By Andrea McArthur
Recently you may have noticed that there has been an unprecedented rise in the level of interest in nail art and nail polish. You'll find that there’s even a strong nail art blogging community on the rise (take a look on Kester Blacks Pinterest to see a few Bloggers work). If you were asked to describe nail polish in just one word, I would use – fun. Nails are no longer just manicures, they can truly be coordinated to any look and have become the finishing accessory to an outfit.
Launched in August 2012, Kester Black nail polish was borne out of a passion to run a creative business and create an ethical, all-Australian product. In this interview, Anna Ross – CWC member, founder and director of the fabulous Kester Black – tells us about her background and her personal passion for her product.
What led you to starting Kester Black? Kester Black began 4 years ago as a clothing label while I was studying a Bachelor of design, majoring in fashion in the South of New Zealand. When I graduated, my wise mother dearest suggested I broaden my horizons overseas which would bring more opportunities than staying at home and working on my label. I packed my bags and began searching for a job in Melbourne. The experience didn’t quite work out the way I was expecting it to.
After landing myself a job in retail, I thought I’d better get something creative happening to keep my portfolio growing. I began making jewellery and selling it back to New Zealand where that seemed to be quite successful for a few years. After a year in retail, I finally landed my dream job: design assistant for a well known Australian fashion label. I worked in that role for just over a year until I was offered a production manager role for another large company in the industry. The pay they were offering was more than double what I was on, but the catch was that I would have to give up my own little business. I felt like I had worked so hard for the last two and a half years to just give it all up. So I turned down the job, and worked on building my business.
In the mean time, I had decided I was bored of merely working with sterling silver and began researching enamel paints to use on the jewellery I was making. It led me to looking into nail polish, and I really saw a gap in the market. I decided to manufacture and sell my own nail polish line to complement my jewellery. It was a major turning point in my career when, as the jewellery market had become really saturated and my nail polish sales were going through the roof, that I decided to focus solely on the nail polish side of things and lay the jewellery to rest.
How did you go from an idea, to tracking down a manufacturer, to launching your own range of nail polish? It was pretty challenging to begin with. It took me eight months just to do the research, and in the mean time I had to save my pennies to get enough money to invest in the business. It was also a massive risk. I didn’t know how my product would be received, and I’m just lucky people have really supported me and my business. I couldn’t have done it without the constant advice from my friends and family. When I finally found a manufacturer who took me seriously, it was such a relief and things just naturally began flowing. I had my website redesigned, and engaged an amazing photographer (Eve Wilson) whose photographs really brought the presentation of my brand to the next level. I still feel like I have a really long way to go but I am excited about what the next phase is going to bring to my ever growing little business.
How have you managed the carcinogenic-free side of the production process? Did you come across any manufacturers who weren’t flexible enough to develop your ethical product with you? I have actually been working closely along side a chemist who helps me with that side of things. I wanted my product stand out and meet all of my ethical values while still maintaining a durable quality without sacrificing the fun colours. I researched the industry and manufacturing processes in depth and was a little afraid I wouldn’t be able to achieve what I wanted my final product to be. I wasn’t impressed with what some of the bigger corporate companies manage to get away with these days.
It’s just so silly that consumers should even have to think about it, so I did a lot of research on how to make my formula non toxic. Before choosing a manufacturer I asked every one to supply me with their core company values. It was really easy to narrow the field down when I asked to create a non toxic nail polish base. There were definitely some manufacturers who we not willing to change the way in which they do things.
It appears that you surround yourself with like minded business women. Can you explain how the co-written and self-published book “The Hand Book, A guide to nail art” with Chelsea Bagan come about? When I received the first of my six colours of nail polish from the manufacturer, I was interested to see if my product was as high quality as other brands. So I sent out some sample packs to nail artists I found online. Chelsea happened to be one of them. We were in touch over email for a month or so before I decided I would like to create a book on nail art. I asked her on a bit of a 'blind date' to propose my book idea. After the classic ‘I’ll be wearing light blue jeans and I have dark hair’ line we met up and I pitched my idea to her. From that initial first meeting, it only took us 6 weeks to write, shoot and print the book. Chelsea and I have very similar aesthetics and that made working together on such a big project really easy. We have since become great friends and are in touch almost every day.
Originally described as the “Hipster Mani”, how would you describe the new style of nail art seen in your book? After seeing so many awful manicures trending while I was researching, I was excited when I stumbled across Chelsea’s slick work online. I don’t know if I can give you an exact phrase, but the style of nail art that featured in our book seems to be a little more simple, refined and fun. I love the colour combinations we use. I like the cartoon-style nail art much better than the really realistic palm trees and sunsets you see elsewhere. I also believe the nail art in Melbourne is reflective of our creative and artistic culture.
What does a typical day at work involve for you? Well I’m usually awoken at the first sign of light by my little brown Burmese cat George Von Whiskers, nudging me to let him get under the blankets for a morning cuddle. This is the point in which I grab my laptop from beside my bed and set up shop for the morning. I check my emails, do my accounting and try to clear my inbox before it gets swamped again later in the day. I’m always surprised at how many emails I get overnight. After breakfast and a shower I pop into my home office and pack up all the orders I need to send out for the day. Then depending on what time of year it is, I could be mixing up colours for a new collection, researching photo shoot ideas, updating the website and all the while trying not to move too much as to upset the cat sleeping in my lap.
Being a creative I find that my personal and professional life seems to blur. Do you find that Kester Black is a reflection of who you are as a person? Absolutely. Kester Black’s aesthetic is just a combination of all the things I love. My Pinterest and Instagram accounts are a bit of a reflection of that. I am also a very efficient and fast-working person and I think that reflects in my work. I can often be too hasty in evolving my business and I think that shows sometimes. I’m working on improving that!
The people I surround myself with are often other creatives or professionals. I find myself going out for a glass of wine with friends and instead of talking about holiday plans or what has been happening at home, we are devising ideas for an upcoming photo shoot or a list of people who I can approach for collaborations. I’m constantly picking the brains of my ‘not so creative’ friends about investments, accounting software or website coding, all things which I would love to know more about to better my business. In my experience as a business owner, there is no ‘off switch’ at the end of the day, although I do think it’s important to have balance and I have been working on that a lot over the past year.
What was the best piece of business advice given to you over your journey that you can share? I was once told to begin your business the way you intend to run it. I was lucky enough to get it right the third time round. While my business was in it’s clothing and jewellery stages, I was doing everything myself. When I made the switch to nail polish I really made the effort to refine my procedures. For starters, I upgraded to Xero for accounting which has actually made accounting pretty enjoyable. I created a marketing plan and began thinking long term. Kester Black was officially an after school job no more.
What is your personal favourite Kester Black nail colour?
I’d love to quote my mother and give the democratic answer “I love all of my children equally” but I won’t. Lilac is my current fave, the new winter colour just released this week.
Andrea McArthur has a passion for all things visual and works as a Senior Graphic Designer at a branding agency in Dubai. Type is her true love and goes weak at the knees over beautiful design. You'll find her sharing design related musings via Twitter and Instagram