Five on Friday: Anna Ross of Kester Black

I love discovering cool new brands and Kester Black, an Australian-made ethical, sustainable, cruelty-free, vegan nail polish brand is my new beauty crush. What started in 2012 as a collection of six colours has grown to over 60 colours, with more than 400 stockists across Australia and NZ, along with a number of international retailers.

After reading about Kester Black, the beliefs behind the company and founder Anna Ross, who won last year’s Telstra Australian Young Business Woman of the Year Award, I was so impressed that I organised a Q&A with Anna so you can get to know her too!

Where did the idea/concept for Kester Black come from?
I started Kester Black in New Zealand as a fashion label whilst studying at university. When I moved to Australia I decided to leave it all behind for a fresh start. I got a job in retail which wasn’t quite satisfying my creative appetite, so I started a business making sterling silver jewellery during the weekends. As business sales grew, so did my boredom of working with silver. I needed something new, so I decided to look into coloured finishes for my pieces and thought that matching nail polishes would be a great addition to my online store. I spent a year looking into the manufacturing of nail polish and was completely appalled with what I found. There weren’t many ethical brands on the market back then and the ones that I did manage to find had very limited colour choices. So, I branched out on my own and took a risk.

How did you come up with the name Kester Black?
I was out boating with friends one day in the Queen Charlotte Sound when we discovered the beautiful St Kester Bay and were sitting on the quaint beach when a priest popped out of the bushes! Followed by nine more priests! It was all very strange as St Kester Bay is inaccessible by road and completely off the grid. So I named it Kester (after the bay) and Black (in reference to the bush walking priests that day). The place is the pinnacle of New Zealand beauty and I wanted my business name to have a tie with where I came from. Pristine, unique and full of colour, St Kester Bay is the perfect namesake for a brand devoted to beautiful design and uncompromising ethical principles.

How long did it take for your idea and plans to become a reality?
After a year of research and development into nail polish, I launched my first six Kester Black nail polish colours in 2012. Within three months, I had tripled my turnover and decided to focus solely on the polish and leave the jewellery side of the business behind. Kester Black is only where it is today with a lot of hard work from my team and a huge amount of support from our exceptional customers. It really has been the loyalty and word of mouth from our customers to allow us to grow so much over the past four years.

Why is it important to you to have an ethical and sustainable business?

Growing up in New Zealand, I spent most of my weekends as a child in a small rural community in Central Otago. I believe that this upbringing instilled a strong belief in environmental stewardship and animal welfare. When I was in the R&D phase of producing nail polish, I learned a lot about the beauty industry’s process which I wasn’t previously aware of. To me, it was an obvious choice to remain vegan and cruelty-free. A couple of my core values are transparency, honesty, and integrity, so obtaining the relevant accreditations was an obvious next step. To make it easy for our community to trust our word we list our product ingredients and accreditations online.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Winning Telstra’s Young Business Woman of the Year Award last year! But also, leading a change in the beauty industry and achieving worldwide recognition of this with features on the BBC and the President of Estonia’s Facebook page.

Where do you find inspiration for colours and how do you choose each specific shade?
Everything. Flowers, architecture, art and design keep my mind thinking of different colour palettes and combinations. It’s a tricky task but one I enjoy as each chosen colour comes with a story. We try to keep our colours diverse, rather than making 100 shades of pink and our Pantone book comes in very handy for the task of choosing new colours!

Where do you stand on the ‘lighter shades in summer and warmer, deeper colours in winter’ theory?
I think people only do that to match their nails to their clothing. Personally, I like pastels all year round but that’s the best thing about nail polish. There are no set rules so you have the ability to be able to express yourself all year round with whichever colours you please!

Who gets the job of coming up with names for each colour?
It’s our favourite office job that we do as a collective. Sophie, Kim, Jacinta and I usually deliberate over a few names and then pick the most interesting one out of the bunch.

How many colours are now in the collection and what are your top three personal favourites?
We have just over 60 nail shades in our collection as it’s growing with more releases this year from our Pantone collaboration, too. My three favourites are Sky, Lilac and Petal.

What’s your ideal way to spend a Sunday?
Oh, have a sleep in! My sleep in’s are usually only until about 8am but it’s nice to hang out in bed for another hour. Then I like to get up and go for a walk. We sometimes head over to Edinburgh Gardens for a picnic with wine in the park. And to top off the day and set myself up for the next week I love going to 6pm yin yoga. It calms my body down and I go to sleep really easily after an evening yin class.

What are your hopes for 2017?
I have been working on a number of new innovative products but the most exciting one we’ve been working on is an ethical, vegan, cruelty-free gel nail product that’s going to change the mani/pedi industry. This gel nail product can be applied at home and removed with normal nail polish remover, reducing exposure to harmful chemicals in the usual gel process.

You can shop Kester Black here and follow them on Instagram and Facebook. If you visit the website be sure to check out the Journal section – it’s filled with cool tips and tricks, including how a pantry staple can help you mop up nail polish spills #lifehack! (read it here).

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