Jin Soon Choi Shares Her Work Essentials: Good People, Hand Cream, and Cats

·11 min read

Jin Soon Choi may be a fashion and beauty industry legend, but she doesn't see it that way—at least not yet. (Maybe reading this will change her mind.) “I've never thought I was successful,” the JinSoon founder tells Glamour. “I think what it is is that I work with a lot of big-profile people, like Pat McGrath and Steven Meisel. They're successful people, so when I work with them, I feel like I'm still a small fish.”

But if Choi is just a small fish, she sure can swim—and far. She went from working in Korean-owned nail salons in New York City, where she moved to with just $400, borrowed from her sister, in 1990, to one of the biggest names in fashion and beauty. Choi credits much of this success to having simply put herself out there: “Try…you never know what's going to happen,” she says. “Don't be lazy, just go for it.” And that’s exactly what she did.

Seven years after moving to the city, Choi was running a full-fledged nails-on-wheels business—she bicycled to and from manicure clients’ apartments—when one of her clients, a magazine beauty director, introduced her to an editorial agency. By 2000 Choi had her own JinSoon Salon in Manhattan, had worked with Revlon, Cover Girl, L'Oréal, Maybelline, Sally Hansen, MAC, and Sephora, and was featured in a seven-page spread in The New York Times.

Fast-forward to today, and JinSoon Nail Lacquer is one of the most popular nontoxic nail polish brands around, while Choi creates nail looks for celebrities like Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid, Anne Hathaway, Phoebe Bridgers, Kaia Gerber, and Timothée Chalamet. Choi’s products and work featured in and on the covers of Vogue, British Vogue, Teen Vogue, Dazed, and you can catch countless of her nail looks, created with JinSoon Nail Lacquer, at New York Fashion Week shows. This year JinSoon's manicures graced the Alice + Olivia, Brandon Maxwell, and Proenza Schouler runways.

Clearly, Jin Soon Choi’s nickname as fashion’s favorite nail artist is more than well deserved. For Glamour's latest installment of Doing the Work, she shares her secrets to success and loving what you do for work.

Glamour: What’s your typical morning routine?

Jin Soon Choi: It depends on whether I have photo shoots or not. When I have photo shoot, I get up at 7:30 and then go to the photo shoot. When I don't have photo shoot, I get up—actually, I go to sleep at like 3 a.m. and then wake up at 9.

I work a lot on my phone, so sometimes I want to relax and watch some Korean…like a mindless entertaining show. And then while doing it, sometimes I play a game or research things. I like doing two things at the same time. Multitask, that's me. I cannot stand just doing one thing alone. I don't know why. That's my routine.

How do you take your coffee or morning beverage of choice?

I'm actually a tea person because coffee—I love that aroma. Coffee has the best aroma in the world, but my hands get shaky. I'm a manicurist, so I cannot drink coffee. So I just smell when my husband makes coffee. I'm more of a tea person. At this moment I love matcha. I love a lot of Japanese teas. I love soba tea. Sometimes I love a matcha latte with oat milk, with a touch of vanilla. Matcha has a roasted rice inside called genmai. I love a genmai matcha.

What was your first childhood dream job?

When you're a child, your dream changes a lot. I wanted to be a singer when I was a child because I sing a lot at home. Whenever I do something, I sing. So that was my dream job, which is not where I…I'm not doing that right now. I used to sing a lot, but not really anymore. I haven't even been to karaoke much.

What was your first actual job?

I think accounting. I was working at an accounting firm. Do you know the Asian abacus? You calculate in beads? I learned the abacus and went to a special school. Sometimes I was so good I was calculating in my head. I have the beads inside in my head. I calculated up to a million.

How do you typically deal with rejection in your field?

It is kind of painful. Not kind of painful. I mean, it is very discouraging. But even though you know you will get rejection, you have to keep doing it. There's no way you give up. If you give up, basically you are giving up your life or your career. So you're not going to lose anything. So you get rejection? That's part of life. I just kept doing it. I was very persistent.

What is the best piece of money or career advice that you’ve ever gotten?

People said, “Try, you never know what's going to happen.” Even if you don't like doing it. For instance, you don't know who you are going to meet. So try. Anytime somebody wants to introduce somebody, just go. Don't be lazy, just go for it. People told me that, my elders told me, “You never know what's going to happen to you. Just try and then go from there.” Experience. I think experience is very important. It builds. All experience build up for your career. So to me, you need to try no matter what.

What is your go-to work outfit?

I have to be comfortable. I cannot be myself if I wear something that I don't feel comfortable with. For me, comfort is the best for my go-to outfit.

I'm very fortunate that I didn't have to wear very traditional, like, classic suits or anything because I'm in more a creative field. I can be a little bit more funky than normal suits. I love, in a way, a Prada look, or Thom Browne, or Sandro. Sandro really gives me something more than just in a traditional suit. I don't know how to describe it, between casual and traditional. Can I say that? It gives you more a funky, sophisticated look. Still presentable, but more so you can see a little bit that “Jin is dressed up today,” but not in a serious traditional way.

