How Julep Turned Women’s Self-Blame Into A Hit New Product

The cosmetics company’s new nail polish applicator, pitched as a plea to women: Stop blaming yourselves!

How Julep Turned Women’s Self-Blame Into A Hit New Product
[Images courtesy of Julep]

Julep’s newest product, which hits stores this month, began when CEO Jane Park spotted a market potential in women’s complaints. Just look at these tweets, and see if you can spot what she did:


Got it? “Women have a sucky tool for polishing their nails,” Park says, “but they blame themselves, thinking they are just bad at using it.” It’s a common female response, according to reams of social science: Although men blame their circumstances when something goes wrong, women often assume they’re the ones at fault.

Jane Park and other Julep Employees trying out the Plié Wand

Park decided there must be a better way to design a nail polish applicator, and hired design firm Ideo to help figure it out. They began considering the classic bottle: a squat, glass base with a short screw-on cap. Unscrew the cap, and you pull out a little brush already doused in polish. This design hasn’t changed for generations–but when companies like Revlon and Cutex started mass-producing nail polish in the 1930s, the bottles’ caps were slightly longer. That history seemed to reveal today’s design flaw.

“Every tool that requires dexterity has length to it,” says Park. “Think about how difficult it is to write with a pencil the size of a stub. It’s so much easier to write with a tool that can rest in the crook of your hand to counterbalance the weight.” Bottles in the 1930s were created with dexterity in mind, but likely shrunk so that they’d be more efficient to package and ship.

Ideo and Julep started designing new, taller bottle caps. Earlier this year, they tested more than 200 prototypes with consumer focus groups. The winner: a long handle that snaps onto a nail polish bottle cap, and bends at a hinge so that it can rest between fingers and offer more control. Interchangeable brushes and dotting tools enable fancy designs, rather than just one color per nail. They called it the Plié Wand.

Plié Wand

Rather than invest upfront in manufacturing and promoting the new handle, though, Park wanted to gauge consumer interest first. So in January, Julep launched a crowdfunding campaign with a $75,000 goal; by the end, it brought in $140,000 from 6,200 backers. The first round of products went out in May, and this month, the Plié Wands are available at Sephora and other retail outlets.

Now there’s a different sentiment on Twitter. Rather than blaming themselves for being bad at painting nails, some women are giving Julep the ultimate compliment: They’re talking about mastering a new tool.


About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.