Entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid on why failure is not a word in her vocabulary
Sharmadean Reid, 33, MBE, has never doubted herself. Always eager to embrace ‘newness’, she founded WAH as a hip hop zine focussing on a new wave of feminism while a student at Central St Martin’s. Success followed as a fashion stylist and Nike trend consultant, before she made the brave move to launch ground-breaking WAH Nails in 2009. Still a director, she’s now working on the early 2018 launch of Beautystack, a publishing platform for beauty professionals to publish their content and manage their bookings, which she’s confident will transform the global beauty business.
Do you think you’re more fearless now than when you started out?
When I started WAH Nails I was 24 so my fearlessness was a combination of youthful naivety and chutzpah. Now, in my early 30s, I have a different type of fearlessness to do with knowing that my ideas are good – that I matter.
Fearlessness is not something you can acquire overnight; you have to practice fearlessness every single day. Now I make decisions without being afraid.
I think if there’s ever been a narrative around me that there was stuff I couldn’t do, I definitely didn’t subscribe to it.
I’m just a normal girl from Wolverhampton, a black girl from a single parent family – but I wrote my own story and I didn’t even consider for a second there was anything I couldn’t do.
Do you think this inner resilience comes from your childhood?
I come from a really big family and they’ve always been really supportive of me. The only memory I have of someone putting me down was my aunt’s husband – an outsider to the family – who told me I should have elocution lessons because my accent was so common. I must have been about 10. It was so weird for someone to tell me I had that flaw. It wasn’t normal for our family.
With my son Roman, who’s six, I’m very conscious that lack of confidence comes from experiences when you’re young. I don’t want to create a human who ever thinks he’s not quite good enough.
So you’ve always been confident and thought you were ‘good enough’?
I try and see the good in people and I think that reflects back; good things come to me. I’ve always been positive and I’ve never had this concept of knockbacks, because no one can knock me or my career back except myself.
If I want something, I go for it. I only ever wanted to study fashion communication at Central St Martin’s. I got their prospectus every year from the age of 12 and when I did my university application, I only applied there. They told me on the spot I’d got a place. I knew I was perfect for that course but if they’d said no, I’d have thought it was their loss. If someone doesn’t want me, I think they must have made a mistake and don’t have taste. If you take that attitude, especially with men, then you don’t pine after them. It’s their loss.
When it comes to fearlessness, do you think there’s a difference between men and women?
Men don’t necessarily think about what might hold them back, whereas women do. Women will often fear what starting a new project might do to their lives, to their family, their friends, their children. They put so many people before themselves whereas men put themselves before anyone else.
One of the most powerful things I’ve learnt recently is how to look after number one – myself and my wellbeing.
Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time doing decks for their business but you have to do one for yourself too. What do I want? What is my measure of success? What sort of company do I want to found? How do I want to be perceived? What kind of mum do I want to be? What kind of boss? I’ve always written down my personal mission statement since I was a child and I do one every year.
Have you learnt from failure?
Failure is not in my vocabulary. I don’t use it as a word. I don’t think of it as something that happens to me. I might have to swerve a bit on the road, but I’m not stopping.
So what’s next on your road?
When I started WAH Nails I went from being a successful stylist, travelling around the world living the high life, to painting models’ toe nails on the floor of London Fashion week. It seemed crazy and it took guts but I knew it was about playing the long game and building a successful business from the bottom and it really resonated with people.
Then people thought I should start a chain of salons and release some nail products. But I believe I can make a much bigger impact with Beautystack. I’ve always been about innovation and newness and Beautystack is the most recent display of my fearlessness. I’m building a business that lasts beyond image and personality, creating a platform that’s going to solve people’s problems, and putting my reputation on the line.
I’m starting a global tech company that’s going to be indispensable to the entire beauty industry. It’s exciting – and a little bit scary.
Sharmadean Reid is part of THE AMEX FEAR-LESS SERIES which celebrates the achievements of the nation’s rising stars through their own unique and inspirational stories. Sharmadean joins five other British influencers who talk candidly about their personal path to achieving their potential and the bumps in the road they encountered along the way.