BeautyTalks with Mary Lennon President and Co-Founder Côte
Tell us about a bit how Côte came to be as a concept.
Côte came about because my partner Leah and I saw a hole in the nail polish market. We loved to get our nails done with our young daughters but were so turned off by the smells and toxins associated with going to a nail salon. The more we started to dig into the industry, the more we realized there really wasn't a great option for people looking for a safe, toxin-free, yet still chic nail care line. Côte was born!
How many products are in the line currently and what are the must-haves?
Currently, we have over one hundred and twenty-five colors and seven specialized nail treatments in our permanent polish collection. Additionally, we have a host of complementary products: acetone-free remover (both liquid and towelettes), 100% Organic Argan Oil, nail care tools, and our newest additions, plant collagen-based nourishing hand and foot masks.
My personal "must-haves" are our Takeoff Towel remover, Smoothing Base Coat, and Quick Dry Top Coat. Those are the basics for me for any great nail look. I can't forget about our Argan Oil though, it's my go-to not only for hydrated nail beds and cuticles but also as an extra hydrating boost when I use it directly on my face and body. I have also been known to include a few drops in my hair conditioner as well! It literally makes everything better.
"We wanted clean, safe nail care product that we could use on ourselves, our daughters, with our friends and were having a hard time finding anything in the market so we created Côte."
You are a product pioneers, what made you interested at first in the nail care category?
Well, I suppose it really was selfishly motivated! We wanted clean, safe nail care product that we could use on ourselves, our daughters, with our friends and were having a hard time finding anything in the market so we created Côte.
Share with us your go-to essential products and what issues they tackle.
The Smoothing Base Coat provides a gorgeous soft matte finish on the nail, perfect for really grabbing and keeping color polish in place. it's also doubles as a terrific ridge filler if you've got some subtle bumps in there (I know I do!). The Quick Dry Top Coat as I'm always in a rush so I want results NOW. Quick Dry gives me the super shiny finish I love and allows me to get on with my day faster than a typical top coat. The Takeoff Towels give me all of the efficient and effective removing power I need without the white residue or harsh, drying acetone. They are super for on-the-go and don't smell like nail polish remover at ALL! We use essential oils to fragrance our removers, so this one literally smells like you've just cut open a juicy orange. Finally, the 100% Organic Argan Oil is super fortified with Vitamin E, argan oil is one of those wonder oils. It literally works on everything! Skin, nails, hair, cuticles....and it's unscented! It is so easy to use and absorbs quickly into skin and isn't oily. My husband is obsessed as well!
Do you believe a great manicure or pedicure changes your mindset?
Yes, yes, yes! I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue differently. There's no question in my mind that a manicure or pedicure is one of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to boost your outlook and mindset. It's that extra little finishing touch that really makes all the difference. We all walk a little more pep in our step and gesticulate more with our hands when there's a fresh manicure or pedicure on there.
Do you see your brand expanding with different products?
Absolutely! We are actually currently finishing up the R&D process on a few new products that, while complementing the nail care selection we have, will really stand on their own and appeal to everyone, not just clean nail care fans.
What inspired your brand’s name Côte?
As a brand born in the beach cities of Southern California, we have always drawn inspiration from the beach and coastline. Beyond that, we wanted something that spoke to the chic, classic ethos of our collection. Marrying these two tenets, we felt that nothing was more beachy chic than the South of France. To capture the vibe of the beach cities of Southern California and our love of the South of France we landed on Côte as a name, which of course means "Coast" in French, but was also a playful homophone for a "coat" of polish. Et voilà!
What role does social media play in your brand?
Obviously over the last 4-5 years social media has become more and more central to our brand. It is an essential marketing channel for us, no question. We also love that it gives us a very personal and direct connection to our clients. That is invaluable!
What are your morning rituals?
I am an "up early" kind of gal. I like the quiet of the morning hours. With two teenagers, a husband and a new puppy at home I need to get myself going early so I can set my tone and organize myself for the day ahead before things get nutty. Coffee is my beloved vice, so latte in hand I will scroll through my inbox and prioritize before the rest of the house wakes up. A quick layer of sunscreen on my face and backs of hands (been obsessed with Supergoop! Glowscreen as of late) and I'll take the dog for a walk (that's about as Zen as I get). Then I'm ready to face the day!
What has been your favorite part about building this business together?
No question, the partnership Leah and I have. I won the lottery when Leah agreed to partner with me on this business. You will not find a more generous, kind-hearted, creatively minded and hard-working individual. We like to joke that she is fashion, and I am function. Yin and yang. We really couldn't be more different in our approach to, well, almost everything...but it just works! The balance and respect that we have is amazing. Sharing this ride with her and getting her thoughts and opinions along the way is my favorite part. She makes me a better businesswoman.
"We love partnering with other female founders and in fact, recently chose collaboration partners specifically because they were female-founded."
Are there struggles you have faced as female founders?
Actually, quite the opposite! I feel that as female founders we have a terrific support network out there. Be it promotional events, meeting contacts, focus groups, or opportunities, being a female founder in today's marketplace is something of which to be proud and from which to draw strength. We love partnering with other female founders and in fact, recently chose collaboration partners specifically because they were female-founded. It's a super network!
What have been key learning experiences being a D2C business?
It's true what they say, the customer is always right. Being a D2C business gives us an opportunity to really hear from the "front line," if you will. We have direct interaction with our end-users and are able to gather suggestions, feedback, and inspiration from them to make the other arms of our business that much stronger. If we miss the mark with a new product, for example, (which unfortunately occasionally does happen!) we can get things back on track quickly.
Did you change anything about the business during the COVID 19 pandemic?
We did change things with the onset of COVID. Most noticeably we were forced to close the service side of our business and let the majority of our employees go. It was really tough. We also really pivoted our social media and client-facing strategies to include more DIY-focused messaging.
Outside of Côte, what are you passionate about?
Spending time with my family. The lockdown, while challenging and difficult at times, also provided for so much unforeseen together time. That was the silver lining! Spending time with my husband and teenagers was a treat I didn't know I'd get last year.
Please share with us a bit about your Côte Cares program.
We started our philanthropic piece Côte Cares during the pandemic as a way to further support organizations in our community that do such critical work. Since the beginning of Côte, over 7 years ago, we have always found ways to give back to the community, but this time with our Côte cares program we wanted something lasting, and something directly tied to our products. So, we selected six very deserving organizations and paired them with one of our colors. Now each time a featured color is purchased, we donate $2 per bottle to that group. It's been a super success so far and we have no plans to stop! Here are the colors and they causes they are attached to:
This is About Humanity, no. 50
The Conscious Kid, no. 92
Feeding America, no. 85
Beauty Bus, no.19
The Trevor Project, no. 52
Habits of Waste, no.61