Emily Ferguson on building a nail brand and how nails support mental health

Published 03rd Feb 2023 by PB Admin
Emily Ferguson on building a nail brand and how nails support mental health

What do Salvador Dalí and a nail tech from the north of England have in common? For a start, unflinching career goals from a young age. Like the famed surrealist, who always knew he wanted to be an artist while enduring difficult schooldays, Emily Ferguson knew exactly what industry she wanted to be in, even in her early years.

“I always wanted to do something beauty related,” says the co-founder of nail brand Dalí Artistic. “At school, I would tell my teachers I was going to be a hairdresser or something to do with beauty.”

After struggling her way through school with what she now believes was undiagnosed ADHD, Blackpool-born Ferguson went to college and got her NVQ Level 2 and 3 qualifications and became qualified in several beauty services, from brow waxing to microdermabrasion – but it was nail art that really drew her in.

“Before nails, I had never really believed in myself because I felt like I had never succeeded at anything,” she says. “I flopped my GCSEs and didn’t excel at anything sporty, but with nails… it was the first time I thought, ‘Oh wow, I’m really good at something’. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. The things you can create with nails and all the materials you can use from glitters to foils, paint to acrylic, it’s literally never-ending… I absolutely love it.”

After college, she began working in salons, focusing mainly on nails, and it was around this time she met her life and business partner Scott Tynan. As someone that comes from a family of entrepreneurs, Liverpool-born Tynan, who owned multiple tattoo shops in the North, encouraged Ferguson to quit salon life and go it alone.

In some ways, Ferguson and Tynan are a perfect example of opposites attract. Ferguson describes Tynan as business-brained and outgoing while Ferguson is more reserved with boundless creativity. As someone who had not really witnessed people set up their own businesses, at first Ferguson was really daunted by the prospect of going self-employed. “I had no idea how to do my books or how to start a business,” she says. “But Scott really pushed me and encouraged me to do it.”

Ferguson moved to Liverpool with Tynan and became a self-employed mobile technician, working between Liverpool, Blackpool and Preston. Finding the travel too much, Fergurson got a role at Zest, a well-known salon in Liverpool, and started doing celebrity clients in the area, such as Love Island’s Olivia Bowen and glamour model Jemma Lucy. Later, she set up shop in one of Tynan’s tattoo studios.

Knowing his partner’s potential, Tynan pushed Ferguson further, nudging her to start a nail brand – something she had always dreamed of but thought was impossible.

The road to Dalí

When Ferguson fell pregnant with her first child, Jackson, she says the concept of starting a brand seemed further away than ever, but the couple rallied to get it set up with some other partners.

“It was doing quite well, but I wasn’t taking it too seriously,” she says, realising that actually doing the nails is what she loved. “When I had back-to-back clients – that’s when I was happiest.” Persevering, she later found that she could make more money from selling products than doing nails, saying, “That’s when I started to see the real potential in it.”

A few years on, and now with two children, the couple decided to move away from this first attempt at creating a nail brand armed with lessons learned. In 2021, it was time for another addition to the family – Dalí Artistic was born.

They teamed up with friend-turned-business-partner Ed Humphrey and started their journey. The trio wanted Dalí to be different from anything else on the market – from the design of the bottles to the formulation of the products.

To futureproof the brand and make it stand out, they had their sights set on launching an entirely HEMA-free line. Hydroxyethyl methacrylate, or HEMA, is just one of many potential allergens that can exist in nail products. As Ferguson explains, it’s a resin that helps gel cure in a lamp.

“HEMA can be found in a lot of great products but it’s demonised,” says Ferguson, “However, it is a gateway allergen – once you have an allergy to it, you have it for life.” This can be dangerous, as HEMA exists in dental products and is also used by orthopaedic surgeons, meaning that such an allergy could cause complications or obstruct certain care pathways down the line, not to mention dramatically reducing a client’s nail service options.

While HEMA allergies should only occur when the material is used in large quantities or incorrectly, Dalí wanted to have alternatives for those with an existing allergy to it or who didn’t want to take the risk. “There are mumblings in the nail community that in the not-too-distant future, HEMA may be banned completely for professional as well as retail use,” says Ferguson, “so we wanted to be ready.”

To futureproof further, it was important to them that Dalí would be a fully UK-made brand, but the investment needed to make that happen was too much in the early days. So, like many of the brands currently on the market, they turned to China.

Overcoming challenges

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the strain it put on international trade, the cost of doing business in China rose to the point that it may have been cheaper to produce the products on home soil.

“Shipping costs for a container went from a few thousand to around £12,000,” says Ferguson. “China was seen as the cheaper alternative but when you factored everything in, the difference wasn’t worth the stress. It’s also far easier doing business in the UK and we can then be sure that our products fully adhere to UK regulations.” The brand has now secured manufacturing in the UK and hopes to soon be able to proudly say it’s an entirely UK-made brand.

Producing HEMA-free products also presented a challenge. Dalí had already launched its range of regular gel polish and a low-HEMA (2%) line by April 2021, but the HEMA-free line was trickier to formulate, particularly when it came to colour-matching the HEMA-free formulations to the extensive previous lines.

“Gel polish contains multiple different resins, HEMA being one of them, and each reacts to pigment differently,” says Ferguson, recalling the day that a box of different purples turned up but all were the same shade. They decided to change tack and give the HEMA-free line its own new colour chart.

Reflecting on more personal challenges, Ferguson says that she first suspected she had ADHD in the past year while seeing some educational content on social media and strongly relating. “I was like, ‘That’s me’. I always thought it was just anxiety but I think that’s part of having ADHD,” she says. “Sometimes my brain feels like a washing machine and small tasks seem like huge things.”

Of course, nails help: “Doing nails is the only time I ever feel I can be myself, zone out and concentrate. I find it very difficult to focus on most things. but with nails, that is my only focus and if I’m ever stressed or feeling anxious, it’s a great way to relax my mind.”

Education and building an empire

Last year, adding another arm to the Dalí empire, Ferguson got her qualifications to become an educator and set up her own academy, Emily Rose Training.

The academy trains students in all Dalí products, with a focus on safety and avoiding allergies, and Ferguson is committed to supporting those she has trained after they get their qualification. “It’s no good teaching people if you’re just going to take their money and close the door on them. I really believe in giving help and advice along the way in their nail journey, so I set up a WhatsApp group for everyone to stay in touch and help each other,” she says.

When it comes to the trends she thinks will be big in 2023, there is one thing Ferguson hopes will see a comeback. “I really miss acrylic,” she says. “I think it’s another product that has been demonised which is partly why gel has become so popular.

“I think a lot of us acrylic artists feel a bit pushed to the side. I still believe that acrylic is the material that requires the most skill and you can sculpt the most incredible nails with it.”

As well as its variety of gel polish and builder gel options, Dalí Artistic’s range holds everything from acrylic powder to full-cover tips. This year, Ferguson plans to put more focus on marketing the acrylic products in the hope of reigniting the industry’s love for it. “We want to offer absolutely everything. We don’t want to give the customer a reason to go to any other brand,” she says.

Who else thinks acrylic nails are due for a comeback? Let us know in the comments... 

Emily will be bringing Dalí Artistic's amazing line of products to Pro Beauty London on 5-6th March at ExCel. Register for free and come and say hi to the Dali team.

PB Admin

PB Admin

Published 03rd Feb 2023

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