Welcome to Indie Insight, the weekly series where I interview an awesome indie nail polish maker! This week we are chatting with Pam of Girly Bits Cosmetics! Girly Bits is one of the OGs on the indie scene and has been putting out unique and quality creations for quite some time. I also want to give a shoutout to an awesome recent collaboration she did- make sure to check out the making of Julia. Let’s get started!
How did you get into nail polish in the first place?
I have loved nail polish for as long as I can remember, which is a LONG time! I would rarely be seen without nail polish on, and I have always had a sizeable collection, which by today’s standards was tiny! It would be comparable to the amount of polishes I might haul out now when doing a mani LOL! Interestingly, my mani now often consists of any number of different swatches, and generally only a few fingers on my left hand. I had lunch with The PolishAholic last year, and she will probably throttle me for saying this but between the two of us, we had a total of 4 painted nails. And they were all hers.
When and why did you decide to start your own brand?
Sometime around 2005, I stumbled on the world of on-line makeup and polish forums, blogs, YouTube vlogs, and then Facebook groups less than a year later. Somewhere in there I began looking for ways to amp up the bottles of polish I owned that were not quite what I wanted. I started mixing different polishes together and adding glitters, and MAC loose pigments and reflect pigments to them. After months and months of sourcing supplies and a lot of trial and error I had it down to a pretty reliable formula. I was pretty active in Facebook groups where we talked a lot about frankening, and shared pics of our creations. I had also started a blog and I shared my best creations there. Several FB friends and readers had suggested that I make some of my frankens available for sale, and honestly I had invested SO much money in supplies that I had to either stop buying things, or figure out a way to recoup some of my investment. So, I set out with a business plan, purchased more ingredients and began making polish from scratch (not using other pre-made polishes) to see if it was do-able. And it just took off from there. My first sales were actually just announced on my blog, with pictures and prices, and instructions to email me with orders. It was such a hit that even then I had to cap orders at a particular number so that I could mail them out. It was a LONG painful process, and it was not long before I realized I had a viable business and needed to find a shopping platform to operate with. My flagship public launch was September 2011.
Tell me how and why you chose your brand name.
My brand name was SUCH a process for me. I wanted something that implied that it was perhaps a beauty product, and definitely geared toward women, but I did not want to be limited to just polish. So I wanted something that did not have the word polish or lacquer in the name. But, since indie polish was so new, I still couldn’t go way left field either. I had named my blog Girly Bits, because while it focussed on polish, I also shared hair and makeup, and sometimes recipes. So basically bits of girly things. I had polled my blog readers about a brand name and several of them suggested my blog name since I already had a following there. And so it was =)
What’s your favorite polish ‘season’?
My favourite polish season is probably Holiday/winter. There is nothing like a rich delicious vampy shimmer.
Where do you draw your inspiration from for your polishes?
I am not really sure where my inspiration comes from to be honest, but many of my creations are influenced by real events in my life from something funny someone said, to a crazy fabric I see in a magazine, to some pretty stonewear or flooring I might see at a restaurant. Generally my creations just sort of evolve sort of on their own.
Do you tend to keep your collections seasonal, or do you make what you want, when you want to make it?
Generally I make what I want, although I do try to take seasons, trends, and various finishes and cohesiveness into consideration when putting a collection together as a whole.
You’re one of the very first indie brands that is still around and still successful. What changes have you seen in the indie world from then to now?
Oh gosh, this is a big one. There are so many changes on various levels, from the makers, to the suppliers ( that is a HUGE one), to the customers, to the bloggers, to the stockists. Aside from the obvious boom in the industry (which thankfully happened after I had already gotten my feet wet) one of the notable differences is the blogger-brand relationships, and how social media has impacted all of that. When I first began blogging, a lot of nail blogs were simply a way to record the bloggers personal polish journey. Press samples were nearly unheard of, except from a select group of larger bloggers. The market for nail polish sales in general saw a HUGE increase in 2010-2011, partly influenced by the downturn in economy which limited more extravagant purchases for many people. Nail polish was a relatively inexpensive luxury item. With that trend, also came the evolution of nail art. And coupled with the popularity of social media platforms, and picture sharing sites like flickr, Tumblr, and Pinterest, more and more bloggers found their platform and also saw the opportunity to monetize it.
