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Are Peel-and-press Nails the Next Thing in Polish? Kyutee Thinks So.

The beauty brand's solution delivers on nail design, ease and the long-lasting wear that has given gel its edge.

The pandemic changed a lot for nails.

At the outset, shuttered salons sent consumers searching for tips on at-home manicures, nail art brushes saw newfound interest and gel kits complete with LED lights found their way into residences for the first time.

And amidst all of that, Kyutee Beauty was born.

In answer to the separation from self-care routines, the beauty brand (pronounced cutie) launched in June 2020 with a solution that delivers on nail design, ease and the long-lasting wear that has given gel its edge.

“What we create is peel-and-press polish or gel nail strips…and the benefit is you don’t have to go to the salon and it will look like you still went to the salon,” Kyutee Beauty founder and chief executive officer Arah Sims, told Beauty Inc. “Nail art is very expensive, it’s very laborious, it takes a lot of time and effort and we basically save nail connoisseurs, who appreciate nail salons, time and money. The same kind of designs that you might see at a nail salon or on Instagram or on your favorite celebrity, we bring that to consumers in home and we make it retail-ready so that it’s accessible and it’s something that all they have to do is peel, press and file and they’re done.”

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Just one month post launch, Kyutee was making “Vote 2020” nails as part of Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” Campaign (actress Kerry Washington was seen sporting them). In October that year, Sims was named the inaugural recipient of ThirdLove’s TL Effect grant and membership program designed to support women entrepreneurs of color. And things have just continued to grow from there.

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In February this year, the brand debuted in Target and Urban Outfitters will have Kyutee nails on deck in April.

“When I first started the brand, peel-and-press polish was not big in the U.S. and it’s still not really big, but I feel like it’s the new trend…because polish, for the most part, has remained unchanged since its inception, and I think that the biggest innovation was gel polish,” Sims said. “It’s a new concept and I think it’s the next step in the polish world.”

Kyutee Beauty founder and CEO Arah Sims.
Kyutee Beauty founder and CEO Arah Sims. Kyutee Beauty

The simplified three-step (peel, press, file), five-minute manicure (there’s no dry time) lasts up to 14 days “just like a regular gel manicure,” Sims said. But unlike gel, their shape is self-controlled by the wearer (eliminating mismatched attempts by salon techs or oval-shaped nails when you wanted stiletto). Also unlike gel, Kyutee nails — which the brand markets as vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic, tin-free and with none of the fumes of more traditional polish — can be soaked in water and peeled off after just a few minutes.

Keeping beauty married to fashion, Kyutee nail designs are dropped just like designer collections — for spring and for fall — and they nod to the clothing, too.

“We study the runways,” said Sims, who creates all of the designs for Kyutee. “I really look at nail art and nails, especially in the Black culture, as an extension of your creativity, your personality expression and your wardrobe.

“When my Kyutee,” as Sims says in the endearing way she refers to her customers, “is into fashion, I want them to look at the runway, I want them to pick their outfit and then I want them to immediately be like, ‘I need some nails to match this, let me go look and see what Kyutee has because I know that Kyutee intentionally designed with this season’s collection in mind.”

Kyutee Beauty's 'Golden Flamingo' peel and press nails
Kyutee Beauty’s “Golden Flamingo” peel-and-press nails, on sale at Target. Kyutee Beauty

One Kyutee design currently on sale at Target, “Golden Flamingo,” a colorblocked pink with gold, for example, was inspired by looks on the Versace runway.

“I was really inspired by some of their bright colors and the contrast of gold metallic jewelry,” Sims said. “I wanted the gold to feel like you have jewelry on your nails, and then who doesn’t love a vibrant pink?”

With “That Chick,” a recolored take on the French manicure, the olive Kyutee uses showed up frequently on fall 2021 runways.

Kyutee Beauty's 'That Chick' peel and press nails
Kyutee Beauty’s “That Chick” peel-and-press nails, on sale at Target. Kyutee Beauty

For designers that may want matching nails for models or brands that want something other than Ts and keyrings for marketing swag, Kyutee also delivers custom designs. The beauty brand will be selling NBA team nail designs launching this year, for example.

Kyutee currently has four nail collections: Essential, which is solid colors; Ultimate, which is the retail line Target carries; and Signature and Luxe, which provide more intricate designs. Beyond the Ultimate line already on sale, the other collections will be available this spring at One pack of nails, priced at $11.99, comes with 28 pieces, providing two manicures and room for mishaps.

For Sims and her small team of mostly women (with contract partners also including women-led businesses), how women feel, beyond just with their nails done, is important and a key reason for the Kyutee name.

“As a woman, I personally feel like a lot of times the beauty industry can appear superficial and shallow and it’s all about being the best, most beautiful, most glamorous. I feel like there’s just a lot of implicit pressure around being a woman and being beautiful, and us having that value assigned to us comes with a lot of inherent stress,” she explained. “I know a lot of women and I don’t know that a lot of us appreciate always feeling reduced down to how beautiful we have to be every day. One thing that I know most women feel comfortable with or can appreciate or not feel objectified by, is being called a cutie…I just wanted a brand that makes people feel special but not pressured, so that’s why we named our brand Kyutee.”

Kyutee nails from the Spring 2022 collection set to launch this spring
Kyutee nails from the Spring 2022 collection set to launch this spring. Marcelino Michael Madjid