When I meet the sassy stylist-turnedentrepreneur it doesn’t take long for me to understand why Sharmadean Reid has become a household name in the nail industry – and earned an MBE for her services to beauty.
Reid had a vision, to create a hightech nail bar for generation Z that embraces a feminist attitude and millennial voice, and she has done just that with nail art salon Wah Nails. Aged just 25, she opened the first site in Dalston, London, in 2009, making her an early adopter of the nail art trend, and seeing her dubbed the “poster girl for British nail art”.
Since then she has had a successful four-year concession in Topshop’s Oxford Circus store, hosted pop-up nail bars, opened her second Wah salon in London’s Soho and launched a Wah Nails product range to boot.
“I wanted to create a space for women like myself – a cool, chilled, stylish place that was different, not only in the nails, but in the interior design and the way we operated,” says Reid.
And what Reid does is certainly different. Take the Soho salon – its walls are lined with neon lights, customers drink champagne and socialise with one another, any nail art design goes and virtual reality headsets are available so clients can digitally create their design before having it painted by a Wah tech.
Work of art
As a result of its early success, Wah Nails is now known for its fashion-forward nail art creations, so it’s no wonder hiring is a concern for Reid. “My biggest challenge is employing more staff to a certain standard so we can make more money to cope with demand – our books are full most days”, she says.
The salon has a policy of hiring anyone from any background, providing they are creative, have their own individual style and are willing to learn. “I hire those who don’t have nail qualifications but show crazy artistic skills, and then I help them get the qualifications they need – from basic manicure up to acrylics,” says Reid. She also hires techs who are good at the basics but aren’t skilled in nail art, providing they are willing to upskill.
Working in a saturated market is also a challenge. “We’re in Central London, so we’re not just competing with other nail bars in the city but also with each client’s local salon – the one by their house which is more convenient. We’re even competing with the popularity of home-use gel kits,” says Reid.
”I wanted to create a space for women like myself – a cool, chilled, stylish place that was different, not only in the nails, but in the interior design and the way we operated”
Despite this, the entrepreneur believes her offering remains strong. “Everything about Wah as a holistic package can’t be replicated,” she says. “Nails is a social product and I understand that. You sit and talk to the customer for 45 minutes. In my salons, we use it as a unique way to build friendships, communities and partnerships with other women.”
One way Reid does this is by letting those in the community use her salon space for free to promote the work they’re doing, from fanzine and clothing launches to mental health awareness workshops. She also hosts her own FutureGirlCorp workshops for beauty professionals, covering everything from creating a viable business plan to financial forecasting.
“When I started Wah, there were things I could have been told about building a business that would have saved me a lot of time and money,” she says. “I want to share my knowledge and teach those coming into the industry those concrete things.”
Studies for a degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion at University of the Arts London
Launches Wah as a hip hop magazine for girls while at university
Opens first salon in Dalston and launches Wah Power Lunches (workshops for beauty pros)
Teams up with Topshop in Oxford Circus to open an in-store Wah concession
Publishes first book, Wah Book of Nail Art
Awarded an MBE for services to the nail and beauty industry
Opens second Wah salon in London’s Soho and rebrands Wah Power Lunches to FutureGirlCorp
Gears up to launch salon software system Beautystack – a new way to book beauty online
Reid recently appointed a new manager for the Soho salon who told her she was massively undercharging for the Wah service, and the entrepreneur admits that it has always been an issue. “It’s because you feel kind of guilty. As a nail tech, you think ‘Oh, I don’t want to charge £50 or £70 for something, it seems like a crazy amount of money,” but the fact is, nail art takes skill and time,” she says.
The price war
Wah doesn’t have a set price list for nail art as each design is priced individually, but Reid tries to work around the concept of a pound a minute, “so if something takes an hour we charge £60 for it,” she says. “If you want to be fly and look different to everyone else then it’s expensive.”
Bringing augmented reality tech into the salon environment was also a big risk, but it has helped boost the brand’s reputation. “I really wanted the Soho salon to be innovative, but virtual reality (VR) is not for everyone. The cost is high, there isn’t a clear payback from the get go and there’s no eco system for people to manage it,” explains Reid.
She says salons can embrace the digital era just by using the tools on their phone: “Using Instagram stories and creating your own Snapchat sticker frame for clients to use in salon will enhance the experience.”
Reid is now working on a salon software management system for beauty pros who mainly use images to promote themselves. “If you think about the age of the iPhone and using social media for consumption, most systems were built before this – pre-the ‘era of image’. I’m building software for this century,” says Reid.
Breaking the mould
Beautystack (beautystack.com) will be for individual practitioners and will have customisable, image-based scheduling, with “clients not just able to like a picture but book a picture,” says Reid, meaning they can click on a nail art image to book an appointment for that particular look.
“I’m doing this because I get really upset when salons pay web designers up to £5,000 to build a site that they then can’t update, and which has a completely different booking system because it’s hosted by their management software provider.”
The software will be available to use from October. “Because I run a salon, I think I’m in a unique position to know the features salon owners need instead of what people think they want,” says Reid.