When Tran Wills opened her latest business venture, Base Coat Nail Salon, in 2013, the concept was simple: offer customers and employees a safe, non-toxic beauty experience in a charming, art-minded environment. But less than a year after the longtime Colorado entrepreneur's shop had found a home on Tennyson Street, the building was sold and the concept went dormant. Now Base Coat is back, and though the salon has been open for a while, it will celebrate with an official grand opening party this Saturday, May 30, in its new location inside Lumina, a new-ish mixed use building at 3234 North Navajo Street.
Though the original business was a nail salon and gallery, Wills says the focus has been turned solely to nails, but with plenty of curated art throughout the shop. Currently, the walls are devoted to the work of Kristen Hatgi Sink, Aly Barohn and Strange Dirt, with the space seeing a rotating selection of work as time goes on. Denver-made eco-conscious beauty line R.L. Linden is back in the mix too, providing the lotions, scrubs, cuticle oils and other products the salon uses and sells. Wills says Base Coat is also currently working on creating its own non-toxic nail polish remover and a whole line of polishes that are '5 free' (meaning they are free of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate [DBP], toluene, formaldehyde resin and camphor.)
One of the biggest changes for Wills and her business is its new co-ownership. She's always partnered with her husband Josh Wills on their many ventures, but they are now working with Ali Elman, Dustin Audet and Steven Waters — a trio that goes by Rust & Varnish and also owns Black Eye Coffee among other businesses. A second location in Boulder is already being scouted and the group is working on a massive flagship version of Base Coat in Los Angeles, one that will serve as a nail salon, training hub and headquarters and devote half of its space to becoming a bar.
Wills says once the Los Angeles location is off the ground, Base Coat will look to expand into other markets, like Miami, Austin, Portland and New York. She wants to change the often-dangerous world of nail salons she grew up in by not only offering a healthy, chemical-free environment for customers and employees, but a place for nail technicians to learn and grow within the business. "I am hoping I can change the industry by showing that you can have a career in it; I'm trying to empower women who want to grow with us and become more than just a nail tech," says Wills. "I want them to have a stake in our company. We'll do training for our technicians to become beauty directors and managers."
Wills also notes that a recent New York Times article revealing slave labor practices and the harsh chemical environment found in what could be considered more traditional nail salons has helped to push conversation about why regulation in the industry is imperative. She hopes that salons like hers will become the norm as the public learns more. "I want to tell people, if a salon is charging you ten dollars for a manicure, more than likely the nail tech doing your nails is getting hardly any of that money for their work," says Wills. "They work in terrible conditions. No one is fighting for them. I didn't even think about it myself when I was going to these random strip mall nail salons just because it was cheap — but then I dug a little deeper."
Wills acknowledges that Base Coat's prices are higher than the average salon's for a manicure and pedicure, but it is all part of the trade-off. "I know at the end of the day that I'm treating my staff well, they are getting paid well and you as a customer are helping the environment. You're going to get treated well and get the best treatment you could get at a nail salon."
Base Coat Nail Salon is open now; to book an appointment or learn more about the products and services they offer, visit the company's website. Join Base Coat for an opening celebration this Saturday, May 30, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at its new location inside Lumina. As part of the party, Vaux Vintage will be showcasing summer apparel in its pop-up shop, Rory Joyner will offer tarot readings and The Proper Pour and Black Eye Coffee will be serving beverages and snacks as DJ Simone Says provides the music. Mini Manicures will be offered complimentary on a first come, first served basis.
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