Enter the Indie polish makers. Operating on shoe string budgets, we certainly did not have any money for standard marketing and advertising, and many bloggers were happy to receive press samples. So it was a win-win situation. The bloggers were able to get some relief for their own polish buying budget, plus with the meteoric rise in the popularity of Indie polish, having the newest indie collection on your blog was a huge readership draw. And we as Indie makers were able to reach our target market, which was the bloggers existing audience, plus we were able to get honest feedback on our products. This in itself was an important factor, since our products were not available in person for potential buyers to try out before buying. So reading a review and seeing swatches from a blogger with trusted opinions was valuable for both sides.
The blogging world experienced a boom in 2012-2013 which I am sure was at least partly impacted by the influx of press samples from Indie brands. Many bloggers went from little to no press samples, to having so many that they needed to be more selective in choosing which brands to work with. The increase in traffic on beauty blogs caught the attention of many main stream brands as well, and we saw readership increase even more, with a blending of main stream and Indie brand audiences. The value of a bloggers reach and opinions did not go un-noticed.
I truly believe that the success of both Indie brands and blogging went hand in hand, and one likely would not have experienced as much success without the other. I have had the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the biggest beauty bloggers and Indie brand owners in the industry, and the funny thing is we were each fan-girling over each other. Gotta love it.
What is your personal favorite polish that you’ve made?
My favourite of the polishes I have made changes a lot, but I seem to always reach for Get Weaponized and Man Size Love.
Other than your own brand, which brand do you have the most of in your collection?
I buy a lot of Indie polish. Partly due to wanting to support my fellow makers, and partly due to having a hoarding..er I mean collecting habit. I would say the largest part of my Indie collection so far is probably Elevation Polish.
Do you do polish work full-time or do you also have a day job?
Girly Bits is my full time job. 36 hours a day, 8.5 days a week.
What has been your biggest struggle in polish making?
My biggest struggle is probably time management, and taking on too heavy of a work load. Oh, and not getting enough sleep!!
What is your favorite thing about making or selling polish?
Hands down, my favourite part of making polish is playing mad scientist and mixing up something new and exciting. My favourite part of selling is easily the interaction with customers and fans, and seeing my creations on the fingers of someone who loves it.
We all know glitter can be really messy and stick to everything- how do you keep all of your glitter, pigments and mixing tools organized?
What is this word ‘organized’? I don’t think that is something I am familiar with. I am hopelessly unorganized but somehow I manage to know where everything is. If I tidy it up, I can’t find anything.
But in all seriousness, I am meticulously clean in my workspace which is a dedicated studio above my garage that we built in 2012 specifically for the operation of Girly Bits. It has its own entrance from the outside for deliveries, as well as an entrance from inside the house. We included sink area for cleanup, as well as a high powered exhaust fan and its own heating and cooling system. On my mixing station, I have my surface covered in several layers of large sheets of craft paper to help absorb any spills, and I can just crumple up the top sheet and reveal a new clean sheet underneath, any time if gets dripped or spilled on. It also serves as handy place to jot down notes in a hurry. I have rolls of paper towels everywhere, as well as several spray bottles of all purpose cleaner and windex which aid in keeping the shimmer and glitter fallout to a minimum between pours. I have acetone and 99% alcohol at an arm’s length for cleaning off tools, and of course a mask, gloves and hand sanitizer. My dogs do not come into the studio at all, since it is basically separate from the living area of my home. The shipping area is a different part of the large counter space in the studio, and the majority of my stock supply and shipping materials are stored in two unused bedrooms in my house, and the lacquer base is in fire proof cabinets in the garage.
How many prototypes do you typically have for every polish that actually makes it into a collection?
The number of prototypes created for a polish that gets released varies a lot. Sometimes it’s perfect right out of the gate. Other times I might make 20 or more versions before I am satisfied. Sometimes I might make 20 or more and then decide that my vision is just not going to become a reality and abandon it all together. I am obsessed with making new things though, and hopelessly impulsive, so I have literally hundreds of prototypes at any given time in various stages of testing and tweaking. So while the ratio of prototypes to released version of that polish might be somewhere around an average of 5:1, the ratio of different prototypes I make to the number of polishes I release, is probably more like 80:1.
The maker/blogger relationship is one that is pretty important in the indie world. How do you decide which bloggers to work with?
