Inclusion, community, and sustainability: these are the founding values of NE1, a unique brand offering gender-neutral nail polish, plus so much more. Create magnificent manicures and perfect pedicures with polishes made by NE1, for anyone.
During the peak of the pandemic, Cole Kubisiak came across a GQ article hailing nail polish as the next men’s grooming craze. Without much else to do, Kubisiak went to try out this trend.
“I really loved the experience of having the nail polish on and the confidence boost it gave me the wearing the color,” Kubisiak says. “But there weren’t any brands that I identified with, since many of them are super female-focused.”
As painting his nails became part of his weekly self-care routine, Kubisiak started to envision a brand that would give people those confidence-boosting nail colors, but with a gender-neutral identity. After being guided through the polish manufacturing process and plenty of research, NE1—nail polish for anyone—became a reality in November 2020 and started sales in May 2021.
“The things that I didn’t like from my experience, I was able to address early on in my brand,” Kubisiak says. “Our goal is to welcome everyone into the nail polish world because everyone should feel as fierce as I do when I’m rocking my favorite color.”
From its inception to today, NE1 is run primarily by Kubisiak alone. He does work with TLK Fusion, a distribution partner, and Catryce Thompson—a branding, photoshoot, and social media partner with Captured Media Pacific Northwest—but from creating colors and personally selling them at local Seattle markets to managing the financials, Kubisiak is NE1’s sole employee.
“Currently, it’s just me on every day-to-day type things,” he says. “It’s been eye-opening learning new things every day and being able to pivot into new strategies: It’s really fun to own that path… I do receive a lot of support and help from friends and family and my boyfriend, and it’s nice to have them through all the emotional support, or even helping to sell at markets.”
Meeting customers in person at these markets is one of Kubisiak’s favorite parts of running his own brand. Some of his most cherished interactions come when he gets to introduce new curious customers to the world of nail painting.
“Some of my favorite interactions are the ones where people who have never painted their nails before, are actually curious enough to stop by my booth, and then even brave enough to let me paint one of their nails for the first time,” Kubisiak says. “Being able to see that pure excitement and enjoyment on their faces breaks me every time. This is why I set out to create this brand. It’s a really rewarding experience not only for me but for them to see that confidence boost.”
As a salon-quality and inclusive gender-neutral nail polish brand, NE1 is tremendously community-driven.
“A gender-neutral brand is a brand that’s inclusive to any gender anyone identifies with,” Kubisiak says. “Everyone is just trying to find their group, their community, or their family where they feel supported and comfortable, and I really want anyone to be part of that community that they look to… I’m really trying to make sure we create that safe space where customers can see themselves, no matter how they identify.”
After all, anyone with fingernails or toenails can wear nail polish.
When Kubisiak creates polishes, he turns to his customers to help name the new colors. By reaching out through NE1’s Instagram, customers send in gender-neutral name suggestions and the story behind the inspiration.
Beyond this community outreach, NE1 also created a scholarship to further the education of high school seniors, inspire the next generation, and support their dreams. One dollar from every nail polish bottle contributes to this fund, and NE1’s site also offers a “Dreamer Bottle” for direct donations.
“I started the NE1 NE-Dream Scholarship Fund because I value continued education immensely,” Kubisiak says. “I saw the value in creating opportunities to help others learn more, better themselves, and help the world be better overall. I wanted to be able to give that opportunity to future generations, especially as education becomes more and more expensive.”
He continues that this scholarship is available for high school seniors looking to pursue additional education from many different avenues, including trade schools, technical schools, and two-year programs leading to four-year programs, and not just traditional four-year college programs.
With 2022’s sales, 2023 was the first year NE1 was able to offer this $500 scholarship.
“Another unique part of the scholarship is that the winner will be able to make a color of their choice, name it, and put their story of what they’re dreaming behind it,” Kubisiak says. “From there, we’ll start to build out our Dreamer Collection, which I’m hoping will inspire customers to keep pursuing their dreams as they wear their colors. And we’ll have a larger percentage ($2 rather than $1) from each of those bottles go to the scholarship for the next year so we can keep growing that program, keep offering more scholarships, and really make a difference.”
NE1 values not only inclusion and community but sustainability as well. From avoiding toxic and harmful chemicals to emphasizing the importance of recycling and making the process easier, environmentalism is integral to NE1’s identity.
