We didn’t think we could love nail salon tenoverten anymore until we sat down with co-owner Nadine. Located in the South Congress Hotel, it’s a breath of literal fresh and clean air. So all you preggos can now indulge in your mani and pedis worry and formaldehyde free.

We sat down with Nadine, while getting our nails done of course, and talked about the inspiration behind opening a nail salon in Austin (after opening 4 in NYC), starting a business with your friend, and how important it is at tenoverten that they provide a safe and chemical free environment for their clients and for their employees. It’s a beauty win-win for everyone!

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What was the inspiration behind creating tenoverten?

It really started out of personal frustration with nail salons in general in New York. I feel like there were so many things that were on my and my business partner Adair’s list of things we would change from customer service angles to creating a safer environment for nails. So I did not come from a beauty background and neither did she, but we sort of jumped right in. In New York specifically and now all over the nation, everything is so well thought out– the restaurants we eat in, the gyms we work out in, and now the nail category is like a little bit underwhelming, so that really pushed us to open the first tenoverten.

While lots of nail polishes contain chemicals like formaldehyde, DBP, and toluene, tenoverten is actually “8-free,” vegan, cruelty-free, and made in the USA. What are the advantages to using an 8-free polish?

The original mission of tenoverten wasn’t to be hyper safe. Like we knew we weren’t going to do gels but we weren’t technically starting a product line that was going to be 8-free one day. When we were building the first nail salon, I was pregnant so I think all of the sudden my business partner and I became more aware of the chemicals we put on our bodies and our nails specifically. So we were trying to find nail polish brands that were safer and couldn’t find them, so we decided to develop one ourselves. I think with nails, the most important chemical to really pay attention to is formaldehyde. There’s formaldehyde and there’s formaldehyde resin, which are two of the eight we strip out of the process making the polishes. They’re both harmful when you bring them into your body. It’s not a matter of them physically touching your nail, so technically as a client sitting in a salon for 30 minutes every week or two weeks, if you breathe in formaldehyde or camphor fumes, it’s not going to be incredibly harmful to you, but it could be very harmful to the employees. Our employees are truly an extension of our families, so for us it’s really important to make sure everything on our tabletops is safe– our lotions are paraben free, our oils are 100% natural. We do it for our clients, but we do it primarily for our employees, because they’re using these products all day long every day.

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With four locations in NYC, what moved you to open up an outpost here in Austin?

I am originally from Texas- Houston! So that was a huge part of it. The South Congress Hotel was a hole in the ground when they approached us. They had this motorcycle shop at the front of the property and they sort of wanted the juxtaposition of something very feminine next to this very masculine business. So they played around with the idea of having a nail salon on the property and found us because someone’s wife was a big fan of tenoverten. We came to see the property, we loved the partners, and we liked the vision. I feel like their aesthetic is very similar to ours, and they’re sort of very natural and organic about the way they approach their branding and lifestyle. It was just a good fit for us! Also to try tenoverten in a new market was something we’d thought about so this was a good opportunity to try it in a market when it’s warm eleven months out of the year.

The minimal décor, clean lines, and wood panelling give this salon a very modern-yet-warm feel. How important was it to break free from a more traditional nail salon aesthetic?

We wanted it to feel like the antithesis of your average nail salon. There are certain things we do intentionally– for example, we don’t have the pampering chairs with the big whirlpool baths intentionally because those can be quite bacteria infested. So for us to have bowls that we can take away and clean properly in the back and really deep clean is important to us. Drains are sort of a catchall for bacteria so it’s important for us to strip that out of it. All the furniture is custom made. It’s important to us that our clients feel like they’re walking into someone’s apartment rather than walking into a salon, so they can truly relax while they’re here.

What was your journey to tenoverten like? Did you always know you wanted to work in beauty?

I went to NYU as an undergrad and studied business, because I had no idea what I wanted to do and I was like “Well, that can relate to anything!” I worked at Time Magazine for eight years and that was wonderful. I worked as a publicist, and it was just very eye opening because you read five newspapers a day, but eventually I knew I didn’t want to stay there forever. I started my first business- it was a clothing and accessories store in the West Village in New York. I owned it by myself, I traveled to Paris a couple times a year and bought for the store, and it was really such a passion project. From there, I sort of realized fashion isn’t inclusive of everyone and at the end of the day it matters what size you are, it matters how old you are, and not everyone could shop at my store. As I was getting older, I was more attracted to beauty because it’s so all inclusive. In my own beauty regimens, I’m not the kind of person who gets facials every month or massages regularly– nails was my thing that I did with friends socially and for myself. I started thinking about nails and it led very organically into tenoverten.

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You and your business partner, Adair, started as friends before tenoverten was born. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to go into business with a friend?

Obviously it’s very tricky. We have had times when it’s been difficult and times when it’s been more natural. I think it’s very important to have a clear delineation from the beginning of what you both expect and what you want your goals to be. Adair and I are very complimentary of each other– there are operational things that I would never in a million years want to do that she loves to take on and are good challenges for her, and there are events and other marketing type things that I do that she wouldn’t necessarily want to do either. We have a really good division of labor and we always make time to spend as friends and try not to talk about work.

Tips for getting the healthiest nails or our lives?

Hydration is such a big one. It starts from within. Make sure you drink plenty of water– it helps your nails, it helps your skin, it helps your overall wellbeing, so it’s a good practice to get into. In the winter months, make sure you’re using a cuticle oil.

Is there anything you see women doing to their nails in the name of health + beauty that you actually don’t recommend?

Overcutting your cuticles is a big one. I think people don’t really understand what part of a cuticle should be trimmed and what part shouldn’t, so it’s good to get a professional to do it. Also, giving your nails a breather between polish applications is a good idea. Give your nails a chance to breathe.

Definitely, gels to me are something people think are harmless, but it’s really damaging to your nails. If you’re doing it because you’re going on a two week trip and you really don’t want your nails to chip, so you do it once and take it off– fine. But don’t leave your gel on! I see people like, letting their gels grow out and leaving it on indefinitely is really bad– your nails can’t breathe!

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Any tips on balancing personal life and running a business at the same time?

To me, exercise is really important, so I make time for me. Just like I brush my teeth every morning, I go and exercise at least five times a week. If I can fit it in my schedule, I do. I think you have to know yourself– for some people it’s to meditate for twenty minutes every morning. Whatever it is for you that makes you feel level and more effective throughout the day, just figure that out and the earlier you can do that the better. You don’t want to burn yourself out!

What’s next for tenoverten?

As far as the products, we are so passionate about nail care. So we have 32 colors in the collection, and that’s wonderful but truly our foundation, which is our base coat is an amazing product, but we’re trying to get more into nail care products. We just launched our non-acetone remover wipes and our next product we’re launching at the end of October is our 100% natural cuticle oil. It’s a rose infused cuticle oil. So that’s next for the product line, and then we’re opening a salon in L.A. in October.

by Mandi Summers