Janine Lee is the CEO and Co-Founder of Floss Gloss, an established beauty brand that has shaken up the nail game. Working alongside her business partner Aretha Sack, Janine has seen Floss Gloss grow from a college friend group to a well-known, awarding winning business. With polish names like Tauped by An Angel, Keys to the Mansion, and (one of my favorite shades), 95% Angel, Floss Gloss stands out among the average nail polish brand. I sat down with Janine to talk shop and learn more about the origins of Floss Gloss.
How did Floss Gloss get started?
We were founded in April 2011—I was living in The Mission in San Francisco and Aretha was living in Oakland. Aretha started Floss Gloss in college, back in 2008—it was our clique, our girlfriend group. We went to California College of the Arts and met there. We’d watch America’s Next Top Model and smoke weed and do nails with these colors that Aretha would mix, so we would have new nail polish everytime we would hang out. She was mixing these new colors and we would test them out. She would make a mango, a turquoise, shades of peach and orange, things you couldn’t find on the market at the time.
I graduated in the spring of 2010 and Aretha in the fall of that year. At the time, the recession was really bad and neither of us were finding opportunities within our prospective fields. Aretha graduated with a BFA in Painting and I graduated with a BFA in Fashion Design. I was looking for jobs but it wasn’t really happening. Both of us were working in the service industry, and we always wanted to do something with Floss Gloss.
On a whim I said let’s just try it out. I wanted to register the domain FlossGloss.com and when I went to register with the hosting site, it asked me if Floss Gloss was a company. I was 22 so of course I was like hell yeah it’s a company. My dad was in town, we got tattoos over Easter weekend, and he said I’ll float you the money, buy the business license on LegalZoom. So I did and listed Aretha, Monica [ed note: a member of the Floss Gloss friend group and talented artist] and myself as active members, not knowing what was going to happen.
We had a big Tumblr following at the time—we were posting a lot of our nail art. I’ve always been a fan of salon nail art, and we were inspired by old school nail salon aesthetics, like airbrushing and the designs you could get at the salon. That would inspire our photos. We were already doing fun photoshoots to showcase our designs and the colors Aretha made. Putting content out there for the Tumblr community, we realized these colors didn’t exist anywhere, these Frankenpolishes. Floss Gloss grew out of that necessity—we wanted something that was affordable that spoke to us. Just as a fashion designer is inspired and develops a collection, we were inspired and we developed the colors. We wanted to put a name and a face to the brand. We didn’t know who designed essie’s collections or OPI’s. We weren’t their target market, so we found a void in the market and built a brand that’s independently owned and affordable but vanity display worthy. We wanted to flip things upside down, do everything we had pet peeves about. There was no brand that spoke to us, nothing that seemed like the old school beauty products our grandmas used, that felt like a luxury product.
How has Floss Gloss grown, and how have you grown with the business?
After we received funding and went through manufacturing it really took off—there was a real need for us in the market and that was shocking, that people would trust us with their money. We knew we were creating a great product that people would enjoy because we had done testing and research and development ourselves. By the time we got to manufacturing we were ready to go.
I don’t think we realized at the time how many other people were looking for what we offer. The branding of Floss Gloss has become more of an art expectation—it has a mix of fashion lookbook aesthetics, showcasing nails and beauty instead of these stock salon Getty Images that you photoshop the colors into. We were being authentic to our craft.
On the surface it sounds so amazing to be your own boss. You wanna be in charge, be self-employed, and once you get there you realize holy shit this is intense. There’s so many decisions and risks everyday. I think that making mistakes and learning how to best navigate and operate the company has been the most challenging learning curve. I didn’t come from a business or corporate background, I’ve learned everything on the job while having the responsibility of having to sell the product. For me having a sense of control is important and it’s hard to do that while running a business. There’s not a lot of room for trial and error.
Through the last few years we’ve been really lucky, like with Urban Outfitters knocking on our door and other opportunities were people approached us. Turning your passion project into a business makes you realize there’s money on the line and and there’s a bottom line—salaries, rent, overhead costs. The big leap was so scary but it was a leap I needed to make, as a young woman figuring out post-graduate college life, my early 20’s. What are you even thinking about during that time? I wouldn’t have been able to predict half the things that have happened to me in the last eight years.
What does a day in your life look like?
I normally get to the office by 9:30, 10. I’ll have a check in meeting with the girls about what’s going on. On Tuesdays we have a meeting with Aretha when she’ll call in and we talk about the status of the company. Then we’ll go through operational stuff, things that are pending. We may need to push out orders for people who have ordered through the website. We have to push out wholesale orders and make sure we collect balances before we ship anything out. Those orders have to be printed, labels made, polish picked, quality control to make sure no bottles have scratches or that anything happened in production. We’ll answer any emails—I always jump in and do customer service. We’ll talk about posting on Instagram or the marketing we’re doing for the week or the month even: what posts are going up, what photos are we going to use today. Now that I have a social media manager I have to communicate with her and plan and approve posts. If there are any events happening we discuss if we need to put up a promo or send an email blast.