“Being sustainable is really important because there’s a lot of trash right now on this world that’s causing a lot of detrimental effects to our Earth,” Kubisiak says. “I really didn’t want to create a brand that was just going to be taking up space and causing more waste.”
When holding an NE1 nail polish bottle, it is noticeably smaller than other traditional bottle sizes. However, Kubisiak put a lot of thought into the potential environmental impact of NE1, and the small bottle size was a purposeful design decision with ease of recycling in mind.
“I heard from so many other people that they never finished these large bottles (of nail polish), and they just kept them sitting around,” Kubisiak says. “I figured, if there was a way to help customers finish their bottles, then they’d be more likely to actually recycle them.”
The easiest way to recycle these old glass nail polish bottles is with a nearby household hazardous waste facility, which NE1 provides links to find on every polish color’s description page. However, in the case that there isn’t a facility nearby or getting to one isn’t an option, the color description pages also give easy step-by-step instructions on how to recycle the bottles from home.
“I realized that the average customer really didn’t know how to properly recycle their nail polish,” Kubisiak says. “Because it does contain chemicals, there are a few extra steps along the way of recycling to do it properly. That’s why I lay out all the steps on the website.”
On top of a 7-FREE Formula, NE1 is a cruelty-free brand. There is no testing done on animals when developing new colors.
“There are these seven chemicals that are traditionally found in other nail polishes, and I avoid them because they can be super harmful to the consumer,” Kubisiak says. “I obviously didn’t want our product to be causing any harm to any customer, ever.”
These seven chemicals NE1’s products exclude are Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP), and Xylene.
“Toluene,” Kubisiak continues, “causes skin irritation, and if you have high levels of inhalation, it can cause lightheadedness, nausea, and even harm to your nervous system.” It’s also been linked to birth defects.
DBP has also been linked to cancer and birth defects. TPHP can cause issues with reproductive health and lipid metabolism.
“Camphor can cause seizures and disorientation in large doses, which there wouldn’t be super large doses in nail polish, but it’s still harmful regardless,” Kubisiak says. “Even in these smaller doses, it deprives the nails of nutrients and causes yellow staining on the nails.”
Xylene causes irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, and can also cause systemic toxicity. This causes a whole other slew of bad effects, including dizziness, drowsiness, tremors, comas, heart irregularities, nausea, and vomiting.
“Another one you’ll probably hear a lot is formaldehyde, which is a known human carcinogen,” Kubisiak says. “Obviously don’t want anything that’s known to cause cancer in our products. But beyond cancer, it also can cause minor irritations, and you can trigger asthma just from the inhalation of it.”
While formaldehyde resin isn’t as harmful as formaldehyde itself, it can still be an allergen.
“This is something my manufacturer was teaching me,” Kubisiak says. “It was a huge learning moment when I was working with them that they educated me on… And as we’re learning more about these chemicals, we’re seeing more and more nail polish start to exclude them, which is, overall, great for the industry.”
As well as keeping its customers safe by avoiding these harmful chemicals, NE1 also helps keep its manufacturer and those employees safe. Not only does this choice minimize harm during the manufacturing process, but the facility doesn’t have to store these chemicals in large quantities.
From base and top coats to neutral hues and trendy tints, NE1 offers an ever-growing range of shades to fit any moment, mood, or garment.
Almost every NE1 shade boasts a one-coat formula that covers the nail in a single swipe. When Kubisiak is in a rush but wants to elevate his look, a quick coat of an outfit-complementing color is his favorite go-to. On top of that, these polishes have a quick drying time of around five minutes.
After finishing a new manicure, one of the worst outcomes is accidentally smoothing, smearing, chipping, or denting the color. Luckily, these polishes are long-lasting on top of quick drying.
“Our formula overall is pretty long-lasting, especially for a traditional lacquer compared to a gel,” Kubisiak says. With a quick one-coat, you get about two to four days of wear—which is nice if you’re looking to continually switch out the color or do different designs—but with two coats you can see at least a week or even up to two weeks before that shipping starts to occur.”
Of course, that longevity can be extended even further with the addition of a base and top coat.
While NE1 couldn’t launch with every possible shade in the rainbow, the brand has continued to develop and extend its color selection.
