Get to know Kirsty Meakin
At 16, multi-award-winning nail artist and industry personality Kirsty Meakin was on track to go into something creative by studying photography and media studies at college. “But then I met a guy…” sighs Meakin. “I fell in love and I didn’t want to go to college anymore, so I dropped out.”
Kirsty Meakin will be at Professional Beauty London at ExCeL London on March 3-4, hosting the Trends & Techniques stage and demoing via an exclusive Learn a Skill session. Find out more about the stage at professionalbeauty.co.uk/trendstechniques
Not willing to let her daughter bum about, Meakin’s mum told her she needed to get a job in order to stay under her roof, so the self-confessed teen rebel got herself an apprenticeship in a salon. She became a qualified beauty therapist and fell in love again, but this time with nails. “I loved the instant gratification of doing nails that I couldn’t get with other areas of beauty,” she says.
“I love the creative process. I love somebody coming in, whether it’s a model or client, with normal nails and leaving with mini masterpieces and seeing how that makes them feel. That’s a great feeling for me.”
After two years of working at her first salon it closed down, leaving a young Meakin stressed and unemployed, but she decided to push on with nails. “I did it because I needed to do something… and it just felt right. It wasn’t ever my big plan.”
Fast forward to the present day and the Kirsty Meakin we all know and love is now 45 and a mother to two teenage girls, with an empire that includes her own academy, a growing line of products and a loyal and committed online community.
Despite her incredible success, Meakin still holds on to some regret about not taking college seriously. “I really enjoyed photography but looking back now, my mind was elsewhere,” she says. “I wish I’d got more insight into being a photographer because I’ve got such a keen interest in it.”
A classic Kirsty Meakin sculpted acrylic look...
Best of both worlds
Meakin needn’t have been so hard on herself as, over the years, the nail tech has found ways to feed her passion for photography by combining it with her love for doing nails.
Her social channels are as unique as the tech herself. The quality of photography, the authenticity and relatability of Meakin’s online persona and her undeniable talent for doing nails have made her work stand out and earned her huge recognition. Across all of her channels, Meakin has over two million followers.
The combination of her nail artistry and photography make her work unmistakable. Meakin works with videographer Adam
Bouabda, her close friend and business partner, whom she met while working as an ambassador for another brand. “We just clicked and can bounce off each other,” says Meakin.
‘We’ve got a similar sense of humour, but we can also talk through problems without letting it affect our business because we understand each other so well. It’s like a brother-and-sister relationship.”
It’s through this relationship that Meakin has been able to get invaluable education around photography, focused to her direct needs as a nail tech. Her kit of choice for nail photos is a DSLR camera with a macro lens.
“I actually stand really far away from the nails to take pictures because you can achieve a really tight close-up but it’s still super crisp; it gets a gorgeous depth of field,” she says. “I’m super fussy about lighting too – that has to be perfect.”
Meakin believes the recipe to her social media success is consistency, because “sometimes you really just don’t know what is going to do well”.
“There’s no magic recipe,” she adds. “We’ll spend loads of time doing this really elaborate nail and it can either go viral or it can bomb. Then sometimes we’ll do something really simple and it can get something like 36 million views. I just always try to change things up to keep the feeds from going stale, post regularly and consistently, and keep to a schedule.”
Then, of course, having the right kit and capabilities helps, because not everyone has a videographer business partner. “We’ve got really good kit and together me and Adam have a lot of knowledge. But, when you’re doing it on your own as a nail tech, having a great setup for photos and even a separate area with the right lighting and a decent phone camera will allow you to get great footage,” she says.
Meakin affirms that, in fact, when starting out, you can get the best footage with a phone clamp and a decent phone, and while she thinks the iPhone is fine for filming, she highly rates Samsung and Huawei models for premium photography.
Meakin is naturally funny and authentic, with one of those personalities that shines brightly and draws people in. These unbuyable assets also play an enormous role in becoming successful on social media.
But, despite being a plucky powerhouse, the pressure to constantly be someone who entertains and educates does, of course, take its toll. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, I got into this little bubble and really isolated myself. Even after we could go out again, I didn’t want to. I just couldn’t cope with all the people,” shares Meakin.
Meanwhile the strain to keep up a happy persona for her social following when she was struggling was also becoming tough. “Whenever I film, I’m under a lot of time and creative pressure to come up with things that people have never done before. I felt like I just needed time to be me again.”
To get over this hump, Meakin recently decided it was time to start taking clients again, something she hasn’t done for about five years. “I was so nervous about taking on clients but I knew that it was going to help my own mental health. I needed to learn to be social again,” she says.
Most of Meakin’s clients are either nail techs who want to learn or fans, which is where she is most comfortable because there is “that level of understanding”.
“Plus, every single client I’ve seen since I opened my books has expressed that they also suffer with their mental health. Those conversations have been so nice and made me understand that I’m not on my own here,” she says.
“I love having the freedom to create whatever I want, but I’ve also enjoyed putting ideas together with a client again,” continues Meakin. “Whereas when I’m just filming content for social media, it’s all on me.”
Now, to get hyped up to film content in the studio, Meakin has got in the habit of blasting her favourite tunes in the car and having a cup of tea and a bit of chocolate. “That just makes me feel good,” she laughs.
Community and competition
When it comes to haters, Meakin is largely unphased. “There will always be some – and that’s fine. I always think, ‘well, maybe they’re struggling with something in their life’ and take it on the chin and move on; but, on the whole, my following is so lovely and supportive.”
After teaching classes, Meakin will always set up group chats on Instagram to keep everyone in touch to share work and support each other. “I love the nail community,” she says, explaining that she was first introduced to its power when she began entering competitions. “I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for competitions.”
The first competition Meakin entered was a Professional Beauty body-painting competition back in the early 2000s. “I painted my mate like a circus ringleader crossed with a lion and she looked the nuts. I won and it was such an amazing feeling,” she recalls.
While there, she saw the PB Nail Competition and later entered a Fantasy category, where entrants had to dress their model in a costume with nails to match a theme. “I decided to do bodypainting again but with amazing nails. Nobody was doing that and it caught everyone’s attention. I won and after that I just kept winning – it became really addictive.”
The downside to a winning streak, says Meakin, is the fear of knowing one day that you may not win. “Those days were intense but it was all worth it,” she adds.
“I never try to predict trends, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know that acrylic is going to have a comeback,” she says.
“Gel polish and builder gels are great, and the in thing at the moment, but like everything, nails run on a cycle,” Meakin explains. “For me, there’s nothing better than an acrylic set and nothing more longstanding.”
Product formulation has become one of the aspects of running her empire that she loves most, as well as being able to bring friends and family into the mix. “We’ve been able to give jobs to the people we love within our business. From Adam’s wife in packing to my sister-in-law as our graphic designer, it’s entirely family-run and we just love our little company.”
Meakin is also incredibly proud of her two daughters, who are both as creative as her. Allycia, 17, is at college studying digital art and Cassidy, 13, is looking like she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “She loves nails and she is really keen to learn, so I’m just so happy about that,” says Meakin.