In conversation with Sharmadean Reid

Sharmadean Reid has put nail art at the intersection of fashion, beauty and technology. Founder of WAH Nails, entrepreneur, mum, and mentor, she turned her start-up nail salon into a cult brand. Now she’s on a mission to help women think bigger about their businesses and be economically independent. 

Sharmadean Reid protects her time fiercely. Tell her your day and she’ll tell you how she would do it better, with time to spare for a foot massage. Having been awarded an MBE, she’s credited with changing the face of nail culture and Millennial beauty. Now, she’s swapped the partying of her twenties, for parenting and businesses leadership. 

Named after the feminist hip-hop zine she published whilst studying at Central Saint Martins, WAH Nails has become the go-to destination for nail art. She started her career as a stylist working with Nike and ASOS, before decideding to launch her own nail salon. Using capital from her own savings and investment from a friend, she opened a salon in Dalston, back in 2009. “When I launched WAH, so many people thought it was a fad, but here we are almost a decade later, still with a booked-up salon and having inspired a global beauty trend” says Reid. In addition to the salon, she published two books on nail art (selling 70K copies worldwide) and launched a product line distributed in Boots UK, that sold £1.2million worth of nail products in its first year. After opening and subsequently closing a salon in Topshop, she realised she’d lost a vital connection to her customers. “There’s a lot of talk about retail dying but it’s so important for face to face customer behaviour.” says Reid. It was vital to open another salon, so 18 months later she opened a flagship in Soho. 

Over the past couple of years, Reid has been working on driving the beauty experience forward through technology. Frustrated by archaic salon software, Reid set out to build her own. And far from relying on the expertise of others, she attended as many events, and read as many books as she could. Reid built on her own experience by learning about user experience design, customer journeys and creative technology. Unimpressed by existing virtual reality applications for nails, she partnered with creative duo DVTK, to create a realistic nail design app (that is 3D modelled on her own nails). Whilst WAH’s in-house nail printer means you can send designs straight from your phone to be printed on your fingertips.

Her obsession with text messaging inspired her to enlisted start-up AI-messaging platform, Bowtie, to develop a chatbot that handles appointment bookings. Missed calls mean missed bookings, so any unanswered calls are swiftly replied to with a text that enables booking via chat. Reid likens the process to decision-tree quizzes, that featured in teenage girls’ magazines. She’s is interested in women being more involved in chatbots and AI, as she thinks it reflects how women naturally think. “WAH Soho is my perfect testing ground. Not many people building tech can walk around the corner and ask their potential users specifics like ‘what’s your hourly productivity? I need it for my forecast’” says Reid. 

Reid’s latest venture is Beautystack. This beauty booking platform is born from an understanding of beauty fans and entrepreneurs. Beauty is visual, so this will bridge the gap between online inspiration and booking salon treatments. “Since opening WAH eight years ago, I’ve had to hack together solutions to fit our creativity and admin needs. I thought that now is the time to build a tech product for the next generation of beauty professionals.” says Reid. Launching this year, the first product will be a website builder for independent beauty professionals. The focus is on niche beauty treatments, with visual menus and personal recommendations. Intricate braids and lash extensions are just some of the services that customers will be able to discover and book online. “Because this new market is tech and social media savvy, the goal is to blend an enterprise product with a social product” says Reid. Digitising beauty can often detract from the tactile, personal connection yet Reid manages to make it feel intuitive. “People need human touch, experiences and a personal connection. Treatments give you that. A lipstick doesn’t.” says Reid.

“I personally love people who are fully into their craft, so when I meet a girl who has dedicated her career to the art of the perfect eyebrow, I’m enamoured and impressed.”

Through Beautystack, Reid is helping women grow their own businesses. Beauty is one of the fastest growing markets in the freelance creative economy, yet until now there hasn’t been a platform with the functionality that salon owners and beauty professionals need. “Girls are now choosing beauty because it’s a cool and satisfying career, not as a last resort.” says Reid. From working with hundreds of Millennial and Gen Z beauty pros, and mentoring female entrepreneurs, Reid knows that they want to define their own personal brands. Those selected for this invitation-only platform, will be able to create a truly customisable site, publish their content and crucially manage bookings online. As much has Reid has inspired others in the beauty industry this platform is a manifestation of mutual admiration. “I personally love people who are fully into their craft, so when I meet a girl who has dedicated her career to the art of the perfect eyebrow, I’m enamoured and impressed.” says Reid.

It’s not only the beauty business that motivates Reid. She’s turned her focus to supporting other ‘future girl entrepreneurs’ achieve their goals. She is a mentor, ambassador of BTEC Students and co-founder of FutureGirlCorp. Of course, she still finds time for beauty treatments a couple of times a week that provide essential self-care. Having started out with an idea and zero experience in business, she’s eager to help other women succeed. She is quick to share what she’s learnt, with templates and spreadsheets that help tackle the less glamourous side of running a company. Reid believes that if you have an idea for a business, it could be a global one. FutureGirlCorp aims to help female leaders think 10x bigger about their businesses.

This community is about inspiring the next generation of female CEOs over making a profit. It brings those hard, business skills to a female audience, with industry speakers and practical advice. The free-to-attend events and workshops, cover topics from start-up legalities, to creating user profiles. Reid has set her sights on becoming a global beauty brand, but when asked what’s most important to her, she says: “To help girls become economically independent. That is my calling.”

WAH Nails is located at 4 Peter Street, London, W1F 0AD

Janice Stainton