This editorial is sponsored by Visa.
Change isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary for growth and continued evolution. The modern Women’s Movement is a consistent example of this trajectory.
From the breakthrough of voting rights to the progress and continued fight regarding gender and pay equity, there is one consistent thread – women’s empowerment.
One way women entrepreneurs continue to lift their voices and make waves in the face of marginalization is in the beauty and fashion industry. Visa has recognized the lack of representation for business owners in the fashion and beauty industry and is taking action. Through She’s Next in Fashion, Empowered by Visa, Visa provides resources like cash grants and a marketing campaign to amplify women-owned small businesses across the often-marginalized space.
21Ninety had the chance to speak with four participants from She’s Next in Fashion, Empowered by Visa to learn how they are changing the game, particularly around nail care.
Meet Samara Walker, Portia Mathis, Michelle Robinson, and Rachel James – four boss women who have made their marks through their unique nail brands.
Samara Walker admits that she started Àuda B. without significant beauty industry background. Her inspiration came from her mother and the realization that many women didn’t have solid forms of self-care outside of a good manicure. That was her thing, so she doubled on making sure that experience became one of the best, most luxurious experiences for all women.
Finding solace in the same space, Walker enjoyed nail care but also recognized her affinity for luxury items and experiences. The founder noted that when she would shop in high-end stores, the advertising for products did not include women that looked like her or her family. And it was at this intersection of luxury nail care and diverse representation that Áuda B. was born.
But Áuda B. isn’t designed to be just a luxury experience. According to the brand’s website, it is a vegan, cruelty-free product – offering an alternative to harmful acrylic choices. Áuda B. offers 21 “gel-like” nail lacquer options that offer superior pigmentation with a professional finish. Each color is hand-picked and inspired by seasonal and fashion trends.
It all started in Tampa, Florida while Portia Mathis was in nail school studying to be a licensed nail tech. Though she always believed that nails could be a canvas for art, interacting with a colleague suffering from a skin condition shifted her focus.
Her colleague had dermatitis, a skin condition that can form from overexposure to chemicals and harsh products. Upon learning this, Mathis noticed that there weren’t a lot of clean and vegan nail care products on the market. BarBella Co. is helping to fill that void with its vegan and cruelty-free nail polishes.
Bearing a name that plays on the phrase “beauty bar,” BarBella Co. is creating a brand that is synonymous with sustainability and inclusivity. None of their products are tested on animals, offering an array of color options through their gel polishes or acrylic powders.
The art of mastering transition is at the core of Michelle Robinson’s story. She began her entrepreneurial journey while working at one of her last corporate jobs in the healthcare industry. While it initially led her to dabble in her personal passion for interior design, it was caring for her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer, that prompted Robinson to tap back into her healthcare experience and use her creativity in a different way, sparking what is now known as DEMIblue.
While sitting through treatments with her mom, Robinson noticed her mother would not wear nail polish. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to; it was because the chemicals in traditional products would either burn or grossly discolor her nails.
Finding inspiration from this, Robinson launched DEMIblue with clean, vegan, and vitamin-rich nail products. According to Robinson, it doesn‘t contain harsh chemicals and is long-lasting. Plus, DEMIblue’s work goes beyond making bomb, long lasting, vitamin-rich, vegan nail polish. The brand works to empower women and children from underrepresented communities by providing education on health and wellness and the harmful toxins in traditional nail polish.
Childhood dreams meeting full-time entrepreneurship is the story of Pear Nova. As a child, Rachel James would paint her nails every other day. She’d also treat her mom, friends, and even her baby dolls to manicures.
As she got older, James would go on to study fashion. In one of her final assignments, she created a mock-up for a nail brand and used that experience to learn more about mixing nail polish. After a year of research, James created a product that would not only bring more diversity to the nail industry but also create healthy and toxin-free classic and gel polish for women of all skin tones. While nail polish may be the most popular product for Pear Nova, they also offer a holistic beauty experience with cruelty free products for lashes and lips with balms, liners, and serums.
Creating Space For All
One thing is abundantly clear: all four of these small businesses care about the beauty and health of women, highlighting the many benefits of using non-toxic nail care.
“I was a nursing mom. So I didn’t have to essentially worry about contamination [from nail polish] with my son when I was nursing,” Mathis stated. “You’re basically voting on what you want as a consumer by purchasing and learning more about vegan and clean nail care or [these types of] beauty products in general.”
While healthy beauty alternatives are paramount to all of the women and their brands, providing more access for Black nail techs, creatives, and entrepreneurs is another part of their why. Walker, for example, has participated in New York Fashion Week and has often brought up and coming creatives along for the ride.
“I think honestly the most impactful moment for me is working with the nail artists that are super talented women of color,” Walker pointed out. “And that keeps me wanting to go – knowing I’m helping someone else, too.”
She Is Definitely Next
Making waves and taking up space in the industry is only as powerful as committing to ensuring others have the same type of access. As Black women leading the charge in small businesses, these entrepreneurs have picked up some insightful gems along the way.
“I really had to get used to and get comfortable with constantly being a student. You’re consistently learning the next step, and eventually you feel like you’ve conquered it. But once you feel you’ve mastered one thing, then comes something else,” James said.
And for Robinson, the power in her journey and admiration for others is to know there is real strength in community.
“Oftentimes, when you’re in this entrepreneurship journey, on your own, it gets lonely, it gets frustrating, and you don’t have all the answers right. So it’s important to network and connect with other business owners,” Robinson added.
And a solid and stable community is what each entrepreneur has found with She’s Next in Fashion, Empowered by Visa, helping them move out of the feeling of isolation and into the rewarding experience of building and thriving with a team.
Click here to learn more about how Visa supports these entrepreneurs and other women-owned small businesses in beauty and fashion.