Debbie has given EcoCult a trio of nail polishes for the Launch Party raffle on the 26th. Find out more about the party and how you can get in.
With the proliferation of non-toxic nail polishes, one brand stands out. When I tried it out earlier this year, the polish actually stuck to the nail and stayed. The colors are rich and saturated. The packaging–with the hefty glass bottle and sustainably-harvested wooden cap, is notably elegant. A portion of the profits are given to environmental organizations. Finally, despite the fact that it is a three-free polish, the founder doesn’t like to call it “non-toxic.”
Sheswai (pronounced SHE-sway) is the brainchild of Debbie Leavitt, an L.A. nail aesthetician and authentic human being in pursuit of the natural life. She took time out of her day to Skype with me and, while sipping on green tea, answered all my questions.
EC: Why do you say that Sheswai isn’t “non-toxic?”
DL: Because I don’t want to lie. It’s not non-toxic; it’s not water-based; it’s not completely organic or edible. There’s things in it that make it a nail polish. However, it’s less toxic, because there’s nothing in our polish that is carcinogenic like DBP [Dibutyl phthalate], formaldehyde or toluene. There are some brands are non-toxic and water-based, but even those I don’t know that I would put that in my mouth.
EC: I’ve personally found that water-based nail polishes peel off quickly. Was staying away from water-based a conscious decision for you?
DL: Yeah, for sure. I’m a manicurist first and foremost. Part of my love is paint, and painting a nail with that color and that shine. That quality of paint is really important to me, and I didn’t find those qualities in a lasting lacquer in anything other than what we created for Sheswai, and a few other brands.
EC: How did you come up with the formulation for Sheswai?
DL: Thankfully, there are others who specialize in this industry. It was a matter of working with chemists to find a formula that lasts long and has great shine and rich pigment and color. Our chemists know what they are doing and are really good at it. My research and design was two and a half years before we even launched.
My main intention, being a Cali girl, born and raised, was I wanted to have everything from California. Our business practices and lifestyle are 100% organic, and with that came not wanting to source overseas. I just felt like I wanted to control and at least being a part of the process. Everything is based in the U.S., California as much as possible. Our wooden caps are sourced from sustainably harvested lumber that is milled in Maine.
EC: How did you come up with the name Sheswai?
DL: I love to play with words and put words together to make new words, like Honeyfox–that’s an affectionate name I call friends and lovers. Sheswai, it’s the way a woman moves, she sways. I liked the way it looked with an i instead of an y aesthetically, so I changed that up.
EC: Which color is your favorite, and why?
DL: I can’t pick favorites! I love this question but I can’t stand it. It depends on my mood, sometimes I want a really clean aesthetic; I do Perfecto and So Pretty. Now that the seasons changed, I like the darker shades–Wine Snob is the next one I’m putting on my nails. I think that’s what so exciting about nail polish, and something that I love about Sheswai. With the packaging and colors, it really is about being a woman. We have our sexy sides, our dark sides, our playful sides. We have a really well-rounded collection–there’s something for everyone.
EC: What makes Sheswai different from other brands?
DL: I haven’t seen another brand market themselves or brand themselves the way we have. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I want to put it in different packaging and make it feel that our ethos and our packaging make us different. It’s such a pretty bottle that I love to hold, whether I’m painting or just holding the bottle–it has a really nice weight to it.
I’m really thoughtful about the colors. I don’t know that I intend to have over 100 shades of Sheswai. There’s only so many ways you can do a certain red. I could. But I’m very deliberate about the colors. When anyone paints with Sheswai, they’re surprised with how much pigment they get with one coat, and how smooth it is. (Though we do say to do two coats.)
EC: What else do you do besides Sheswai?
DL: I have my hands in all cookie jars related to nails. My first profession is a manicurist. I’m a full time nail stylist. I was in shops, salons and spas for a really long time. But I had goals with my career–I didn’t want to be in shops and salons forever. My intention was to get with an agency and be on set for photoshoots and have a voice and participate in that look. I’ve been doing that for eight years now. I also have a small handful of house call clients and the random friends and clients who come here to Sheswai headquarters at my home. There’s a salon I freelance at. Basically all things polish-related and natural nail care-related.
EC: So how would someone get in touch with you for a manicure if they were in LA?
DL: They can hit me up at email@example.com. If you’re in California and in LA I’ll always make time in my schedule to connect with someone who wants to get Sheswai’ed.
EC: Who do you imagine the Sheswai girl to be?
DL: I love this question. We’ve had many roundtable discussions here about, Who is Sheswai? I have clients in their 40s and 50s, and I have young models in their 20s. I like to think she is every girl. Someone who is mindful of their own lifestyle, really mindful of what they choose to eat and care for themselves, and they see Sheswai as having that conviction. Somebody who has fun, a gypsy, jet-setting hippie, who is aware of style.
EC: Where do you go for a good manicure in LA?
DL: Olive and June is a place that has just opened. It’s beautiful inside, they’ve got great technicians and a really pretty philosophy for hand and foot care.
EC: What about in NYC?
DL: I was in New York in May and wanted to go to Ten over Ten, but couldn’t make it. That’s the place I’ve heard about the most.
EC: Who’s your favorite sustainable designer?
DL: I love Stella McCartney because she’s always about her ethos and values. When I love a product or designer, it’s about more than the packaging and products itself. I like knowing what they’re about. And Stella McCartney has the conviction of her lifestyle and that comes through in her designs.
EC: What’s in store for Sheswai coming up?
DL: That has been the million dollar question of late. It’s a lot of work, and it’s a hustle, to have your own business. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you can’t let those moments of frustration cross over into the creative expression of your brand. It’s such a challenge. So, more love, and more colors. I want to do a few more sheers for the line. I’ve been on the really sheer clean and pretty trip lately. There’s a lot of great brands out there that are doing new colors and methods with polish, and I would like to go in another direction. You don’t always need to be bejeweled and gelled. A clean, natural polished nail is timeless and classic.
You can find Sheswai on the website, at Ricky stores, or at Bridge Apothecary, 104 Jay Street in Brooklyn.