I am so excited that Denver-based nail salon, Base Coat, now offers a toxin-free gel manicure. Base Coat was founded by Tran Wills, Ali Elman and Sarah Simon, three amazing women whose nail salon focuses on clean, toxin-free nail care using their own signature line of products, which range from nail polish to body scrubs. I was lucky enough that their first location was located in my Denver neighborhood of LoHi but they have since opened a second location in the art district of Los Angeles, with more locations on the way. I am always working with my hands as a painter and I prefer gel manicures as they last forever and don’t chip. It’s even better that now I can get a gel mani without all of the harsh chemicals. Base Coat also offers gel chrome manicures (my favorite) for some extra sparkle.
Tell me about your background, both professionally and personally.
Ali Elman: I was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, which has given me a deep love for true bohemian culture and style. I’m always drawn to design and creativity, I nearly went to interior design school but instead chose business.
Tran Wills: Over the course of several years owning many businesses, working with artists, planning events and building up the creative community in Denver, Tran had acquired a healthy list of accolades but, more importantly, a keen sense for community-based marketing and brand building. She later put this to the test working as the social media director for a large online retailer. Two years later, Tran realized it was time to harness all that she had learned during her tenure and ventured back into building her own businesses and brands, which is when she opened Base Coat, and later partnered with Ali Elman and Sarah Simon.
Sarah Simon: I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and raised between there and Santa Barbara, California. By being brought up in both cities, where the cultural landscape differed significantly, I was lucky to have the exposure and experience which helped in shaping my ideals and passions, both personally and professionally. I followed in suit with the family profession when it came to cultivating projects and teams whom shared similar interests as I. My personal initiative for what motivates me professionally has a lot to do with how and where I was raised as well as how my friends and family helped shaped me into the woman I am today.
What inspired you to open Base Coat Nail Salon?
Ali Elman: After meeting Tran and seeing what her vision was for the initial Base Coat concept, I felt strongly that she was onto something special. When she sought out a partner, I gladly accepted and vowed to help take Base Coat to the next level.
Tran Wills: I was pregnant with our fourth kid, Hesh; I decided I wanted one last pedicure before going into the hospital. Upon waiting for a treatment at a neighborhood salon, my nose started bleeding and I became nauseous due the smells and harsh chemicals. I immediately walked out and followed my intuition; I knew this couldn’t be good. Everyone is always so conscious about the foods they eat, but don’t consider what they are putting on their bodies. After a couple of years of researching non-toxic beauty products, I realized there was a need for a healthy salon environment that everyone could benefit from, especially pregnant and nursing moms and those with allergies. In 2013, Base Coat was founded in Denver as the first non-toxic nail salon in the city and was also one of just a few in the United States.
Sarah Simon: I was inspired to become a part of Base Coat Nail Salon after becoming close with the originating founder, Tran Wills. Along with knowing Ali Elman for many years, it became apparent that the 3 of us would work together very well. The ethos of the brand was immediately attractive to me, I believe it is just as important to know about what we put on our skin and nails as what we put into our bodies.
You also are the owner of multiple businesses including one of my favorites, The Butcher’s Daughter. What is it like owning and managing multiple businesses located around the country?
Sarah Simon: Owning and being apart of different businesses and teams around the country has brought me extreme fulfillment. I love that I have inherited friends and family in all of the cities that I love to visit the most. While it is challenging at times, trying to be in multiple places at once, in all of the business that I am affiliated with, I really enjoy and care about the teams that I am apart of and I feel extremely supported in this process.
Tell me more about Base Coat, from concept stages to today, including product selection, product testing, growing pains, etc.
Tran Wills: Ali, Sarah and I are extremely excited about our line of non-toxic nail care products, which is something we have been working on for over a year. We worked with Fig & Yarrow, another amazing Denver green beauty company, formulate our signature scent and all of the products that we use in Base Coat, from our crème to body scrub. We really wanted to focus on a solid, non-toxic nail care line, as there wasn’t out there that we loved and that actually worked.
Tell us more about your own Base Coat product line that recently launched.
Ali Elman: As with all products we use, we wanted our line to be as natural as possible. We were drawn to fresh citrus scents to keep the products smelling clean, but not overwhelming. This allows our clients to layer them without being overpowered. It made sense for us to be able to produce all the products we use in our services. I am biased but I love them all!
Tran Wills: Honestly all the amazing people who surround me… from my business partners, my kids, my husband Josh, our hardworking staff, and to all the women who are like myself hustling each and every day, following their dreams and raising families at the same time.
You also are the owner of Black Eye Coffee, how do you find balance between day-to-day life and your multiple businesses?
