Anna Ross: The Kiwi behind Kester Black

Anna Ross: The Kiwi behind Kester Black

There’s something about a new nail colour that can totally transform your mood. It’s the satisfaction of placing its pretty bottle on your dresser and its ability to make old outfits exciting again. A woman with freshly painted nails clearly has her shit together.

Anna Ross, founder of Kester Black, remembers her first encounter with nail polish in her early twenties while out shopping for a new dress she’d been obsessing over for weeks. “I wanted it so badly, but I just couldn’t justify buying it, so I got a $16 bright fuchsia nail polish instead, and it made me feel just as good as if I’d spent a thousand bucks on a new outfit.”

The idea to actually make nail polish came when Anna experimented with painting her jewellery with coloured nail enamel. “I thought it would be a good idea to sell nail polish as a little add-on, so I started researching and developing a product.” A year and a half later, in 2012, Anna launched Kester Black with just six colours. What started as a side-hustle to her jewellery business became an instant success that tripled her turnover in just three months.

With Anna’s background in design, Kester Black campaigns stood out from the crowd and soon got the attention of nail polish giants like Sally Hansen. “When I started out, no one did vegan, cruelty-free anything, and if they did the colours were usually quite ugly!” Kester Black filled this gap perfectly with fun, sophisticated colours that were also ethical.

Growing up in central Otago has influenced Anna’s life and business decisions in many ways. Anna wasn’t vegan when she started her brand, but when asked if she wanted animal ingredients in her formula it was a no-brainer. “I didn’t even know that was an option! Why would I want to do that?” After learning that most brands used animal ingredients such as crushed beetle shells and fish scales in nail polish, Anna decided that Kester Black would be vegan and cruelty-free. Becoming aware of the treatment of animals and how eating meat affected her personal health eventually lead Anna to go vegan. “I don’t really believe in the commercialisation of meat and I grew up on a farm, which is pretty funny.”

Creating products that anyone could use was also important to Anna, which was why she changed her entire range to be breathable and halal. “A girl who came up to me at a market asked if we had breathable nail polish because she was Muslim. I had no idea it was such a big problem, and I didn’t want to exclude anyone from using our products.”

Anna wanted her business to give back as soon as it could. In 2015, she started donating 2% of the revenue from Kester Back to charity. “We currently support the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Women’s Community Shelters, which provide shelter for women escaping domestic violence, and CARE, which supports Syrian refugees.” So far, Kester Black has donated over $90,000.

Even as a business owner, Anna admits designing is still her favourite part. “It’s a fun creative process, like designing a mini collection.” The Kester Black team prefer to look to everyday life for inspiration rather than be dictated to by trends. Whether it’s an apocalyptic purple sky on Waiheke Island, floor tiles in Italy, or pastel blue buildings and orange traffic cones in Hong Kong, Anna’s always got her eye out for magic moments of colour. Coming up with a name for each new shade also happens organically, sometimes with help from a little liquor. “We usually all go out for dinner or drinks and just throw names on the table, then we’ll match them to the colours.”

So what’s next on the cards for Kester Black? Anna recently returned from a meditation retreat brimming with ideas for colour cosmetics. We can’t think of a better match.

Imagine perfectly curated eye shadow palettes in gorgeous nudes, golds, and twinkling holographics.“I want the metallic gold eye to be all about royalty – like a foiled money note with the Queen’s face from the Reserve Bank of Kester Black.” There are also liquid lipsticks and highlighters in the pipeline in case you weren’t excited enough.

Anna’s goal is for Kester Black to still be around in 10 years and to become globally available. “It’s getting there! All the things that I wanted for Kester Black are coming true in a way.”

Quick-fire questions

Describe your personal style in three words…
Practical, minimal, classic.

Best thing about living in Melbourne?
It’s clean, the food’s incredible, there’s always a cute little neighbourhood bar to go to. I really like all the European influence – you can go to the markets and the Italian specialty stores with their beautiful imported ingredients that make you feel like you’re in Italy.

Your favourite escape from city life?
New Zealand! To Waiheke Island or Hawea, which is near Wanaka. My favourite place to go in Melbourne is Bright, it’s this lush green little ski town in the mountains that reminds me of what Wanaka used to be.

Best vegan treat in Melbourne…
Piccolina is a gelato shop in Collingwood that do the most incredible dark chocolate sorbet! It’s so easy to be a vegan in Melbourne.

Favourite Kester Black colour…
Petal is an awesome colour. It’s more understated but still nice and dressy, you can wear it everyday.

Last thing that inspired you…
I recently went on a meditation retreat and the guy running it kept asking me, why do I do things? It sounds simple but I found I had to really think about it. Now every time I go to do something I always question where I’m coming from – is it something that’s going to serve me or do I just feel obliged to do it and will it ultimately be bad for me?

Check out the full range of Kester Black at Mooma.

Words by Lara Daly
Photography by Evangeline Davis

Anna Ross at the Kester Black studio in Melbourne's cool Collingwood location Kester Black's recent rebrand on six key nail colours