bernhard willhelm nail polish

by Grace Bonney

I’m something of a color freak. If a certain shade grabs me the right way, I will buy just about whatever that object is to obtain the color. That’s lead me to own a pretty bizarre collection of tiny boxes, various packaging campaigns for candies and soaps I’ve never used and every possible type of vase and glass that has that perfect translucent green or pink color. My color obsession went into full effect last week when I was killing time outside of Pok Pok in Manhattan. (Pause: we have a Pok Pok in NYC now? I know, it’s too good to be true!) I’d arrived a little too early to meet a friend and ended up popping around the corner to browse the racks at Maryam Nassir Zadeh. I can’t afford most things in that shop, but I luckily gravitated towards the few things that were in my budget. Namely, a great little set of nail polishes from Bernhard Willhelm that came in amazing reds, pinks and corals.

I’m not much of a beauty/makeup person, so I’d never even heard of Bernhard Willhelm. After some Googling I found that it’s a division of Uslu Airlines, which I naively assumed was some super progressive and fashion-forward travel company (actually a German fashion designer). It turns out it’s just the name of a cosmetic line that seems to now be popping up in every hipster shop and hotel around the country. I jumped right on the band wagon and took two bottles home with me in beautiful shades of coral and red (my official D*S colors these days). I couldn’t wait to wear them so I ended up painting them on my nails on the way out to dinner and waving my hands around like a lunatic until they dried. And when they did? Ooh-wee are they pretty. I don’t have pretty nails, so if that color can make my hands good they’re definitely worth investing in. The Bernhard Willhelm line has a wide variety of colors, but I think their reds and greens are the best. You can order them online at Ten Over Six in the US, and if you’re in Europe, Collette has the full collection online. Here’s to colorful nails everywhere…xo, grace

*Inspired by the discussion in this comment section, I’m starting a potluck lunch series in our Brooklyn office. If you’d like to sign up for more information, please leave your contact info here. Thanks- Grace

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  • Hey Grace, just wanted to congratulate you on your ongoing success! (If nail polishes at $30 a pop are in your budget, I’m assuming business is good.) Kidding aside though, the seafoam on the bottom left and the gold are right up my alley.

    • phoebe

      i’m sure you meant your comment as a joke, but i thought it was an interesting way to address something i’ve seen on the web a lot lately that truly saddens me.

      i often see female commenters leaving comments like this on other female bloggers’ websites when they perceive something as a sign of financial success. a “joking” comment that often reads as a passive-aggressive attempt to make the blogger feel guilty or embarrassed about their financial success.

      i never see comments like this on male bloggers’ sites and find that the majority of female bloggers quickly jump to say “oh no, i don’t make any money”, etc.

      i’m proud that i’ve built a business that supports full-time employees and allows those people (including myself) to have a job where they pursue their passions on a daily basis. no matter what our salaries are, i think it’s more important to judge someone’s success by what they choose to do with it. do they continue to give back and share the wealth with their community? if so, then i think their financial choices are just that- theirs. and comments that make women feel bad or guilty about being financially successful ultimately keep us trapped in a place where we don’t feel comfortable to demand higher salaries, raises or ask for freelance rates that are fair.

      i know you probably didn’t intend to open that can of worms, so please understand i don’t mean to single you out, but rather address this as an example of a trend i’ve noticed. i’ve seen this type of comment on my blog and other female-run blogs for years and today i finally felt like saying something about it.

      i don’t think we need to applaud or approve of perceived “extravagant” purchases all the time (though it’s important to note that just because someone buys a $27 bottle of nail polish it doesn’t mean they don’t cut back and conserve in places others might not), but i think female business owners deserve the right to enjoy the fruits of their labors. it’s one of the major differences i’ve noticed between successful male and female bloggers. male bloggers pat each other on the back when they see signs of financial success and female bloggers often make dismissive or judgmental comments that imply the women should feel bad about their financial success. women work just as hard as men and deserve to feel confident and proud about their successes, not guilty about them.


  • From a male .
    I enjoy reading your posts and blog and all .
    And the fact that you make a living at it is impresive to say the least .
    Good luck and god bless you.

  • I agree Grace. I worry the trend for women in our generation is just how quick we are to judge and criticize and not compliment. I want my daughter to learn not from my mistakes but from my successes. And one of them is a conscious effort to let go of jealousy, envy and enjoy supporting my fellow women (and men for that matter) and letting those in my life who I appreciate know it. So with that being said…

    I love your blog and want to thank you for being one of the forefathers of this amazing time of style/home/DIY blogging. Kudos!

  • Not every post is a direct “go buy this” post, often we need to think of posts as inspiration, these colors are gorgeous and I adore the bottle design.

    Grace – Glad you said what you did, I am a female business owner (of Darling Clementine, a new online children’s shop), I just started am nowhere near taking a salary (ha the perks of a new self owned biz right) but down the line I look forward to enjoying the fruits of those labors. Don’t ever feel guilty about that. We work hard. We should be supporting each other not making each other feel bad about some nail polish purchasing.

    and ps. adore the magenta pink polish.

    On another note, I’m a fellow Brooklyn (Greenpoint) Gal myself. :) Xx

  • Grace I think you did a great job addressing that issue. You shouldn’t have to explain how you spend your money to anyone especially those who don’t even know you personally. Congratulations of building a business many ( such as myself ) admire and for being an inspiration to young women.

  • Very well said, Grace. I hadn’t considered the stigmas about monetizing a blog as a sex issue, but I certainly see how it can be. You have created an amazing empire of web and published content, and are inspirational–I’m sure we all wish we could do what you do! Your response has encouraged me to be proud of my blog for everything I’ve worked on making it, and to not be afraid of saying it is a small source of income. Thank you!

  • Grace, I have to agree. Women have this competitive nature that just saddens me – especially when it comes to work, parenting, etc. I work very hard at my job, but I get the flash of green eyes when I tell people what I do. Or they roll their eyes and suggest that, because I have such a “fun” job, I must make peanuts, and thus my husband must be bringing home the bacon. It kills me that women will not congratulate one another for working hard, but would rather tear one another down… it’s like middle school all over again.

