FROM RAGS TO GEL COATS!
More often than not, the business or idea you begin with is not the one you end up with. For example, Playdoh began as wallpaper cleaner, Colgate made soap and Tiffany and Co sold stationery. The story is similar for Melbourne based business Kester Black, which originally started as a clothing label but then evolved into a jewellery line and ultimately, has become one of Australia’s leading nail polish brands. How does this evolution happen? Well, for Kester Black (like most others), change derives from opportunity. In the case of Kester’s founder Anna Ross, it was a simple design idea for her hand-made jewellery line that led her to spotting a significant gap in the market, which coincided with a growing trend – the need for ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly products.
Anna was researching enamel paints for use in her jewellery making, which led her into researching nail polish, where she discovered a distinct lack of products that were cruelty-free and carbon neutral. “I was really uninspired by the limited selection of colours that were out there. It was there that I spotted a gap in the market and I decided that rather than accepting this lack of choice, I would try to fulfil my own needs, and those of the many other Australian consumers who are both morally and style conscious”, she remarks.
The subsequent journey into ethical chemistry and manufacturing was not without its challenges. Indeed, Anna has been working closely with a chemist to help her in the product development, commenting how she “wanted [her] product to stand out and meet all of [her] ethical values but while maintaining a durable quality and without sacrificing the fun colours.” She spent all of about 8 months researching and trying to source a manufacturer who could and would accommodate her needs. “I was a little afraid I wouldn’t be able to achieve what I wanted my final product to be,” she says, “but persistence paid off and when I found a manufacturer who was willing to take me seriously, it all started to flow.”
Ross’s innovative range of nail polishes proved incredibly popular – so popular in fact, that it prompted her to lay the jewellery line to rest and focus on this new business venture. “I was quite surprised by the amount of people that weren’t vegan that embraced Kester Black. It’s exciting that our line has been so accessible and appreciated by the broader market of nail polish fans”, remarks Anna. With such success, Kester Black sought to widen their fan base even further by expanding in to skincare, launching a range of Australian-made, organic, vegan soaps and body washes.
As well as market understanding and strong positioning, collaboration and clever marketing are also strong points for the small but mighty Kester Black team. On several occasions now, the brand has collaborated with the talented Melbourne nail artist and owner of the Trophy Wife salon, Chelsea Bagan, who has an impressive Instagram following as testament to her work. “We (Kester Black) are very careful about who we chose to collaborate with. We make sure our brands align and complement each both ethically and stylistically”, Anna notes. The collaboration with Trophy Wife is one that has blossomed, with the self-publication of a co-authored nail-art book as well as various lines of unique nail polishes. “Chelsea is fantastic to work with!” Anna adds.
Kester Black has established itself as one of Australia’s leading manicure and skincare brands but as well as Ross’s commitment and determination, perhaps what is most inspiring about the Kester Black brand is the size of the business. Most products that get featured in Harpers Bazaar, In Style Magazine and the like, come from fashion houses or cosmetic brands with hundreds of staff but Kester Black’s team include just one full-timer and two part-timers, proving that you don’t need endless resources and a huge team to innovate successfully.
On the contrary, Anna Ross’s ambition and ideas continue to grow. As well as looking to increase their international networks over the coming years, one of Kester Black’s long term goals is to base their manufacturing in the countries they’re distributing to. ‘This is far more sustainable, reduces freight costs and creates fair employment opportunities for the local residents’, describes Anna.
We asked Anna to share any business advice she might have for our readers… ’I was once told to begin your business the way you intend to run it’, she says, highlighting the importance of a soft launch of your company. The invaluable lessons learned from Anna’s first two business forays have given her the skills and confidence to think big, act great but work small. ‘I was lucky enough to get it right the third time round!’ she remarks, ‘When you have ironed out all the creases and made all those initial mistakes, launch your brand officially – that’s what people will remember you for.’
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