Real Simple

“I Express My Emotions Through Nail Polish”


Rachel James


SOME PEOPLE WEAR their heart on their sleeve. If you want a clue to Rachel James’s innermost thoughts, you’ll have to look a bit farther down her arm. “The colors on my nails are a reflection of my mood,” says Rachel, a Chicago native. “Even before I was old enough to pick out my own clothes, I was painting my nails, changing the polish color every few days.”

After studying fashion merchandis­ing and having two sons, Rachel decided to make her manicure mania work for her, and she taught herself to mix polish in her parents’ unfinished basement. A lifelong DIYer, Rachel quickly got the hang of the process and, in 2012, launched Pear Nova, a line of vegan, cruelty-free polishes.

She pulls color inspiratio­n from vintage fashion runway imagery, global vacation photos, and, in the case of her popular Brwngrlmgc collection, women of color she admires (the Michelle Our Mama hue, in particular, has been a big hit). Celebs like Alicia Keys, Zendaya, and Issa Rae are reportedly fans of the line.

In 2019, Rachel opened Pear Nova Studio, a nail salon, in a luxe loft space in Chicago’s arts district. Like all salon owners, Rachel has had to roll with the punches of the pandemic, shutting her doors for months at a time and then operating at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing. But, she says, with more downtime, many customers have turned at-home mani-pedis into a form of selfcare—often painting on the most vivid colors they can find.

“Usually in colder months, people gravitate toward dark polish,” Rachel says. “But this past winter, our most popular shade was a neon green. Lately I’ve been drawn to citrus hues, which makes sense because those are the most cheerful colors around.” And who couldn’t use an extra hit of happiness at their fingertips?

TAKE IT FROM ME: “I wish, in the early days of starting my business, I’d known how to appreciate the present moment in the journey and work toward ‘what’s next’ at the same time. I’d worry about how I would grow, and I wouldn’t realize I was right in the middle of what I used to look forward to. Stop and smell the flowers on the way, then get back to work.”

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