How a Toronto nail art lover turned her hobby into a business
When COVID shut down nail salons, Rebecca Ramsdale took her passion into her own hands
By Kelsey Adams
Jan 3, 2021
Back in March, Toronto nail art lovers were at a loss.
Everything, including nail salons, was closed as per coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures. Gel and acrylic nails were left to grow out and become janky.
It’s one thing to do an at-home manicure but it’s a whole other challenge to figure out how to re-create the complex designs that are all the rage among Toronto nail art lovers.
For Rebecca Ramsdale, going months without getting her nails done was unfathomable. She has brandished nail art for years, going as far as drafting designs on Photoshop and bringing them to the salon so professionals can make them a reality.
Although personal services such as nail salons reopened in the summer, COVID was the push she needed to learn how to do her own high-concept nails.
Ramsdale works in retail and runs a blog about fashion, beauty and travel. Nail art became a creative outlet during lockdown and the more she practised, the more she wanted to share her creations.
“I was treating Rebecca Paints Nails as a place where I could share what I was painting on my own and my friend’s nails. Then things started to pick up a little bit and I started getting messages from people asking if they could come in and get their nails done,” she tells NOW over the phone. “I have a little desk set up in our kitchen and we have a very small apartment. Out of respect for my boyfriend I didn’t want to turn our house into a nail salon.”
She decided selling press-on nails was not only a happy compromise, but the pragmatic route since Ontario is back in lockdown.
“I don’t feel it’s the right time to invest in the studio space, so I decided that the best way to reach everyone would be selling press-on nails. It’s a more COVID-friendly way to get their nails done and I could reach people who weren’t just in the immediate Toronto area.”
She launched her line at the end of September, after months of practice and fine tuning. Since then Ramsdale has had repeat orders from Montreal, Amsterdam, California and, of course, Toronto.
The back story
Two years ago, Ramsdale would pull ideas from high fashion runway shows and turn them into nail art designs. Sometimes she would spend 10 hours designing sets and then ask a nail technician create them.
Eventually, she started designing sets for other people and for salon use.
When she decided to launch her own business, her go-to nail technician gave her some tips. Ramsdale studied the work of nail technicians in the UK, which has an enormous industry. Since British nail technicians are also in lockdown, they started selling lessons via Instagram.
She was practising using regular nail polish but learned gel polish is much easier for nail art.
“I toyed with the idea of investing in gel polish, but I wasn’t working because of the pandemic. As soon as I got rehired, I decided that I was just going to order a bunch and that’s kind of where everything started.”
She fell in love with it quickly, but she has no illustration or design background.
“As soon as I got to high school, I thought I wasn’t a creative person so I just stopped taking art. Looking back now, it definitely would have been helpful if I had some sort of art background.”
She ended up at Humber College, studying fashion and took a course where she learned how to use Photoshop and InDesign, which she says helped her initially when she started designing nail art.
But designing nail art on a computer and executing it in real life are two different beasts.
Despite getting into this fairly recently, Ramsdale’s nail sets look like the work of a veteran tech. She works in retail four days a week and all of her free time is devoted to nail art.
“Before work, after work, on my weekends, I’m either painting or practising nails or I’m drawing stuff on my computer or I’m doing more research. I spend my free time watching YouTube videos to learn new techniques. Once I get into something I’m committed. I strive to make sure that everything seems top quality.”
She releases new drops on her website, usually with four to six styles. She has done three drops so far and plans to keep up the momentum in the new year.
One drop may have sets with inverted tiger print in red and pink, flowers encrusted with jewels, black and chartreuse snakeskin or embossed water droplets. She also does custom sets for birthdays or holidays or whatever people dream up.
She sells the press-ons in two ways – 20-piece sets or 10-piece sets (with customized nail sizes).
Each order is handmade and can take up to five hours, depending on the difficulty level.
When she is preparing for a new drop, she starts planning the styles on her iPad, which can take an hour or less for a simple design. Anything more complex takes up to three hours.
“It’s a very, very long process. I would say, from start to finish, it could be anywhere around 10-plus hours. That’s also why it takes a little bit longer in between drops.”
And that’s just the time it takes to get the promotional set ready, when orders start to come in she does them one at a time.
While some sets run up to $100 or more, Ramsdale’s press-ons are priced $50-$80, which covers her labour. When most people look at a handful of gorgeous nails, the labour-intensive process doesn’t always register. And that’s the point: Beauty is meant to look effortless.
The bigger picture
Nail art is taking over Ramsdale’s life and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“All of this has stemmed from an excitement and a love of having my nails done,” she says. “Going to the salon was my favourite thing. I was there for three hours and, for some people, that’s a lot of time to just sit there. But I just find it so enjoyable and so relaxing. Especially when you’re working with someone and you get to see their artistry.”
She plans on letting the business grow organically and opening up a studio space as soon as it’s safe.
“It’s so nice having something that you’re really looking forward to and you miss when you’re not doing it. I feel like I’ve never had one thing that I’m this passionate and this excited about.”
This story is the second in a series spotlighting small businesses across Toronto. As the push to support local becomes even more crucial, we want to highlight the trials and the triumphs that shops, restaurants, cafes and online retailers are experiencing in this city.If you want to suggest a business, contact us here and select “Editorial (Life)” from the drop-down menu.
Kelsey Adams is an arts and culture journalist born and raised in Toronto. Before covering food, life and culture for NOW Magazine, she wrote about music, art and film for several publications, including the Globe and Mail, The FADER, Complex CA and Canadian Art.