    You have built an amazing blog (I turn to D*S regularly!), and have worked very hard to grow it (as a former blogger, I know how much work it can be). Kudos to you for sharing your view on this topic – it was spot on (whether Phoebe meant to passive-aggressively attack or not, this is a common sentiment).

  • Since when is it our business to judge someone else’s spending habits? Remember the old adage: ‘Never Judge a Book By Its Cover” – I agree Grace, that comment was snarky and inappropriate.

  • Grace, PREACH IT. You rule. I’m sick of female bloggers and business owners pretending that we aren’t doing it to make money. I started my business to one day be able to have a flexible schedule and hopefully be able to buy any nail polish I want, support my family, and buy a brownstone. I’m hustling to be able to get there. Girl, buy all the $30 nail polishes you want! Paint your nails with gold flakes. You’ve worked your butt off for the past 10 years to built this site and community and you deserve it.

  • These are lovely polishes, first thing. And secondly, amen to your comment, Grace. Success should never be something we feel guilty about. As a creative and freelancer, I am constantly battling myself over rates and “what I’m worth”. I often wonder if men have that same tape running in their heads saying, “can I really charge x? really?”. I suspect that they do not.

  • Proud of you (for that comment) Grace! And your success…which you have shared with all of us with an open heart! Its not really about the money or what you buy…but how freely you share all that…which I think is the first big challenge for women in this cat eat cat world!

    • thanks jaime- i’m sure you understand where i’m coming from. i’ve seen comments like this on sites like ours for years and i think it subtly undermines the confidence so many hard working women deserve.


  • Go team grace! Thank you for that comment, I really appreciate your voice in supporting women, throughout your blog, in business, as artists and designers. But especially in this way of respectfully pointing out how people don’t even realize they are judging successful women.

  • Grace! Well said! I think people are more nosey nowadays about financial aspects of others lives too. We should be supporting each other! I think you should be proud of your business as I am of mine, large or small out success should be marvelled. It’s takes guts to step outside of an office and start up and what you do with the success of it should be applauded! I think being a young woman sits side by side with underhand comments, I dont know why and often I don’t think we realise!

    Also I don’t know about anyone else but I budget my life. Day to day spending and special treats are controlled in a way if I want to splurge I can once or twice in a month I can! And I do!!!

    Thanks for DesignSponge!!

  • Well put, Grace.

    But may I bring the comments back round to much much more pressing matters? Has the polish chipped? How’s it holding up? I’ll splurge on a bottle of Chanel polish (like you I do my own mani and pedis) and you could literally take a chisel to that stuff and it won’t chip.

    • eva

      yes you may ;)

      i did a hasty coat on my nails and it’s pretty good so far. it’s worn on the front edge but i should have done two coats and i’m pretty rough on my hands (i have painted several walls and cleaned my hands with a scrubby sponge, so i think the wear and tear was pretty hard).


  • I recently purchased one of the greens from this nail polish collection… it is THE BEST. The colors are truly sophisticated and reflect the fashion sensibility of the brand. Love it and loved seeing it here on D*S.
    And bravo for speaking your mind about the “joke”.

  • Well said, Grace.

    So many of the bloggers I follow are making a living with their writing and are doing far better financially than I am at my 9-5 desk job. Sure, I wish I could be in their shoes. But I applaud them for it. Anyone who can create a living doing what they love deserve everything good that comes to them, in my eyes. I’d be buying $30 nail polish too if I could, and I wouldn’t feel bad about it because I would have worked for it.

    Anyway. These polishes are gorgeous. I want to see your nails. Maybe on Twitter? :)

  • I couldn’t agree more, Grace. It is a constant frustration for me that people (and often other women) act as if female-run creative services should be inexpensive or free. It is a lot of hard work to run a creative business and of course we should be compensated appropriately for our work. We are running BUSINESSES after all, not charities :)

  • Hi,

    I’m a long time reader and a huge fan of D*S, but this is my first ever comment. I read the post but came back to read the comments after a tweet on the topic.

    Grace, I do think you hit the proverbial nail on the head! I’ve noticed the same in many blogs recently and have really been pondering the same thoughts as you. I don’t have much to add, but I wanted to still reiterate the point of taking pride in your work. I feel too many women are apologetic of their success. Whatever it is you do in your life, you should take pride in your accomplishments!

    When you work hard, you deserve all your success, female or not, so why not enjoy the fruits of your labor. This goes for everyone. It’s time to step up and say “I’m successful and proud of it”. And besides, we all deserve to spoil ourselves, guilt free, from time to time.

    We should all do that!

  • I completely agree. My family and I own a small business and since opening a year ago we’ve done VERY well. I like to think that it’s because of our hard work and unique idea that we can call ourselves successful. However, I always hesitate to share with clients about our family trips or presents for the kids for fear of them judging us. I can understand, in this economy, people feeling negative toward others who aren’t suffering as much, but why judge? If we were to celebrate each others successes, maybe it would start a positive trend for everyone and we could all make a change together! Sorry, ranting now. Anyway, I agree and good job on a successful woman-owned business!

    • suzi

      thank you for your comment. you mentioned something i think is an interesting side note- “I can understand, in this economy, people feeling negative toward others who aren’t suffering as much”.

      i think assumption is a dangerous thing. unless you ask someone directly, you have NO idea how much someone else is suffering, personally or financially. business owners (and bloggers) often put their best foot forward and don’t show all the troubles they’re dealing with behind the scenes.


  • Since when does being a blogger mean that you can’t also be successful? Also, in reading the article, it sounded like this was a splurge, a treat, not a requirement. Not that it should matter anyway. Considering all you have done to support small businesses, designers, and students, you shouldn’t spend one second feeling guilty or explaining yourself.

  • The true point on these nailpolishes is that they’re a sheer robbery, $27 for colours you can find everywhere for few dollars, especially in the US, at the same quality, if not better.
    That being sad, clearly everyone can do what they like with their own money…

  • Phoebe’s comment wasn’t passive-aggressive or hurtful in any way. She was just congratulating you on your success, and not in a snarky way. You all need to relax.