What was the moment when you realized, Woah, I am actually successful?

I've never thought I was successful. I think what it is is that I work with a lot of big-profile people, like Pat McGrath and Steven Meisel. They're successful people, so when I work with them I feel like I'm still a small fish.

But once in a while, I have that moment. Do you know Crying in H Mart? That book? One person came to me and said, “Hi. Are you Jin Soon?” In H Mart! I said, “Yes.” “Oh, I'm following your Instagram. I love your work. I love this. I love that.” I felt like, oh my God, I did something for my life. I'm not sure “successful,” but I did something good.

Speaking of books, what’s the last great book you read?
My favorite books of late are The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down and Love for Imperfect Things by Haemin Sunim. He is a monk, but I am not a Buddhist. These books helped me get through the pandemic and are valuable, even when you read only one paragraph at a time, when you need to calm down and are in need of emotional support.

What’s something you recently loved on Netflix?

Inside the Mind of a Cat. After watching, I trained my cat Consuelo, who loves eating. Whenever I try to give her food, she tried to grab my hand. So from that I got an idea: Okay, I'm going to give her a snack; if she touches, I'm going to give it to her. Guess what? Right away! And then if she doesn't do it, I tap on her paw—tap, tap, tap—and she does it. Now she does it. Editor's note: Jin Soon Choi sent me a video of Consuelo's new trick after our interview, and it is very impressive (and cute).

What is your go-to treat to have after you finish a big project or you’re done with work?

I love getting massages. That's my favorite. I don't get any facials. Massage is the best. These days I get two-hour massage after many, many days of photo shoots and stuff. I gave myself present. I get a person who comes to my home and I get a two-hour massage. That's my favorite.

What is your favorite thank-you gift to give people?

Actually, same thing. I give people spa treatments. Or sometimes I send them—this is a Korean tradition, so only Korean people—money in an envelope. But mostly, I buy a spa treatment for people to thank them.

Who do you love following on Instagram?

I follow Bella Hadid. She's good. And Cara Delevingne, the model. She does funny ones. I'm more into funny videos, and I do a lot of funny videos. I have tons more to come. I have to post. I'm lazy about posting. I'm more about fun stuff, like on photo shoots. I like people who post fun videos and stuff.

Fill in the blank. People would be happier doing their work if….

People can be happier working with good people. To me, people are everything. I have met lots of good people. They have helped me to get there. I love also connecting people, like a network without getting paid, because that's the way: helping the community and helping each other. Working with good people is the best happiness you can get.

If you weren’t in your current career, what do you think you would be doing?

Actually, I used to be, believe or not, I'm not fashionable, but I used to design and sell my clothing line in Korea. Small, like at a big market with a small booth. And then there was the wholesale that we designed ourselves. But I didn't like it. For me, I would love to be a writer. I cannot be a good writer in English, but I can be a writer in Korean.

I wanted to write about three generations, all women in the family: my sister, my mom, and me. We have such a resemblance, very strong, and then are working-hard go-getters. My mother's story is so amazing. I really like to write about all of us women in the family—how we went through from Korea to immigrate, and then also how we made it. Such a good story. Really, really encouraging and inspiring.

What are some work essentials that you can't live without?

My cats. They always sit around me when I work: Bonbon, Choco, and Consuelo. Consuelo is a girl, but she's fat and loves eating. She loves sleeping, she loves playing. In the morning, 3 a.m., she brought me somebody's sock. She thought she gave me some kind of squirrel. She came up with a sock, as if she caught some kind of animal.

And then I always have tea. I have a Korean barley tea and sometimes different root tea. I boil and I drink all day long. That I have to have. Also, my iPhone I have to have because I work on the computer and have to check it at the same time. And I love to have a snack.

You also need to have JinSoon hand cream. I wash my hands a lot. I actually use my hand lotion every single time I wash my hands. Hand cream is very essential and moisturizing and is very important for anyone. You moisturize your face. You need to treat your nails, even the dead cells. It's the best way to keep your hands, nails, and cuticles healthy.

I created JinSoon Honeysuckle Primrose Cuticle Oil, our bestseller, and no one has a similar one. I'm very proud of myself, because I put all the top-rated 20 ingredients in it, all natural, and it works really, really well. We wash our hands a lot more these days, so moisturizing is the best. If you don't moisturize your nails, cuticles, and hands, your nails get brittle so easy. So hand care first with our cuticle oil and hand cream.

JinSoon Honeysuckle + Primrose Cuticle Oil

$35.00, Revolve

JinSoon Argan + Rose Moisturizing Hand Cream

$45.00, JINSoon

Danielle Sinay is the associate beauty editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @daniellesinay.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Originally Appeared on Glamour