Ali Elman: I am lucky enough to have wonderful partners and incredible employees that support these other businesses. However, there is not a day that goes by that there isn’t something that needs my attention from Black Eye Coffee. It’s just the same as having children, I guess— you learn to juggle their needs. Even when they are grown up, they still need your love though and some days it is hard to give enough attention to everyone but I do my best.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
Ali Elman: My daughter inspires me to keep pushing and to be a better version of myself, both personally and professionally. Knowing I have another little girl on the way is even more reason for me to be a strong role model for these future women.
Sarah Simon: Certain smells, colors and songs inspire me daily. Engaging in conversations with my nearest and dearest helps too.
How do you find balance between being a business owner and a mother?
Ali Elman: This is one of the more challenging aspects of my life but it’s not something I saw as a choice between one over the other. I have a partner who is very supportive of the goals I’ve set in business and he steps in when I can’t. You learn to create a schedule that works and weave through business/motherhood throughout it. It is not easy, but nothing worth it in life really is. I can’t imagine that I would be as grounded if I didn’t have my daughter— she keeps me laser focused on the goals we have set.
What motivates you professionally?
Ali Elman: Some mornings I wake up and think: How did I get so lucky to do what I do? I get to work with highly creative, passionate people who keep me on my toes. I’m motivated by the possibility of the future and the thought of truly growing a brand from the ground up. It is so exciting to see how far Base Coat has come and to imagine where we can take it.
Tran Wills: My family is the reason why I am an entrepreneur. I get up every day for them. They depend on me and I depend on them. I want them to see that anything is possible if you work really hard and have a dream you whole-heartedly believe in. Owning a business is one of the hardest things I have ever done but I have never regretted it. Motherhood has made me a great multi-tasker, which helps in running businesses to get all the shit done. I am rarely late. I set my clocks 15-20 minutes early. My husband hates it. I am not of fan of tardiness at all; I would rather be 20 minutes early than 5 minutes late. We have the best clients in the world, who have been incredibly supportive from the beginning when I launched my first business, The Fabric Lab.
You are also the owner of Svper Ordinary, how do you find balance between day-to-day life and being the owner of multiple businesses?
Tran Wills: For me it is about being really disciplined with my time. For some reason people seem to think when you open a business you are free to do whatever you want with your schedule. That is far from the truth. I have a set schedule every day. I know where I need to be at all times and say “no” to things like unnecessary meetings. It is good sometimes take a step back and look at the whole picture from a different perspective and take some time to figure out what is going to best for you, your family and your businesses. Josh and I have no help when it comes to our family dynamic. We tried hiring nannies and it just wasn’t right for our busy family. I love being able to drop and pick up my kids every day. That is something I love about being able to control how I want my life to be. After 2:30pm it’s my time with my family.
Do you have any future business plans or upcoming product releases that you would like to share?
Tran Wills: Right now Ali, Sarah and I are just really trying to focus on the next two Base Coat locations opening in L.A. and Denver. We are also working to grown our non-toxic nail care product line and bring it into more salons and stores nation-wide. We already are selling in a few stores locally in Denver, including my favorites shops Lady Jones and Queen City General Store.
You recently relocated from Colorado to California, are you loving life on the west coast?
Ali Elman: Its funny, I grew up on the west coast but had been away for about 12 years between New York and Colorado. I am falling back in love with certain aspects of California I forgotten about – it smells incredibly floral in the spring and there are so many beautiful outside restaurants and spaces. I do love the more bohemian vibe out in Cali however I miss Colorado and all it’s solid, wonderful people.
What is your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
Ali Elman: Every day is different and I love that. Each day also holds it’s own challenge, sometimes small, sometimes big. For me this is so rewarding. Being an entrepreneur means I get to live each day having conquered small victories.
Tran Wills: Seeing concepts truly come to life as well as meeting amazing and supportive people in our community. Also, our employees who we love and adore, they are the reason why Base Coat is successful.
What does contemporary bohemian mean to you?
Ali Elman: Contemporary bohemian is really about not conforming to anyone’s social norms and following a path that is authentic for you in all aspects of life.
Could you please describe your personal style?
Ali Elman: My style changes depending on geography, weather and the culture I may be traveling to. However I like to think that I am drawn to more classic looks with an edge.
Tran Wills: I am a minimalist overall, which really reflects my style. I love simple and unique pieces. Right now, I love Kowtow, 69, Rachel Craven, Miranda Bennett and Kareem. My favorite accessories are my Building Block bag, of which I got as a gift from Sarah a few years ago, and my antler necklace from The Woods.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Tran Wills: If I could go back in time, I would listen to my gut more about the people I had in my life. Unfortunately, people who were not good for my family or myself surrounded me. I knew that but chose I to ignore it. It’s important to be selective about the people we have in our lives and ever since we did that we are in such an amazing place with incredible people that we are so lucky to call friends and be partners with. Josh and I keep our circle Small but Mighty.