Choosing which bloggers to work with is a tough one. There are many many bloggers that I would love to work with, but with an Indie sized budget I have to do what works best for me over-all. I try to use a variety of bloggers each for various reasons. One of the biggest factors for me is professionalism. That means no drama, open communication, being reliable, and being a positive influence on the community as a whole. I try to select bloggers with various sizes of audiences, varying length of nails and skin tone, as well as picture types. Some have stylized photos, some do nail art, and some have extremely colour accurate photos. A bloggers reach, content relevance and community interaction plays a part of course. You wouldn’t advertise your yard sale in a church bulletin of a parish three cities away, know what I mean? I look for clear well lit pictures, that are colour accurate, and neat and tidy cuticles are a must. I have a few ‘go-to’ bloggers, and I try to rotate others as well as new ones in every few launches. I also pay attention to the written content of a blog, and how often they post.
What was the moment that your brand really started to take off and be noticed? When you first started, what did you do to get your name out there?
I was very lucky I think, in the sense that when I launched there were only a handful of Indie brands out there. (I knew of only 5 others) In fact many people had not even heard of Indie polish yet. So, with a less saturated market and a well-tested product, my first launch was a huge success and I haven’t looked back. Mind you, I was very active in the on line community, and sent out a LOT of samples for opinions before launching. I was picked up by Llarowe in January of 2012, a mere 3 months after I started, and I am sure that was a large part of today’s success.
With so many indies on the market now, what do you think sets your brand apart?
I am not sure if this sets me apart or not, but I can tell you that I am known for consistent reliable product quality and formulas, as well as a wide range of finishes. I have also worked extremely hard to gain an excellent reputation in the industry as being a positive influence, drama free, approachable and offering top notch customer service. And my products always have an open inventory, which means easy to get and no restock madness. I am also one of very few Canadian Indies.
Let’s talk a little about the person behind the brand- what hobbies do you have outside of nail polish?
I have a lot of hobbies, because I get bored very easily although sadly I have very little time for all of them lately. One of my biggest passions is acting. I have been in many stage plays, several films, and even did stand-up comedy and improv at a local comedy club. I even have an IMDb page! Just the other week, as my husband turned on the TV for a moment before bed, he said Hey, isn’t that the movie you were in? And wouldn’t you know it, a movie I had done years ago was on Showtime. Ironically, I rarely watch TV anymore, and while I love movies, again- too many things, not enough time. I also love to dance. About 5 years ago I was taking a weekly jazz class, and we performed twice a year. I miss it terribly. I also play a little piano, and I LOVE music. I could not live without music. Actually, my oldest daughter is an amazing singer and is pursuing a career in music. Shameless plug- You can find her on Youtube under JennyKnightSings. I love arts and crafts of all sorts (no big surprize there!). I enjoy reading. I am a ridiculous research-aholic, and do a lot of reading useless facts on line and in magazines. It makes for great conversation starters. I also enjoy spending time at our cottage on Pelee Island (which is in the middle of Lake Erie) where I take the BEST naps in the world.
Do you have any pets? Tell me about them!
We currently have two doggies- Red and Dobby. They are both rescues from the Caribbean. We lost our first furbaby ever this past December. Kix was a border collie lab mix, and he was also a rescue. Red is about 10, and he is an unknown mixed breed and doesn’t really look like any kind of dog in particular. He came to us about 7 years ago from a family who found him as a stranded puppy, while they were living in the Caribbean. They moved to Canada with him a few years later, then had to relocate over seas, so we took Red in so he would not have to endure the travel and accompanying quarantine. I actually found him on Facebook. Dobby is about 3 and is a little black terrier type mix. My middle daughter was fostering some dogs and would bring the dogs here when she visited home on the weekends. We fell in love with Dobby, (his name was Gorbito at the time) and Red loved him too, so we gave him his furever home.
Is there anything about you that would surprise people to know?
Hmm. Maybe not surprising necessarily, but a lot of girls don’t realize that I am not young? I have three daughters, the oldest of which is 30 and married.
What’s your favorite kind of food?
My favourite food hands down is sweets. Particularly ice cream or pie. But REAL food? Hmm.. Garlic, salad, pasta and seafood. OMG now I am hungry.
Thanks again for chatting with us, Pam! Talk to me in the comments and let me know what you think of this brand- have you tried them out before? What other brands would you like to see interviewed in the future? Let me know!
If you liked this interview, make sure to check out the other ones in the indie insight tag!