WAH Nails are all about championing the hip-hop, hype clothing and youth scene of London. What began as a fanzine group in 2005, and later established in 2008 by founder Sharmadean Reid, WAH Nails celebrates London’s unique culture in the form of nail art. This east London nail cult group is followed and supported by many, a business that thrives off individuality and bespoke works of art. WAH Nails is the perfect partner for the Nike Unite Campaign, where creativity, female partnership and uniqueness is celebrated. Get to know a bit more about this diverse group:
1. The company began as a fanzine based around women in hiphop in 2005, what inspired it to make the jump to painting nails?
For those of you who are like wtf is a fanzine, you’re obviously too young to remember cutting out bits of magazines and sticking them in a little paper book and passing them round to your friends. Basically a fanzine was like a Tumblr page, pre internet. Whatever you were a fan of, you would obsessively collect images, text, poetry, whatever really… and then make a little “zine” and then photocopy it and post it out via snail mail. I was obsessed by hip hop, and in particular women in hip hop. So I gathered all I knew about the subject and made a little magazine that i got printed and handed it out to any girl I saw at a hip hop club. I made 5 issues. It was awesome and I made a lot of friends. Naturally when I had the idea to open a nail salon, I thought it would call it WAH Nails.
I got frustrated that i couldn’t get the same nail designs that I saw on catwalks around the world in my local salon so I decided to make my own!
I just wanted somewhere I could hang out with my friends and we could get our nails done, nowhere was doing cool designs so I decided I was going to do it myself, to be honest I was a bit naïve about the whole thing. I’d started the zine and was giving it out to all the cool girls I knew and saw in clubs, so I’d already built a collective of really cool people. I wanted to showcase nail art in a cool way, it was never a big trend back then, but all my cool girl friends got their nails done and I knew it could be big.
Then I got obsessed with business and proving myself as a female entrepreneur, I didn’t need any men in suits to help me grow my company, they didn’t understand the brand or the mind of a 16-year-old girl anyway.
We’ve been lucky enough to travel for private clients all over the world…We’ve done nails for everyone from British Airways to Marc Jacobs and have travelled to NYC – PARIS – TOKYO – SHANGHAI – BANGKOK – KOH SAMUI – ABU DHABI – MOSCOW – MILAN – COPENHAGEN – BERLIN – AMSTERDAM – ANTWERP!!! In 2009 The WAH brand set up a physical home in the shape of WAH Nails, a salon and creative space in Dalston that provided a real life space for these online fans to connect. WAH Nails completely changed the face of nail culture and beauty by offering a millennial owned, grassroots, community face to the beauty business. WAH Nails expanded into doing the events, shows and parties at London Fashion Week, for brands such as Nike, Marc Jacobs and Diesel, from this WAH then had a successful week-long pop up salon in Selfridges and Sharmadean was named one of the “15 people who will define the future of arts in Britain” and featured as part of the “New Generation” in Vogue magazine. WAH Nails then held a successful salon in Topshop Oxford Circus for 4 years before closing to retain the community experience.
WAH London launched product line distributed in Boots UK selling £1.2million worth of nail products in its first year. Sharmadean wrote the bestselling WAH Book of Nail Art in 2013.
2. It appears that a lot of your brands philosophy is about sisterhood, community and feminism, but what empowers you?
The editors letter in the first issue of my fanzine had a very childlike proclamation of all the things, “We ain’t booty shaking video girls but we ain’t ashamed of our bodies. We ain’t gonna stand back and go unnoticed. We ain’t tryin to be something we’re not. We ain’t gonna moan about the lack of women in hip hop. We ain’t obsessed with our appearance. We ain’t gonna follow the rules. We ain’t feminists. We ain’t stupid. We ain’t hoes.”
