Nailing it: The rise of Beauty by Brianna

When Brianna Santana started out painting nails as a teenager, client after client laughed at her or just walked out. They said she was too young. 

But four years later, the Kendall 21-year-old’s life has transformed. After a brief stint at beauty school, and lots of experience, she has dozens of regulars, demands as much $130 for a hand-painted Halloween job, and boasts 66,000 followers on Instagram.

Early on, Brianna fell in love with drawing and painting alongside her twin sister, Arianna Santana. Stationed at a red table in their room, they found a shared love for the arts and became forever-partners in crime. While both sisters shared not only a room, but also this passion for drawing, their artistic skills took them on two different paths.

“We both still love drawing, I just do it on my own time,” said Arianna. “As for her, it’s her career, which I’m proud of.”

Batman x Superman hand-painted nail set for Arianna Santana by Brianna. (Photo courtesy of Ariana Santana)

Beauty by Bri was nothing more than a murmured dream when Brianna was younger, but when she turned 17, she realized she wanted a future career in the beauty industry. Her first job at a salon in Kendall was hard and stressful, given that she was inexperienced when it came to nail art.

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue something creative, ” Brianna reminisces.“But starting at 17, I had a hard time connecting with my clients.” 

Early in her journey, she found herself experimenting with all sorts of nails, hair, and makeup services. Through this new experience Brianna found a new set of challenges. 

Clients, especially older women would often judge her capabilities as a nail artist by how young she was when she started. 

“The clientele at the salon was older and often judged me for my age,” she says. “There is one specific experience I remember when I was having a bad day, the nails were not coming out how I wanted them to” Brianna shares. “The clients would ask me constantly If I was sure I knew how to do nails and things like that.” 

Having people persistently doubt her abilities made Brianna ponder whether this was the path she was meant to be on. “At the end of that day I was contemplating whether I wanted to keep doing this or not because it is so hard and the progress was slow,” she expressed. “But then, when I got home, I realized how far I had come from when I first started and how much I was able to do all by myself, so I just kept going,” she continued.

Her schedule significantly differed from the one she currently keeps as a young entrepreneur with her own business. 

“I only worked half days on Fridays and Saturdays and they would take 60% of my earnings,” Brianna shares. 

Brianna also shares how labor intensive this salon was, saying, “For those two days I would make around $300 and do about 10 clients a day.” 

Soon after turning 18, Brianna went to New Concept Massage and Beauty School in West Miami while still in high school and also working. She spent five months redefining her skills and working towards becoming a licensed nail technician. 

“I always tried to help her and didn’t let her get discouraged, it was a hustle she had to do to get where she wanted to be,” said Ariana, about her sister’s time in beauty school. 

Her second job at Graciela’s Beauty Salon in the Hammocks is where she honed in on her nail art skills and learned to navigate new entrepreneurial struggles. During the six months she was there, Brianna dealt with difficult business partners and challenging interpersonal relationships that pushed her to make the transition into starting her own business. 

Then Brianna was offered an opportunity with a  start-up salon with a friend’s mom. But things didn’t pan out as she expected.  

And that’s when she started her own business. 

Naira Beltran started getting her nails done by Brianna after seeing friends from high school posting her work on Instagram in 2021. Working with Brianna is a dream, she said, They’ve built a strong friendship outside the nail salon and can share anything. She describes her as funny and kind, and overall, a very trusting person. 

“One of my best experiences with Bri was seeing how she did an ombre style on my nails without using an airbrush machine, showing just how extremely talented she is,” said Beltran.

Sharing the process and results of her nail art on Instagram has earned her 66,000 followers.Additionally, she boasts 14,000 likes on TikTok. She recognizes the impact of social media on the success of her career, noting its capacity to broaden her reach beyond her close network. 

“I think without social media, I would not have the amount of clients that I have now,” she acknowledges. “With social media, having strangers see my work and go for themselves, I think helped a lot. The better I progressed, the more pictures I took, and the more people came.” 

Entrance of Brianna Santana’s salon (Photo courtesy of Brianna Santana). 

Reflecting on her journey, Brianna notes, “When I first started doing nails, the goal was always to have my clients and own my salon,” she says. “Since I was little, I always wanted to have my own salon in some way.” 

Though still young, she feels like she has made it.

“My first job was more for experience and for me to see if this was the career I wanted to pursue,” she says. “After I started working at the later job, this solidified this feeling of wanting to have my own salon.”

Andrea Rivera is a junior majoring in Digital Communication and Media with a Digital Journalism focus. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career in the entertainment field.

Carla Mendez is a sophomore studying digital communications and media with a minor in political science. Following graduation, she wishes to become a political journalist and work in the news.