Start Up Of The Week: 516 Polish

Start Up Of The Week: 516 Polish

Judy Nadel ・ 17 August 2020

Swatch diversity is our way of showcasing relatable nail polish imagery for the everyday person who loves having polished or well-groomed nails. You don’t have to be perfect to be reposted, we celebrate everyone, unedited, always.

As part of our efforts to support plant-based start-ups as much as we possibly can during this tough time, we are going to be shouting out a business each week and promoting them on our blog, social media, and business newsletter!

The start-up of the week 516 Polish, the UK’s first indie nail polish brand championing swatch diversity, created by Wunmi Ladele.

Can you share with us the story behind 516 Polish?

I created 516 Polish because I saw a clear gap in the market, especially in the UK, for an indie nail polish brand that is formulated specifically to compliment women with darker skin tones, whilst celebrating diversity and inclusion.

Often mainstream nail polish brands (and even indie nail polish brands) will tend to swatch their colours on models and customers with white skin almost exclusively. Representation for women that look like me always felt like an afterthought. Hence, 516 deals with two key issues: we formulate with darker skin tones in mind and we strive to swatch our colours on as many skin tones, from light to dark, as we can. As a result of our efforts to revolutionise how modern day nail polish swatching is perceived, we coined the term “swatch diversity” which serves the purpose of sharing racially diverse imagery as well as celebrating different nail lengths and skin types.

What development process did you undertake for your product and what differentiates 516polish from other brands on the market?

I did extensive research and learning about the ugly truth behind the toxic ingredients commonly found in many mainstream nail polish brands, and the negative impact this can have on our health. As a result, I was eager to create clean, non-toxic beauty products for 516 Polish. Our traditional nail polish is handmade by me in small batches here in the United Kingdom. The beauty of handmade colours is the uniqueness – however, I keep and maintain detailed records of exactly which pigments and colours comprise each of our 30+ nail polish colours, so they can be recreated accurately by me or staff as my team eventually expands. During production, I always test and swatch prototypes on myself and/or beauty bloggers of different ethnicities for extended periods before public release. This helps me to get a better picture of how long each colour lasts, the pigmentation, whether the formula is performing well and also gain valuable feedback from testers if improvements need to be made.

All of our ingredients for our traditional nail polish are sourced locally from UK suppliers, certified vegan and cruelty free. I'm committed to ensuring our formula remains free from toxic ingredients, which is why I'm proud that 516 Polish is a “10 free” brand. This means that our nail polish formula (including top coats and base coats) excludes the 10 most commonly used toxic nail polish ingredients: Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, Triphenyl Phosphate, Ethyl tosylamide, Dibutyl phthalate (DBP),⁣ Acetone and Parabens. As for our new gel polish range, this is mass manufactured with ingredients sourced from America and Germany – true to the ethos of our brand, our gel polish is also non-toxic, vegan and cruelty free.

One of the main aspects that really sets 516 apart from other nail polish brands on the market is our commitment to swatch diversity. Swatch diversity is our way of showcasing relatable nail polish imagery for the everyday person who loves having polished or well-groomed nails. You don’t have to be perfect to be reposted, we celebrate everyone, unedited, always.

How do you monitor and reduce your impact on the environment as a business?

Being socially conscious as a business is really important to me, and this is something I am always continuing to evaluate what we can do to improve. Two ways 516 Polish is currently reducing our waste is through reusing and recycling. For example, our ingredients packages are usually delivered with large quantities of bubble wrap and cardboard, all of which is then reused in our business when we dispatch your orders. In addition, for larger orders which require additional packaging, we now use biodegradable packing peanuts to ship out our orders more sustainably, whilst reducing pollution to the environment.

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“Knowing when to do something yourself versus outsourcing to someone else who may be able to do it better, more efficiently, or even cheaper than you etc. is key.”

How important is the role of social media in the business?

