When Kester Black founder Anna Ross was 14, her parents took her family on the trip of a lifetime. Her father, a truck driver from rural New Zealand, “saved his entire life to take my sister and I to Disneyland,” she says. “We were really into Disney when we were kids.”
She particularly remembers meeting Mickey and Minnie at Mickey’s House. “It was wild,” she says now. “I’ve still got the photos.”
With those memories to draw on, Ross relished the opportunity to develop a one-off custom range to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 90th milestone. The collection includes five Kester Black nail polishes in classic Mickey colours (red, yellow, white, black and a nude) in bottles displaying his iconic silhouette. The same colours have been used to create a nail-art set.
It was a “super fun” project to work on, says Ross. Other characters have come and gone, but Mickey Mouse is “still number one. He’s got one of the most recognisable faces in the world.”
Ross founded Kester Black as a fashion label in 2009 before switching to jewellery design. While researching methods to colour her jewellery she realised there were very few ethical nail polishes available. It was a light-bulb moment and she decided to try her hand at developing a cruelty-free nail polish.
She “found a chemist on Gumtree” and together they reworked the nail-polish formula to remove chemicals that were derived from animals or were toxic. The final result was Kester Black’s patented 10-Free formula, a polish free from chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene and parabens.
“We launched six nail-polish colours in 2012 and tripled the turnover of the business in three months,” says Ross. “So we dropped the jewellery and have done just nail polish ever since.”
Kester Black’s products are made in Australia, palm oil- and cruelty-free, and vegan – important in an industry that frequently relies on animal-derived ingredients. “A lot of the colours in nail polish are usually animal derivatives – either crushed up beetles or fish scales,” she says.
Kester Black uses natural ingredients where possible – “you can’t get 100 per cent natural nail polish because the colour is synthetic pigment,” Ross explains – and in 2019 the brand is launching a certified organic range. And every year the carbon-neutral company donates two per cent of all its revenue to charities including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), Care Australia and Women’s Community Shelters.
Ross’s label was also the first cosmetics company in the world to get B Corp certification, a rigorous accreditation process that shows a business has met the highest standards of accountability, transparency, and social and environmental performance. “It really makes you assess your own business and look at all the different areas you can improve in,” says Ross.
These days, Ross believes the public expects businesses to operate ethically. “If you don’t do it, you’re going to get cut out of the market pretty quickly.” It has paid off for Kester Black, which now employs a team of six and sells products all over the world. “We have six international distributors and we’re the number-two best-selling nail brand in Sweden,” says Ross.
Malaysia is another huge market for Kester Black thanks to the nail polish’s permeability – it allows Muslim women to take part in wuḍūʾ, an important washing ritual performed before formal prayer, and still paint their nails. “We changed our formula slightly and it meant we weren’t excluding an entire group of customers from our brand,” she says.
Ross enjoys all the different aspects of running such an original business, from product development to customer support. “I also have a creative flair, so [I] love looking after the design and aesthetic of the brand,” she says. “I love the diversity of the projects I get to work on. I’m never just doing the same thing, day in day out.”
Ross has carried her fondness for Disneyland into adulthood. In 2017 she visited Hong Kong Disneyland and has plans to go to the Tokyo amusement park. “You can go as an adult and have a really good time if you go on all the awesome rides,” she says. “You’re never too old for Mickey Mouse.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Disney.