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MOXIE Nail Varnish’s Founder Has Just That

Mary Ann “EM” Kilgore is using MOXIE Nail Varnish to better the world – both aesthetically and philanthropically.

If you’re looking to purchase from a company dedicated to bettering the world, let me introduce you to MOXIE Nail Varnish.

Actually, no, let me introduce you to the heartbeat of MOXIE: Mary Ann “EM” Kilgore, who formed MOXIE Nail Varnish with her husband, Hugh.

It was actually Hugh who emailed me, mentioning that they were a gender-neutral nail lacquer brand, and they loved what QUILL was doing, and would we want to talk?

The answer was an immediate yes. After a 45-minute introductory call, EM and I scheduled a time to really talk. 

When the day came for our conversation, I was under a raincloud. There were bugs in my room that maintenance had yet to deal with; my boyfriend had just broken up with me; I was in the middle of medication changes for my bipolar.

But when EM said hello and asked about People With Periods, prompting us to talk about taking first steps in our respective businesses, my spirits quickly lifted. I walked away 40 minutes later feeling uplifted and inspired.

And to say “MOXIE” had a new meaning to me after our conversation? Well, that’s an understatement. Here’s why.

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To keep things vague at her request, EM Kilgore witnessed adversity throughout her childhood, threading deep compassion and empathy throughout her identity.

mary ann "em" kilgore, founder of moxie nail varnish

So, when it came time to decide on which direction EM and Hugh wanted to take MOXIE Nail Varnish in, the Kilgore’s decided the philanthropic route was for them. It was inspired by her childhood and giving back in the ways she couldn’t then. 

“Before I became a manicurist, I did hair part time while working in corporate,” EM explains, laying out her beauty industry experience for me. “In the different companies that I worked in, I would use my haircutting skills to raise money during the holidays for different charities. I would offer haircuts for $10 to all of the employees and their families, and the money would go to local organizations.”

When EM began MOXIE Nail Varnish, she wanted to carry over her philanthropic spirit. So, “each month, a new influencer collab or special product is dedicated to a community cause. Currently, we contribute to 7 organizations,” EM says.

For example: in October – right before we spoke – they collaborated with a fellow MOXIE lover to create a pink lacquer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, donating 30% of proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

“We have influencer Collabs where the influencer has an opportunity to actually create their own nail polish with a kit that I ship to them. We imprint their name directly on the bottle alongside MOXIE Nail Varnish. (October’s influencer was Jens_Ten; the varnish is called JEN.)

Another unique way MOXIE gives back: offering commission to their collaborators. For example, one woman wanted a Royal Purple lacquer with glitter. EM chose microfine glitter (it comes off the nails easier than your standard glitter), titled the deep purple “ROYAL!,” and offered the collaborator commission for three months. And, at a collaborator’s request, they’ll donate the commission to the collaborator’s nonprofit of choice instead. 

No matter what, MOXIE is about giving back to people, 100%. “It is an honor to work with these awesome artists,” she gushes. “The goal is for everyone to see themselves in the way the product is presented.”


And EM Kilgore is dedicated to making sure everyone has a product that works for them, which is why the swatch team from social media is diverse in itself.

This way, they receive feedback on what colors look best on specific skin tones, as well as what colors are universal. “We can use nail polish – my passion – as a playground for everyone to feel valued, included, and respected,” she tells me. “[That’s why] I am passionate about this brand.”

The best part: you don’t have to wait a year before their next color hits the market, because they make their own nail polish in their Orange County, California manufacturing facility. Aka, when EM is inspired, “MOXIE Nail Varnish can bring new colors to our fans quite quickly.” This is another reason why fans and swatch team members are so involved in the process – what needs to be (or is highly requested) on the market is available in a short period of time.

em kilgore choosing colors for moxie's next polish

While they did just release their first seasonal collection as an experiment driven by Nick, a member of their swatch team – “it’s an eight-shade Fall/Holiday array of shimmery brights, which can actually be worn year-round and fit in just perfectly with any season and person,” she says excitedly – EM is adamant that colors stay available. Because of this, there are currently 55 colors available, not including treatments. EM crafts every color herself.

The inspiration is versatile. “Our signature color is MOXIE!, an off-black with just a tiny touch of shimmer; that was inspired by a Tesla car,” EM laughs. And while, yes, they look at Pantone, too, true inspiration comes from the outside world.

“We really try to come up with new and different colors that aren’t focused on a particular season or trend, but rather by architecture, nature and different textiles.” And again, they also ask fans to request specific colors if they can’t find the specific shade they’d like to swipe on.

I’ve browsed the site multiple times, and I love every color I see. But as I browse it now, looking through the various blues and reds, I find myself drawn to bright orange FREEDOM. My True Colors Personality type is Orange, representing creativity; spontaneity; an aversion to authority; and bold.

I quietly make a mental note to mention this to EM.


MOXIE labels itself as a gender neutral brand.

moxie nail varnish logo with "colors for humankind" below

We’ve written about these – and I’ve reviewed Fluide’s Be Bold Nail Trio and MGK’s UN/DN LAQR – so how had I not heard of MOXIE in the first place?

Turns out, they started right when QUILL did, and they’re still growing in the gender neutral space (again, like QUILL). EM wanted to make sure that it was branded as for all, because in her earlier days as a manicurist, she noticed that only women-identifying individuals would come in to have their nails done.

“I made it a point to market my services to everyone, because everyone should enjoy manis and pedis,” EM says. “I feel that groomed nails are important, regardless of gender.”

EM notes that skincare lines are becoming better at marketing to men, now, by adding color correction items to men’s lines. While not outright lipstick and contour kits, it’s a step in the right direction. “I love the idea of anyone waking up and touching up a little of this or a little of that to put their best self forward,” she says. But, “why leave the nails out of the process?”

moxie nail polish in periwinkle

She understands that polish can be scary. While makeup can quickly be wiped off, nail polish is there – it’s a commitment. So, MOXIE offers BUFF!. “It’s a transparent tinted nail treatment with a low level of shine,” she explains. With one swipe, it covers the entire nail, giving it a healthier-yet-still-natural look. 

“BUFF! is a simple introduction to anyone wanting to extend grooming to their nails,” she says. I mention that men must love it – she says yes, but reminds me that it’s for everyone. “The great thing is that people who normally don’t wear polish will get introduced to the notion of swiping something on their nails.” She pauses, eyes widening and smile growing. “Maybe the next step will be full-on red polish!” she exclaims.

Something tells me there are smaller steps in between a natural look and full-on red, but I like where EM is going with this.


Ultimately, “I am so excited to see how thinking has evolved in the past few years and how the world has become,” EM Kilgore says, as we wrap up our interview.

“We’re so much more open to new ideas in fashion, self-care, and self-expression. And I am so excited that MOXIE Nail Varnish can be a part of this evolution.”

MOXIE NAIL VARNISH IN ROYAL BLUE

I ask where she’s hoping the nail industry will go next. She takes a moment to think. “​​I look at nail polish as a medium to express one’s style. … I would love to see polished nails become a natural part of creating a look for the day, or to even be a part of total grooming for everyone.”

But for EM, it all comes back to philanthropy. “There are so many things that we’ve been touched by,” she says, and she wants to touch upon all of them through MOXIE.

Why? I ask. What about it makes it so important to her to give back?

“It feels so good. It feels right. I mean, what’s the driver?”

She smiles and shrugs.

“It feels right.”


Thank you to EM Kilgore for this interview. Find MOXIE Nail Varnish at their website, or on their Instagram.

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