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Nail Polish Entrepreneur

Nail polish is becoming a must have accessory that people -- even men -- are wearing to express their individuality. Entrepreneurs have caught on to this trend. They have carved themselves a neat little niche in the cosmetics industry. All signs indicate there is plenty of room for growth.

Meet Esmee Van Der Oye, model turned make-up artist, turned savvy business woman. She's more than just a pretty face. Less than two years ago, she tuned into the fact that people wanted something different on their nails. They wanted unusual colors like screaming purple, moody blue, or army green.

"This trend reminds me of when I was growing up in Holland. We used to wear wacky colors to just shock people. I always loved that," Van Der Oye laughs.

So she set about creating her own line of alternative nail polishes called Rockit Girl. It was a smooth move. Today, Rockit Girl shades are sold in stores -- mostly fashion boutiques -- from coast to coast. Recently, she made inroads with a major retailer, which could put her company on the map. "It's been so exciting to see things come together," she says.

But if you think having a great idea is enough to break into this business, think again. "I always wanted my own cosmetics line. I thought if they could do it, why can't I?" Van Der Oye reasons. Even as someone with a broad range of experience in the fashion and cosmetics industry, the road to success as a nail polish designer and manufacturer was difficult. There were a lot of things she didn't know.

Van Der Oye was not a chemist. She didn't know the first thing about manufacturing. She needed to be sure that what she was proposing was going to fly. "I did a lot of reading at the library. I had to figure out what was hot, what would sell."

Fashion magazines came in handy. Whatever was trendy on the fashion runway, Van Der Oye knew would dictate what people would wear on their nails. She also needed to be sure the love affair with nail polish would last. It seems it will, at least for a while.

"It's a growing industry," says Kathleen Rowland of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CCTFA). Sales of nail polish by CCTFA member companies jumped more than 50 percent between 1996 and 1997.

And that period was just approaching the brink of the craze for alternative polishes. Rowland expects sales between 1997 and 1999 were even better. "It seems to be a profitable area," she adds.

In the U.S., nail polish sales have literally exploded in recent years. According to Fashion Avenue magazine, between 1995 and 1997 sales jumped almost 40 percent, from $216 million to $378 million. Lenka Contreras is a business consultant with a company that keeps track of retail trends. She expects sales of nail polish will top half a billion dollars in 1999.

Indeed, Debbie Rosenkrantz says nail polish is the number one retail item sold by beauty salons. She is the managing editor of Nails magazine. More little bottles of nail color go out the doors than any other product salons carry.

"It's become the must-have accessory. People like having that kind of freedom to match the color of their nails to their clothes. It's an accessory that is easy to change and it comes in all price points, from $20 for a Chanel polish to $0.99 for a bottle of Wet 'n Wild."

Despite the strong sales figures, Contreras tempers her enthusiasm about the opportunities in this industry. She says cosmetic sales tend to fluctuate wildly. It is at the mercy of the fickleness of the fashion consumer. "The trend towards wild colors -- different colors helped boost the market it seems. But it's hard to say how long it's going to last," says Contreras.

Fashion Avenue magazine also attributes the growing sales to the unusual nail color phenomenon. American companies Hard Candy and Urban Decay started the craze in 1996 by releasing non-traditional colors -- deep tones, pastels, metallics and bright citruses.

"After they were a big hit, other companies joined in," writes Fashion Avenue. "Store shelves are covered with every shade imaginable, from blue to green to black. Because of the big jump in sales, there are also more treatment products available to help women keep their nails in tip-top shape."

Urban Decay's founder Sandy Lerner got her start much in the same way as Van Der Oye. She despised pink nail polish, but couldn't find the green and purple shades she wanted to wear. After mixing up some of her own batches, she decided to start her own cosmetics line.

Today, polish doesn't only come in odd colors. Consumers are snapping up gimmicks too, says Rosenkrantz. The latest is mood polish that is supposed to change colors with your emotions, much like the popular mood rings of the '70s. "There's also crackle nail polish and scented polish called Pop Tarts," Rosenkrantz laughs. "There is literally something for everyone."

And that includes men. Recently Hard Candy released a men's line of matte-finish polishes in more "masculine" shades. People may find that odd, but Rosenkrantz says the concept is catching on.

In Beverly Hills, for example, a new beauty salon opened up specifically for men, she says. It's not unusual for half a dozen male clients seeking nail treatments to visit the salon daily, says Rosenkrantz. "I'm talking all different types of men, professional business men and men of leisure."

Van Der Oye researched the name Rocket, but discovered that several companies already used the word in various ways. Then she came up with Rockit Girl, which she thought was a great play on words. Not only did it tie into the bottle's shape, but it suggested that wearers of her polish were in essence "rocking it."

Van Der Oye's first series of polishes came in a wide array of colors -- 27 in all. At the forefront were so-called "bruise tones" -- blues, greens, purples and black red. She kicked it up a notch by selecting cheeky names for her shades like Sissy Boy, Refried Blond, Psycho Kitty, Mantrap and Roadrage.

But although she's enjoyed a certain amount of success, her work is far from done. Van Der Oye has to stay on top of the trends. "I have to think ahead all the time. For example, in the summer I'm already thinking about next spring's line. I look through European magazines to see what is on the runway for the upcoming seasons. Whatever the designer trends are, [they] are going to affect what people will want in colors on their nails."

For the summer of 1999, shimmery colors, lighter shades that go from sheer to pale, and silver tones are popular. For fall, colors will be a little darker, deeper, and richer, she says. Spring of 2000 will see a return to the more natural nail. But there will always be some bright tones, Van Der Oye says, for people who want to speak volumes with their hands.

"I use my intuition, and usually that works out. Sometimes I miss something, which is a drag. But my line will always be...slightly different from the mainstream to draw people."

She advises young people hoping to get into the cosmetics field to do a lot of research and have a firm business plan. She also says they need to be very careful with their money -- it can disappear fast.

"You have to have faith in yourself and don't get discouraged," says Van Der Oye. "Always look ahead and always, always try to keep yourself in the public eye. That is so important to your success."


The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association
1101 17th St. N.W., Ste. 300
Washington , DC   20036-4702
E-mail :


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


Urban Decay
Web site for entrepreneur Sandy Lerner and her line of funky nail polishes and cosmetics

Cosmetics Connection
No-nonsense cosmetic information and advice, and reviews of the latest trends and products

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