Being a nail artist, April Ryan has always relied on her own two hands to earn an income. As a young girl growing up in an impoverished household in Russia, she turned to nail artistry as a way to express her creativity and bring in much-needed money for herself and her family. What she never could have imagined back then is that one day her hands would be a highly sought-after commodity that would spawn a multi-million dollar business.
Ryan grew up in a small town in the south of Russia under trying circumstances. Although both her parents worked, their meager salaries could barely cover the costs of raising a family of five. “I was one of the poorest kids in my class,” says Ryan. “I only had one pair of shoes for winter that were ripped and my mom would sew and knit clothes for me because we had no money to buy new clothes. We even had to grow our own vegetables because it was too expensive to get them at the store.”
Despite an unglamorous upbringing, Ryan gravitated towards aesthetics. “I always knew I wanted to be in the beauty industry,” she says. “Nails were the easiest option because nail polish was cheap, so I began using my nails as little canvases for my art. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any beauty schools in our small city, so I had no chance to get my license or any professional knowledge.”
Then when Ryan was 18, she had a stroke of good luck. An independent educator came to her city offering beauty classes and a job placement for the best student in the class. Ryan knew this was her chance to get her foot in the door, so she worked hard and passed the course at the top of her class. With her first job as a nail technician secured, she hoped to learn as much as she could, but she quickly realized that the salon owners didn’t share her aspirations.
“I worked there for about six months and found it boring because I wanted to grow, but they didn’t want to provide better services for their clientele or their staff. They didn’t want to do things like invite professionals to educate the team, so I decided to leave and work independently. From that point on, most of the things I learned were self-taught.”
Ryan soon became the most popular nail technician in her town. Fueled by her success, she decided to move to the largest city in the south of Russia and open up her first nail salon, which she named Red Iguana. By the time she was 23, she owned three nail salons. Although the salons were wildly popular and making money, they came with their own set of problems.
“In Russia, you can’t be free to run your business without fear. It’s very corrupt, so politicians can do anything they want. And then there’s the jealousy. You never know if somebody will break your windows or burn your car. It’s actually very dangerous. I remember being stressed every day. In 2014, I decided to move to the USA. I realized that that part of my life was done and I wanted something bigger, so I decided to follow my American dream.”
The American Dream
Although Ryan barely spoke any English, she secured a job at a well-known nail salon in Beverly Hills where she had a full roster of clients including quite a few celebrities. In her spare time, she made instructional nail art videos and posted them on Instagram. Within six months, her Instagram account had exploded and multiple people and businesses were asking her to make videos for them as well.
“There was a period where I was making five videos per day,” she says. “The problem was that I was making all my videos on my hands and I was using a UV lamp. After a couple of months, I realized it was turning into a health hazard. I knew there were fake hands available, but most of them weren’t realistic, so I decided to create my own using my own hands as the models. At first, it seemed kind of creepy, but I thought it was a great idea, so why not?”
Building A Prototype
It took about six months of research and development for Ryan to come up with a prototype that mimicked her hands perfectly. As soon as she posted videos of her silicone hand on social media, people began imploring her to sell them. In 2020, Ryan made $3 million in sales, and this year she expects sales to be even higher. In addition to silicone hands, Red Iguana also offers professional nail products including marble inks, gel polishes, and builder gels.
“Right now we sell about 2000 hands per month and we have distributors in five countries,” Ryan says. “This year, we’re expecting about 40 more products that are already on the way. It’s to the point where we just don’t have the people and resources to sell more than we can, so we’re working to find new people to help us. It’s not easy though because it’s delicate work and I don’t want just quantity, I want to keep the quality high.”
Ryan attributes much of her success in the business to the solid reputation she established on Instagram prior to creating her silicone hands. “When I worked with other nail companies and was trying different products, I never showed that product inappropriately and I would never promote products just because companies paid for it. If I felt a product wasn’t good, I just wouldn’t promote it. So my followers trusted me, and now they know that I will only provide the best products.”
Although most Red Iguana products are designed for professional nail artists, Ryan is currently working on a line of products for home use. She realizes that there are more people choosing to do their own nails at home now, but that many of the nail products designed for home use are sub-par and only last for a short time. Her plan is to create products that fall in line somewhere between the professional and amateur levels.
Keep Moving Forward
From her humble beginning painting nails in a small town in Russian to arriving in a new country not knowing the language, and her transformation to an Instagram influencer, inventor, and now owner of a seven-figure business, Ryan has not wavered in her ambition. Her advice to others who have big dreams is to take action and keep going no matter what.
“Start right now,” she says. “Stop thinking and just dreaming about it. Start to educate yourself on how to achieve what you want to achieve. Then when you achieve that, don’t stop. Find the next step and just do it. Everything is easier than it looks. Also, don’t stress about whether you’re the best or the first. There’s always a piece in the market. You will always have your piece of the pie.”
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