The Best Summer Manicure Color, According to Pear Nova Founder Rachel James

"If you're wearing prints and loud colors on your body, you can keep things simple on your nails."

Beauty Boss: Pear Nova Rachel James
Photo: Courtesy

When you don't know the answer to a beauty question, the first thing to do is Google it.

That's exactly what Pear Nova founder Rachel James did when inspiration struck for her own nail polish brand. Unfortunately, there weren't very many indie lines back in 2012, so when James searched "how to start a nail polish brand," she didn't get very many results.

However, James still took her idea to create a luxury, vegan, cruelty-free nail polish brand — that she originally came up with while studying fashion merchandising in college — and turned it into a successful line of traditional and gel nail polishes inspired by her love of fashion, beauty, music, and her hometown of Chicago.

In 2019, James opened Pear Nova Studio, a luxury salon in Chicago where fans can get professional manicures with her brand's cult-favorite, award-winning polishes.

Here, we caught up with James to find out how she built a successful brand without any beauty industry connections, her must-try summer manicure trends, why diversity in the beauty industry can't wait, and more.

What was your relationship to beauty growing up? How did it inspire Pear Nova?

I grew up being DIY type of girl. I learned how to do my hair, my brows, and I faithfully painted my nails every couple of days. I even remember giving my mom manis and pedis all the time. After high school, I got my aesthetician license and then I went to school for fashion merchandising. After having different jobs as a teenager, I knew I wanted to work for myself. A lightbulb moment went off right around the time I graduated college. I did a marketing presentation for one of my classes and made up a fake nail polish line even though everyone else did fashion lines because we were in fashion school. My professor was blown away by my presentation and told me I should go work for OPI. I didn't want to work for a brand, so I literally went home that day and Googled "how to start a nail polish brand." Nail polish felt like the perfect combination of fashion and beauty because it's both an accessory and beauty product.

How did you end up formulating Pear Nova's nail polishes on your own?

I was put in contact with a cosmetic chemist who told me the basics of nail polish. She even helped me learn how to make my own. I was making nail polish in my parents' basement for the first two years of Pear Nova because I couldn't afford the cost of using a lab or manufacturer. It was a very interesting process and I can't believe my parents let me do that because I was working with flammable chemicals and could have blown up the whole house. Luckily, I don't have to do that anymore.

Our classic nail polish formula is 5-free and our gel polish formula is 10-free. All of our products are vegan and cruelty free. First and foremost, I wanted to create a luxury product but I also wanted to keep health in mind.

What's your approach to creating nail polish colors and collections?

When I first started, I was super hard on myself and tried to put out seasonal collections. As a creator, I felt like it was stopping me from making things that I truly love. Now, I go off of what inspires me and speaks to me in that specific moment. I've made collections based off the the runway, music, and Chicago. BRWNGRLMGC is one of our most popular collections. It's a set of nudes I made after women who I felt have influenced the masses. It's also a celebration of medium-to-darker skin tones, which is something I think is missing. Our most recent summer gel collection, Trip to Tulum, was inspired by a family trip for my parents' 40th anniversary. It wanted to bottle up the peace, love, and creativity I was feeling in Tulum, and I hope those feelings come through the colors.

What do you think are some of this summer's big nail trends?

I've been seeing press-ons everywhere and I think that even though a lot of nail salons are opening back up, they're still going to be popular, because there are women that may not feel comfortable getting their nails done yet. I think bright colors are always in for summer because everyone is getting out of their funk and the dark colors we typically wear during fall and winter. Also, I love a great nude nail in the summertime. If you're wearing prints and loud colors on your body, you can keep things simple on your nails.

VIDEO: How to Remove Your Gel Manicure Without Going to the Salon

More so than ever, diversity is a huge focus in the beauty industry. What do you think needs to change in the nail/manicure space?

We need to see us in boardrooms, campaigns, and social media. Right now, there's just a magnifying glass on everything and I think it is a great time for everyone to step back, realize what has been going on, and make changes. Skin tones should be celebrated, the variety should be there, and the partnerships and people you work with shouldn't be all the same. When Pear Nova has done New York Fashion Week, we've partnered with Black women who were lead manicurists. Things like that might seem small, but it's so, so important to see us everywhere. As a Black woman with a business, it's very easy to create things for yourself or to even see things and imagine things on someone like me. Yes, I created Pear Nova for me, but it's so much bigger than that right now. As a consumer, being able to see yourself is super important.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received about starting your own business?

None of my family or friends are entrepreneurs so while they were all supportive of me, I never really received any advice about starting my own business. Thinking back, I wish someone told me to slow down. I was always so excited about releasing or sharing something that I would turn around, wish I did it differently, and try to backtrack. Also, take in and enjoy the process because it's a journey. I'm still on this journey and nowhere near the end of it. Lastly, quickly learn how to work through your fear. I still get scared to this day when I'm releasing anything because I wonder if people are going to like it. As an entrepreneur you have to believe in yourself, so trust your own crazy and work through your fear. I think that goes so, so far.

Shop Pear Nova's Nail Polishes

Nail Lacquer in One Piece Wonder

Best Black-Owned Nail Polish Brands

To buy: $12;

GEL Lacquer in Lunar Halo

Best Black-Owned Nail Polish Brands

To buy: $19;

Nail Lacquer in Lemon Drop Logic

Best Black-Owned Nail Polish Brands

To buy: $12;

Nail Lacquer in Kissu Miss You

Best Black-Owned Beauty Brands

To buy: $12;

Nail Lacquer in Michelle Our Mama

Best Black-Owned Beauty Brands

To buy: $12;

Beauty Boss profiles the brains behind the brands making waves in the beauty industry. From the ideas that first inspire brands to how best-selling hair, makeup, and skincare products are made, find out how these leaders get it done.

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