Founder & Director / Kester Black
As a child Anna Ross insisted on dressing herself. Radical, wild and a little “crazy”, Anna grew up in a small town in New Zealand where she was your run-of- a -muck rascal. From learning to drive before she was legal, to riding horses on a farm during school holidays, Anna’s childhood was filled with rebellious memories. Have we told you that we love rebels? Yep, love em!
After studying a Bachelor of Design at University, Anna gallantly moved to Australia with nothing more than a backpack and enough money to get by. Fast forward a couple of years, and Anna now runs an ethical manicure and skincare brand named Kester Black that is stocked globally. For those that don’t know, Kester Black products are cruelty free, sustain-ably produced, and completely inspired by beautiful design and uncompromising ethical principles. With polish colours such as Prenup, Cherry Pie, Bondi Rays and Gold Digger, it’s no wonder that Anna has cemented her nails into the industry, with no chance of releasing her grip.
We caught up with the talented and stylish Anna, to find out about her time at high school, the course she studied, and how she grew her business from “a cute little nail polish company to a stockist in major chain retail stores like Anthropologie in the USA.”
Here is her career story…
Hi there, can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I was born in Dunedin New Zealand and grew up in the same town. My family has a holiday house in a tiny town called Hyde, in Central Otago (middle of the South Island). We used to go there every weekend, so I spent a lot of time on our neighbours farms learning to drive (far too young), and riding horses to the river to swim. I was a crazy child, choosing to dress myself from age three and refusing to let Mum decide my outfits for me. I always loved to bake, however I would usually eat most of the mixture before we got to the baking part.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
After primary school I went to an all girls Anglican high school in Dunedin. I wasn’t very well liked by my teachers, I didn’t conform, and I always spoke too loudly in class. I excelled in Photography and Design and dropped Maths and English as soon as I was able.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I did and I really believe in it. I worked at Life With Bird one day a week for a year. I learned a lot and got a great reference from the company after finishing, which helped me gain employment at my next job. The team at Life With Bird also ended up becoming a one of my biggest customers when Kester Black was a jewellery label. We had a great working relationship for about six years.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I studied a Bachelor of Design (Fashion) back home in New Zealand, and as much as I loved making clothes, I decided to take a different path than going into the fashion industry, which can be absolutely ruthless at times.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
Kester Black began as a jewellery label. A point came where I started researching enamel paint to use on the pieces I was making. This led me to nail polish, and what I saw was a significant gap in the market. I had so many ideas and just went for it; everything seemed to grow naturally from that point. I decided to manufacture and sell my own nail polish line to complement my jewellery. It was a major turning point in my career when, as the jewellery market had become really saturated and my nail polish sales were going through the roof. I decided to focus solely on the nail polish side of things and lay the jewellery to rest.
I guess I got started in the beauty industry in a roundabout way. Even now, we like to do things differently and collaborate (where possible) with amazing artists and designers who help to make our products all the more exciting and unique.
Before Kester Black I worked a number of jobs in retail and within the Australian fashion industry. I was a Design Assistant at Obus, and then a Production Manager at a bridal wear company called Mariana Hardwick. After these two experiences I decided that I really disliked how unethical the fashion industry was, and that it would be a good idea to work on my own thing and hopefully make a change to the industry.
Next I worked as an Administration Assistant at an optometrist association. I loved this job, it suited me perfectly and I had a wonderful boss who I learnt a lot from. She has since become my business mentor and we are even travel buddies. I worked here for two years before finally taking the plunge into running my business full time.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I can never really sit still, and am never happy doing nothing. I really wanted to practice the skills that I had learned at University, so I decided to start designing and crafting jewellery. This led me to enamel paints such as nail polish. It’s funny how things work out like that, and before long you find yourself doing something totally unexpected.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Learning how to manage cash flow can be pretty daunting (especially when you have none), and learning how to ship radioactive goods was and still is a challenge. To send nail polish anywhere in the world, you need a license to ship Dangerous Goods; to get the license, you need to know how to ship ALL Dangerous Goods materials. Passing the exam (yes, there was an exam!) took five months of study, four attempts, and lots of encouragement from friends and family. That was definitely one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life so far.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
Working for Kester Black is actually the best. Basically our morning consists of answering emails, packing and sending orders, having chats and listening to music. Then we usually head out to Smith Street (in Melbourne) for some lunch and fight the urge to eat $4 pizza before heading back to the office to get some more work done.
Recently I’ve been devising plans to jump in the “company car” (ha-ha we wish!) around mid-afternoon and go shopping for pot plants and flowers which we think are essential for the vibe of the office. Everything is usually followed by cups of tea and banana bread (or a wine if it’s end of the week). We work four days a week because, after a three-day weekend, anything is possible.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
My grandmother. She was a dressmaker for years and I obviously followed in her footsteps going to study fashion design. For her 50th wedding anniversary, she remade her wedding dress and a sparkly gold suit for my grandad to wear. She always made us dresses growing up, and even made wedding gowns for women in our neighbourhood. She is always so positive and full of great life advice. She always looks fabulous no matter what the weather. You’ll often find her zipping around in her little red car, out at the movies with the ladies or out at a cafe for a cheese roll.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
I was once told to begin your business the way you intend to run it. I was lucky enough to get it right the third time around. While my business was in its clothing and jewellery stages, I was doing everything myself. When I switched to nail polish, I made the effort to refine my procedures. For starters, I upgraded to Xero for accounting, which has actually made accounting pretty enjoyable. I created a marketing plan and began thinking long term. Kester Black was officially an after school job no more.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession:
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: Pinterest, Instagram and Colour Plan
- Books: The Monocle guides or any other image heavy design books. I hardly have time to read anything else.
- People: Joost Bakker – what an amazing guy and his passion for saving the planet is truly inspiring.
- Others: Cats. One of the best decisions I have ever made within my career was to attend a conference called Compass run by a company called Dattner Grant. It’s a women’s only conference which aims to empower any woman within a professional and personal capacity. I learnt so much about myself and how I relate to others and vice versa. It gave me so much knowledge which I apply every day to running my business. It has given me the knowledge to grow my business from a cute little nail polish company to stocking in major chain retail stores like Anthropologie in the USA, working with international distributors and producing massive collaborations with some of the biggest players in the Australian and International fashion scenes.