Who's That Gal x 2: Janine & Aretha of Floss Gloss

It started as an after-class activity they called “Nail Time” where Floss Gloss founders, Aretha Sack and Janine Lee, and friends would have a "girls night," paint their nails with one of Aretha’s latest custom colors, listen to music, watch tv, and gossip. Today, four years later, Floss Gloss has grown into an emerging cosmetic brand that is found in over 50 stores around the country including Urban Outfitters, Karmaloop and Birchbox.  Known for it’s 5-free and vegan formula, rare, bold colors and awesomely hip packaging, Aretha and Janine are rounding up many more fans beyond their original college besties. As big fans ourselves, we reached out to the founders and asked them a few questions on how they took the leap from graduating California College of the Arts in 2010, to a brief stint in working in the food industry, to starting their own company in the spring of 2011.

Talk to us about when you officially decided to start your own company and selling larger quantities. What were the first steps?

J:  We graduated from California College of the Arts in 2010 in San Francisco.  The recession was so bad I couldn’t get a job (or even an internship) in my field so I started bartending to pay the rent.  In the spring of 2011, on a whim I bought a CA business license on leaglazoom with $500 borrowed from my Dad to start a website to showcase our nails and nail art photos (pre instagram!). I never thought Floss Gloss would grow to where it is now!

I think it was official when I met with real, big-time private label manufacturers with no money and they believed solely in our passion so much that they agreed to do business with a 22/23 year old with no trade history or references.  We then spent about a year writing a full business prospectus and trying to get investors to make the manufacturing a reality.  

A: The first steps were planning and researching starting a business.  We basically sent ourselves to a quick business school and then started writing a business plan as well as a financial plan.

Wasn’t it scary approaching manufacturers? How were you able to get them to work with you, being a new, inexperienced company?

J: For me I was nervous, but I wasn’t scared.  If they said no, I would just call or try to set up a meeting with another manufacturer.  Aretha and I spent a long time on google researching!  I honestly think I sold them on my drive and passion alone.  It was (and still is) genuine.  The referrals I got from one manufacturer opened up more doors for us in the end.  It was a win-win! 

A: It was scary and it wasn't easy but luckily we have great social skills and earned their respect with our drive, and they took a chance on us.  One of them liked us because he started young and we reminded him of that.

You recently moved your HQ from San Francisco to Brooklyn. Can you tell us more about why you chose to make the move?

J:  It was time to stretch our wings and see if we could take this brand past San Francisco’s Bay Area.  As an independent company with no PR and essentially no marketing budget, it’s crucial to be close to press and marketing opportunities.  Plus the networking in NYC is insane.  We’re really able to do so much more here with the fashion/art based community.  

A: Janine and I both werent bay area natives and had met there in college but we felt that we had tapped out on the market and media oppurtunities there.  We needed to be in a fashion capital where our work can be accessible to publications and appreciated.

You guys are running a real lean, two-person operation (they are literally FG’s only employees), how do you balance the multiple roles needed to run the business?

J: It’s not easy - we wear lots of hats.  Since we moved to Brooklyn we have a couple interns, which is awesome, but because we’re growing so are the responsibilities and workload.  Its a true labor of love.  

A: It is extremely hard and words cannot describe the immense amount of work janine and i have been doing for years. Every days a battle in a foreign land pretty much and we try to just breathe. 

Lately we’ve been meeting co-founders that are besties. How do you think your relationship has aided you in starting a business together?

J:  We have a crazy connection!  We have a lot of similar loves and hates regarding color and beauty.  But, Aretha and I are also complete opposites, but that’s what makes the magic of Floss Gloss.  Like Yin and Yang, it’s a constant balance bewteen work and friendship.  

A: It helps to be able to know each other to be really comfortable around each other and let the creative juices flow. It especially makes it a lot easier to work overtime which we absolutelly have to do.

What has been the scariest moment in your career so far?

J: Do I have to name one? LOL, how about driving a rented Budget truck full of all of our kids 55 miles to our new warehouse before we moved from SF to Brooklyn.  Or basically anytime I was driving our new product around to and from the factory to our storage.  Aretha has some great videos of that.  

A: Quitting food service to go full time was / still is pretty terrifying.

What does 5-free mean and why is it important to your business?

J: 5-Free means free of five harsh chemicals typically found in nail polish/cosmetics.  Floss Gloss does not contain DBP, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehye Resin or Camphor.  It was a no-brainer to have a conscious based product.  Most contemporary women who are shopping for beauty products are aware and buying consciously.  Our manufacturer does not test on animals or use any animal by-products in the pigment or formula or our lacquers making Floss Gloss vegan friendly and cruelty free.  

A: It means its made with as few harmful chemicals as we can...I would never sell a product i wouldnt use my self.

Who is the “Floss Gloss” girl?

J:  She is alot like you and me.  A passion for color, nails and life.  She loves music (all sorts), art & all things creative.  She’s funny and beautiful inside and out.  Floss Gloss is for everyone by women who can relate!

A: Anyone! 

Got any advice for someone who wants to pursue a career in the beauty industry?

J: Do your research and always give great customer service.  

A: Work hard, make sure you're passionate about your product, and innovate.

What can we expect next from Floss Gloss?  Any dream collabs in the making?

J: We are waiting in sweet anticipation to drop the new lacquers for the second half of 2015.  We cannot wait to share them with you!  2015 has been the year of dream collabs!  Flosstradamus & NYLON Magazine back-to-back, it was incredible.  We also just got picked up by Nasty Gal and can’t wait for what’s next!  

A: We have some gorgeous colors lined up for y'all that I can't wait for! 


Favorite Floss Gloss nail color:

J: Such a hard question, it changes all the time! Right now I’m obsessed with our new spring 2015 release Baby Baby!  Second runner ups, 1080 Pearl and Wet.  
A: Con Limon, Blood Suede and Tears or Pony.

Favorite cosmetic product other than Floss Gloss:

J: Im such an eyebrow nerd, but Kiss brow gel.  Wear it everyday! 
A: Any black mascara.

East or West Coast:

J: UGH I love the East but my heart belongs to the best, the West. 
A: The Third Coast.

Go-to restaurant in Brooklyn:

J: Los Hermanos Taqueria 
A: Same!

What are you currently reading (we’re also a book club):

J: Game of Thrones in iBooks & The Bride’s Instruction Manual (I’m getting married in 2016!)
A: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi