Nailing the art of the salon
A conversation with old school friend Latoyah Lovatt in Christmas 2017 sparked the idea for Ama Quashie’s Ama nail salon, which stands out for its “natural” nail concept. The salon, located in Brixton, predominantly uses certified organic products by Pinks Boutique for its balms, oils and scrubs, while the signature “Rehab”, “Free from” and “Restore” treatments all borrow from the vocabulary of wellness. Fashionable as that is, though, the approach was bold, given the current parallel craze for chemically-derived acrylic nails.
“Latoyah explained the philosophy to the woman providing our special treatment licence,” recalls the British-Ghanaian Quashie over breakfast: bare-faced with shiny nails and immaculate ink-blue loungewear, she is the epitome of glowing relaxation. “And the woman replied: ‘This isn’t going to last.’”
Nearly four years on, Ama is a success, with plans for expansion in London and a new outpost at The Londoner hotel. It has amply rewarded Quashie’s choices: first, to be mostly organic, and second, to launch the concept in south London, where she and Lovatt – who co-owns Ama and shares responsibility of the management – had grown up. “We all know how gentrified Brixton is now, so we wanted to have a space that was welcoming to everybody, and wasn’t just selective in wanting Brixton ‘new money’.”
Quashie was in her mid-twenties when she began to question her career path: having started in media production, she decided to complete courses in jewellery design and nail care. The jewellery didn’t go anywhere, but the foray into nails was a success, with the relationships she had nurtured in production and music affording her opportunities. She soon built a reputation as a talented session manicurist, signing to artist management agency CLM (she’s now with Streeters). Working with industry leaders such as Alexander McQueen, Phoebe Philo and Tyler Mitchell felt validating. “I want to be really good at what I do and I want to be respected for what I do,” she states. “Not for the hype of it, [but] because it’s actually good.” She opened Ama, with Lovatt, in 2018.
My own experience of the Ama gel pedicure is a delightful ritual of filing, buffing and moisturising in an environment that feels more like a relaxed lounge than a generic nail bar. The music is a pleasingly eclectic mix of Afrobeats and neo-soul and the raw plaster walls are adorned with art. “Every piece either relates to Brixton or female empowerment,” says Quashie, who hopes to recreate a similarly localised atmosphere in salons across London. Meanwhile, the outpost at The Londoner hotel has provided the duo with the opportunity to promote internally. “Managing people is the biggest challenge. I always want to be a supportive boss and a good boss.”
Originally, Quashie had wanted Ama to open in Accra, her father’s birthplace, “but it didn’t work out logistically,” she admits. She adds that the infrastructure of Ghana’s capital has improved dramatically recently, however. The whole process has sparked some reflection on what it means for immigrant parents to have entrepreneurial children. “The privilege of us being the second generation is that we’re able to take more untested paths.”