  • I am lifting my coffee cup to you as I type. We so often are made to feel guilty about our successes or if we command equal pricing structure or pay. Too often creative services are seen as something “they” do for fun and can give away. We work hard in this business and put as much time, energy and learning as those in any other profession. I just wish I could make myself set aside time to do my damn nails! :-). Now I will make it a priority!

  • Thanks for speaking up on this, Grace! My mom used to say to my sister and I growing up, “If you have to say you’re kidding, it’s not funny.” Something I keep in mind everywhere I speak, be it on the street or twitter or a blog forum. Thanks for sharing another great product with us- the nail polishes look fantastic. We all have our splurges/luxuries!

  • WOW. I think Phoebe’s original comment was meant as nothing more than a pat on the back for the huge success of Design Sponge. I can’t believe how defensive it quickly became. I respect your comments, Grace and others, but sometimes a compliment is just a compliment, and not a passive insult in disguise. This rush to judgement is also something that troubles me among women. (that said, I cannot afford half the things I see on design sites, but love to soak in the inspiration!)

  • Good words! I have a growing & successful photography business that I am extremely proud of. I’ve noticed others commenting on things in my life sometimes whether it’s what I buy, where I travel, etc (“oh, business must be good”) and it leads me to feel the same way you explained. I start to feel like I need to explain how hard I work, and how long it took me to get to this point. I think people assume because we enjoy our jobs it’s “easy money” meaning we don’t work for it. In reality, there is no need to defend ourselves to every person who makes a comment like that, but instead we can learn to stand up proud and say, “Yes. Business IS good.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  • Grace, congrats on your reply to the ‘joking’ post…I am a woman and hate this ugly competitiveness and ‘not being able to be happy / proud for one another mode’. This is why women have historically lagged behind in the workplace. they lose against the men’s club everyone knows exists and they lose against other competitive female colleagues… hence a woman who is high up is usually very very lonely…I totally look up to what you have achieved with your business and hope that you spend your time and money on whatever makes you happy. It is well deserved and really no one’s business. You don’t need to justify your nail polish purchase by the fact that you don’t spend on mani pedis…In my view you can use that nail polish while someone manicures one of your hands and while you have a glass of champagne in the other :) Cheers and greetings from Istanbul!

  • Honestly, couldn’t agree more with Grace’s comment. We all chose to spend our money differently. Had she posted a Chanel or Butter bottle, would people have given her the same strife? For some reason, I think not, since we’ve all be exposed to various brands over time and there isn’t always rhyme or reason to perception and attainability.

    In my own world, I choose to travel as much as I possibly can (for work and pleasure) – I’m truly curious to see how people live, function and fall into cultural routines. While so many of my friends get season tickets, do destination weddings, invest in other monumental purchases, etc etc…being a smart milage traveller aside, I’m used to fielding passive aggressive comments on how I spend my money (even from my d*s home feature, ahem, so many of the comments were flat our mean and judgmental) the cattiness is just so ugly, so unnecessary.

    Like Grace said, we all work hard at growing our own businesses and finding satisfaction from the fruits of our labor. Much of the time it’s a 24/7 hour job and no matter where we are in our professional careers, we’re always trying to navigate forward with grace and good business acumen. With comments like these, we’re creating our own glass ceiling, ladies. Bravo for speaking up.

  • Thank you for speaking out on this Grace. The message is dear to my heart as I pride myself on applauding the success of other women. I’m lucky enough to work with a slew of creative women and I’ve found through collaboration, the end product is ALWAYS better. This past year has been an eye opener for me as I’ve created something (in a book) that I am so very proud of and have worked my butt off to do it. Sadly, there are those who just can’t be happy for you, and choose to believe anything negative someone says to them–looking for something negative. Funny too is there are also those who think you can’t count the cash fast enough, which is soooo not the case of a book. Even with a fabulous mention from the NY Times and wonderful sales, I think I’m still in the hole. :) The good thing about a little success, is you truly see those people who care about you. The bad thing…my skin is a little thicker and God knows my complexion doesn’t need that. Again, thank you.

  • having the time, interest, and inclination to debate over perceived snark in a comment about overpriced albeit beautiful nail polish…..first world problems

  • Grace, thank you for saying what you said. I’m a freelance designer with 10 years of professional experience, and it’s a struggle for me to not feel guilty in charging the rates that I do. I’m incredibly reasonable & definitely undercharge in many circumstances. I have undervalued myself for a long time, and I’m slowly working my way out of that. It’s hard to articulate exactly what has contributed to this attitude within myself and other women, but I believe it’s connected to being overly emotional in business dealings, and getting too caught up in being nice and trying to please everyone. Meanwhile, I’ve watched men make more money, for far less substantial work, and without all the “lip”… and I know I’ve helped perpetuate this! We need to support one another, know our worth, celebrate success, and stop the cycle of guilt!

  • “male bloggers pat each other on the back when they see signs of financial success and female bloggers often make dismissive or judgmental comments that imply the women should feel bad about their financial success.”

    this is a great observation that i’ve been noticing lately. instead of congratulating others on their success, we’re quick to judge and assume. thank you for your very well-written response and for shining light on this topic.

  • Grace- I completely agree. There is a quote from Plato that I love, “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle’. We need to remember that we are all human and all have our issues. SO, if we can celebrate our accomplishments and support each other in the harder times, things would be much easier. I’m a dreamer, what can I say!

  • Hi Grace, So well put!

    So many of us judge our insides to others outsides (and then find ourselves feeling grossly inadequate). It causes so many financial woes and so much debt as we try to keep up with everyone else. The reality is, there’s no way to truly know anothers financial situation unless you can see inside their bank account.

    Ultimately, we’ve got to build each other up instead of break each other down and we must applaud successful women.

    “All ships rise when the tide is high.” – JFK

  • Well Said Grace, Why do women have such a hard time being supportive of each other? Besides what’s wrong with an occasional small but pricey treat instead of some expensive designer bag, shoe etc. A little thing like nail polish last’s and is often enough to make one feel happy and refresh your wardrobe with out an expensive purchase.

