Friday, December 9, 2011

she sells sheswai by the seashore

Sherman, set the wayback machine to three years ago, the first time I went to a Unique LA holiday event. Amidst all the fun vendors was a table laden with nail polish, as girly and feminine as one might expect (stereotypically, perhaps) a nail polish vendor to be. I would have walked right by except something caught my attention; wooden caps on the bottles and a proclamation in favour of eco-chic. All that was eye catching enough for me to investigate as to what eco-chic nail polish consists of, but then I read the manifesto, which contained this line:

we believe that boys should paint their nails too

And suddenly, I was more than just intrigued. Here was an expression of the kind of “fashionoclastic” spirit I value. Zooks!

The company was Sheswai, the friendly lady behind the table was Debbie Leavitt, and ever since that first encounter I’ve wanted to feature this nice little brand of lacquers on the blog. So what took so long? Bad nail habits, mostly. But after cultivating a healthy dose of vanity and channeling it to good nail care, giving nail polish a second look seemed logical – especially when taken in the context that nice nails are stylish for everyone, and style most definitely includes colour.

As far as men wearing nail polish, it will come as no surprise that I fully support the view that anyone should feel free to paint their nails if it pleases them. I’ve even put on a coat of black polish on occasion. Unfortunately, working in a professional environment, however relative lax in terms of dress code, puts limits on what I can do. Jeans, sandals, western shirts, ornamental skulls…not a problem. Nail polish, however, would be too subversive given that we have consultants and, on occasion, clients coming into the office. Given the effort needed to put on the polish myself, or the expense of having someone do it for me, it's rarely worthwhile for merely a weekend’s wear. Still, I like the idea of colour (even if for my personal palette colour usually means black or neutral) for myself, for everyone. Maybe somebody I'll have free reign...

So let’s talk about Sheswai and nail polish, beginning with a question: have you ever thought about what’s IN nail polish and how the cosmetics industry brings their products to the market? In a recent issue of VegNews, in which Sheswai was featured along with other ethical cosmetic lines, a few facts come to light about nail polish:
  • Typically contain formaldehyde and toluene, both of which are toxic. Polishes used to contain DPB (Dibutyl phthalate, a suspected endocrine disruptor also related to birth defects), but have apparently been gradually phased out since 2006.
  • Can come from companies that use horrific animal tests, including lethal dose testing that pumps substances into an animal's stomach and evaluating reactions that can including convulsions, bleeding, impaired breather, and death.
For conscientious fashionistas concerned about making the most ethical choices possible - and not subjecting animals to testing for the sake of our own vanities - companies like Sheswai offer a welcome and accessible alternative to mainstream brands. Her lacquers aren’t organic and all-natural – “if it were, it wouldn’t be nail polish” – but Debbie nevertheless strives to provide a better product all-around. “What makes Sheswai different from the rest is our approach to packaging and our eco-minded business practices. We believe that painted nails are fantastic accessories so we promote taking care of your nails naturally and painting them with a lovely lacquer you can feel good about supporting,” she says.

Thus: Sheswai lacquers are free of toluene, formaldehyde, and DPBs, aren't tested on animals, and come in glass bottles with caps made of sustainably harvested wood to reduce plastic use.

Of course, the question is: how well does Sheswai lacquers work on actual nails?

A bottle of badass in my hand.

To give you an answer, Debbie very kindly sent me a sample to try out, a bottle of a recently added colour called “badass.” I have to be honest: brown, no matter how lovely a shade, is just not a colour I can fit into my palette. (Rule of thumb: blacks, neutrals, and sanguinary colours.) Personal preference aside, however, badass is certainly a beautiful colour in and of itself, a rich espresso with playful metallic flecks that is, surely enough, pretty badass. I gave it a whirl on my own pointy digits, and despite the fact that I don’t paint my own nails remotely often enough to do a good job at it, was entirely satisfied that Sheswai’s lacquers have the quality to do justice to those of you who are nail polish pros.

Badass in the bottle, kickass on the nails..

So, you get the whole package with Sheswai: beautiful colours, quality chemistry, and eco-sensibilities.

To learn a bit more, I interviewed Debbie via eMail:

With all the various nail polish companies out there - Essie, Urban Decay, and all the usual suspects - you've got a fair amount of competition. Other than obvious moxie on your part, what made you decide to take the leap and stake out your own line of lacquers?

I’ve been a manicurist for many years, and wanted to create a line of nail color from my perspective. I love branding and marketing, and trusted that I had something to share that I had not seen before. Moxie, indeed ;-)

How did you translate your vision into a reality, from choosing the colours to manufacturing the products?

I knew the colors that women tended to choose most often; something soft & sheer, a great red, a dark chocolate shade, etc…so for my first collection of 7 colors I wanted to provide the “back to basics’ with something for everyone. It requires a lot of painting parties with girlfriends to narrow down the perfect red, or the softest sheer crème, but well worth it.

What is the meaning behind the name "Sheswai?"

I made the name Sheswai up…I was on a beach with a friend sharing with her my desire to create a brand, and we started playing with names (something I love to do) and Sheswai was born. This was long before I started dreaming of nail polish. I just knew I wanted to brand my services of natural nail care. Then when it came time to create a line of polish it had to be Sheswai. It’s something feminine, and playful…she-sway’s; like a lady.

On your facebook page, you posted a link to Glamour's blog post on EvolutionMan's line of men's nail polish. As usual, reading the comments chips away at one's faith in humanity. It's the usual prejudice; men who wear nail polish are gay, or unmasculine, or something along those lines. You clearly don't agree with that. You even have it in your manifesto: "we believe that boys should paint their nails too." So what's the deal with men wearing nail polish? Why do you think there's so much resistance to the idea?

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with artists and musicians, most of them men, so doing what I do they would often times be the recipients of color testing. As well as just good ol’ rock & roll fun. These days men & women alike are much more free to express themselves so putting some polish on is just another form of expression. I don’t know that he would paint his nails to match a particular outfit per se, but a painted nail in a dark sexy hue is fun. I also know a lot of Daddy’s with daughters who LOVE to paint nails…and sometimes Daddy has to be the client. Adorable.

Other than moral support, how does Sheswai encourage boys to go against the mainstream and paint their nails?

Easy, express yourself and don’t be bothered by what anyone else thinks. Do what YOU want to do. And remember- it’s just paint, you can take it off.

And what about you...what are some of your favourite ways to dress up your nails?

I love painting my nails! When it comes to getting dolled up for something (or nothing) I like to have a great pop of color on my nails. I like to make it another accessory to what I may be wearing. And sometimes I like to put a little sparkle on my nails with a single crystal stone at the base of each nail; I call it “bindi bling” (A how-to on our blog is coming in December.)

Given your experience in the fashion and entertainments industries, and as the entrepreneurial heart of Sheswai, what's your favourite tip or secret you could offer to anyone painting their nails?

Prepping the canvas is always good before you paint, so moisturize! And then be sure to wipe the nail plate clean with polish remover to remove any oils otherwise the polish will not adhere properly. Skip the basecoat!

What can we look forward to from Sheswai Lacquers? More colours? More beauty products?

Yes, all of the above! I’d love to create a lip/cheek stain and some oil blends and scrubs.

And there you have it. If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, keep an eye open for Unique LA events; chances are you’ll find Debbie there.

Debbie (at right) with friend Marissa at Unique LA Holiday 2011. Obviously, I have a lousy camera.

Of course, you can always visit Sheswai online at Many thanks to Debbie for the sample and for sharing her time with me!

And if you’d like some more tips on colouring your claws, Becky’s got some tips for you at her personal style blog Pump Up the Frump.

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