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THE PROFESSIONAL: THEA GREEN

The nails inc. founder talks kale, rebranding, and Alexa Chung with The Sephora Glossy.

Thea Green knows manicures. Over the past 15 years, the founder and CEO of nails inc. has turned the UK-based brand from a small string of nail bars into a major global empire. In the midst of rebranding her company with the help of world-famous art director Fabien Baron—a revamp that includes a fantastic redesign of the existing bottles (the bottom perfectly reflects the color on your nail so you can try before you buy!)—Green hopped on the phone with The Sephora Glossy to discuss her latest collection: NailKale. BECKY PEDERSON

Nails inc. is known for its champagne nail bars, as well as sweets-inspired collections. Why are you making the move from decadence to health food?
Well, the inspiration came from the States. I was on holiday and two things happened: One, I saw a group of women walking down the street all carrying their green juices. I didn’t even know what it was at the time because “juicing,” and certainly not green juice, hadn’t hit the UK. Second, once I knew what the green juice was, I was in a restaurant and heard a lady—a proper Upper East Side New Yorker—send back her salad because it was rocket [ed. note: arugula], not kale. And I thought, “Oooh, that’s fascinating!” I love those moments.

So from those experiences, you had a feeling kale was going to be a big deal?
It was a gut feeling, yeah…. I knew kale had great benefits in terms of skin and hair, and I knew in terms of the vitamin element it could well do something for nails. So, at that point, we asked one of our labs whether or not they could test to see if it added any strengthening benefits for nails.

My gut was it probably would. My risk was more whether or not it would work in nail polish because sometimes when you add ingredients it can affect the base and destabilize the formula. But it actually turns out it has great benefits and [is stable].

Then we tested it, as we always do, throughout our nail bars in the UK to get real, live customer feedback, and the feedback was really strong.

Besides NailKale, are you testing other superfoods in your formulas?
We’re working currently on hand and foot skincare products. There’s a sanitizer product that we’re working on…and we’re using those [superfood] ingredients as the basis of testing formulas. Customers already understand those ingredients’ physical benefits, [and] if you already understand an ingredient—you already know there’s a benefit, you’ve already bought into that concept—the idea that you can then use it in different areas of your life is really nice.

I really love the whole superfoods story. I love the idea of “power ingredients.” I think they’re fascinating.

I think it’s really cool that food trends play such a huge role in beauty product development.
We did a great range called Sprinkles, which was inspired by cupcakes because there were all these wonderful sugar pastel candies everywhere at the time.

But [now with] food and health…I feel like the industry has trended back toward the quality of nail polish, back toward the results. Maybe it’s not “special effects”; maybe it’s more about the technologies and the benefits of the products.

We get great customer feedback on our Gel Effect polish. I guess NailKale, in some ways, is similar—albeit a very different formula. It has some similarities in the customer it speaks to: somebody who wants to buy into the latest innovation in terms of quality. Gel is different though because it’s not a nail treatment; it’s a healthy look for your nails. To then have a polish that actually treats your nails at the same time…I felt it was a natural progression.

What textures and shades can we expect to see in the NailKale line?
At the moment, we’ve just put it into color. We’ve done a range of colors. We obviously had to do green [laughs]. We did a green called Bruton Mews—it’s actually a really popular color we’ve had before. [We also included] one of our bestselling colors called Mayfair Lane, which is a baby pale pink that’s got a dirtiness to it. It’s got a gray tone; I like it because it’s a bit more sophisticated than your typical pale pink. The rest are all new colors, and lots of exclusive shades for Sephora.

What we have alongside NailKale is a Superfood Base Coat. It’s a terrific product. [And] the product that I think is fabulous is called Bright Street. It’s an illuminator. So, if you wear something like Benefit High Beam, it’s like that for nails in that it brings out the white of your nails [to make] them look brighter and whiter and healthier. It brings the pink up to the top of the nail so it just gives you, like a makeup illuminator, that almost 3D effect where it captures the light really nicely. You can just wear it by itself—rather than wearing a nude, you just wear this really healthy illuminator. For me, it made my nails look the best they’ve ever looked. So I love that product.

Could you wear Bright Street on top of any color?
Yeah, you could. It could work as a topcoat because it has that lovely shimmer of pearl. It would work over a dark color, but I think it would look amazing over Mayfair Lane. It would just give you that slight hint of gloss and shine. It’s very delicate; it catches the light at just the right time. It’s very pretty.

I have to ask you about Alexa Chung, your newest spokesmodel. How and why did that come about?
Have you seen the picture of her on a bed of kale? She looks ridiculously good. That’s why we have her! [laughs]

Alexa actually wore our black Leather polish probably two years ago now and just tweeted about it, and [then] we just got the most phenomenal customer feedback about the fact that she was wearing it. We got a crazy waiting list because we weren’t in stores yet, and then we sold out online. It made us realize how much she resonated with our customers. We like the idea of having British girls represent the brand. She’s great.

I also wanted to ask you about rebranding your company in collaboration with Fabien Baron.
It’s funny because when I first went to have the meeting with Fabien, I had this mood board of bottles I liked. A few of them were his, but I think when I sat with him, I remember saying a few times, “I like this one even though it isn’t yours,” and he was like, “No, no, no, this one is mine.” [laughs] My research was terrible! Maybe eight out of the ten bottles on my mood board were his anyway!

What was on your board?
Everything that I took in [to the meeting] pretty much—barring one or two items—were fragrance bottles. I think he’s a great person to go to because he’s done a huge amount of packaging and branding and logo work, but one of the things he’s been really successful at is these iconic fragrance bottles. I knew he’d done the Flowerbomb bottle and the Gautier bustier bottle, and that Calvin Klein screw top, the initial CK One that had a bottle top—so simple but just really interesting.

Why were you looking at fragrance bottles to redesign a nail polish bottle?
I wanted to move nails inc. more into the next level of luxury. I don’t think anyone in the nail polish industry has got a bottle that you really want to display on your vanity. I wanted to create something that you would either feel proud to take out of your makeup bag or want to display with your fragrance bottles, in the way that some of the high-end lipstick brands [do it].

Though there’s been so much excitement in the nail industry for the last couple of years, I didn’t think anyone had a bottle that was so…beautiful for the sake of beautiful.

What did you do to make the bottle more elegant?
One of the things we did that you only really do in fragrance—and you don’t really do in makeup—is that we weighted the cap. […] It reminds you of a fragrance bottle when you hold it. It’s something like 50 times heavier than any other nail polish bottle or something ridiculous like that [laughs]. That’s just a little bit of luxury for the sake of luxury.

That sounds more like a blunt weapon!
It’s not actually going to be heavy in your makeup bag or in your handbag, but that weight [creates] that feeling of trust and great quality. Nail polish is always seen as being very practical and I wanted it [to still be] practical from a customer point of view, but to also have that beauty. And again, I just felt like the nail industry was moving in that direction…quality will be very important in the next year or two.

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