From Stylist to MBE: Phoebe Lovatt talks with WAH Nails founder Sharmadean Reid

On a recent trip to my hometown of London, there was only one person I wanted as my guest mentor for WORK PARTY: my longtime friend (and even longer professional inspiration) Sharmadean Reid.

When I was in my late teens and still living in London, Sharma was one of those terrifyingly savvy and stylish, slighter older girls that you see and silently worship from afar. Then a successful stylist with a cool hip hop fanzine called WAH, Sharma was (and is) one of the coolest creative women in London. When she turned WAH into WAH Nails—a nail art salon and hang-out space in a then-burgeoning London neighborhood called Dalston—I used the launch as an excuse to contact her to request an interview for a magazine where I was interning at the time. She agreed, we hit it off, and that was that.

A lot has happened in the near-decade since then. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York, set up a business, written a book. Sharma in now Sharmadean Reid MBE—an incredibly prolific and widely-respected British businesswoman with a central London salon and a soon-to-launch beauty service tech app to her name. She has been featured in pretty much every magazine you can imagine and worked with many of the world’s biggest brands, but she’s still the same vivacious, totally unique woman I met in a half-completed nail salon on Kingsland Road in the summer of 2009. It’s just that these days she wears her Nike Air Max with a pinstripe suit.


A few of Sharma’s gems from our Work Party session.

On why Smart Businesses Build Communities

If you can facilitate spaces for other people to do whatever they want or achieve their goals, or meet new people, or just feel like they belong somewhere, then that’s cool. But from a business point-of-view, it makes sense to build a community because you've got brand ambassadors and instant feedback. You’ve got a gang who will always rep you. It just makes good sense.

On Why She Strives to be a Millionaire (But Not a Billionaire)

I’ve always known that i would never be a billionaire. Well, not that I’d never, but I’m not planning on it. By some weird twist of fate, that might happen! But i’m not creating a strategy that is designed to make me a billionaire, because the levels of work you have to do is not feasible when you have a child and you care about raising that child in any way.

Being a millionaire? Yeah, I think it’s definitely possible for me. There are more new female millionaires than men every year. It’s completely possible, not least because what technology does is actually accelerate possibilities to do less work and make way more money.

On Reading as Self-Care

If I haven’t read a book for ages, that’s when I know I’m not making time for myself. I purposefully take tube journeys. Because I won’t read in a cab obviously, who does that? So I take the tube and I read on the tube and I’ll read really fast.

On Not Being a Natural Networker

If I know a lot of people it’s simply through being in London for 14 years. Very rarely have I actively gone and made friends with anybody; that’s not my personality at all. I just don’t do it. I’m not a natural networker. If we’re at a party and you introduce me to someone, then I will talk to him or her. But if there’s a random person that I don’t know and have no connection with, I won’t just walk up to them. I’ve got friends who do it and when I watch them I’m in awe.

On Creating ‘Myths’

You can’t create historical myths in the groups don't identify with each other. You’re only going to believe something that I tell you because you believe you identify with me. It’s easier to sell those dreams, those aspirations and those goals when your market can identify with each other. If you didn’t want to be like that other girl that you identify with, why would you trust her word and what she’s going to tell you?

That’s the thing about influencers today: If you don’t actually self-reference with a so-called influencer, you’ll follow them, but you won’t necessarily buy into what they sell –because you’re not self-referencing, you're just being voyeuristic. With someone who’s got like a million followers, the majority of those followers are just being voyeuristic. They don’t actually think: “That's me, that’s who I want to be.” That's why you can understand where conversion rates in different influencers come into play.

On Engagement, Influence, and Subconscious References

Even though WAH Nails has half a million Instagram followers, I feel like very few people actually subscribe to all of the things I’m putting out. Most of our engagement is just in our nail photos. Like, all the cool stuff we’re posting between—art, references—no one gives a shit about that. What they just want to see is nails and that’s it.

Then there’s a tiny percentage of girls, maybe 20%, who care about WAH as a whole vibe. Those girls are massively important to me, because without knowing it, they all influence those other 80% who are just focused on the nails; the ones who want to see good nails, but don't realize that the reason they’re good is because of everything else that goes into them.