Martha Cooper was a personal hero of mine so imagine the shock when I got an email from her saying I saw your zine and its great, but you’re crazy because you’re totally a feminist, you just don’t even know it. I was 22 years old. I thought it was important to learn from your elders…So I schooled myself on Womens Studies from an academic standpoint and did a lot of personal soul searching about what it means to be a woman and thought… ok i get it… I am a Feminist, I believe I can be any “type” of woman I want to be. I believe in equal rights. Period.
The people who I look towards now, are people who’ve turned hobbies and lifestyles into business, along with beauty into business. Nails is such a young industry if you compare it to hair, so there’s not really a pathway now that I can look to to be like “That’s successful.” I think I’m inspired a lot by India Hicks, I really love her. I think she’s awesome, and she still has a massive family life, I’m very big on family. She has an island life, she just seems really chill, and cool, and classy in that very British way, so I do really respect her. I love Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey because they have turned something very female, and domestic, into billion dollar companies. And I do really place a massive importance on enjoying life, not just working.
3. The Unité Totale collection is about celebrating joy in the power of diversity – how does this come through in WAH nails as a company as well as a collective of girls?
We have a diverse employee pool, from different backgrounds, nationalities, sexual orientations and race. A real spectrum of the uniqueness of different girls. This is very important to us as we appeal to a mass audience, and every can partake in the notion of getting their nails done! Our community is widespread from girls in their teens, to the working 9-5 girl, or the boss babe running an empire!
4. The salons are not just salons, they have launch parties, art shows and film nights which builds a culture around WAH— what influenced the decision to create a space that was ‘against the norm’?
WAH Nails is a London-based nail art boutique that kick-started the trend for fashion forward nail art. We have never been a company to follow trends. WAH is community first and our events we facilitate in the space are out give back initiatives, for example, When we launched the American edition of our book in 2012, we celebrated with three parties over three nights in New York. We brought out a 15 strong London crew and a then unknown baby Twigs supported us by performing with her stunning songs and style at the events. She is still very much part of our family.
Fast forward to the launch of WAH SOHO where we were facilitate Thursday lates in-store, a chance for girl-creatives to launch their work, hold exhibitions, zine parties, self care workshops and panels.It is important to support the next generation creatives and offer a space to showcase their work on our platform to meet our community of over 500K people.
5. What would you say to WAH girls who are trying to be heard within the creative industry?
Having the confidence to know you’re as good as everyone else – it’s not that people aren’t willing to support you, often it’s because you’re not asking for it.
To understand and know the history of the female experience. It’s only through knowing what we’ve been through for decades, centuries and millennia, that we can have any understanding of how to change that in our day to day. You can’t determine the future without knowing the past.
6. The company’s journey from being a fanzine in 2005 to doing shows at London Fashion Week is exciting, what do you think is the pivotal reason for the company’s success?
Sharma won a Queens Award for contributing to the Beauty Industry. Feels really weird and I cant wait to meet HRH to get my medal, but in any case, I feel pretty proud to be recognised in this space. The Colour Cosmetics industry is worth 1.6 Billion a year to the UK alone and nails is worth 284 million of that. Furthermore, the nail sector has been growing year on year since… oh 2009… coincidence huh?
7. What is the future looking like for WAH, and where would you like to be as a company?
Mission : To become a global beauty brand & to support other future girl entrepreneurs achieve their goals. This mission is being orchestrated through my new company Beautystack. We’ve always targeted beauty, art and technology as the three main pillars of WAH. We’ve made huge waves in the beauty and art so now we’re focused on the tech. We’re currently looking at new ways to book beauty online and help salon owners take control of their online scheduling management.
8. And lastly- you can paint 1 female hip hop artist’s nails, who would it be and why?!
Cardi B !! She embodies the modern girl, her no nonsense straight talking videos that shes posts online, reflect how important it is for girls to be both seen and heard always!
9. Fire questions:
• Spots or stripes?
• Nudes or fluorescents?
• Lovebox or Wireless?
• Tea or coffee?
• Hip Hop or Grime?
• Autumn or Spring?
• Yoga or Spinning?
• House party or store party?
• Covent Garden or Soho?