  • I agree with the opinions of Grace and others that success has become a minefield for female business owners. I can’t say I’ve reached what might be considered financial succcess, but I have won awards and peer recognition for my work — and sometimes feel like I have to “apologize” for that!

    But I also know that the intended tone of a post or email can be hard to suss out. If we’d *heard* Phoebe, we might feel completely differently about her post. It’s possible that she’s completely horrified. I hope she isn’t sobbing in her shower somewhere.

  • Comment overload! Not sure if this is going through or not, keep getting an error.

    Sometimes I think that focussing on what womens’ perceived collective issues are in business makes things worse, not better. All this, ‘let’s support each other in our endeavours because we are women’ actually only continues to set us apart from men. Do you see men sitting around wasting time caring what other people think of their success? Do you think a guy would give a moment’s notice to an annonymous comment on their blog or business? No, because they are too busy creating their success. Expend your energy where it counts!

    It really urks me when I see this – for eg in the women’s biz posts on this blog, where you highlight the success of women in business JUST because they are women. As if a woman being successful is such a big deal we need to fall over ourselves in amazement and applause. This attitude doesn’t do anyone any favours – it only serves to keep women in business as a kind of ‘stare and point’ side show act. Why do so many women feel the need for constant recognition? It is patronising and boorish. And it makes us all look silly.

    • Coco

      I couldn’t disagree more. I think men don’t expend energy on a lot of things female business owners do because they don’t have a lot of the same challenges and ceilings in place that create hurdles for their success. For example, I don’t think you’ll ever see a man get asked the question, “Do you know how to handle this invoice? Do you know what an RFP is? Do you know how to run this credit card number? Is there a man at your company I could talk to?”. I have been asked all those questions, more than once.

      In terms of something being “silly”, I think it’s silly to assume that women aren’t smart and strong enough to focus on running their businesses and addressing issues of sexism in their field at the same time.

      Also, no one on D*S has ever been highlighted just because they’re a woman running a business. They’re being highighlighted because they’re a woman running a successful or inspiring business. I would never support (or discourage) someone based on their gender alone.


  • La Domestique commented – “If you have to say you’re kidding, it’s not funny.”

    WISE WORDS that I will take to heart. I tend to use humor to mask my true feelings or say things that I’m too scared to say outright and as I mature, I realize I need to be careful about that.

    Great conversation, Grace. Thank you for being a forum for “eye candy” and also deep topics. Design*Sponge is so inspirational!

  • Something must be in the air because I have been dealing with this very issue a lot lately.

    I think this is something that a lot of people in the public eye don’t talk about and at its core it comes down to jealousy. I think it is easier for people to judge a person based on their perceptions of them versus digging a little deeper to get to know them authentically. This is more relevant in person than online, because really how can we truly know a person just by following them online and yet we are so visible. As you mentioned, bloggers do put their best foot forward, but of course they do, this is a business.

    I am passionate and proud of the hard work I’ve put towards making my business “successful” in the past eight years but I don’t feel that others are less than because they have different pursuits and dreams. Relationships are the most important thing and I think we should build each other up so that we do become our best authentic selves in whatever it is we are pursuing.

  • Well said! Jealousy is a tough thing for all of us to deal with. I’ve even blogged about it myself.

    I would honestly never spend a lot of money on a bottle of nail polish, but I have to say that there is something to be said about quality. A $30 bottle of nail polish will probably last longer — on both your nails and in the bottle — than a cheaper bottle of nail polish — which requires more than 2 coats to look good, and chips the day you put it on. I’m a lot happier with my more expensive nail polishes than my cheaper ones. That goes for anything else I buy too.


  • As a female business owner, I feel the same way. Like success needs to be apologized for and enjoyment of that success needs to be validated by demeaning it. I hate it. I’m proud of what I have spent years and countless hours building and I’m tired of feeling guilty for not being a starving artist who is only working for the love of the work. There is definitely an enormous double standard and it’s unacceptable. A man could go out and buy himself a Lamborghini and be congratulated but a woman buys nail polish and is undercut for it. Definitely not the way to encourage female business owners to reach for even greater successes. It’s long overdue that this was addresses in a public way. So thank you for that.

  • I think this is all ridiculous. I do not think that addressing an individual’s comment in the comments section of a post is an appropriate way to sound off about any kind of socio-economic trends you may be finding (regardless of who they effect).
    I enjoy this blog because there are many different columns on here that allow for a variety of topics to be addressed but all within the frame of DESIGN and creative living.
    I have to say that I am disappointed with this discussion and feel as though this is indulging the same type of catty behavior that you were so upset by in an article written about e-zines and bloggers in the NYT.

    Let’s keep the discussion about nail polish and the kaleidoscope of possibilities that we have today as appropriate polish colors!

    • Vanessa

      You think addressing a comment left about me on my site is ridiculous? I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree.

      While the original commenter most likely didn’t intend to create such a reaction, we all have to deal with the reaction to our words left in a public forum. I always find it odd that readers assume commenters are given the right to critique and respond, but I’m not.

      I think the degree to which this issue has struck a chord with other bloggers and business owners speaks volumes.


  • “Is there a man at your company I could talk to?” I just fell off my chair reading this. Have people really been asking you this question? It sounds right out of Madmen, and I can’t imagine how outraged it must have made you feel.

    • clotilde

      that particular comment was in the 2nd year of running d*s, but yes, it happened. thankfully that company that asked the question has changed their tune, but it was pretty shocking when i first heard it.


  • I really love the quirky typography on these bottles!

    The packaging feels non gender specific to me, and I find this really interesting.
    As a rather tomboyish girl, the typeface alone appeals to me, like the product is intended for the tree-climbing type! The quirky colors just add to this. Do I want red nails? Heck no! Green, gold and grey are more like it!

