Painting The Town: Télle Moi's Journey To Nail Polish Success
I've been following your brand Télle Moi and your journey for a long time, and I must say, it's been an incredible experience. Watching someone grow, learn, and achieve their dreams is a truly inspiring thing. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How did you get into the nail polish industry?
Sure, so I was born and grew up In East London, but my parents are both from the Caribbean, St Kitts and St Vincent. I’ve worked in a few different industries, but spent most of the time in property and education.
I actually have a degree in International business with law which is completely not nail polish related, but I’d definitely say it’s helped in terms of running the business overall! I’ve also now recently completed a Level 3 Nail Technology qualification, so that fits a bit more in line!
I got into Nail Polish purely out of sheer curiosity. I've always enjoyed doing my own nails, which during university was a tactic to save money, but ultimately it just continued.
What inspired you to start your own nail polish company, and what was the biggest challenge you faced in starting your business?
For me it was the lack of diversity and inclusion in the nail polish shades. I’d go to buy a nude shade and only see lighter or darker versions of pink, which just really didn’t suit my tone or encompass exactly what I was looking for. As I tend to do with most things, I decided to take it into my own hands and to find a way of creating my own shades. It originally started as me just wanting to have an amazing range when I’d go to paint my nails, but after making it for friends, family and colleagues. I started selling them and it became a business.
I think because of how I started was quite a large challenge as I had to then learn how to manoeuvre from a business to friends and family. I also did not start with a lot of capital and purchased very gradually as the business grew, so trying to meet demands was quite difficult initially.
How do you come up with the colours and names for your nail polish products, and what is your creative process like?
In terms of the colours, I tend to be inspired by what I see. I can look through 100s of pictures of different models with a variety of skin tones and mix a shade as to what might suit them best. I tend to keep an eye on what’s popular in fashion and make colours that can suit seasonal trends such as deeper and more rich shades for winter.
The names I always try to link the names to the colour, but also particularly for the nudes are often named, or incorporate the names of friends and family who inspired the shades. For example ‘Gracious Coffee’, my friend Grace who has a gorgeous rich brown complexion, who was actually one of my models on Dragons’ Den inspired this shade. I really try to create names that have a story behind them. But also it can also be about names that are a bit tongue in cheek, such as ‘No Spray Tan’ or ‘See You Latte’ anything that might grab your attention, but still centre around the colour.
What do you think sets your nail polish brand apart from other competitors in the industry, and how do you stay ahead of the curve in terms of trends and innovation?
I’d always say that at the forefront of my brand are creating colours that keep black women in mind and at the forefront. Which is something, particularly in nail polish, that is not common. Even from choice of hand models, brands are now catching on and are very much trying to be more inclusive in the range of shades available.
There is still quite a long way for them to go. And I think the issue isn’t that the competitors can’t create the shades. It’s that they don’t see the value or need in doing so and I think there’s definitely an oversight into how nude nail polish shades are marketed.
How do you approach marketing and promoting your brand, and what channels have been most effective for you?
So for me, Instagram has definitely been the main way of marketing my business. I have been extremely lucky in the past to have received some very prominent PR, most of which from a company called Jennie Holland, PR, and they were able to get my brand in to some amazing publications, such as Black Hair and Beauty magazine, but also we’ve had some honourable mentions from Nail Artists in magazines, such as Vogue. Of course, being in publications like that have a great impact on the business, but I definitely would say consistent email marketing definitely contributes to more sales from existing customers.
As well as a new round of customers finding us through platforms like TikTok, so I find it important to be in as many places as possible, and obviously we’ve got a huge amount of customers who found us from watching Dragons’ Den.
Can you tell us about your experience pitching your business on Dragon's Den? What was the preparation process like, and how did it feel to be in front of the Dragons?
I have to say it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I just wanted to make sure that I was prepared beyond anything because I know that they can be brutal about numbers and for me I wanted to make sure that I knew my numbers off the top of my head. I rehearsed and rehearsed all the way up until I was in front of them because I did not want to get them wrong.
But there’s a lot of other preparation that you don’t necessarily see on TV. In the run-up to filming for Dragons’ Den I probably sent across about 300 files and documents that I had compiled about my business prior to being accepted to filming, so that’s everything from safety documents to accounts, sales figures and everywhere that I’ve ever sold my product and every single supplier if ever dealt with. So it was an intense amount of information and even up until the day before filming I was still obtaining accounts information to ensure it was up-to-date. Obviously going on TV. You can’t say anything that’s not factually true or that you’ve not supplied any information for so if I wanted to say on TV, for example, it’s vegan, I had to produce a document to confirm my products were vegan.
Since appearing on Dragon's Den, how has the exposure impacted your business? Have you seen an increase in sales or interest in your brand, and how have you been able to leverage the publicity to grow your company?
