As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.
This is Rachel James' story, as told to Charmin Michelle.
A few weeks ago, I was watching Alicia Keys host the 2020 Grammys while wearing my brand.
One of the largest artists in the world was real-life modeling this Chicago girl's wildest dream in front of millions, on one of the country's most historically prominent award shows. What a beautifully major moment for my entire team. I've hustled for so long for that moment, I've worked so hard. I'm still amazed by every milestone.
And my parents were pretty geeked, too.
A Star Is Born
Let me introduce myself: I am Rachel James—a learner, a wanderer, a lover, a fighter and way too blunt at times—a true Sagittarius. I'm a dreamer simply trying my best to teach my sons everything I can, put my life into my work, and have the best time doing both.
My business is Pear Nova, a vegan, cruelty-free lacquer brand based in Chicago. Pear Nova is, in essence, a combination of my experiences—clothes I've worn, art I've admired, music I've danced to, foods I've tasted, countries I've traveled to and women I've wanted to be like all bottled up—full pun intended. We've somehow managed to translate hustle into success, and have now been worn, and mentioned, by some of our industry faves.
Image Courtesy of Pear Nova
I've always known that I would somehow be working in the fashion industry, and nail polish turned out to be the perfect little accessory that sat between the beauty and fashion world. I remember my last day of fashion merchandising school; I was 7 or 8 months pregnant with my second-born, giving a marketing presentation on a fake brand for my final. My professor was so blown away that all of the feedback literally awakened the entrepreneur in me. That very day, I went home, googled "how to start a nail polish line," and began building my business.
I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago with my parents and brothers. From an early age, I witnessed what hard work actually looked like, as my dad went from working as a janitor to becoming a principal, and my mom, assistant to VP. They taught each of us money management, standard practices of business, and going after our passions. I would always run behind my brothers, laughing and trying to keep up. In school, I was loud, outward, and always trying to figure out ways to make money so I could buy lip gloss. It's funny to think about how I was all about my business, even then.
Pear Nova was unfortunately born through tragedy. I named my company after my late sister-in-love, Nova (who we aren't blessed to experience anymore due to domestic violence). I began googling one day and came across a nova pear tree, which is known to withstand extreme temperature. It was so fitting for both Nova, and what I was creating. It was perfect.
From there, what seemed like an overnight success to you, had been a decade in the making for me. Now, we've built our portfolio and have been featured in Essence, Vogue, ALLURE, and more. We bought a full studio space, invited some techs to do nails, and created a full-service beauty lounge.
The Truth About Entrepreneurship
Has the success been trying at times? C'mon guys, of course. Everything you've heard about entrepreneurship is true, ten times over. I'm often asked for advice I would give to women who are pursuing the next step in their career journey, and there's plenty. And I'm forever open to feeding queens.
At Pear Nova, we even make it a point to speak life into our customers through polish names:
The time to start is now. I don't know about you but I look for black women-owned businesses to give my money to. So, please do something EVERY SINGLE DAY that will get you closer to entrepreneurship because we need you, ladies. We need your vision.
You have to strongly believe in your own crazy. Learn to trust and fall into your madness. Welcome your fears. Tell them to get comfortable because they aren't going anywhere. You will just learn to work through them.
Being a creative that happened to end up an entrepreneur, as someone who likes to sit alone in their own magical bubble with their head up in the sky generating ideas and creating, you have to pop the damn bubble and be open to learning every other aspect about entrepreneurship. I thought, Oh, I'll just make all these dope things! And then it was like, No, girl. Order those books on marketing, branding, and accounting too.
I'm speaking to myself and all introverts when I say this: step way out of your comfort zone and connect with more people! You're already going to get where the universe sees fit, but connections will get you there much quicker. And always remember that absolutely nothing is personal in business.
The Real Me
When I'm overwhelmed, honestly, I cry. That's just the truth. I actually cried about two hours ago... Afterwards, I take a break from anything that's contributing to that feeling.
But after a 12-hour work day, and an evening with my kids, I'm simply exhausted, but I know I kicked ass that day—
That's when I'm at my most fulfilled.
Image Courtesy of Pear Nova Studio
I love to meditate and I love to write. I'm currently writing a journal for my children to read one day. I'll let them know what is happening and what I learned at that moment. It's killing two birds with one stone because it serves as a release for me, and more wisdom for them.
For 2020, I plan to release new classic lacquers, gel lacquers, and a brand new beauty product for Pear Nova. I'm going to make Pear Nova Studio the top beauty lounge in Chicago. I plan to grow more meaningful business relationships and utilize my social media more (ugh, I low-key hate social media). The fact that manicurists rarely get credited for their work is an industry pet peeve of mine, so I plan to lead the culture in being a part of that change. And personally, I just really want to be better at forgiveness, so I'll be working on projecting a more forgivable energy into the universe.
I have so many ideas and things that I want to do—a lip lacquer collection being next. I actually haven't told anyone that yet but now that I have, it's for real, for real. Thankfully, my team and I, we always figure it out. We always find a way to make it happen.
It's crazy because both my ideas, and the ocean, are what scare me more than anything. It's the unknown that's both terrifying and captivating.
But I always manage to be the first to jump right in.
To keep up with Rachel, you may follow her on Instagram. You may also visit Pear Nova Studio's Chicago location for beauty services, or shop polishes by visiting their website.
If you have a story you'd like to share, but aren't sure about how to put it into words, contact as at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "As Told To" for a chance for your story to be featured.
Featured image by Charles Andre' Thomas