Social media plays a huge part in our marketing, but more importantly, it is how we primarily connect with our supporters. I'm really proud of the inclusive community we've created, particularly on Instagram where we have our largest and most engaged following. Our customers regularly tag us in photos and send us swatches. They feel empowered to share their "nailfies" and are confident that they will be celebrated equally, regardless of whether their polish application isn't perfect or if their lighting isn't great.

Normally we post to our Instagram everyday, this is where we're most active on social media sharing swatches, nail polish mixing videos, nail education, polls and lots more. You can also find @516polish on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

What is the toughest part about running a business?

As a startup founder, I personally find the toughest part of running a business, time management. Outside of running 516 Polish, I also work 9-5 in the healthcare industry, I have commitments and responsibilities within my church, and I’m also a wife, a friend, a sister and daughter. This means I have to be very intentional about organising my life to ensure I dedicate the right amount of time to everything – and still somehow find time to relax!

Is there any business advice you would like to share?

If I could give one tip right now to anyone looking to start a business I’d say: don’t be afraid to get help! Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and stressful, and you’re only one person, you can’t possibly do everything yourself. Having said that, you’d be surprised how many people would be willing to help you if you just asked. Knowing when to do something yourself versus outsourcing to someone else who may be able to do it better, more efficiently, or even cheaper than you etc. is key.


 Has Covid-19 altered your business model and how has the pandemic impacted the business?

Running 516 Polish throughout COVID-19 has been very interesting, but overall a surprisingly positive experience. Before the pandemic, hygiene was of course embedded in our usual business practises, but it became even more essential to ensure we had a proper coronavirus prevention policy in place for mixing nail polish and packaging orders. Regular handwashing, wearing a mask and gloves as well as sanitising our workspaces, are all key features of our coronavirus prevention policy.

Additionally, since the lockdown we’ve seen a huge spike in sales and interest in 516 Polish generally. The lockdown and closure of salons forced beauty lovers to attempt some of their favourite treatments such as doing their hair and nails at home. This posed a fantastic opportunity for 516 Polish to promote and share our range of products, which are perfect for home use.

Given the contactless nature of our existing business model, fortunately we’ve still been able to ship orders as normal throughout the pandemic. However we’ve had to deal with delays as a result of coronavirus putting pressure on the postal system. I’ve personally found that maintaining good customer service and clear lines of communication with 516 Polish customers has meant that despite postal delays, everyone remains happy.

Where do you see the vegan beauty scene moving into in the next 5 years?

In the next 5 years I would hope that firstly, beauty brands (big or small) who still operate without being vegan and cruelty free, feel a greater sense of social responsibility to improve their manufacturing and testing processes. Similarly, I hope that consumers become more conscious of what is in the beauty products they put on their body, being mindful of toxic ingredients that have dangerous long-term impacts. The cost of beauty should never be at the expense of our health! Clean, conscious beauty is absolutely the way forward.

Secondly, I would also love to see more diversity and inclusivity in the vegan beauty scene as veganism isn’t one shade fits all. You also don’t have to label yourself as a “Vegan” to appreciate and support vegan beauty.

 What are the future plans for 516 Polish?

So much! The launch of our One Step Vegan Gel Nail Polish in May was so well received that we’re restocking and bringing out a larger range of gel colours, this time with a particular focus on inclusive nude shades for all skin tones. I can’t provide an exact restock/launch date just yet due to the coronavirus postal delays, but we can assure you that it’s coming soon! Do join our mailing list so you can stay up to date with all things 516 Polish.

Once the pandemic is well and truly over, and it’s safe for us to do so, we’d love to get back to exhibiting our products and meeting you all in person. If it’s deemed safe to do so, 516 Polish will be exhibiting at the annual UK Black Business Show in October this autumn, demonstrating our products with live application swatches, painting your nails and getting to know our beautiful customers.

We have more product launches planned for the future, but you’ll have to stay connected with us to find out more! We’re @516polish everywhere.