self with supportive people and do not announce to anyone that you’re trying to quit and then everyone will start to police you. Baby steps.
What’s one thing you wish you could tell nail-biters?
You are not a terrible person or a nervous person, you are as beautiful as anyone with normal nails. Keep getting manicures and the band-aid is your best friend. Cover those bloody cuticles and resist the temptation.
What are some dos and don’ts that women should keep in mind when it comes to nail care, manicures and pedicures?
As a rule, do not share your nail implements. Remember the germs don’t really care. Metal implements should be sterilized by soaking in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes. If it’s not made of metal, toss it away after one use. I know too many affluent women with nail infections. Do not be frugal in this issue.
Nail polish/nail art/manicure/pedicure pet peeves:
3D anything, the crevices will accumulate colonies of germs.
What is your stand on fake nails?
As a rule in life, I’m not a huge fan in anything fake in life—but okay, I cover my gray hair.
Any tips for women who can’t decide on their nail shape?
The shapes of your nails is personal, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Experiment.
What colors are going to be hot in the next few months?
Hopefully, our collections. Shameless…
What is your secret in keeping your own nails healthy?
Good diet and pre-natal vitamins.
How many bottles of polish do you own personally?
Favorite nail polish:
I wear RBL exclusively.
Favorite nail treatment/product:
Our three-step treatment system.
Favorite nail polish remover:
Mostly whatever the health food store carries.
Is there any particular shade of polish that you use the most? Which one?
I might have favorites for the week, but I love my children equally.
If you can wear just one shade of polish for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Clear Pink, it has the least pigmentation therefore it will not yellow my nails.
Is there anything you hate about your job?
Throwing my back out.
How do you relax?
I love to cook, read and snuggle with my husband…
How do you feel about being called a nail guru?
I’m way too humble to even fathom that label. I love what I do – I deeply care for our business and the people who support it.
Visit Rescuebeauty.com. You can also find Rescue Beauty on Facebook. And seriously, get a copy of Ji’s book.