Working as a model on Whelmina’s plus-size board in her 20s, Ruth Kallens was never satisfied with her manicures. “I was always doing them myself,” she says, “and walking into a nail salon, it always smelled awful, like toxic chemicals.” Years later, after leaving a career in beauty public relations to run her own social media marketing consultancy, she was introduced to the world of professional nail technicians and artists via her client, Deborah Lippmann. Thus was born her next business: Van Court, a nontoxic nail studio that Kallens opened in March in Manhattan’s Financial District. The salon’s staff comprises editorial nail techs whom Kallens says are paid more than twice the hourly rate of comparable high-end nail salons in Manhattan. Polishes, from brands like Deborah Lippmann, RGB and Londontown, are all at least five-free. Nails are air-dried in lieu of UV lights, treatments comprise all-natural products and essential oils, and nail art is done without gel polish. Manicures run from $35 to $65 and pedicures $65 to $85. Though prices are on the steeper side, last year’s New York Times exposé on the exploitative culture of New York nail salons proved to be serendipitous timing for Kallens. “I knew I was onto something,” she says. “It’s made [marketing the salon’s higher prices] a little easier.” Plans call for a Van Court-branded nail- and hand-care line, as well as a Los Angeles location, but ultimately, Kallens sees the salon expanding into a continuing education center for certification in clean practices. In New York, Van Court has attracted a wide customer base—many are young professional women and moms making the trek from Brooklyn and the Upper East Side. “If they don’t have the extra money, they’re putting the budget there because they care about cleanliness [and] health.”
This story first appeared in the April 29, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
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Photographed by @lexieblacklock