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Pre-K Student Was Teased for Painting His Nails, So His Teacher Started Wearing Nail Polish Too (Exclusive)

Tell Williams has kept his nails colorful almost every day for the past three years, and he even co-founded his own nail polish brand, Boitoi

<p>Tell Williams/James Jerlecki</p> Tell Williams and James Jerlecki

Tell Williams/James Jerlecki

Tell Williams and James Jerlecki
  • Viral Pre-K teacher Tell Williams started painting his nails to support his young male student, who was teased by students and some teachers for wearing nail polish to school

  • Three years later, Williams continues to maintain a colorful manicure and advocates for less gendered approaches to self-expression

  • Inspired by his student, Williams joined forces with his hometown friend James Jerlecki to start their own nail polish brand, Boitoi

Three years ago, Tell Williams started painting his nails to support his student's right to self-expression. And what started as a colorful statement turned into a colorful business venture that’s donated over $10,000 to charity.

In February 2023, the Philadelphia-based pre-K teacher — who posts comedic and informative videos online — took to Instagram to share the backstory behind his nail polish brand, Boitoi.

“A boy in my class asked his parents to paint his nails, and when he came into school the next day to show them off, some students and a few teachers, even, started to tease him," Williams recalled in his now-viral Instagram Reel, which has over 13,000 likes.

He continued, “So to show support I came in the next day with my nails painted, and I’ve done it ever since.”

Williams tells PEOPLE that his young student was “super excited” to see another polished hand in the classroom.

“I remember him saying something along the lines of ‘We are twins,’ ” the teacher and therapist says, adding that his student’s parents were similarly delighted by the upstanding act.

<p>Tell Williams/James Jerlecki</p> Tell Williams

Tell Williams/James Jerlecki

Tell Williams

That advocacy later served as inspiration for the Boitoi brand, which Williams co-founded with his longtime friend James Jerlecki. Today, their online store offers dozens of nail colors, multi-packs and merchandise, and 10 percent of all proceeds go to charity.

Per Boitoi’s website, Williams and Jerlecki have directed their profits to organizations like the Mazzoni Center — which offers support and safe testing for the LGBTQ+ community — and Trees, Inc., a group focused on bringing transgender education to smaller towns and rural areas across the country.

Though Williams’ student prompted him and Jerlecki to start their business, their mission to support diversity and inclusion has long been in the works, dating back to their youth and teen years.

<p>Tell Williams/James Jerlecki</p> Boitoi nail polish

Tell Williams/James Jerlecki

Boitoi nail polish

“Tell and I are both from a small town called Goshen, Indiana. A place where self expression is not encouraged and falling in line is the expectation,” Jerlecki tells PEOPLE.

The duo went to high school together, where Jerlecki played sports and Williams was involved in theater. “Neither one of us would be offered a seat at the cool kids table,” Jerlecki recalls.

After graduation, Williams entered into academia and became a teacher, and Jerlecki moved to California to work in tech. They reconnected during the COVID-19 pandemic, when mass restrictions shut down the world and left them with free time to pursue new passions.

<p>Tell Williams/James Jerlecki</p> Tell Williams and James Jerlecki

Tell Williams/James Jerlecki

Tell Williams and James Jerlecki

“I’d had this idea in my head of an all-gender cosmetics brand, but one particularly targeted towards a younger audience,” says Jerlecki, adding, “Something that would have told the kid version of James that it was okay to be the you that you want to be.”

He reached out to his old friend Williams, who had recently gained notoriety with his popular TikTok videos. (Williams currently has 2.6 million followers on the app.)

“He instantly agreed to do this with me,” Jerlecki tells PEOPLE. “I put together the website, packaging, product and branding while Tell made all those incredible videos you’ve seen across social media.”

Neither Jerlecki nor Williams had prior experience running a cosmetics business, and they had “zero expectations” for Boitoi’s launch in July 2021. They bought one thousand bottles of nail polish with the hopes of selling out over the course of a month, but their audience had bigger plans for the brand.

<p>Tell Williams/James Jerlecki</p> James Jerlecki

Tell Williams/James Jerlecki

James Jerlecki

“We sold out in just a few hours after launch, which shattered our expectations,” Jerlecki remembers. “I packaged all of the orders in my garage over the next few days and things just grew from there.”

Boitoi has flourished since the site first went live, and the business partners have felt widespread love from buyers — the “Boitoi army,” as Jerlecki calls their customers.

They even post highlights from their feedback on the official Boitoi Instagram, spotlighting everything from sweet stories to strong encouragement.

“As a former country kid from Wyoming, people like you have given me the permission to be brave enough to be more queer and more myself by something as simple, and powerful, as nail paint,” read one message from a Boitoi customer.

The brand’s mission statement is simple: “Paint Nails. Do Good.” Jerlecki tells PEOPLE that those four words speak to a goal he’s been chasing for years.

“I think this [encapsulates] what I hoped to achieve with Boitoi,” he says. In addition to advocating for authenticity and self-expression, Jerlecki hopes people will learn that there’s more to business than what turns a profit.

“I wanted to show the next generation of entrepreneurs that you can make money and do good,” he says.

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