April Ryan loved the beauty industry from a very early age, and although she dreamed of a life that allowed her to help other people feel beautiful, she never envisioned a career that would propel her to the top of the nail industry.
Growing up in a small town in southern Russia in a large family with very little money, Ryan was a self-described late bloomer who always wore hand-me-downs from her older brothers.
“I never had confidence with my appearance or thought of myself as beautiful — I didn’t get any attention from boys,” Ryan says. “But I always knew I had beautiful hands and fingers — I was blessed with long nail plates and incredible nail beds.”
At 13, Ryan started to experiment with nail polish, an affordable luxury that allowed her to transform her nails into “perfect little canvases” for her creations. It wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to pursue her passion in nails and to experience everything the industry had to offer. Nail schools weren’t available in her town, but she was lucky enough to connect with a visiting nail educator best known for working with acrylic tips.
“Growing up in Russia, nails were a sign that you have money,” Ryan says. “Culturally, it is appreciated and important to have long nails with intricate designs because it looks very expensive.”
After several months working with and shadowing the educator, Ryan was ready for more and started to work independently. At 23, with a booming clientele of her own, she opened her own nail salon, Red Iguana, near the capital city. She again found fast success and opened more locations throughout the area. In addition to managing a staff, she also started competing in nail competitions — and winning.
She found the nail industry exciting and discovered she was talented in nearly all specialties and techniques that were popular in Russia and Europe. She was ready for more.
“I had maxed out on my potential in Russia,” Ryan says. “I was ready to explore my American Dream.”
Together with her husband, in 2014 Ryan moved to California thinking they would open a nail salon. The route to salon ownership was much more involved in the states, and she found the process complicated. She took a job at a high-end nail salon in Beverly Hills, frequented by social media personalities and entertainers.
While there, she introduced European techniques and Russian manicures to both her celebrity clientele and her colleagues. Although they were fascinated by the techniques and products she was using — like hard shell, gel paints, and using gels to build extensions — creativity wasn’t a huge part of her daily life.
“When you work in a nail salon, you don’t always get to have the creative freedom to do what you want,” Ryan says. “I found that I was either too busy, or the salon didn’t have the clientele that was ready for these sorts of intricate designs. Most clients wanted just one simple color but I had a million ideas in my head. I was ready to create.”
Ryan entered NAILS Next Top Nail Artist in 2015 and climbed her way to the top in competition after competition. Although she didn’t win, she placed in the top 9 and rediscovered her artistic desire.
After 6 months of working at the Beverly Hills salon, Ryan took the leap and decided to leave.
Ryan knew she had talent, and her desire to create and teach grew stronger and stronger. She purchased a DSL camera, and started to video record her techniques and share them on her @red_iguana Instagram page.
“People had never seen the sort of nail techniques and art that I was creating on myself,” Ryan said. “Nail techs around the globe were watching thinking ‘wow, what are these techniques?’ and women were watching thinking ‘wow, I want that!’”
Ryan loved the community she was building on Instagram, full of like-minded individuals who appreciated her work and other nail artists who were inspired by her creations.
Nail brands took notice and pitched her brand deals to create video content using their products.
“It was all happening so fast,” Ryan says. “Suddenly I didn’t need regular customers or models anymore because the top-tier nail brands wanted to work with me creating nail art on my own hands.”
With just a modest studio set-up working off an IKEA table, content creation became Ryan’s full-time job. However, nearly every look she created was on her own hands. And every set required curing under UV lamps. She was producing so many videos each day that she began to see UV damage on her skin.
Realizing that her own hands were her most precious tool in her arsenal, she had to think of an alternate solution. She explored prosthetic hands and mannequin hands, but none offered the same “perfect little canvas” as her own hands. In 2018, after months of research and development, Ryan developed silicone copies of her hands nearly identical to her own.
The silicone set allowed her to create even more content, showcase more versatility and achieve looks previously unachievable.
“Some of my loyal followers started to ask questions about the hands — ‘Are those your hands? Are they copies? Where did you buy those? Are you planning to sell them?’” she says. “There was enough interest that I figured why not!”
Timing was on her side — a silver lining to 2020’s lockdowns meant nail techs were home and artists had more time to practice new techniques, create content and build their online portfolios. Add to that the growing boom of TikTok, and Ryan’s silicone hands offered nail techs an entirely new way to showcase their artistry.
Red Iguana now grosses $3.5 million in sales with distribution across the globe. The silicone hands are offered in six different skin tones, full hands with posable thumbs, as well as single fingers, thumbless sets and more. That’s not all: She also sells professional nail products including marble inks, gel polishes and builder gels.
“My silicone hands allow creatives to demonstrate what they are capable of,” Ryan says. “Single polish photos don’t capture anyone’s attention. Red Iguana helps nail techs attract customers, while also giving nail artists the freedom to create — that same freedom that I’d been striving for my whole career.”
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Originally posted on Modern Salon