What words come to mind when you think about Benefit Cosmetics? Cool, zany, fun, imaginative, quality, fake-its—right? Benefit Cosmetics is a global beauty brand with a huge cult following, but, do you know who started this amazing company?
Jane and Jane Ford—twin sisters and co-founders of Benefit Cosmetics—were both 28 years old when they opened the Face Place in 1976, a beauty boutique in San Francisco’s mission district (oh how we love San Fran!). The unique shop quickly grew famous from delivering quick fixes for every gal’s peskiest beauty dilemmas. Now over 30 years later, Benefit Cosmetics brings us gals the most creative products to help go from “dull to darling”. We recently had the chance to talk with the lovely Jean and Jane about life at the big B.
What inspired you to start the Benefit brand?
Jean: Pure luck & of course the flip of a coin. Jane & I really had no idea what we wanted to do after we graduated college. Jane had studied marketing & finance, and I had studied art education. The one thing we were sure of is that we were strikingly tall…we’re both 6’1” – so when we graduated from college at Indiana University in 1970, we moved to New York City together in hopes of becoming successful models.
Jane: Every day we would go out on audition after audition and get turned away. We booked a few small jobs here and there, but we barely making enough money to make ends meet. Our big break came 2 years later, when we booked a series of national commercials for Calgon Bath Beads. We were so excited. It was a dream come true.
Jean: With all of our earnings we decided to pack our bags and drove out west, to California. We settled in San Francisco, and used the money that we earned from those commercials to start our own business. We had worked for so many people over the years, doing all kinds of odd jobs. It was our goal to open our own business. The two things we knew best, were doing makeup, from all of those years of doing our own makeup as models (before the era of supermodels, gals did their own) and we baked a mean casserole… growing up in the Midwest, we were constantly in the kitchen cooking with mom.
Jane: We flipped a coin to decide. That’s how we ended up here. It was between casseroles and cosmetics. In 1976, we opened up a tiny makeup shop called The Face Place, in the mission district of San Francisco. The business took off! In 1990, we changed the name to Benefit.
At what moment did you realize that Benefit was a success?
Jean: I keep asking myself that same question.
Jane: Our journey has been and continues to be an amazing ride. There have definitely been some bumps along the way, but for the most part, Jean and I will sometimes pinch each other just to make sure we’re not dreaming!
Who is the Benefit gal?
Jane: What is so fun about Benefit is that it is a cross-generation brand.
Jean: Benefit is for everyone!
What was your first product? How did you take it from an idea to something real?
Jean: The first product that really put Benefit on the map was Benetint. Today, it’s known as the best selling liquid cheek & lip stain but back when we originally created Benetint, it was developed to enhance the performance of an exotic dancer. Today, Benetint has quite a cult following among makeup pros & celebrities, but not everyone knows how it all began. It all started in 1977, when my sister Jane & I were running a tiny makeup shop in San Francisco’s mission district. An exotic dancer came into our shop asking for a makeup product that she could put on her nipples to make them more rosy & perky. It needed to be long lasting, so it would stay put through all of her dance routines.
Jane: That’s right. Jean & I told her to come back the next day and we would have something for her. That night, we went home, and pulled out our blenders. We worked in the kitchen all night, until we achieved the perfect rosy stain, a secret concoction containing steamed rose petals. Within months, our little nipple stain became the cult classic of exotic dancers, strippers and women of the night…who surfaced long enough during the day to visit Benefit to get more Benetint…for backstage. Soon thereafter, Benetint “rose” if you will, above the breasts, and became known as a lip & cheek stain, gaining international popularity on the faces of famous celebrities, rockstars, models, makeup artists, and socialites. Women around the world continue to covet, what we at Benefit like to call… “the sexiest blush you can get from a bottle.”
What are the best and worst parts of working together as sisters?
Jane: There is no one I would rather run a business with than my sister.
Jean: Thanks Jane! Right back at ya! Like any sisters, we fight sometimes, we don’t always agree. And that’s a good thing. But at the end of the day, we always work it out. We’ve been together through the good times and the bad.
Jane: It’s been an incredible adventure and we feel really lucky to have had each other through it all.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Jean: Making women smile.
Jane: We have been making women feel good about themselves for over 30 years…now that’s something to smile about.
What advice do you have for young women who are looking to break into the beauty industry?
Jean: To learn from your mistakes and to keep your focus on what you believe in. It takes hard work, but when you commit to something you love, there is no better feeling.
How do you come up with your innovative products and packaging?
Jane: The single most important thing when creating a new product is to start with “a need.” Each new product must fill a need. The challenge is coming up with something that is completely original. For most products, our inspiration comes from our day-to-day life. Any situation or conversation can give you an idea for a new product or package. We speak with our customers. We find out what they want.
Jean: Over the years, Jane and I have collected vintage pieces for inspiration…we have vintage mannequins, compacts, posters, handbags, & lots of old magazines. There is something very romantic about the past. For our packaging, we use both modern & old-fashion images & styles to create fun products that women will want to carry in their bags or display on their vanity.
What three products can’t you live without?
Jane: My MUST-HAVE products are That Gal brightening primer and Some Kind-a Gorgeous foundation faker. They also happen to be our top 2 selling products and literally fly off of our shelves. These two products are sold at over 4000 counters in more than 35 countries around the world. One That Gal and one Some Kind-a Gorgeous is sold EVERY minute, 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year…now that’s what I call popularity!
Jean: Benetint & BADgal Lash mascara are my favorites. I can’t go anywhere without my BADgal Lash. This mascara has so much attitude, it’s very sexy and it makes every gals lashes full, thick and dramatic. The wand is what’s so spectacular. It’s so big, it’s the baddest lash loader in town. Both Benetint & BADgal Lash round out our top best sellers list. They continue to be sought after by women around the world, Hollywood celebrities and top makeup artists.
Where do you plan on taking the brand in the future?
Jane: The opportunities are endless.
Jane: We will always keep the enthusiasm and appeal for Benefit going & keep everything exciting & fresh.
Jean: Stay tuned.
Oh, we will definitely be staying tuned!