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Tippi Hedren: Empowering Vietnamese Refugees and Leaving a Lasting Legacy in the Nail Industry

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Tippi Hedren born Nathalie Kay Hedren

Tippi Hedren, a celebrated actress, philanthropist, and entrepreneur, made an indelible impact on the lives of countless Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s. Beyond her notable achievements in the entertainment industry, Hedren's compassion and dedication led her to pioneer a revolutionary pathway for refugees, particularly Vietnamese women, to enter the nail industry. This blog delves into Tippi Hedren's life, her efforts to empower Vietnamese immigrants, and her lasting legacy in the nail industry that continues to shape lives today.

Who was Tippi Hedren?

Born Nathalie Kay Hedren on January 19, 1930, in New Ulm, Minnesota, Tippi Hedren was an American actress who rose to fame in the 1960s. Renowned for her iconic roles in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963) and "Marnie" (1964), she earned critical acclaim for her talent and beauty. However, her life's trajectory would change dramatically in the 1970s when she stepped into the world of humanitarian work, leaving a lasting legacy that goes beyond the silver screen.

Welcoming Vietnamese Refugees

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, a wave of Vietnamese refugees sought asylum in the United States, fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The U.S. government established refugee camps across the country to accommodate the arriving masses. One of these camps, Camp Hope at the Fort Chaffee military base in Arkansas, became a turning point in Tippi Hedren's life.

After learning about the conditions at Camp Hope, where thousands of Vietnamese refugees lived in cramped, challenging conditions, Hedren felt compelled to offer her support. She recognized the importance of empowering these refugees by providing them with opportunities to build meaningful lives in their adopted homeland.

Tippi Hedren: The Godmother of the Vietnamese Nail Industry

The Nail Industry Connection

Tippi Hedren's journey into the nail industry began serendipitously when she met a group of Vietnamese women at Camp Hope. She noticed their natural artistic talents and nimble hands, and an idea started to take shape. Recognizing the growing demand for nail services in the United States, she saw an opportunity to train these women in nail care techniques and help them find stable employment in this burgeoning industry.

In collaboration with beauty industry experts and local volunteers, Hedren launched the "Village of Hope" program in 1975, offering Vietnamese refugees free nail technician training. The program aimed to equip them with the necessary skills to pursue careers in the nail industry upon their release from the camp.

The Legacy of the "Village of Hope"

The impact of the "Village of Hope" program was profound. Not only did it provide vital skills and financial independence to the Vietnamese refugees, but it also fostered a sense of community and belonging. The program empowered many women to rebuild their lives with newfound confidence, breaking free from the constraints of their refugee status.

Following the success of the initial program, Hedren expanded her efforts by collaborating with beauty schools and salons across the country. The ripple effect of her work spread rapidly, as graduates of the "Village of Hope" program went on to establish their own nail salons, creating job opportunities for both themselves and other refugees within their communities.

The impact of Tippi Hedren's "Village of Hope" program was immense, with data reflecting the positive transformation in the lives of the Vietnamese refugees it supported:

  1. Training Success: Over 300 Vietnamese women received free nail technician training through the "Village of Hope" program, equipping them with marketable skills that proved instrumental in their success in the nail industry.

  2. Economic Empowerment: As a result of the program, an estimated 80% of the graduates went on to work in the nail industry, allowing them to support themselves and their families financially.

  3. Industry Growth: The influx of skilled Vietnamese nail technicians contributed significantly to the rapid expansion of the nail industry in the late 1970s and 1980s. Nail salons began to pop up in cities across the country, offering affordable and high-quality services.

  4. Cultural Impact: The "Village of Hope" program not only helped Vietnamese refugees integrate into American society but also introduced a new cultural influence to the beauty industry. Techniques like the "Vietnamese manicure" became popular, emphasizing meticulous hand care and unique designs.

  5. Shaping the Nail Industry: The success of the program played a pivotal role in transforming the nail industry from a niche service to a mainstream and thriving sector in the beauty and wellness domain.

Tippi Hedren's Legacy Today

Even after more than four decades, Tippi Hedren's legacy endures, serving as a testament to the profound impact one person can make when driven by compassion and dedication. The Vietnamese nail technicians who emerged from the "Village of Hope" program continue to be an integral part of the nail industry's fabric, with their influence extending to the techniques, styles, and culture of nail care in the United States.

Hong Ton, Kim-Dung Nguyen, Thuan Le, actress Tippi Hedren, Yen Nguyen, and Anh Vu reunited for an interview with director Adele Pham for her documentary, #NailedIt: Vietnamese & the Nail Industry. Source:

Tippi's memoir describes her entire life, from her childhood aspirations in Minnesota to become a figure skater to her peaceful life today as the founder and resident of the Shambala Preserve for big cats in the Antelope Valley northeast of Los Angeles.

Beyond the beauty industry, Hedren's philanthropic work extends to the "Roar Foundation," which she established in 1983. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the rescue and preservation of big cats, such as lions and tigers, many of which were abandoned or mistreated in captivity. The foundation operates the Shambala Preserve, providing these majestic creatures with a safe and caring environment.

Tippi Hedren's journey from Hollywood stardom to humanitarian work exemplifies the power of leveraging influence and resources to uplift those in need. Her pioneering efforts in empowering Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s revolutionized the nail industry and provided countless individuals with a pathway to success and stability. Today, her impact continues to be felt in the lives of the individuals she touched, the flourishing nail industry, and the roaring big cats at the Shambala Preserve. Tippi Hedren's legacy serves as an inspiring reminder that a single act of kindness can change lives and create a lasting ripple effect of positive change in the world.

Written and posted by

Shawn Doan

Co-Founder and CEO

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