This past weekend, I served as bridesmaid at my best friend's wedding. As I reached to grab my bouquet before the ceremony, a guest took my hand to gush over my ultra-shiny polish. I picked Nail's Inc.'s Gel Effect polish because I wanted my mani to stand out from the rest of my fellow bridesmaids. Mission accomplished.
As a manicure fanatic, I can't simply head to my nearest CVS and pick up any old color off the shelves. I think hard about my color choices and buy shades that take inspiration from runway trends or the latest issue of Vogue. If nails aren't your bag, you may think I'm crazy. Hey, I didn't choose the life of a nail addict, it chose me.
If there's one woman who understands my struggle, and the science of nail trends, it's Thea Green. She's the founder of Nails Inc., the first manicure bar and accompanying product line in the UK. Green does not simply flip through a Pantone book to find new colors for her line. She meticulously combs through magazines, runway looks and even napkin and tablecloth colors at restaurants for inspiration.
She works with designers like Alice and Olivia to come up with fresh, wearable colors. As she explains her polish-creating process, I can feel the passion she brings to her job. Her enthusiasm is palpable, even over the phone in New York, miles away from where she's sitting in her London office.
“Creating the products still today is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job,” she says. “It's the exciting bit, the one you do in your spare time, on the weekends. It's the thing you'll always find time to do because it's so enjoyable.”
As a child, born and raised in a picturesque coastal town in the English countryside, Green was obsessed with fashion and beauty. As a child, she started her own business by making perfumes out of rose petals and mixing her own bubble bath to sell to passersby outside her home.
By age 18, Green was ready to take her fashion skills to the next level by enrolling in the prestigious university Central St. Martins to study fashion.
Soon enough, Green landed an ultra-coveted gig as a fashion assistant at the British magazine Tatler. The chance to juggle multiple projects at a time appealed to the Type A designer.
“I felt really lucky that in my time at Tatler, even as a junior, I was allowed quite a lot of responsibility,” she says. “I was always so excited to be hitting deadlines. Media is so fast. At the end of the day, the work has to be done.”
Then, in the late '90s, Green took a trip to New York City and noticed an interesting trend on the fingernails of the women walking the city streets. They were always polished and perfect. These women made it a point to get manicures once a week. She was shocked.
“In the UK, most women only ever got their nails done on their wedding day. It was like an occasional treat,” Green says. “It felt like the right time for women to want to get their nails done professionally, to have something that was different from the spa experience they had once or twice a year.”
So, at only 23 years old, Green set out to start a company that would provide British women with what we already had for years in the states: a regular, walk-in, efficient, great quality, great priced manicure bar.
Green started with consumer focus groups, to identify what British women actually wanted in a nail bar. Since this was virgin territory, Green made it a point to hire professional nail technicians who could advise customers on the latest trends in color or which polish would look great with a particular outfit. She wanted women to put their trust in Nails Inc.
“What was brilliant about our focus groups in the early days is that the consumer was so ready for it, the time was so right,” she says. “They wanted to know when it was opening.”
In 1999, Green raised nearly $300,000 from investors and opened Nails Inc.'s first store in London's West End. Confident the nail bar concept would kick off, Green created her own line of polishes right from the start so women would be branded as Nails Inc. customers.
By that time, British women were changing their mindsets and seeking those quick, walk-in beauty services Green had predicted when she first visited New York.
“Previously in the UK, women were always really embarrassed about admitting having help in any area. The whole idea before then was that they do everything themselves. They don't need anyone's help with ironing or dry cleaning,” she explains. “Even their hair, they would never admit they went to the hairdressers."
It's hard to believe a country that produced Kate Middleton, queen of the salon blowout, was devoid of beauty services for so long. When the initial success of Nails Inc. took off, Green got her big break by opening concession stands in London's famous department stores Harrods and Selfridges.
Nails Inc. is now the UK's largest nail bar chain, with 60 locations. It's even opened a champagne nail bar in Harvey Nichols, where women can sip bubbly as they watch their nails dry. In 2011, Green was given the ultimate honor of becoming a Member of The British Empire for her service to the beauty industry.
Nail's Inc. has come a long way from merely selling their products in nail bars. The brand's polishes are available in Sephora and they just launched a Paint Can nail polish, that requires users to spray the polish onto their nails, rather than paint it on. Green's approach to success is to never stop coming up with ideas, whether they're good or bad.
“Keep adapting. Never stand still," she says. "The death of any business is standing still."
While Green is contently on the move, she balances her work time with her life at home with her husband and three children.
“My kids are that fun part I look forward to at the end of the day. You get a second round of energy as you go home because they're so excited and pleased to see you,” Green says.
While it's not easy, she says the best thing working moms can do is to not be so hard on themselves, figuring out how to fully devote time to work and home life.
“Occasionally you drop the odd ball,” she says. “You're not always doing the best job at both places. Once you admit that, maybe you'll make fewer mistakes because you're relaxed.”
Becoming a success story in the fashion and beauty industry can seem downright impossible. For women who want a career like Green, she suggests acquiring thick skin.
“If you want an easier life, there are much easier things to do,” she explains. “But, if you want to do it, it's incredibly exciting and fulfilling. Not for the faint-hearted, but unbelievably rewarding.”
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finally figure out how this whole Paint Can thing works.