Color Yourself Happy
Nail polish should be simple–choose a color, paint two coats, apply a top coat, and voila, feel instantly fabulous. That’s the attitude Courtnee Ruth Crews held toward the ancient trend, until recently. Crews was on the hunt for a very particular yellow, one that didn’t seem to be on the market. Some may have caved for an approximation, but she’s not one to settle for second-best. A natural go-getter, the only other reasonable option was to create her own line of nail polishes. But not only interested in offering her own palette of shades, she also realized the carefree polishes she had been indulging in were teeming with seedy ingredients. In an attempt to create a product and company true to her values, she took the road less traveled into the growing space of vegan beauty products, and along the way kept curating an environmentally and socially conscious brand that customers can be proud to wear.
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA
Even when Crews was working her socks off in the service industry at Cormier’s Cajun Catering and Doe’s Eat Place of Monroe, she never put her passion for styling and fashion on pause. At first, she started to put her outfits on Instagram just for fun, even finding pockets of time between shifts for make-do photoshoots in the downtown area. “I didn’t really know that could even blossom into anything. I was just doing it because it was so fun and I love creating looks,” she says. Within a year of consistent posts, Instagram brands started reaching out to her, sending her outfits to model, sharing her posts, consequently increasing her following, which quickly snowballed into something more exciting. “Big brands” reached out, prompting her to consider turning her platform into a job, even though she hadn’t been getting paid: “I was doing everything for free, which I feel all bloggers start off that way because I feel like it just builds relationships and kind of builds an appreciation for the job.” Urban Outfitters was one of the first recognizable companies she worked for, but when Chanel reached out, she knew that if she didn’t make a move, she never would. Taking a leap, she traveled to Los Angeles on her own after being invited to a company event. Her one-week spotlight experience opened her eyes, giving her the confidence to make a permanent move. “It really felt like everything fell into place,” she says. In a year, she packed all the belongings she could fit in her car, and drove for three days with her father to a new life of booking photo shoots and attending events on a weekly basis, which is still part of her job as full-time content creator.
Inspired by her boyfriend’s entrepreneurial drive, Crews began considering a more stable career avenue. Though she didn’t know what that would ultimately look like for her, she wanted it to be personal and reach her followers. “I really want to create something that’s really me and I just wanted to connect on another level.” She toyed with beginning a baby clothes line, but upon coming home defeated and polish-less after chasing that elusive yellow into about four stores, it hit her. “I’m hitting my nails weekly,” so why not turn a passion into a business? Considering how difficult it is to find vegan and “3 to 10-free” nail polish colors (a label designating how many toxic ingredients are absent from a nail polish formula), she researched a few manufacturers, choosing one that would follow her desired ingredient list as well as create custom colors. Her first drop on May 8, 2020 was an astonishing success. Her product line went live at midday, and thirty seconds later she had one hundred orders on the website, eventually selling out on the first day. Great customer feedback spurred her to work on a second drop. She went to work trying out samples, painting every single color on about “four hundred times” just to test quality. “Because I’m such a nail polish snob, I feel like I know my go-to colors and I just don’t want people to spend money on something that isn’t gonna be the best that I can make it,” Crews insists.
During the planning stages of the business, she wanted her shades to have as little chemicals as possible, but when she began researching the ingredients in nail polish, she was stunned at how many animal-derived ingredients exist in the polish. Be it for shine, hardening, creating viscosity, pearlescence, or color vibrancy, the list was fairly extensive. “I feel like it’s really unnecessary to put animal products in your beauty products,” she says, also commenting on the importance of leaving a smaller carbon footprint on the planet. Crews is encouraged by the growing amount of vegan cosmetic lines, but she has noticed that some of these companies still test on animals, which she is adamantly against. As one of the more dated practices in the industry, she considers it obvious to avoid, a belief she doesn’t shy away from voicing on her website: “Our polish is vegan-friendly and not tested on animals. Duh.”
In a way, Crews created her dream job, admitting one of her constant favorite pastimes was reading nail polish names. “They were always really quirky and really random,” she laughs. But by the time she got her Ruth polishes, it was one of the tasks that fell to the wayside. In spite of admiring all the fun and punny polish designations, she ended up going with the potency of short and sweet. “I wanted my first run to be a bit more powerful,” she says, which also pointed to her company name, Ruth, her middle name which runs in her family. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the polishes that sold out quickest were results of more personal titles, like James, a dainty peach color named after the young adult classic, but also her father’s first name. Pimm, a beautiful burnt orange color is named after her weenie dog, and Veggie, a pastel lime green, honors the moment she decided to improve her diet.
Another marker of her brand extends beyond the aesthetic and can be tied to an experience she had in fourth grade, when alongside a few of her classmates she started questioning why the peach-colored crayon was called “flesh.” “We were sitting there having a conversation of how that doesn’t make any sense. So, as an adult, it’s still a thing and I just didn’t want that to be an issue with my company.” She made sure to test her colors on differently shaded papers with the intention of making sure her colors looked good on more than just one skin tone. The first polish she named is a rich, deep brown that she called Nude because she’s never seen a “nude” nailpolish that took into consideration people with dark skin. She also extended her support to the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual) community by naming her first blue polish Hers, and pink polish His. A scroll through the Ruth Polish Instagram page doesn’t just display hands of varying hues, but some male ones as well. “I just wanted the company to be for everybody and I wanted the colors to look good on every color,” Crews says, further stating, “I would rather, you know, make a few people uncomfortable and make people that have always been uncomfortable, comfortable for once, you know?”
Many of us don’t think about where our money goes when we buy a product, but when you buy from a small business, you’re buying from a real person. Crews hand wraps every single polish, checks the lids, and adds a personalized note, always including the name of the buyer. Also, though a young company, she has already implemented a donation-based line through three of her glitters–Quartz, Toast, and Silent Disco. Ten percent of the proceeds from those colors will forever go to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. To some business owners, it may seem wise to remain neutral on certain issues, but it wasn’t a question for Crews, who emphasizes how much more rewarding it is to advocate using the platform she has. “I’m so happy that we did it this way,” she says.
Beauty rituals like manicures and pedicures may seem frivolous, but they are governed by an innate need to demonstrate self-expression and our unique tastes. In a time that feels like the world is in its closing ceremonies, how could we not invest in things that give us a little pep to our step? Even if you don’t have memories of sleepovers with friends huddled around funky bottles of every color polish imaginable, while *NSYNC blares on a cassette player, you can still find your playful side in a bottle of responsibly sourced nail polish. “It’s just a throwback to being a teenager,” says Crews who is already planning a nail polish party the moment quarantine is over. Painting your nails should be fun and not born out of a societal obligation to keep up with the Kardashians. “It’s just really good quality time with yourself,” she continues, hoping that Ruth Polish users enjoy the process as much as she does. And when they look down at the shimmering creations on the tiny canvases of their fingertips, she believes they’ll simply feel happier.
Follow Ruth Polish on Instagram or visit their website https://ruthpolish.com to order your very first Ruth. Seeking fashion inspiration? Follow Courtnee Crews on Instagram @courtneecrews.