  • Grace,
    I applaud you for all that you do. After reading this entire communique my respect for you has grown tenfold. The various and sundried attacks of both your integrity and opinions leaves me feeling slightly saddened that we, as women, still have such a long road to haul. Although this conversation began over a bottle (or two) of polish, you were forced to play your hand by taking the opportunity to shine a light on the elephant in the room. Thank you and keep up the great work!

  • Well, it struck a chord with me! I can’t get over the comments people leave on blogs that are mean spirited and passive aggressive. I just read an article that talked about how some very popular blogs have shut down their comments based on negative comments from readers. It took away from the blogs original intent/message and it was influencing what was posted since the bloggers were so self aware about what they were posting.

    If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Or if it is a serious issue, email the blogger! Take it offline.

    Grace, you do a kick ass job and I know it is a lot of work. You’re running a small business doing something you love. Living the dream. Good for you.

  • Grace, you were totally right when you said that I probably didn’t mean to open this can of worms! First off, let me attempt to rephrase my comments now that the appropriate amount of coffee has entered my system.
    “Hey Grace, just wanted to congratulate you on your ongoing success! If nail polishes at $30 a pop are in your budget, I’m assuming business is good. In all seriousness, I’m glad business is good! That is way too pricy for nail polish to me and my finances though. :( The seafoam on the bottom left and the gold are really pretty colors, I’d like to see those in a french manicure style!”
    I love your site and have been a daily follower for years now, and with all sincerity do I wish you a ton of success. You do a great job and you deserve the recognition and compensation that you get. Looking back at my early morning impulse comment I see it has way more sarcastic tones than is appropriate, and they seem directed at the wrong thing. My sarcasm wasn’t meant to be directed at your financial status (which is none of my business either way) or your success, it was meant to be directed at the cost of the product featured and I stand behind my criticisms in that direction.
    To me, nail polish is an inherently frivolous item and it comes in low on my list of priorities when it comes to budget. The whole idea of it even gives me a little bit of a twinge in my feminist conscience. From my perspective, $58 for two bottles of nail polish is crazy. As to giving back to the community, I haven’t done a bunch of research but from the look of their website it doesn’t look like the designers involved are struggling small time artisans. All this is my personal take on the product and purchase in question. Now who am I to say something judgmental about your decision to splurge and treat yourself to something nice? Don’t I occasionally spend silly amounts of money on frivolous items that catch my fancy? Guilty as charged. But if I wrote about it on the internet, I would expect that people might call me out on it. People attacking your right to financial success is one thing, but reasonable criticisms of your personal life choices are to be expected when you make them a matter of public record.
    Now, this is something that you probably have a lot more experience and knowledge of then me, as this is after all your job and I’m just a casual blog reader, but do you think that part of the reason behind more frequent personal criticisms you see of female bloggers may in part be because they tend to put more of their personal selves out there? Are male bloggers more reticent about their personal lives then their female counterparts? I don’t really read any male authored blogs (unless you count apt. therapy, but that’s more a multi author blog and I really only lightly browse there), so this is not really a theory I’m espousing or anything, more of a question/ point for further discussion.
    In conclusion, I promise not to comment before 11am anymore, and don’t pick at your nails! (I always unconsciously do the second it starts to chip.)

    • Phoebe

      I appreciate your response and your continued involvement in this discussion. I value what you have to say and hope we’re able to come to an understanding about the message that comments about financial success (perceived and actual) can send.

      While I appreciate your attempt to revise your comment (which I wasn’t asking you to do, my apologies if it felt that way), you’re still including a phrase I think is the crux of my argument here, “If nail polishes at $30 a pop are in your budget, I’m assuming business is good. In all seriousness…” I still feel that you’re using a half-joking tone to inflict a level of guilt that is something I’ve seen around the web a lot over the past few years.

      I have seen those comments primarily left for and by women and I think it’s part of a (disappointing) trend of women criticizing other women’s success. Am I applying a level of gender commentary here? Yes. But I don’t think I’m accusing you of being “against your sex”. What I think I’m doing is drawing attention to some of the issues that I think your comment brings up. I generally assume that all commenters here are nice people and that (because we don’t all read blog comments for a living) the main issue is that most people don’t look very closely at the comments they leave, the tone in which they write them and the messages they might send. I don’t want to discourage people from leaving quick comments, but I do think I have the right as the owner of this blog to respond to commentary left on it- especially when it’s about me.

      I agree with your point that people who discuss their life and life choices online should expect people to eventually comment on them. I’ve been allowing and publishing comments like that about my life for almost eight years now. I will always allow that and think it’s worth noting that I’ve always allow negative and attacking comments about myself on Design*Sponge. That said, I think when commentary has an undercurrent to it that is indictative of a larger trend (one I think is negative and hurtful for women in business) I’m going to say something about it. I think part of being a responsible business owner is standing up for yourself and being willing to discuss things even when they’re tricky and uncomfortable.

      I know not everyone is going to agree with me and I certainly don’t expect that. I am glad that this post struck a chord and am thankful that people are discussing this topic in a way that allows us to learn from each other. My goal is always to express where I’m coming from and do my best to understand where others are coming from. I think we have a lot gain from that exchange and while we may not always end up on the same side of a disagreement or argument, I appreciate everyone’s right to speak up and say what’s on their mind.


  • Everyone should watch Mildred Pierce. It’s an HBO miniseries with kate winslet and evan rachel wood. A very interesting story about a woman starting her own business at the height of the depression, and her insane strange/competitive/just plain weird relationship with her daughter. Provides and interesting counterpoint while at the same time complimenting this discussion, and would make a really great “living in” post!!

    Happy Monday everyone!

  • Honestly, Vanessa! I don’t even think you gave the proper answer, Grace (I guess you didn’t even know what to say at this point). But let’s all agree that a nail polish post could be nice to some. But the whole discussion started here is actually brilliant! LET US NOT KEEP THE DISCUSSION ABOUT NAIL POLISH! Design – we should be aware, as Grace is – is all about economy, gender, prejudice and behaviour issues. Design is culture and culture embraces all that. Design is what we are and how we feel. I know exaclty what Grace feels when she talks about colours: I’m the same colour freak. And I love nail polish. But it’s very clear to me how the “comment section” discussion became far more serious and interesting than the original post. It’s a result of DesignSponge success among intelligente women. Congrats, Grace! You deserve it – you fought for it and won. LET US KEEP TALKING ABOUT POLISH AND ALL ELSE!!! xoxo, Fabi

  • Grace,

    There are a lot of women (present company included!) who consider you a role model and aspire to build our businesses to become as successful as yours one day. We know what time and effort it takes to build a name, business & brand – good on you – don’t let them get to you!