Typically we have a couple hours at the end of the day to catch up on things we’ve been testing. If I’ve asked the girls to do some research they’ll present that to me. Or we could have an event that night and we’ll have to prep for the event, get transportation there and set up. I’m also dealing with my production factory in California, making sure they’re doing things for me when I’m ask and delivering things on time. Sometimes at the end of the day we’ll do Nail Time Live, swatching colors on Instagram Live.
How do you unwind/practice self-care?
I’m very into self-care. I’ve always been an herbal medicator. I’ve been going to therapy, that’s something that I do bi-weekly. I’m an extrovert—I always surrounding myself with people. If I’m not with people I’m having conversations on my phone, I’m DMing with business contacts. I love networking, I love getting out there and talking to people but sometimes I really do enjoy being by myself. Alone time is important. I do my verbal affirmations in the shower; I go through my list, saying “You’re going to have a great day, you’re going to do this and it’s going to be really great.” I enjoy seeing my friends, making time to catch up—I like being around people who uplift me and fuel my fire. When I’m really winding down I’m super lit. I’m watching shows, vegging out, trying to turn off. I’ll go out to dinner with Brett and we won’t use our phones. I’m into baking—been making hella banana bread.
What are some of your creative outlets?
I still paint my nails and will do nail art when I have time—recently I did a really cool ombré. I love planning the photoshoots for Floss Gloss, that’s totally a creative outlet. I’ve been working on my makeup game a bit, playing with eye shadow. I’ve been thinking a lot about sewing again and wanting to get back into painting, making visual art that’s not for the business. I’ve been reading more too, been trying hard to be less digital.
What's some advice that you were given or wish someone had given you?
The advice I was given from one of my CCA professors was “Don’t work through your 20’s, enjoy your 20’s, enjoy youth,” and I really feel like I did. I’m 29, I’m turning 30 in August and I really feel like I’ve had a fulfilling and meaty 20’s because of Floss Gloss. For advice I would give: if you’re trying to start a business, or do something and get it legitimate, get a good CPA. You could have the best idea in the world and the best marketing but if you can’t legitimize it and do your taxes what’s the point? Our CPA is Ruth McGoldrick and it’s great talking to a woman about finances.
What's up next for Floss Gloss?
Hopefully expanding into new products, rounding out our nail category, possibly adding more care items. We’re testing a cuticle oil in the spring, and other fun beauty products. I want people to be able to wear the Floss Gloss brand all the time, so I’m thinking “What does a Floss Gloss liquid matte lipstick look like, what is the Floss Gloss skin care regimen?” We have people's attention, how can I expand the brand so there’s more opportunities for people who don’t do nails but love Floss Gloss as a brand.
What's your sign & how do you feel about it?
I’m a Leo sun, Capricorn rising, and a Scorpio moon. I think nowadays it’s totally fair to give all three, and I think it’s very relevant. Kylie Jenner and I have the same trifecta, and my dad is a Capricorn and my mom is a Scorpio which is interesting. My Leo sign helps me be a people person and helps me be an extrovert. I moved around my whole childhood and I think that helped me be okay with breaking the ice and meeting new people. Capricorn is an Earth sign so it’s grounding. My Leo side is like “Let’s get out there and party!” and my Capricorn is like “What do we need to do to get out there, what are the logistics?” My Scorpio asks “Can we really trust this person?” It’s the emotions side. My Scorpio side is about trust, it’s about trying not to hold grudges against people, or reflect on self-doubt. It’s a mix but it’s very wavy.
What are you listening to?
The Sza x Calvin Harris “The Weekend” remix is up there. It has this great Matisse-inspired cover art. Also Lady Gaga’s “The Cure”. I’ve been feeling really upbeat but not poppy. I’m also listening to Cardi—“Bartier Cardi”. She has gone through so much but is like “I’m still here, still standing and being me.”
What are you currently obsessed with?
I’m obsessed with @dietprada. They are calling people out in the fashion industry. They call out brands that are creating knock-offs and starting a conversation about why these fashion houses won’t hire artists or commission them instead of ripping off their work. Obviously Spice World, my support system [ed note: Spice World is the name of the friend group chat I’m in with Janine!]. I also love @jstlbby, she’s a nail motivational speaker. She posts inspirational videos and “talks” with her nails to the camera, it’s amazing.
Top three Floss Gloss colors?
I’m going to give you my current favorites because all of our colors are so good! My current top three are: Tanlines, she’s always a fav; this new silver coming out called Intergalactic that’s a silver holographic that I am excited for; and then Neon Nacho, she’s so beautiful and an OG like Tanlines.