Memo Exclusive: An Interview with Jessica Vartoughian of Jessica Cosmetics

Jessica Vartoughian opened her nails-only salon, the Jessica Nail Clinic, in Beverly Hills in 1969. “I recognized that nails, like skin and hair, were not all alike. There are different types—dry, brittle, normal, and damaged—and this was the foundation of my nail analysis system, Natural Nail Cultivation,” Vartoughian says.

Vartoughian’s beauty brand, Jessica Cosmetics, focused on care of the natural nail, and grew and expanded to meet the needs of the nail professional and growing consumer demand.

Today, she continues to champion an industry she helped invent. MODERN asked her to talk about some important highlights in Jessica’s history and the industry, as a whole.

 MS: Please share some background on your brand and its development.

JV: I am one of the founding nail care companies in this industry and we’ve had some very impactful milestones that changed the professional nail business.

In 1979, distributors were not offering nail care and we were the first to introduce telemarketing to the professional nail industry. I was the first professional to bring nail care to Japan, in 1980, and I am an honorary member of the Japanese Nail Association.  The first nail expo in Japan was held in my distributor’s basement with 150 people and now over 500,000 attend every year.

More recently, in 2010 we introduced a gentle soak-off gel system, GELeration, and we were the first to match our Jessica Custom Colours to our new gel system.

2014 brings us to our most recent milestone, the launch of Phenom, which performs like a gel and removes like a polish. It dries in natural light to a high gloss shine and lasts up to two weeks.

MS: What was the nail industry missing at the time Jessica Cosmetics was launched?

JV: The professional nail industry was non-existent at the time. Most professionals purchased their products from department stores and used olive oil or Vaseline for cuticle care. Jessica, OPI and Star Nail were really the first major companies and then Creative Nail, Orly and Essie came soon after.

MS: What have been some key stages of growth?

JV: As you know, the nail business is relatively steady, yet there have been great peaks and occasional valleys over the years. Some of our greatest growth was when my son and I, with a few educators, traveled the country every weekend to teach natural nail care and pedicures. The word of mouth and support from the nail tech community was amazing. I recently met a manicurist who I trained in those early days and she still uses Jessica. I knew then that education was an essential component of the business.

In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, acrylics became such a money- making service in salons, natural nail care become secondary. It was at this time that we focused on Europe and built our international business. We were the first American nail company to put our energies into this market and it blossomed into an amazing business that changed the dynamic of my company. 

 The next stage was our involvement in the soak-off gel market, another pivotal time in the company. I spent my life promoting the health and growth of the natural nail so if we were going to expand into this market, I had to develop a product that would not damage the nail or it would ruin the creditability I had worked so long to build. While I don’t wear gels myself, I have a woman in the office who has been wearing our GELeration since we started testing in 2009. She’s consistently had gels on since that time and her nails are still in perfect condition which is a testament to good quality products, application, and removal techniques.

MS: Where are you available, internationally, and where do you see growth opportunities?

JV: We are in over 60 countries.  We have seen the market soften all over, especially the gel segment of the market.   Since much of our business is natural nails, this customer is more serious and consistent in her services and home maintenance products. 

I feel the growth is still in the international markets. Countries in Latin America, India and even the Middle East are maturing and their professional nail business is growing. Premium services are being introduced and women are becoming more educated on the importance of proper nail care.  

In the US, we have, unfortunately, lowered the standards in what we expect in a service.  The average person believes a manicure should last four days, which does not say much for the quality of services that are being performed out there.  

MS: Any upcoming launches or innovations you would like to share?

JV: We have a few new things in the works but it a bit too early to talk about them. We are, however, gearing up to launch an international Jessica Nail Clinic licensing program and open flagships in every major country. It is quite exciting and we look forward to opening flagships that embody the foundation and philosophy of the Jessica System.

MS: Final words?

JV: Our industry has changed, and it is important that we think outside the box and revitalize service and the importance of quality.  If we don’t expect much, we certainly won’t get it.  It’s important to love what you do, do it with passion and do it well.


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