For many women, getting our nails and brows done regularly is often right up there with our frequent visits to our hairdressers.
Sherrille Riley, a beauty therapist with more than 20 years’ experience of working in high end beauty spas under her belt, realised that there was a gap in the market for a quality haven for women to tend to these very important beauty treatments. She decided to merge the two industries and in 2014 launched Nails and Brows in exclusive Mayfair. Royalty and celebrities are frequent visitors, Prince Harry’s significant other Meghan Markle and Princess Beatrice to name a few.
I was invited along to the plush beauty bar, and was treated to their signature brow shape, The Audrey, and also found time to interview Sherrille to find out about how it all began and her journey so far…
Melan Magazine: Can you tell us about your background and your early professional experience?
Sherille Riley: I was born and raised in Jamaica though I moved to the UK when I was 12 years old. I studied beauty therapy, NVQ level 3 for three years, which covers quite a lot of anatomy, physiology, diet, exercise, diseases, skin disorders, hair removal. It was really an intense course. Thereafter I specialised in more specific areas of beauty that I was interested in. After my studies I moved to London, exactly 20 years now because I’d set my sights on working in a luxury environment. When I got to London I got to work at Red Door spa. It was THE spa and 20 years later the product range is still worldwide famous. I’ve also worked as a beauty therapist at Harrods for over five years.
MM: So, what sparked your interest in brows?
SR: When I was about 13, I was looking at all these magazines and these beautiful models and thinking, I’m not quite like that. So, I asked my mum “Can I do my eyebrows?” and she promptly replied, “no you’re trying to grow up too fast”. What did I do? I locked myself in the bathroom, and decided to try and do my brows myself. I used a razor, because I’d tried to tweeze but it was too painful! I basically shaved both my brows and ended up with two really short strips of hair. Eventually I ventured out of the bathroom and I got a good hiding. The hairs did start growing back but not with the fullness I had before the shaving experiment. I then tried to augment by brows with pencil but there were no brow pencils 20 years ago, so I was using black eyeliner to try and draw on the hairs that didn’t grow back. I like to look back on the whole episode as ‘self-discovery’ [she laughs].
MM: Why merge eyebrows and nails for your business?
SR: I’m one of those people that if my nails are not on point I don’t feel confident. I find many women are like that. If they have grubby nails, and go to an interview or a meeting we just sit on them. Same with the brows. If they are not on point, your face is not quite groomed. When I came up with the business idea, it was very brow focused and I thought to myself, what else can I bring to the table to create a nice marriage and I suddenly realised it was nails. The same amount of time you take to do your brows is about the same amount of time you do your nails in terms of frequency, price wise the treatment is relatively accessible, in terms of time and affordability. And I looked around and realised there were lots of brow bars, and there were lots of nail bars, but nowhere that offered both.
MM: So how did you start up then?
SR: I came up with the idea and discussed it with my husband and friends and family. They all reassured me it was a great idea, then I discussed it with clients. Having been in the industry for 20 years I had a lot of clients, and they all loved the idea. I had been based in Mayfair for 10 years and knew the area very well so it made sense to base the business here. At the time, there were loads of articles in various magazines all saying that nails bars are really growing rapidly. And so, I thought, “clearly I’m onto something here”. When I started in the industry 20 years ago, having a manicure was the preserve of the upper classes, with titles etc, where now it’s standard and accessible for everyone. The next piece to fall into place was after I’d decided to go ahead with the business, I went to Dubai on a holiday and I didn’t manage to get my nails done beforehand or waxed or anything. The concierge at our hotel directed me to this lovely spa and when I walked in, I was blown away. It was really inspiring, the decor, the style, the service, and I thought wow something like this should exist in London, and it really inspired me to do it, and I thought, it doesn’t exist why don’t I do it? I was able to incorporate this luxury element into my business plan. My husband, who’s in finance, helped me. I was very lucky as things moved so quickly after that. I met an accountant who specialises in beauty, who looked at the numbers. He was happy and so we negotiated and he invested.
MM: Did you experience any challenges?
SR: The main one was acquiring a site. It was my main challenge. I would speak to the estate agents on the phone (because they’re the ones that introduced the clients to the landlord), I would call them up and explain my concept and they would say they had something available, but when I would get there, they would say, “Oh no, I don’t think our clients want to proceed”. I would say: “But that’s not what you said on the phone, now that you’ve met me you’ve changed your mind, what’s going on?” And it was like this unspoken action, an unspoken thing that seemed to carry on from one agency to the next. To be honest it took me a year and a half to find a site, even though I had the money, I was just going around and around in circles. Then I decided to get smart and do something about it as I felt there was some discrimination going on. I got my friends to go in and pretend to be me and I would accompany them as a friend, not the person who’s going to run the show. And honestly that’s how I succeeded. Mayfair is a beautiful luxury area. When I look around, there are not many people of my age or people of colour that has a business as such, so I think that was part of the issue. There’s always going to be challenges and you’ve just got to be smart and find your way around it and just not be disarmed.
MM: What three skills do you need to be a successful business woman?
SR: You need to be very organised, very disciplined and incredibly passionate. It is tiring and you need to have that passion that keeps you going when you get tired and fed up. Your passion keeps everything alive. And organised, I mean what we do, we’ve got a big team, we’ve got a lot of clients, we’ve got to be organised to ensure everything runs smoothly. And discipline, as I said to be consistent and following the protocol, structures.
MM: Who do you admire in the beauty industry?
SR: I love Bobbi Brown, I love what she’s done, I love her style, her creations, her products, the inclusivity of every women and the power in the message that she sends out is ‘be happy and confident with yourself’. I also love Jo Malone. I read quite a lot, and I listened to her interview, and from her background, where she’s coming from, her life challenges and where she’s at, it’s incredibly inspiring.
MM: What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
SR: I look at my phone, which is really sad. I check my emails on my phone between 8 and 9 o’clock and my day begins as I will start to respond to things. After that I will go to my local coffee shop and I’ll sit and have something to eat there or I’ll have something to eat at home. I quite like that because it allows a bit of me time and maybe I’ll call my mum or my aunt just to say hi. And then I’ll go back and pretty much continue. My days usually finish around 8 o’clock, so quite a long day. I am usually quite tired but it works I guess because I’m passionate and my passion gives me energy. I’m physically well, I eat well. The reality is I work double the hours for myself than if I was working for somebody else. There’s always something to do. My bank holiday was spent doing VAT around the clock, not going to sleep for two days. It’s pros and cons.
MM: How do you relax?
SR: I meditate a lot, I listen to a lot of meditation tapes and videos on YouTube, especially when I go away, because I need to switch my brain off. I listen to a lot of inspiring talks.
MM: What’s your favourite holiday destination?
SR: It’s got to be Jamaica, it’s beautiful, it’s home. I love travelling and I’ve been to some amazing places and some amazing hotels, but I don’t know, there’s something about the people, their fun, their real, you know? I feel spiritually free.