Money & Career

Anna Ross Went From High School Dropout To Wildly Successful Nail Polish Empire

Her secret? Lots of wine

When global beauty juggernauts like OPI and Sally Hansen make it their business to keep a watchful eye on yours, you know you’ve made it.

For Anna Ross, that moment came when her Australian-made, cruelty-free and vegan nail polish brand, Kester Black, was stocked in David Jones alongside the mega power players of the mani/pedi arena. Shelf space in cult American chain Anthropology followed, plus collaborations with Audi, Saba and Virgin Australia.

It’s not too shabby for a business that started with just $50 Ross set aside from her meagre retail wages in 2009. She’s now making millions each year.

“I was kicked out of school and my career’s advisor told me I’d never be successful,” Ross admits. “I had a lot of people who didn’t believe I could do it, but I always knew I could.”

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With a background in fashion under her belt, she started making sterling silver jewellery – that initial $50 was funneled into $100 worth of jewellery “and it rapidly went from there.” A brainwave saw the fledgling business move completely into nail polish in 2012, and she’s now expanding into natural skincare.

Going all-natural wasn’t on the cards until Ross began researching nail polish ingredients – and was appalled by what she found. “Most nail polishes still contain crushed up beetles or fish scales to get different colours, and a lot are still tested on animals,” she says.

Not impressed, Ross set out to formulate cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic polishes. For three years, she worked tirelessly from her bedroom while holding down a full-time job. “I would come home, pack and dispatch orders and do everything I needed to do to run my business on the weekends and at night,” she recalls. Fast forward to 2017 and Kester Black occupies a three-storey building in Melbourne’s Collingwood, with a staff of seven.

Those staff have a pretty decent time of it: after attending a women’s leadership program, Ross, a longtime philanthropist, realised she wasn’t running her business in a way that aligned with her values. “I decided I wanted to make sure my company was an awesome place for staff to work,” Ross says. After calling a staff meeting to find out exactly what they wanted, she got an office dog, moved to recyclable packaging, got B Corporation certification and chose two primary charities to donate two per cent of Kester Black’s revenue to each year: Educate Girls and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. She also donates $1 from each sale to charity.

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But back to the wine. Kester Black – the name, the logo, the bottle and the first six colours – was born in just one night, when Ross gathered her girlfriends for a night in. “That’s how you get the best work done,” she maintains. “With a bottle of wine.”

Secret to success: 
It’s all grit and determination! 

Breakfast of champions: Hasn’t your mother told you?! Porridge of course! Or a green smoothie. 

Best advice you’ve received: When you need help, ask an expert. Then negotiate like crazy on the price! 

Hardest lesson you’ve learnt: That nail polish is very difficult to ship…
Your best job interview tip: It’s all about storytelling. Illustrate your answer.
Coffee order: Green tea!
Wind down/relaxation: Meditation, yoga, or going to the park on a Sunday with a bottle of Rosé and a picnic. 


Anna Ross will be speaking at Make Nice: Un-conference for Creative Women 2017 in Sydney on September 22-23. Find out more here.

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