  • Sorry, not to throw fat onto the fire, but if a man criticizes another man (on the internet or otherwise), does he immediately get accused of being against his sex and a destructive influence, or does his comment get assessed for validity and then considered or ignored based on its merit?
    I know as women we can be sensitive to this stuff because we’re often working against a lot of insidious negativity (and I could match you story for story on that kind of sexism, Grace), but isn’t it destructive to counter attack each other over perceived slights and minor disagreements? Doesn’t that just add to the problem and the stereotype?

  • Grace,
    Thanks for what you’ve brought up- I am a woman who runs my own business, and we work to employ women in the third world who have much less of a chance than you or I would at making a fair wage. Thanks for speaking out! Also, have you read Nicholas Kristof’s “Half the Sky”? I think you would love it, especially if you are interested in what is going on with women around the world.

    (A Different) Grace

  • Grace,

    Thank you for your responses. I knew that I liked D*S before this post, but now I can also say that I respect and admire your ethics, integrity and beliefs. I appreciate being able to support a business that is run by people like you. Honestly, I’m surprised that people object to your responses or to you using this forum to have this kind of discussion. For me, the fact that you respond to people in your comments section and on twitter is one of the reasons why I keeping coming back to your site. You’ve kept the tone respectful, intelligent, and focused on the subject matter of peoples’ comments, not on the people themselves. Based on all of the above, I’ll be recommending D*S to everyone in my networks. Thanks.

  • I think something that you mentioned that has been missed (or at least not mentioned) in a lot of the comments, is that many times it also comes down to how an individual chooses to spend their money… success and salaries aside, regardless of how much money you do or don’t have, everyone chooses to spend that money differently. Some may choose to spend it on vacations, while others on objects. Some on services such as getting your hair done, or on living- the house (or other structure you choose) you live in, the vehicle you drive (or ride). Or, maybe you’ve chosen to spend it on having a bunch of kids or just eating out a lot. Everyone chooses differently, and that’s a great thing to be able to do that.

  • Perhaps the reason these sort of comments keep appearing on women’s blogs is because women are tried to hold each other to a higher set of values?

    Perhaps there is a difference between criticizing each other’s success or calling into question whether the values we live/blog by help our society ethically, socially, economically, and environmentally.

    Clearly it is not up to each of us to furnish guilt upon each other, but isn’t our collective conversation as a society right now partially about how much any of us really needs – and what happens to others when we buy more nail polish, or rugs, or apartments, or even start another business.

    Part of what I look for in a business owner I want to get to know, or a blog I want to read, is whether I’m encountering someone who is willing to share this level of self-reflection and social consciousness. I know it has mattered to me when I have encountered bloggers getting serious about – and vulnerably revealing – their consumption (i.e. tracking purchases). I also know I have unfollowed many a twitterer when post after post from them in my twitter feed seems completely out of touch with any and all context of the larger world around them.

  • Not usually a commenter, but I must address the note that men are not as aware of criticism in their jobs, or that they don’t spend as much time worrying about it.

    My husband plays professional baseball. When those boys aren’t on the field playing ball, they’re at home, online, reading what bloggers/analysts/reporters had to say about it. And trust me, the reviews in sports are not implied or snarky, they are downright crushing. “This guy is going nowhere, he’s overrated, he’s not worth the money they pay him.” Can you imagine if those were the reviews you got after your hard work?

    The reason we’re having this discussion (albeit via comments) is because we’re women, we’re relational, we’re open books. And I love that. I love that a woman can hear something hurtful and say, “that stings.” Men internalize, over-analyze, and then rate themselves in comparison to each other. If women didn’t have the strength to be honest about their emotions, where would we be? This isn’t a “side show act.” This is us being real people who don’t hide behind the face of a polished final product. You’d be surprised how much men crave that freedom in their own careers.

  • I have enjoyed Design Sponge for a long time, not only for the great inspiration but also for the thoughtful and empowering messages about business. Of COURSE you should comment on your own blog, I’m here to read your thoughts, and I don’t think that should be limited to design content. Individuals can easily choose how to spend their time, and if they find that comments are not all about nail polish, they can move on or stay as they wish. Great work, Grace, I appreciate your words!

    Would you please also let us know how the nail polish stands up? If anything can remain chip free on my fingers for more than a few hours than it is worth its weight in gold and I’d love to splurge on some pretty colors!

  • I really don’t think Phoebe meant to be harmful or agressive and we readers were pretty much more agressive to her. But it is a fact that the topic is important. As Grace said, sometimes what we say have unintented feelings. We all are more prejudicious than we wanted to be. It might be due to culture or upbringing or whatever, but ethics are on the base of it and ethic topics should interest everyone. Ethics have been constructed through time in forums such as this one.

  • Grace, I’m so glad you brought this up. These kind of comments are everywhere and, joke or no joke, the underlying issue is one that needs to be called out and discussed. To me, little digs at bloggers for earning a living from their work go hand in hand with the ubiquitous “I can’t believe they charge $X for that!” and “I could make that myself in five minutes/for ten bucks”–both of which are also common comment tropes that, intentionally or not, contribute to a climate of negativity where creators are denigrated and picked apart for, basically, having the temerity to do something and put a price on it.

    I’m sure many of the people who make these comments don’t intend it that way. To a certain extent the comments become an “amiright?” thing that perpetuates itself. And maybe the creator will never see them; maybe he or she is so successful that they don’t have to worry that commenters on a blog somewhere think their prices are unseemly. But who *is* reading those comments are other people, creators or people who want to create, and the message to them is constant pressure to underprice and undervalue themselves, to aim low and be humble and don’t ask for too much. It’s the wrong message but for too many people, especially women, it’s the one they’ll hear most often.