“I took a bigger bet on some of those core colors—like that timeless red, the blacks, and the neutrals—and everyone honestly ended up liking a lot more of like trendy pop colors each season,” Kubisiak says. “I’ve started pivot into just doing more of those colors and starting to get out of those neutrals.”
After researching color trends, runways, film sets, and more, Kubisiak receives polish samples to release two new tones every quarter. While creating and refining each hue, Kubisiak also does wear testing to ensure “the color I’m imagining in my head and seeing on the screen is translating into that physical formula.”
When it comes to the names of the polishes submitted by fans, a few stick in Kubisiak’s mind.
“This teal color called Sea Turtle Soiree was named by someone who came to one of the Fremont markets here in Seattle… When I hear ‘Sea Turtle Soiree,’ I love the image I get in my head of a little sea turtle dance party out in the ocean,” he says. “The tan we have right now is called Objection Your Honor. I love the name illuding to standing up for yourself, and the customer named it while going to law school after the confidence boost she has when she’s wearing it in the courtroom.”
As a still-new indie brand, NE1 has a lot of room to grow, and new projects are already underway.
“I’m really excited about what’s coming up within just this year,” Kubisiak says. “We have a couple new colors coming (three in May and two in October), so I’m excited to get those out the door, and I’m also really excited because I’m going to start having nail art stickers. I’m designing these stickers myself with fun new themes each month.”
The first pack of NE1’s nail stickers is Seattle themed and will primarily be sold at local markets. However, Kubisiak notes he already has plans for a Pride Month theme that will be out for June 2023.
“I think (the sticker packs) will do well at the local markets and give a fun option for people to elevate their nails, on top of the colors we offer,” he says. “I’m always working on expanding our distribution… and continuing to grow our presence in the Seattle community. There’s a lot of new markets popping up, new events, and I’m looking at different partnerships with other local small businesses.”
Unsure which polish to procure? Here are some of our favorites:
Reckless Top Coat
Rather than sacrifice the work you put into painting your nails, protect your color while living your life with the polish-sealing Reckless Top Coat. Protect your new nail look from chips and scuffs with this quick-drying formula so you can be a little more reckless, but still look snatched.
Real Friends Base Coat
From smoothing out nail ridges and divots to preventing staining, this base coat is the perfect foundation for a stunning nail look. You can count on real friends to have your back, and you can count on the Real Friends Base Coat to back up your manicure.
“Because some of my colors are dark, we offer a base coat to help prevent any staining of those darker colors and staining in general,” Kubisiak says. “I know on me personally, my thumbs have really, really wavy ridges, so putting that down also makes a nice flat coat for when you add the polish.”
Sea Turtle Soiree (Founder’s Favorite)
Submitted by Nikki (and a shade favorite name of Kubisiak), this rich teal polish makes her think of a sunny day on a tropical island. She can picture herself lazing on a beach, in her happy place, reading a good book under the shade of palm trees. Then, she dives into the ocean, surrounded by sea turtles having a totally tubular time of their own.
Named by Drew, this burnt orange color is reminiscent of rich, natural clay found in the Earth, the element of the red-hued root chakra. The Root chakra represents safety, security, community, and foundation; things Drew feels the NE1 brand is all about. Wear this shade to ground yourself, and the world around you.
Dubbed the “unofficial flower of moms,” Abbe helped name this light purple hue because it reminded her of picking lilacs for her mom as a child. As it turns out, the flowers came from the lilac bush in a neighbor’s yard, but the sweet memory and name stuck.
Objection Your Honor (Founder’s Favorite)
This light tan nail polish was named in collaboration with Estefania while attending law school. The color reminds her of the power and confidence she feels when she walks in the courtroom as the neutral tone exudes elegance, control, and versatility, plus perfection at all hours of the day. Another favorite of Kubisiak, he also loves how the name alludes to standing up for oneself.
A very sweet peach shade, Noel named this polish after her favorite summer harvests back in her hometown. Crisp and divine, she fondly recounts adding this flavorful fruit as a perfect pairing with honey, cheese, and even a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. We’re peachy keen on that idea and this peachy polish.
For questions, concerns, or article ideas, feel free to reach out to our eCosmetics Beauty Editor directly at [email protected]