I knew I wanted to achieve so much more...

It’s been a rollercoaster two decades for Lithuanian woman Inga Garrote writes EMMA CONNOLLY
I knew I wanted to achieve so much more...

 Inga Garrote of Puerta Banus nailbar in Donnybrook.

A YOUNG woman who came to Cork from Lithuania in 2002 speaking very little English, but hoping for a better life, had no idea of what lay ahead.

That included getting married, having a family, embarking on a new career, hitting a recession, opening a business, hitting a pandemic, hitting a wall, bouncing back, and now feeling the ripple effect of the war in Ukraine which is breaking her heart.

Inga Garrote runs Puerta Banus nailbar in Donnybrook, where she employs a team of five.

When she first arrived from Lithuania, it’s a scenario she could hardly have imagined:

“I was studying business in college in Lithuania, but I was very young and confused, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to travel,” she remembers.

A friend of hers was already in Cork and got her a job in a supermarket, where she was “in for a bit of a shock”.

“I was sure I had good English before I came, but I was very wrong!

“But after a year I was flying it, I was reading a lot, every book, every newspaper and my biggest goal was to improve my language as without it there was no way forward. Another year passed and I felt I was ready to study again, but I wanted to do something I could achieve fast, so the idea of becoming a beautician was very attractive. I always loved art and I loved being with people. 

"After I finished my beauty training I was working in a spa for a while, but my favourite part seemed to be doing nails, that’s where I could use my creativity the most.”

Inga went on to supervise a nail bar in Debenhams, in 2007. By then the recession had begun, and the nail bar closed, and even though she got a job in a salon doing nails, she felt like she’d ‘hit a wall’.

It was the birth of her first daughter that jolted her awake.

“It was like the lights just went on, I felt such strong love for her, I wanted to become the mom she would be proud of. Right then I knew I want to achieve so much more!”

Inga Garrote runs Puerta Banus nailbar in Donnybrook.
Inga Garrote runs Puerta Banus nailbar in Donnybrook.

And the ‘more’ was to try to open her own salon – whatever it took.

“I have to give so much credit to my husband for his financial and psychological support during this time. He really believed in me even when I didn’t.

“We did try to get the bank loan, but the bank manager laughed us out of the room. His reaction was: ‘A nail salon? How many nails will you have to do to pay the rent?’ 

"But we didn’t give up and did our best to find other ways to get the funding, my husband’s family and my mom really helped us a lot.”

Inga found her dream premises in Donnybrook: “I wanted to create this bright place where people could just chill and get away from mundane reality, forget where they are for a moment. I wanted everyone to be able to sit at the bar, chat with their friends and have a social experience as well as the beauty treatments. I generally love people and when I see them experiencing positive emotions, I feel like I am being nourished in some way myself.”

It took her three years, working 12 hours every day without holidays, to achieve that vision. From the outside, it looked like the business and Inga were doing great, but it still didn’t feel right. Inga was burning out.

“I was starting to find it hard to judge what was right and what was wrong, I felt exhausted. I couldn’t feel anything. Then I remembered hearing someone saying ‘if you want to succeed you have to work on the business, not in the business’. So I decided to go to Griffith College to do a business degree instead of going on holiday. 

"It was a crazy idea as whatever miniscule amount of personal time I had before, was completely gone. But somehow I was thriving. Instead of being sucked into the day-to-day jobs, which stopped challenging me long time ago, I was interested, engaged, motivated and inspired, I felt so alive again!”

Then, halfway through her last year in college, the pandemic began, which she says was ‘one of the darkest periods’ of her life.

“Everything seemed to be falling apart. There was no help in the beginning, only the demands to pay the bills. In my mind I was saying goodbye to the salon, it was heart-breaking. The future looked very dark,” she remembers.

At this point she was mum to a second daughter who was born between her second and third year in college and she knew she had come too far on her journey to just give up, so she ‘took a gamble’ and invested all gratefully-received government supports into pivoting into a salon.

“What looked like the end of the world at the beginning, turned out to be the best opportunity! Now we were emerging as a nail bar and aesthetics clinic.”

One of her staff went back to Brazil at the beginning of the pandemic, where she invested heavily into her beauty training and introduced Inga to a brand called Zena Cosmetics, which has strong ties to Ukraine.

“I knew this brand was the one I wanted to offer to our clients, so I contacted Zena Cosmetics European Headquarters and our business relationship started blossoming. I met their training team which was operating from Ukraine, I did my training courses with them through Zoom and as I got to know them more and more, I knew I wanted to represent this amazing brand in Ireland. Most of the team members I got to know were from Ukraine, they were so warm and supportive, always ready to help - a pleasure to work with.”

Since the country was invaded, the communication channels have stopped, and the supply chain disrupted, but it’s the people Inga is most concerned about.

Being Lithuanian, she stills recall the horror of 1991: “And even if the situation was not even close to what is happening in Ukraine, I can relate to the fear they are experiencing right this moment and it is excruciating.

“The main founders of Zena Cosmetics are also from Ukraine, and have all been forced to flee their own country. Just the other day, myself and all the other distributors from other countries received a message from one of the founders apologising about delays and disruption to the service. It broke my heart – what a courageous woman, with all that she had to go through in the last few weeks she still managed to gather herself and focus on her brand.”

As a businesswoman and mum, Inga wants to help in any way she can.

“I plan to donate 5% of all Zena treatments and product sales to the company, so they can help their employees and find resources to rebuild what was destroyed when the time comes and hopefully this will come soon. 

"When the pandemic began I had a very young baby, final exams being done remotely, and faced a business closure But when you go through these things in life, you realise how strong we are.

“Most of the time we don’t even know it. I am just lucky enough to have a family which reminds me of this every day.”

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