By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
"We definitely had to give ourselves fake business school," Sack says, laughing. "We wrote a business plan and a financial plan and a strategic plan. We went around it properly."
The careful strategizing is a departure from Floss Gloss' haphazard roots. Lee, whose mind never seems to stray from business, points out that in the beginning, Sack's profit margin probably wasn't enough to keep her in the black.
Sack agrees. "I probably wasn't breaking even because I had so much fucking nail polish that I was buying and I wasn't even selling that much."
The planning appears to have paid off. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 49 percent of new businesses survive for more than five years, and although Floss Gloss has only just celebrated its first birthday, it has released several new colors since the original collection, and now ships about 500 bottles of polish a week. Its product is manufactured in the East Bay; proud of their formula, the women are tight-lipped about exactly where it's made. But they run every other aspect of their business, from design to marketing to customer service to order fulfillment, out of their Excelsior office.
"We should probably have at least five employees," Lee says. Instead, Sack adds, "You name it, we gotta do it."
From the cosmetics giants to the independent hobbyists, the San Francisco beauty aesthetic — as portrayed on everything from packaging to shop windows to social media — is fairly consistent: fresh-faced girl-next-door who just waltzed out of a Gil Elvgren pinup painting. There are elements of clean, bright, retro design that appear from brand to brand. In a city molded on hippie culture, an emphasis on health is also prevalent: Bare Escentuals touts its foundation as being so good for customers' skin, they can sleep in it. There are touches of glam as well: Benefit proudly proclaims that one of its products, Benetint, was originally created as a rosy nipple stain for a San Francisco stripper. The cute qualities of the corporations are often shared by the San Francisco-based artists on Etsy, hawking their campy, girly products.
Floss Gloss doesn't fit the San Francisco mold. From the brand name to the towering gold lids on its bottles to the vast assortment of neons in the collection, the company's vibe is much more freestyle rap battle than it is burlesque show. Rather than innocent Elvgren girls caught in the act, Lee says, "People know we're the bad girls."
Ziesche says Floss Gloss sells really well at her Beauty Company. "Even in the nail lounge, it's the number one go-to brand. The colors are totally on trend. The girls really know what they're doing. It dries fast; it's a superior product. It's not just all fun and fluff."
But etching out a foothold in the beauty industry — even with a laid-back marketing strategy — means sacrificing some artistic pursuits. Sack says she still paints, although her materials come from work — "I've been painting with damaged nail polish, because it's like, 'What am I going to do with this?' And it's fun," she says. But it can't distract from the business: "This is our chance out of food service."
"We have so much business stuff to do that drawing something for 10 minutes, unrelated to Floss Gloss, seems really fun right now," Lee adds.
Lee still finds time to sew every once in a while, too. "I'm the Tina Knowles of the nail game," she jokes, referencing the matching outfits Beyoncé's mother used to design for Destiny's Child. "Aretha's like, 'I've been dying for this red flame miniskirt. Please make this for me!' So I'll be slaving at the sewing machine, making her miniskirt."
Sack's obsession with color continues to propel her company. "If we had money, we'd release 20 colors every weekend," she says.
Recent additions to the Floss Gloss lineup include a navy color called Faded, inspired by Sack's copious tattoos, which cover her arms and trickle onto her hands. "I didn't like wearing black nail polish because it didn't match," she says, "so I made one that did."
The pair has also danced around producing a true red — over the summer, they released Blood, Suede & Tears, a vampy, rusty shade. "I love vamp. But why not one that's super-warm-heavy? Instead of having any cool, why not just make it completely orange-based?" Sack says, revealing her painter's training. "Cut the cool out of the mix. I couldn't find that color and I wanted that color, and now I have that color. It's tight."
Floss Gloss' newest polish color, which comes out this month, is a collaboration with Gangsta Boo of Three 6 Mafia notoriety (although the Memphis-based rappers released their Academy Award-winning "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" after Gangsta Boo had departed from the group). It's their first classic red: a bright, traditional cherry shade.
"I went to her show, and I slipped the photographer one of our stickers and a bottle of nail polish and was like, 'Give this to Gangsta Boo, she's my hero, I just want her to have this,'" Sack says. After the show, Lee tweeted at Gangsta Boo about the polish. The rapper responded, asking if they'd like to collaborate on a color.