The walls of Kinaya’s workplace are lined with bright bold nail polishes. There are electric tangerines, flamingo pinks and baby blues in perfect order. These colors act as her palette, as she paints and sculpts intricate acrylic nails.
Sophia Kinaya Haug, or just Kinaya as she prefers, captures University of Oregon Duck football stars, anime characters and family favorites like Winnie-the-Pooh, but what keeps her clients coming back is more than her irreplaceable nail art; it’s her dedication to creating a safe space for everyone to feel welcomed.
Kinaya is a Eugene native, licensed cosmetologist, Black business owner, mother and activist. Kinaya recalls being one of the few Black people growing up in her town, making her activism less of a choice and more of an inevitability. The Eugene African American population is 1.3 percent according to the 2010 census.
The need for voices to speak up became even more apparent in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, when Kinaya said it became evident that racism was alive and well in Lane County. Kinaya took time off of work to protest and to call attention to the injustices Black Americans were facing. For Kinaya, these were realities she had seen her whole life, but she didn’t realize how bad it was until she became more vocal.
“Growing up in this place was really hard, not easy at all, definitely did not realize how much racism existed until recently, and once I realized I have always known, but I didn’t realize the extent it took, you know, speaking out to actually experience and understand in effect they actually hate us, you know?”
Kinaya went on to say, “I decided I’m going to speak up and use my voice, and if anyone doesn’t agree with it, that’s not the client that I want anyways.”
Now, Kinaya uses her business platform to regularly bring visibility to social injustices and change narratives around communities of color,
“A lot of people talk negatively about Black people, and they say stuff like, ‘Oh, you don’t work,’ so I think as a Black woman, owning my own business, it’s one of those important things to me that Black people are represented in this town.”
Some may view Kinaya’s outspoken approach as a possible threat to her business, but Kinaya’s response was clear: “I’m my own business, so I can choose what I do with my time and I decided I’m not taking anyone that my morals do not line up with. If you don’t believe that someone’s life matters then you’re not getting your nails done by me.”
Kinaya’s journey started long before she was in a nail shop. She was a frequent doodler in elementary school. This hobby lasted throughout her young adult life and into her years at Lane Community College. While she was completing her associate’s degree at LCC, she realized what she was learning in college did not suit her interests. After she graduated, it was her supportive mother who urged her to attend cosmetology school. Kinaya had always liked makeup, and she assumed that would be her main focus in school.
At the beginning of cosmetology school at Northwest College School of Beauty in Springfield, Kinaya remembers not liking nails very much, but once she discovered the artistic element of nail design, she couldn’t stop. It was comforting, intriguing and challenging all at the same time.
“I thought, wait, this actually kind of fun, so I started experimenting and watching YouTubes.”
Kinaya’s days in beauty school completely changed when she found out she was pregnant with a little girl. Kinaya could no longer work and attend school, so she quit her job and borrowed money from her mother to finish her classes.
“It was really hard having a kid going to beauty school… I was a breastfeeding mom and I wasn’t working because I was in school.”
Kinaya’s obstacles are not uncommon to many working mothers who must balance their career aspirations with raising a child. Despite the difficulty, Kinaya graduated from beauty school in 2018 and was well on her way to mastering the art of acrylics. When building her business, Kinaya was focused on more than just nails. She aimed to create a safe place where her customers could be their authentic selves and feel welcomed.
Kinaya is inclusive to all clients, whether they are trans, undocumented, white, Black, queer or disabled. Her goal is to create detailed, affordable and reliable nail art for every client who walks in her door.
Today, Kinaya is doing nails while adhering to the COVID guidelines at her shop on W. 7th Avenue in Eugene. The pandemic has changed a lot about her business, but she remains positive and happy to serve her community. Her Instagram right now is filled with beautiful neutral nails, with shades of both brown and tan. Alongside are historical posts reflecting on Blackness in America.
Like many other businesses, Kinaya’s work space looks a little different than it used to. Everyone is wearing masks, employees are sanitizing and washing materials between every client, and everyone is wearing gloves for protection. Despite COVID, the energy in Kinaya’s nail shop remains warm. She continues to raise important questions to her community as her business expands. As Kinaya’s daughter grows older, she’ll know one thing: Her mother values all colors and creeds, just as her work reflects.
Find Kinaya Haug’s @BeautyByKinaya on Instagram, at 637 W. 7th Avenue, or call 541-579-3353.
This story has been updated.