The Inn Crowd

Painting The Town

Polish up your start-up ideas.

By Laura Tiffany

Travel back in time--say, about four years. When a woman wanted to polish her nails, she had an endless array of pinks and reds to choose from. Fast forward and peruse any cosmetics counter today, and you'll find a rainbow of colors--from baby blues to glitters and metallics.

The $132 million nail polish market (and that's only 1997 mass market sales) was jolted out of the ordinary a few years ago with the extraordinary colors offered by start-ups like Hard Candy. And new entrepreneurs on the scene refuse to let polish innovation rest.

"Bringing a polish line to the market is not an easy feat," says Cyndy Drummey, editor and publisher of Nails, a trade magazine in Torrance, California. "You really have to have a unique story. [It could] depend on product quality, packaging, marketing or the personalities of the owners." Despite that, many small companies are still finding success with unique lines.

Although Respect Inc. mainly deals in trendy, unisex accessories, it is its very '90s version of the mood ring that's making a name for the company. Polish Mood Shades (P.M.S.), nail colors that change shades with the wearer's mood, are named with tongue-in-cheek plays on negative p.m.s. stereotypes like Bloated Blue/Pouty Pink. Launched last June, P.M.S. caught a quick buzz, and by September, co-founder Jenai Lane had visited "The Rosie O'Donnnell Show," and Madonna had sported the polish. "Nail polish is still a very hot market if you can make something that's unique, but also fun, loud and irreverent," says Lane, 30, whose partner in the San Francisco company is Jane Whitney, 34.

Anthony Gill and Cristina Bornstein began their New York City business after the success of a conceptual art show featuring a piece with nail polish. "We had seven nail polish colors [reflecting] your individual chakra system," says Gill, 31, who started Tony & Tina Vibrational Remedies in early 1997 with Bornstein, 30. "You have seven energy points from the base of your spine to the top of your head. Each has its own electromagnetic vibration that corresponds to the vibration of certain colors." Their products relate to this theory, with names like Ambition (red) reflecting how the colors affect the wearer.

Ripe Inc., on the other hand, has innovated by combining traditional and new shades to create a line of 70 hues, from earth tones to light metallics, with lower price points than the competition. "I think people have latched onto nail polish because it's a cheaper item, but it allows them to express themselves," says Anna Levinson, 22, who started the Los Angeles company in 1995 with her sister Sarah, 19.

Is there still room for improvement in the nail polish industry? "You'd think there wouldn't be, but there are plenty of innovations," says Drummey of Nails. Trends to watch: matte-finish polishes, modified French manicures and men's nail polish. Next step: Branching out into full cosmetic lines, as Tony & Tina and Ripe have already done.

Contact Sources

Black Light Media,

Nails, 21061 S. Western Ave., Torrance, CA 90501,

Optimus Solutions LLP, (770) 447-1951,

Respect Inc., (415) 512-8995,

Ripe Inc., (888) 307-2618

Tony & Tina Vibrational Remedies, (888) 866-9846

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This article was originally published in the February 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Inn Crowd.

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