I would definitely say immediately after the episode aired, I had a huge increase in sales, more than 100 orders before the end of the programme. Which was obviously amazing and mind blowing. Considering on a good week, I might get 10-15 orders so to get that in the space of an hour was amazing. I would definitely say there were a few emails that came in of interest and I’m still currently in conversation with regards to potential different ideas and ways of growing the business. I would definitely say it has begun to quieten down now. It’s been about three weeks since the programme has aired and I think sometimes people are under the illusion that being on a programme as massive as Dragons’ Den is going to catapult you into fame and lots of money which unfortunately isn’t true. Of course the orders definitely generated quite a lot of income, but also knowing that I was going to get an influx of orders. I had to ensure I had purchased enough stock in advance so I had spent quite a lot preparing.
I think in order to leverage publicity to grow the brand I tried to make sure that I had content ready to describe who I am, what my story is about and what I’m looking to do moving forwards. Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly what might come from Dragons’ Den but I knew it would be important for me to know how I want to transform the brand in case someone decided they wanted to invest.
Can you share any lessons you've learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey, and any advice you would give to other women who are looking to start their own business?
Most definitely, I would always say start where you are at. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for you to begin putting yourself out there. A lot of the opportunities I received were at a point where I still felt like my products and my brand weren’t necessarily good enough, but people can often see the vision and you can sometimes be over critical of your product.
Also, something I wish I had done at the start was to keep better track of my expenditure and income. When I first started Télle Moi, I didn’t start it as a business, it was purely a hobby that paid. So when trying to catch up my figures and work out how much I’d spent or how much I’d made in certain places. I had to do additional work to catch myself up. Whereas had I kept track from the beginning, I wouldn’t have needed to spend extra time getting that information. So I’d say the moment you decide to start a business, how do you mean to go on and start your records from early!
What does a typical day look like for you as the founder of a successful nail polish company, and how do you manage your time and priorities effectively?
It really does vary because currently I still work part time, as I like to reinvest all profits back into the business for new products and stock. I currently work three days a week in education so on the two days that I’m not working as well as evenings and weekends I dedicate to Télle Moi, so it is quite intense. For me it’s always about creating a list of what needs to get done and then prioritising the best time to do it.
I really try to work smarter and not necessarily harder. For example, I will often combine tasks where I can, so if I know I am going to work I will make a stop at the post office on the way to the office, so I know that the evening before I go into work all of the orders need to have been packaged and completed ready for me to just grab at the door on my way out, therefore I don’t have to add an additional task to my day.
How do you ensure the quality and safety of your nail polish products, and what steps do you take to stay up to date with industry regulations and standards?
In the cosmetic market in the UK there are some really extensive rules and regulations that you need to adhere to in order to even market your brand in the first place. The gov.uk website is a very good source of information on how to do that as your products need to be compliant with the Office for Product Safety and Standards.
For that reason, there are certain documents that you have to obtain prior to marketing your products called cosmetic safety product reports (CSPR) and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Essentially these list all of the ingredients that your product has in them and how for example, they would affect the body when applied. These documents need to be obtained when dealing with suppliers in order to verify that the products meet the quality and safety standards within the UK, as well as personally testing every product that I’ve ever put onto the market.
Being a part of the cosmetic product safety notifications I get information emailed to me with regards to changing regulations but also it’s important to just stay on top of social media and see what people are saying with regards to particular products. For example, there are some known allergens in gel polish for example, so to ensure my products are usable by the majority, I will choose a supplier that does not use those particular ingredients.
What are your future goals and plans for your nail polish brand, and how do you see the industry evolving in the years to come?
The biggest thing for me is getting Télle Moi to be more visible and in more accessible places. Ideally I’d love to see Télle Moi in Boots or Superdrug, but also to have our products in nail shops across the UK. I do think, especially given current circumstances, such as cost of living. We will still have a large number of people discovering the idea of doing their nails at home, so growing in a way that accommodates the market of home users will always be one of our primary aims.
It would be an absolute dream to have our own Télle Moi Nail salon where you can purchase the products to use at home, but also have the option of having your nails done with our products by a qualified nail tech too. I think we’ll definitely see a number of different nail brands developing in the next few years. It’s a massively growing space and particularly with the cost of living crisis. We’re seeing so many more people up to do their nails at home. It's important to ensure that we have the best products available at the best possible price.
Finally, what do you hope your customers feel when they use your nail polish products, and what message do you want to send to women who wear your brand?
Above everything, I want my customers to feel like they are representing something bigger than just a standard nail polish brand and that they’re driving inclusivity into an industry where there hasn’t really been that impact yet. I want them to feel empowered, included, and to have beautifully healthy nails, however they decide to wear them.
To anyone who wears my brand, I would just say that you are all amazing for supporting my vision and for believing in my brand. It’s always mind blowing to me when someone spends their hard-earned money with me instead of on the variety of items that they could be purchasing! It just means the world so all I can really say to them is thank you and I will always do my best to give you my best.
Interviewed by Lenique Louis Jewellery Trend Editor