The easy way to describe Nicky Kinnaird is to say she’s the founder and president of the British cosmetic retailer Space NK. But that doesn’t capture the way she manages to be commanding while also exuding warmth and friendliness, or the fact that she has a vision, and that when you’re around her, her passion for life in general and work in particular is contagious. Talking to her makes you excited about what she’s done, and it makes you excited to think about what you might accomplish yourself.
What is the single most important lesson you learned in the course of building a global brand?
That no doesn’t mean no. When you’re trying to do something that is stretching the boundaries of what other people feel comfortable with, you tend to break a lot of rules. I remember various retailers along the way saying, “No, you could never sell our products at retail.” Take, for example, a sessions stylist haircare brand that had never set foot outside the salon environment. They could not believe a specialty product could sell at retail, and I kept hammering on that door, month after month, until eventually I broke the person down to where she said, “Okay, I’ll give you a shot.” No isn’t no forever. When people see you having success in ways they never thought were possible, the gates start opening all over the world for you.
How did you know it was possible to do, for example with the first company you approached–in what you set out to do?
I think it was taking myself as a prime example of the consumer, thinking that I wanted to have a specific product, and that I didn’t necessarily want to go and buy it in the salon environment every time I needed to replenish. When you’ve had your eyes opened to different ways of retailing–I was very, very lucky, I grew up in Belfast, but our family had a second home in Spain, where we were surrounded by pharmacy culture, where you had the lady in the white coat, and you’d go in and state what your problem was and the pharmacist would go through the shelves picking different brands. And you know what? The solution always worked, and it wasn’t about the mono-brand approach. The other thing that also always stuck in my mind, the local perfumery, which was run by a lady who had spent a lot of time in Grasse in the south of France. She could tell me the stories of the perfumers and how they worked on each of their different creations. She created a story that you wanted to buy into for every item there. That was so much more meaningful. It was having your eyes wide open to all the possibilities and picking the best of what was out there.
What are some recent discoveries that you’re the most excited about right now?
- The 1920s. What I’ve really enjoyed recently is reading about the lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age in Paris with Gertrude Stein. Hemingway’s starting to come on the scene. I love to read and to open my eyes to different eras, different parts of the world.
- One of the most exciting ingredients out there at the moment is marula oil from South Africa. It’s very high in omega fatty acids–it actually has a higher omega content than argan. It’s anti-inflammatory and it has great antioxident properties. You can use it as a face oil and as a body moisturizer. It’s fabulous after working out, after you shower. If you get a slight sunburn, it takes the sting off that as well. There’s company called African Botanics that sells it.
- Anyone going to London at the moment needs to beg, borrow or steal a ticket to the David Bowie exhibition.