“Your life doesn’t have to be perfect, but your nails can be.”
This is the slogan for Cute-icles, a nail business that started out of two Boston University students’ Bay State Road dorm room in 2021.
Paulina Gutierrez Ramirez, co-founder of Cute-icles and a 2022 graduate from the College of Arts and Sciences, started the business when she realized the unaffordability of nail prices in Boston compared to her hometown in Mexico.
“A lot of [students] basically don’t have time to work, and it’s just something nice to have your nails done and feel a little bit better and a little bit more put together,” Ramirez said.
Her roommate, Yu-Ting (Carey) Chiou, a sophomore in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation and former co-founder and public relations manager for the business, is originally from Vietnam and experienced a similar concern with nail prices.
“It’s one of the places where nails are just a really big thing like it’s super cheap to get nails,” Chiou said. “It was just crazy to us how people were paying upwards of $70 to get their nails done.”
While discussing this shared observation, Chiou originally had the idea to start the business.
The pair then decided to split the work evenly — Ramirez was in charge of the nails and Chiou would promote the business.
Ramirez learned to do nails herself by practicing on her friends.
“I decided to just invest in buying all these nail products, and when I was 16, I started doing it with my friends,” Ramirez said. “I tried to start a business but at the time, I don’t think I was mature enough to actually get through with it.”
With Ramirez’s experiences with nails, Chiou spread the word to BU students.
“We really wanted to target students and people who lived close to BU or on BU [campus],” Chiou said. “I started telling my friends about it, I got asked about it in class.”
Chiou made stickers with their business name, Instagram handle and the slogan. She put them in the Fitness and Recreation Center at BU and around campus. Chiou also came up with the name, during their first brainstorming session over dinner.
“I think that Cute-icles was the one that came out the most natural and it sounded the best,” Chiou said. “I’m just really punny like that.”
Although their advertising attracted about six to eight customers a week — with peaks for celebrations throughout the year, such as Halloween and graduation — the business stayed relatively small.
Haadiya Cheema, a frequent customer at Cute-icles and 2022 graduate from SAR, said she heard about the business through mutual friends.
“It has always been a good experience,” Cheema said. “I feel like [Paulina] was really good at making the environment super comfortable and fun which is why I kept going to her”
With a flexible schedule that worked around their customers, Ramirez and Chiou’s college dorm room was the most convenient location for appointments.
“My room was always nicely decorated, so it didn’t feel like a regular dorm,” Ramirez said. “We tried to make our customers feel comfortable.”
Cheema said she appreciated how the experience was less impersonal than other nail salons.
“The nails were something that was happening but all we were doing was talking about random stuff in our lives,” Cheema said.
Since graduating, Ramirez has taken over the business, continuing to provide low-cost manicures out of her apartment. She does this in addition to a full-time job as a clinical research coordinator, which impacts the flexibility of the business.
“I’ve tried to stay focused on my neuroscience career more than anything, but also doing something that I enjoy…which is doing nails and just having good conversations with clients and just slowly getting to meet people,” Ramirez said.
Cheema has also continued to be a frequent customer of Cute-icles since graduating, due to the proximity of her current apartment and maintained relationship with Ramirez.
“As long as we are in the same city…I’ll still go to her,” Cheema said. “There’s a sense of loyalty there too, where it’s like, you can’t abandon your nail tech … there’s just so much familiarity, I’m gonna go to her for as long as I can.”