When Electra Jane Margot Kyrenia Billericay Sawbridge entered the world, her dad decided to give her a name that she would have to live up to. “My father was working for the BBC on the radio in Cyprus when I was born,” Sawbridge says. “He was very much into the Greek names,” she adds, explaining her first name and that of her younger sister, Phaedra. Today, Sawbridge’s business card carries an abbreviated version of the name on her birth certificate: “Electra Sawbridge.”
But her dad’s vision for his daughter was right on the mark. This nail technician and entrepreneur has already produced enough energy and business ideas for at least five people.
Electra Sawbridge Can’t Sit Still
As the owner of The Country Club, a hair and nail salon located in London, Sawbridge and her staff cater to a young but sophisticated clientele that pushes them to stay on top of the latest European nail trends. Sawbridge’s staff of independent contractors includes nail technician Suzan Marsh, plus a beauty therapist, a hairstylist, and an accountant.
The Country Club offers hair and nail services, tanning beds, and a retail area that features nail products, clothes, and gifts – all in a professional, yet cozy, salon. “Electra is very gifted and works hard to create the right atmosphere,” says Marsh. “Our clients love it here. Electra has created home-away-from-home comforts with a warm atmosphere and a no-rush attitude – but with professionalism.”
Electra Leads the Field
When she’s not busy creating beautiful nails or running the business end of the salon, Sawbridge steps into her second pair of shoes as general secretary of the London-based International Nail Association (INA). She helps local newcomers find a salon, fields technicians’ questions about sanitation and technique, and runs the office for the 300-member association. While the INA works mainly with technicians in England, Sawbridge says the organization also has attracted members from Spain, Ireland, and South Africa.
The INA helps to set standards for the nail profession in England, where regulations can be a bit confusing for the country’s 5,000 technicians. “There is no licensing for nail technicians in England,” Sawbridge explains, noting that local regulations are determined by each borough’s council.
Sawbridge’s own high standards have served her well during her nine years as owner of The Country Club and at the INA, where she advises new technicians. “You shouldn’t worry about the frills until you’ve mastered the basics.” When it comes to doing nails properly, Sawbridge says, “I believe that if anything should be adhered to, it should be the prep work.” She’s also particular about the products she uses. “I prefer to work with liquid and powder,” she says. “A good technician can make liquid and powder look amazing and last extremely well if it is applied correctly.”
Between her more-than-full days at The Country Club and her work with the INA, Sawbridge’s schedule may sound full. But this businesswoman has both a creative and an entrepreneurial itch that refuse to be satisfied – plus a few directors and television company clients who recently encouraged her to start a nails-only talent agency, Amalgamated Talent. “I’m so excited,” says Sawbridge about her plans to recruit top nail technicians for the agency. The secret to her success, she emphasizes, will be the high professional standards she has set for the nail technicians she’s hiring. “I’m starting very small and the technicians have got to be good!” she adds emphatically. “We’ll be looking at further training for promising candidates.”
While Sawbridge is concentrating strictly on nails as she gets the agency off the ground, she says she may incorporate hairstyling in the future. Sawbridge hopes eventually to get in touch with technicians from all over the world who are interested in working with Amalgamated Talent. While the agency initially will provide nail technicians strictly for film, television, and photo shoots, Sawbridge says, “Later, we will be involved in salon placement.”
The London Look
As the head of Amalgamated Talent, Sawbridge must always keep an eye on the latest trends in nail techniques, styles, and colors. Fortunately, her clients have definite ideas about what’s hot, with London fashion trends helping to predict which nail colors will be popular each season, Sawbridge says. “Red polish used to be big in London, but not now,” she adds. “It will probably come back, but now everyone wants a natural look. Often they just ask for acrylic with no polish. You have to be both meticulous and creative to create a great-looking nail when you’re not adding polish!”
Clients at The Country Club come from all age ranges (from 14 years old – with parental consent – to 90 years old) and walks of life, Sawbridge notes. “I have a few clients on Social Security, working women, homemakers, and women who do not have to work.” She beautifies the nails of a few celebrity clients, too. “It’s a complete mixture,” she says. But it’s her international clients – and the distances they are willing to travel for her services – who really make Sawbridge feel that The Country Club is on the cutting edge. “I have a few clients that fly in from other countries, including Russia, South Africa, America, and France, just to have their nails done!” she says.
Business Is an Art Form
How does Sawbridge keep such a wide variety of clients happy and coming back for more? She gives her parents credit for a creative streak that runs through everything she does. “My father was a musician since he was very young, and he worked with some great names in jazz and classical music,” she says. “My mother, who was originally a model, was also an artist, working in watercolor and pastels.”
In fact, before becoming a nail technician and salon owner, Sawbridge held a variety of jobs that not only honed her creative skills but also helped her make valuable contacts in the London business and art worlds. In addition to managing several local bands and working as a sales administrator for A&M Records starting in 1977 (at age: 18!), Sawbridge started a graphics design business with a boyfriend in 1980. “The business was good – the boyfriend, not!” she says with a laugh.
Perhaps it’s that graphic design background that inspired Sawbridge tocreate one of the more unique (and unexpected) features of The Country Club: the theme restroom. “It’s amazing,” says Marsh. “It has a wave painted on the wall in deep blue with lots of fish and starfish in the sea. It even has seagulls on the walls!” Sawbridge even went so far as to use a filler on the walls to create a 3-D effect, adding colorful wooden fish and dried starfish for the finishing touch. So is it any surprise that, after trying her hand as a graphic designer, Sawbridge moved on to designing jewelry? “I made jewelry by night and sold it all the next day,” she says.
Harrod’s department store was interested in buying Sawbridge’s creations, but by then she had set her sights on a job with Andrew Lloyd Webber as a merchandising manager for his top West End shows.
Up to Scratch
While Sawbridge now feels that her varied job experiences were preparing her for “something wonderful,” it wasn’t until 1982 — at the ripe old age of 23 — that she settled on what was to become her real love. It started simply when she began doing her own nails. But it wasn’t long before people began asking Sawbridge to do their nails, and she began to think about training as a nail technician. But training and products were not readily available in England in 1982.
Eventually she found a liquid-and-powder system that she liked, so Sawbridge phoned the manufacturer in America. The company told her about their supplier in England, and Sawbridge went to the local supplier to inquire about training. “After talking with the trainer,” she says, “[the trainer] actually admitted that I knew more about natural nails and disorders than she did and that my application was extremely good.”
So Sawbridge opened her own nail business. “Within three months, I rented space in a hair salon called ‘Do Yer Nut.’ As they had that name, I called myself ‘Up to Scratch at Do Yer Nut!’” she says with a laugh. Sawbridge moved on to open The Country Club in 1986.
People Come First
While her talent, ambition, and willingness to work have certainly helped this whirlwind of a woman build her career as a nail technician, salon owner, and talent agency owner, maybe in the end it’s her love and empathy for people that makes Sawbridge such a success. While many of The Country Club’s customers are young, it’s perhaps the older, less-active clients who most appreciate the chance to get away from it all in the salon’s festive yet endearing atmosphere, Sawbridge says. “For people with medical problems or those who can’t get around easily, having their nails done at The Country Club can be real therapy.”
And while she’s worked in some of the world’s most glamorous industries, it’s making her clients feel glamorous, says Electra Jane Margot Kyrenia Billericay Sawbridge, that feels like the most important job in the world.
That’s a contribution that would make any father proud.