Rachel James' Nail Care Brand, Pear Nova, Offers Polishes That Complement All Skin Tones

Each luxury lacquer from the CEO and founder's collections is made with clean, cruelty-free ingredients.

rachel james of pear nova
Photo: Courtesy of Pear Nova

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

A fresh coat of nail polish is more than just color splashed on your fingertips: It's a confidence booster and an accessory you can switch up week after week. And for Rachel James, the CEO and founder of Pear Nova, a luxury nail and self-care brand, this art of expression was a defining part of her childhood (she loved giving her mom manicures and pedicures). Throughout high school, her passion for beauty never let up—and post-grad, she got an aesthetician license before earning a degree in fashion merchandising.

Her "lightbulb" moment to start her own business came when she created a mock-up brand in a marketing class just ahead of college graduation. Though all of her peers ideated fashion labels, she decided to make a nail polish line. "My professor was blown away by my presentation and told me I should go work for OPI," she says.

James, however, had another plan. She wanted to be her own boss from day one, so she simply Googled "how to start a nail polish brand" and got to work. "Nail polish felt like the perfect combination of fashion and beauty, because it's both an accessory and a beauty product," she says.

She also identified a major hole in the market: "There was a void in medium to dark skin tones being shown center stage in the nail world," James says. Through Pear Nova, she celebrates all skin tones and infuses her love for runway trends, travel, food, music, her home in Chicago, and inspirational female pioneers into every collection.

pear nova nail polish
Courtesy of Pear Nova

Being Her Own Boss

James has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She points to the garage sales and lemonade stands she hosted growing up, noting that these were the roots of her career. But when she founded Pear Nova in December 2012, she knew that being a curious "student" in her industry helped set her brand apart from the rest. "Good examples of indie nail brands were rare at the time, so I did a lot of research on color cosmetics and the beauty industry itself, then began to hand-mix nail lacquer in my parents' basement," says James.

With the help of a cosmetic chemist and YouTube, she learned the basics of formulation so she could make beautiful polishes from scratch during the first two years of Pear Nova's existence. From the beginning, she ensured that all of her classic and gel polishes were 10-free, sans formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, camphor, formaldehyde resin, xylene, parabens, fragrances, phthalates, and animal ingredients. Those efforts resulted in the widely-revered brand that Pear Nova is today.

Spreading the word was also integral to the company's success: "Instagram and Twitter were my main platforms to share my journey," she says. "After seeing the positive reactions to the nail shades, inspiration, and color palettes, my confidence grew."

rachel james

I'd love for Pear Nova to influence our supporters to create new color palettes, express themselves through nail art, and discover new ways to practice self-care.

— rachel james

Iconic Inspiration

James draws inspiration from everything around her, including her closest friends and favorite movies. "For example, our new Pear Nova x Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Layovers Collection was inspired by Wakanda's rich culture, female governance, and everything within the fictional world," she says, adding that she wanted to create a product that would make her sons proud. "In creating our first collection of Layovers [or faux nails], I was able to pay homage to the story that inspired so many and express the adoration I felt for Black Panther and Wakanda."

pear nova layovers
Courtesy of Pear Nova

She cites Michelle Obama, Frida Kahlo, Diana Ross, and Cleopatra as her real-life muses, and the Pear Nova BRWNGRLMGC Collection, which features nude nail shades for medium to deep skin tones,was inspired by these icons. Her goal is to create these types of long-lasting, inclusive lacquers forever. "It seems our community was so used to compromising, especially when it came to cosmetic shades suited for medium to deep skin tones," she says. "In my mind, it was way overdue."

As for some of her favorite polishes that are available right now? She's loving the Pear Nova "Aloe-Ha" Classic Lacquer, Pink Collar Crime Duo, and Casa Corazón Gel Lacquer, which are all flattering for fall.

Making a Difference

By creating her nail polish brand, James channeled her creativity and became her own boss—but she has also inspired other entrepreneurs along the way. "I receive so many messages from Black women who have started their own nail brands because of Pear Nova's existence," says James. "I'd love for Pear Nova to influence our supporters to create new color palettes, express themselves through nail art, and discover new ways to practice self-care."

If you're in the process of building a business, prioritize slowing down, says James. "I was always so excited about releasing or sharing something that I would turn around, wish I did it differently, and try to backtrack," she says. Instead, she suggests taking everything moment by moment and, most importantly, enjoying the journey. Although becoming an entrepreneur can be nerve-racking (an emotion James feels at times!), believing in yourself is the key to going far, she shares.

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