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Woman to Watch: Jina Javier, founder of Leo nail salon

Today we’re launching a monthly series highlighting the work of formidable female business owners. From beauty industry pros to photographers to chefs, we’re talking to them about their career paths, challenges, mistakes, and helpful tips (podcast recs included!).

For our inaugural Q&A, we’re sitting down with Jina Javier, founder and owner of the Leo manicure and massage boutique in North Park San Diego. Leo opened its doors in December, but this isn’t her first foray into retail. Here, she explains how taking over her family’s business gave her the tools to start her own business, how she pulled rom past job experience to design Leo, and why mental health matters.

Name: Jina Javier

Job title: Founder of Leo

Hometown: Vista, California

Current neighborhood: La Mesa, California

Let’s start from the beginning! You and your two sisters opened Liv3 boutique in San Marcos in 2013, taking over your parents’ store. What was the experience like transforming the shop and working alongside family?

The three of us grew up in our shop so it was something that we were prepared to do all our lives. The fun part was trying to figure out our brand message. We’re a lifestyle store and our customers love the fact that we’re a modern one-stop-shop of curated items that reflect the modern bohemian woman. 

Running a business together has its challenges. We don’t agree on everything so there are arguments, but what’s helped is putting clear job descriptions and roles into place. Trusting in my sisters is an important element to the success of our shop, especially now. 

And we have a rule: When we’re not working together, talking about the business is forbidden. We’re sisters first and being able to enjoy each other away from work is so important.

Without that experience under my belt, Leo could not have been possible. Even with that experience, I still felt underprepared because nothing can truly prepare you for the journey of starting your own business from scratch.

When did the seeds for Leo sprout?

There were so many aspects. One was reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which sparked my urge to move to a smaller home in our dream neighborhood in La Mesa. From reading the book, I learned to curate our home with items that only brought joy. Living in such a curated home really opened my mind to so many dreams and possibilities. I began to see that Liv3 wasn’t my end game and I started to crave something of my own. And after a big argument with my family about Liv3, I finally got the push from the universe that I needed to follow my dreams.  

My career, my identity as a business woman was always connected with my family, but I was craving something for myself. With Liv3, every decision was something that needed approval. I didn’t want to feel slowed down because when I have an idea, I like to run full force with it. The idea of Leo came to me in February 2018 and our doors opened that December. 

The level of detail at Leo is off the charts, from the interior design and customer service to working with Paru Tea on a custom blend. What was your vision?

I used to be a first grade teacher and wedding coordinator so I wanted to bring everything I learned from my previous jobs into this space. In both of my previous careers details mattered, individual care mattered, and an environment that created a certain mood and energy mattered. Creating Leo was such a high in my career and I found so much joy in trying to create a space that I knew our San Diego community needed.  

What are some mistakes you made along the way and what did you learn?

So many mistakes! I thought that just because I knew how to take over an existing business that I knew how to start a business. Boy, was I wrong. Honestly nothing could have truly prepared me for this journey, but it opened my eyes as to how naive I was. It’s been four months and I have never cried so much in my life! It’s been more than I could have even imagined, but I’m still so grateful that I have this opportunity to see this dream through.

The biggest stress has been the financial aspect of the business. I’m a creative and anything that has to do with finance is so tough. My brain doesn’t think that way so I’ve been learning to shift and spend more energy on an aspect of the business that I’m not so comfortable with. If I could start over, I would have definitely educated myself a bit more on the business side of things.

How do you stay organized?

I still use a paper planner. I love the act of writing things down and crossing them off on a list. And I love podcasts! My favorites are Goal Digger, Rise, How I Built This, and Oprah’s SuperSoul. I’m a true believer investing in yourself so I have a business mentor, Bluxom Salon owner Marchelle, and life coach Brooke Feldman. I also started going to therapy because I know that my business is only as strong as I am, so investing in my mental health has been a priority during this transition in adjusting and balancing a new normal.

What’s one tip you’d give to any woman who wants to launch her own business?

Be you and trust your gut. As a business owner you are faced with constant decision making so if you’re not confident and don’t trust yourself, your team and your customers won’t either. 

Leo is all about providing self-care and self-love. But what about you—how do you treat yourself?

Honestly, I haven’t done much. I preach self-care all day long and haven’t done much for myself, but in the last week, I’ve tried to set me-time by writing in my gratitude journal, going on a walk, and sitting down with coffee and reading magazines. It’s far from glamorous, but I’m pretty simple. But as soon as I get some breathing space, I am craving a hotel stay all by myself.

Photo credit : Amber Thrane


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