    I feel like for that to change we do have an obligation to remark on negativity when we see it, and encourage thoughtful discussion of the issues instead. So thanks for sparking this interesting conversation!

  • had a really wonderful time reading this discussion, even though I don’t use nail polish. Super thought provoking to say the least! Grace, you and your site/business are wonderful and inspiring and this discussion is so great (and necessary!).
    I was very excited to see the potluck lunch series and went to sign up – I just noticed its called “biz ladies lunches”… hope its ok that I signed up even though I am a biz male.

    • Doug

      Thank you for your support. This first series will be for women running their own businesses, but I’ll let you know when/if we expand. The goal of these lunches is to really create connections with other women who are going through the same issues, but I’d be happy to publicize any event you put together for men and women or point you towards other meetups that aren’t geared towards connecting women.


  • More real connections—yes, please! I’ll polish my nails for that + keep my chin up that no matter what my salary is, I’m fortunate enough to have the freedom to run my own business, the community to support it, and the pleasure to occasionally indulge my successes.

    Thanks for touching on this on-going issue—exactly what I needed to hear this week. Looking forward to the upcoming series, can’t wait!

  • When I saw this post I noticed the bottle shape and polish colours before I saw the logo and my initial though was that the post was about my favourite thrifty nail polish brand by Joe Fresh. They feature most of the same colours and more and are only 4 dollars a bottle. I love nail polish and have a pretty large collection of colours, Joe Fresh is my favourite for their colour palette, affordability and great quality. Not sure why there are so many similarities between the two but if anyone is looking for a thrifty option check out Joe Fresh! http://www.joefresh.com/en/product/nail-polish-classic-collection

  • I think this is a valuable discussion. However, I think it would have been more considerate to introduce this topic in a dedicated blog post instead of singling out Phoebe. Safe to say she probably feels pretty terrible today.

    A blog post would likely also attract more attention to this deserving topic than a comment thread could.

    • Anna

      I think it’s fitting and fair to respond to someone’s comment where they make it. I didn’t want to write a separate post on the topic (I’ve said my piece) and don’t feel I owe someone a private or separate response if they don’t begin the conversation that way.


  • Ok, finally had time to read the comments other than Grace’s response to my comment, so Grace, this isn’t a direct response to you or your comments. You’ve been classy and you raise some reasonable points, some of which I agree with and some of which I disagree with but we’ve had a very adult back and forth about it, and I appreciate that. This is my reaction to the overall comments thread.

    Why is it ok for men to be competitive but women shouldn’t be (or at least with each other)? Competition drives innovation and progress. Competition can make us better *if we take it the right way*. I’m on an (all girl) roller derby team, and we are all super competitive, naturally. We want to be faster than the other girl, stronger than the other girl, and we want to win. We’re also all going to encourage each other at the end of the day, and sometimes criticize mistakes.
    It’s that balance between competition and criticism and encouragement that helps us get better. It’s all in how you take it. If my teammate says “Hey Phoebe! You left the line wide open back there! Watch it next time!” I can either take it as her saying I suck and get all sad about it and quit the team, or I can think “crap! I DO need to watch the line!” and let it be a reminder to me to try to do it better next time. Or if the situation was different, I could think “yah know, I was watching the line, that wasn’t really the problem this time, but that is a good reminder to all of us to keep on that”.
    My criticism of Grace was not even in this category, though. I wasn’t saying anything about her blog or the way she runs her business or anything that lead to her success. It was more like if one of my derby teammates said to me, “hey, I just ordered a set of atom alloy hubs, so psyched!” and I responded “Wow, did you get a promotion or something?! Those things are pricey. But they do look pretty sweet…” I’m joking about my opinion that her purchase was expensive while also complimenting her apparent financial success and acknowledging the appeal of the item in question. That’s pretty much a breakdown of my original comment, and I don’t see anything objectionable about those sentiments.
    I think that being afraid to criticize our fellow women on issues where we honestly disagree because we might be labelled as catty bitches is a much worse problem than having to withstand some occasionally misguided criticism now and again. Based on my personal observation, on this blog (and even on this comment thread), as well as on other blogs written by and commented on by women, 95% of comments are along the lines of “you go girl, I totally agree, you’re awesome!”. 4% disagree with the poster without attacking her (overtly or subtly) based on gender, and maybe 1% are assholes who say something mean.
    Like I said before, I’m just a casual blog browser, so maybe my guesstimate statistics are way off and legitimate snarky bitchiness is really a problem, but I don’t see it. I also was discussing this topic with my husband who frequents a much more typically male-centric area of the internet, and he says that criticism based on spending habits is totally common across the gender line as well. In a place like the internet you are going to have people of very different socioeconomic backgrounds viewing and commenting on the same subjects, and so disagreements about value, spending and income are bound to occur. It’s not a gender specific thing.
    As women, I believe that if we don’t change our attitudes on how we accept (or reject and ignore) criticism, we’re just adding fuel to the stereotype that women are delicate flowers who you can’t say anything even slightly negative to, or they’ll take it the wrong way. We’re playing right into the extremely detrimental perception that women are emotional and irrational and quick to jump on your case about things, which causes us to be treated unfairly in the first place.

    • Phoebe

      I truly appreciate your continued participation in this conversation.

      While I disagree with your breakdown of the original comment and the idea that women being in touch with their emotions is somehow weak or negative, the only thing I want to call out in greater detail is the idea that responding to criticism or evaluating its motives is not handling or accepting criticism. I think part of understanding to “take” criticism (and ultimately deciding which battles are worth having) is learning to understand where it comes from and what it’s truly saying. I feel I’ve gotten a deeper take on your point of view and while we’re on the “agree to disagree” track, I appreciate that you continued to join the conversation and express your point of view.

      I’m not trying to stick my hands over my ears and ignore what you’re saying, and I certainly don’t want anyone else to do that. But I do think that competition and criticism are healthiest when they’re constructive and stripped of passive-aggressive tones or implications. I know you’ve clarified that you didn’t intend that, but I feel strongly that those tones were present.

