OAKLAND -- When Janine Lee and Aretha Sacks get talking about nails, all of a sudden the volume goes up. But this isn't just chatter, it's business.

Sacks, with her bleach blond hair and tattoos, and Lee, with short shorts and piles of gold jewelry, don't look like your typical entrepreneurs. But it's their cutting-edge aesthetic combined with a savvy business sense that has made their Oakland nail polish company, Floss Gloss, a runaway hit.

"These aren't colors you'd typically see at your beauty salon," Lee said.

The friends met at California College of the Arts in Rockridge, where Lee, now 24, was a fashion major and Sacks, 25, studied painting. Unsatisfied with the nail polish on the market, Sacks mixed her own nail polish colors for fun and shared them with Lee and their other friends.

"We're color snobs," said Sacks, who said she had a collection of more than 400 bottles.

Everyone loved the results, but Sacks would have left it there. It was Lee who, after graduation, decided they had to make it a business.

"The market was awful," Sacks said. "We were the market, and we noticed a problem in it."

Plenty of students have bright ideas, but what sets Floss Gloss apart is how successful they have been. Without any business background, the duo researched business plans and the supply chain, put a proposal together and went to find funding from family, acquaintances and professional investors.

"We sold it on how passionate we are," Lee said.


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They got enough to start their company, although it wasn't until almost a year later that they began to ship their product. They retail online at www.flossgloss.com, sell wholesale to boutiques and even online for large stores like Urban Outfitters.

"We got really lucky," Lee said. "It totally came to us. They knocked on our door."

Much of success that has come through word-of-mouth based on social media work. Sacks and Lee post a nonstop stream of inspirational images, photos and Lee's nail art. They also do everything else -- including packing polish in boxes and mailing them or delivering to local retailers. Until recently, the inventory sat in Sacks' Oakland living room and the pair only quit their day jobs waitressing and bartending this month.

But it's their dedication to the trends that shape their own experience that gives the brand an authenticity that other companies just imitate. Sacks' colors don't follow beauty trends.

The brand launched with 11 colors, added two this summer and will do four for fall, as well as collaborations with rapper Gangsta Boo and Nylon Magazine. The top sellers are Wavepool, a creamy blue, and Fastlane, a neon orange-red.

"I mix the color based on a swatch or a concept," she said.

One example is Neon Nacho, a bright yellow-orange, which is based on gas station nacho cheese.

"I wanted that color on my nails," Lee explained.

After Sacks creates the color at home, she goes back and forth with the California factory that produces the lacquer until the color is perfect. The colors are bottled in the custom bottles that Floss Gloss sources from Italy.

"We wanted to get a luxury look at a budget price," Lee said.

The company's nail polish has received rave reviews from places like Lucky Magazine, Allure and xojane.com, catching on just as nail polish sales are booming across the country.

And every month, Floss Gloss sales are going up -- they recently hit 6,000 bottles per month. But the duo know that just as nail polish trended it could slump again.

"We're just hoping that it keeps going," Lee said.

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