St. Louis Character: Entrepreneur Michelle Robinson's path from health care to a vegan nail polish startup – St. Louis Business Journal – St. Louis Business Journal

Michelle Robinson never imagined she’d be an entrepreneur.
As a kid, she always dreamed of being a singer. As an adult, her career took her into health care and education. But her path changed in 2010, when her mother, Juliet, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Juliet’s confidence faltered when she couldn’t wear her typical makeup and nail polish because of the chemotherapy treatments — the radiation made her skin too sensitive to chemicals often found in beauty products.
With a background in health care, Robinson set out to create a new type of nail polish. In 2018, she launched DEMIblue Natural Nails, a company that creates cruelty-free and vegan nail polish gentle enough to be used on people undergoing radiation treatments.
After nearly three years in business, the company has seen success. In 2020, DEMIblue posted a $70,000 gross profit, and the firm is set to hit $316,000 in gross profits by the end of 2021.
The polish is sold in boutique-style stores across nine states and locally at the Golden Grocer in St. Louis and Lass and Laddie in St. Charles. It’s also sold online at both DEMIblue’s website and the Walmart Marketplace.
Tell me about your career before launching DEMIblue Natural Nails. I started in health care as a clinical administrator for Washington University School of Medicine for seven years. I transitioned out of health care into education, working at some of the schools here in St. Louis to prepare young adults for professional careers. Education propelled me into entrepreneurship. The schools that I worked for abruptly closed their doors and I was forced to make a decision. “What do I want to do? Do I want to continue into corporate America? Do I want to become an entrepreneur? What is it that I’m going to do with my life now?” I just kind of took a moment where I was trying to figure it out.
How did the idea for vegan nail polish come about? My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. She is this spunky, vibrant, flamboyant woman who loves her makeup, nail polish, clothes and shoes, and I just watched her transition from doing all of those things that she loves to not being able to. I remember having a conversation with her and asking her, “Why aren’t you wearing your nail polish or your makeup?” And she said that the chemotherapy created sensitivities in her body to certain chemicals. It was an “a-ha” moment.
Why was it an “a-ha” moment? Because I have a health care background. I knew what those chemicals were and what they do to the body. I wanted to figure out how I could help my mom be her flamboyant self. Nail polish just became the thing, because it has some of the most toxic chemicals in it compared to many of our other cosmetics. When you think about it, we, as women, love to feel our best and sometimes when we go through transition, we don’t feel our best and we lose a little bit of that confidence. It’s the little things that make us feel better, and nail polish can be that little thing.
What has been the hardest part of starting your own business? One of the hardest things was that I was a personal introvert. It was initially difficult for me to ask for help, and to go out and talk to people. So I did a lot of stuff by myself. But then I tapped into St. Louis’ ecosystem and I surrounded myself with people who knew a little bit more than me, and they helped me through that transition. And to be honest, the nail-care industry was new to me. I never envisioned myself being a beauty provider. So all of those were things that I had to learn and master. But it’s been rewarding because now as an entrepreneur, I’m using my experiences to mentor other entrepreneurs, sharing with them the difficult things that I faced and giving them strategy so that they don’t also have to go through those things.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Absolutely not. I wanted to be a singer. I convinced my mom to send me to a performing arts high school where I could hone in on this talent of mine, and that just didn’t happen. I became a young mom. I started a family really early, and it changed the path of my life. I knew that I needed to set a foundation where I could take care of my family, and transition from being a teen mom to a successful woman. Starting out, health care was that foundation — it was the stability that I needed — and it’s also what propelled me into education, which is what propelled me into entrepreneurship.
Besides the financials, what does success look like for you and DEMIblue? Helping people is really what my purpose is, and when I can reach back into the community and provide someone a service or a skill that they didn’t have before, that is success — being able to give back. But ultimately, being able to create a legacy for my family, something that they can also be a part of and grow in, is what I consider success.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in organizational studies and an MBA from Fontbonne University
Family: Daughters, Deja Robinson and Tonisha Lewis; granddaughter, Demi Thomas
Favorite color of DEMIblue polish: Blue
Favorite musical artists: Jill Scott, Lalah Hathaway, Michael Jackson
Favorite trip abroad: Morocco
Join us as we recognize family-owned companies that have successfully transitioned to the next generation (or several generations) and have made an impact on the St. Louis community. Please register by 10:00pm, Thursday, Oct. 14.
The St. Louis Business Journal is accepting nominations for its HR Awards program, which recognize the important work individuals, companies and organizations do in the field of human resources to make St. Louis-area firms and organizations successful.
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