Anna Ross was working on a jewellery project when she stumbled on the idea that would lead her to becoming Telstra’s Young Business Women’s award winner.
Ross had worked a number of day jobs across her career, but boredom was setting in with her current projects and when she started researching nail polish to use to paint stirling silver for a jewerly design, she discovered that this corner of the cosmetics world was marked by harsh chemicals and a poor reputation on animal cruelty.
“When I started looking into it I realised it was very bad,” she tells SmartCompany.
“But I don’t believe it’s up to the consumer to work these things out for themselves.”
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Realising that nobody in Australia had come up with a good alternative, Ross started working with a chemist to develop a line of vegan, water based nail polish products. Three years later, customers rank the Kester Black brand as better than global name Butter London and in line with big player OPI.
The business started small, but Ross quickly found new markets to supply.
“We were doing $7000 in one year [at the start] and thought it was amazing,” she says.
Now the brand has developed a cult following in the Australian, European and New Zealand markets and has recently picked up a distributor in Asia.
“The biggest expansion has been in the Middle East,” Ross says. One of Kester Black’s development projects has been coming up with a nail polish for Muslim women, with its water-based formula suitable to be worn during prayer rituals.
“A young Muslim woman approached me and asked me whether or not we made [this type of product],” Ross says.
“I thought, that’s crazy – these women need an option.”
The lesson from that experience is “listen to your customers” – for the good of their satisfaction and potential growth of the brand.
“It’s pretty much the best nail polish on the market in terms of safety on chemicals,” Ross says.
“And we’re the first cosmetics company in the world to get BCorp certification.”
BCorp is a network of companies working towards social impact, and the nod to Kester Black is an endorsement of the positive social impact that the company makes – something Ross says she thinks about every day, from the paid parental leave policies that the company has for staff, to a positive attitude on work life balance.
“I had quite a few jobs – I was working in fashion for a while. But it’s kind of less stressful even though I’m a small business owner now,” she says.
Telstra Australian Businesswoman of the Year Awards
This year’s winners include a number of entrepreneurs who have found a new way to communicate the value of their businesses to the country.
The winner of Businesswoman of the Year for 2016 is Andrea Mason, CEO of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council in the Northern Territory.
As CEO of the council she is responsible for 413 members, and works to support women and their families in support of employment and the leading of happy lives across the Northern Territory. She was recognised for her commitment to helping Aboriginal Australians get fair access to employment, services and the workforce.
Other winners of the evening include:
- 2016 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award winner – Jenny Paradiso, Suntrix
- 2016 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Public Sector and Academia Award winner – Inspector Virginia Nelson, Queensland Police Force
- 2016 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Corporate and Private Award winner – Jackie McArthur, Martin Brower
- 2016 Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award winner – Rituparna Chakraborty — TeamLease Services Ltd