      That said, I have no desire to take this conversation in a more negative direction and hope that everyone has been able to learn something, speak their mind and understand where various women in this industry are coming from with their comments. Your comment may have inspired an intense discourse, but it also inspired a positive new project- a lunch meetup group here in Brooklyn where we’ll build new friendships and support systems with other women running creative businesses. For that I am incredibly grateful.

      Thank you to everyone who’s commented here and I look forward to seeing some of you in person at our potluck lunches.


  • I am impressed that the comments on this post stayed so civil and thoughtful, in no small part due to Grace’s integrity and commitment to creating that atmosphere. And while many important points were made on various subjects I’d like to change the focus and say…what???!!! Pok Pok in NYC!!!????
    We just returned from a trip to Portland and on Grace’s recommendation we stopped by Pok Pok for a glorious, spicy feast. New Yorkers, let me tell you…we are lucky.
    While we were waiting for our table we were admiring the color the exterior of the restaurant. We have been searching for just the right color for our 1930’s cape. The manager overheard us, went into the back and pulled out an old can of the paint so that we could get the name: BM Night Horizon, a rich, dark brown. How cool is that?

  • Could we also, at some point, address all of the comments on design/lifestyle blogs that are filled with outrage OUTRAGE! at the price of something?! Everyone who works in the design world, successful or not, is trying to hustle and put out the best work they can. (Hopefully.) If you aren’t mass-producing things in suicidal factories in Asia, then sh*t costs money. And if we want to support the people that make our world inspiring and beautiful, then we need to fork over our money. Leave the price bashing to Walmart and just enjoy the pretty.

  • I agree. As I followed this thread, I had thought along the lines of Erin O, but since it wasn’t really related to some of the conversation above, I didn’t comment til now — But what if it was a mani/pedi that was bought for $30? a bottle of perfume? a greeting card? a shirt? a car?

    As a business owner, perceived value are fascinating to me, and something I think about a lot… and as an independent designer and a manufacturer, I say thank goodness for people who perceive value where many others may not. Often, their support and enthusiasm are the behind-the-scenes drivers of innovation and new terrain in the design sphere, and beyond.

  • I’m truly inspired by your intuition and ability to take a difficult conversation about the relationship between women, and take the opportunity to create a new resource to help biz women communicate more and network more! Just one of the many facets that make you a gem to the small business community. <3

  • Im torn. On one hand, I receive so many passive aggressive to actually aggressive comments that I totally commiserate with you Grace. I just had to write a 3 paragraph long email about why I chose to price something a certain way. Which is awful.

    I’ve also encountered so much of that in actual life as well. I find that there is an undercurrent of jealousy between so many women that leads to dismissive commentary and tons of gossip.

    But I do agree with other commenters that said that the actual worrying and discussing these perceived slights perpetuates the problem.

    I personally want to get to a place where I can publish a shitty comment about myself and not even care enough to reply. (Not that you shouldn’t reply, of course thats your choice and right, I just feel like I shouldn’t bother to engage a person that would imply that Im fat on my blog, or something like that…) I want to get to a place where if someone tries to make me feel less worthwhile as a person that I can just move on quickly and not internalize it. I want to be able to be as happy as I possibly can be for other women’s success, but we all know that its a hard thing to do when you feel like people are snarking on your success. It’s a hard thing to do PERIOD.

    As for the topic of the actual nail polish… $27 nail polish, well, its a lot of money for nail polish. BUT is it enough money that it should raise eyebrows? Not really. Its a choice you made, and its the price of JUST A SINGLE pedicure in NYC.

    I do find that people comment on other people’s financial choices regardless of gender… People tend to get angry about perceived 1 percenters and how they earn and spend their cash. Its almost as if you make a lot of money, somehow you are a person of inherent privilege like some trust fund baby and you didn’t earn your money and you dont have a right to spend it. I don’t think that has to do particularly with gender.

    But yes, Im all about women supporting other women and I don’t think it has to be done in a hair braiding, hand holding way. I know I personally try my best to help every person that comes to me with a comment or question.

  • I have to disagree with Pheobe about what’s a fair comment to make and what isn’t.

    Yes, for a nail polish it’s expensive, but really it’s a minor extravagance and to go on to use that to make a snarky remark about “business being good” it is obvious that you are then using that minor extravagance to be critical of Grace’s hard-earned success, which I think is… unhelpful at best. You pull down one person for success, you pull us all down. (ever heard of crabs-in-a-bucket theory?!)

  • First of all, commendations to Grace for an adept handling of a complicated comment. I am so pleased that you are standing up for yourself, and that you are doing it in a mature and kind way.

    I have stuck with Design*Sponge over the years, because as I’ve grown up a little bit, I’ve become more impressed with the richness of its content rather than eventually being disappointed. This is to say, that Design*Sponge makes it clear that it’s acceptable, as a woman, to be good in a business setting, to work hard, and to succeed. Sadly, these are not always messages that I, as a woman, receive. I feel the Design*Sponge team also respects its readers, and expects the same treatment.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful hosting of this discussion, and for your clear message that women’s voices can and should be heard even when there is disagreement. I rarely read through comments and feel better about most of the people visiting a given site, but this is one instance where that’s definitely the case.

  • Wow. I, too, am disappointed in this conversation. Current methods of communication — such as email, blog comments, texts, tweets, and more can be VERY difficult to interpret. Snarkiness and “tones” can be found where none was intended or even really exist. Everything we take in is perceived through our own lenses and history. That doesn’t mean that a communication received doesn’t sting, or not feel right. even if that wasn’t the intent of the communicator. But OWNING one’s response and expressing feelings can also be done in ways that show one’s own sensitivity to how communications are received. Acknowledging the feeling and then sharing, possibly in a separate forum (yay, potluck!), what the communication germinated (an important discussion, indeed) seems much more in proportion . Grace, I really enjoy Design*Sponge, am delighted with your success, and wish you all the best.

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