A couple of weeks ago, I bought a bottle of nail polish at American Apparel. I’d noticed how shiny and red my friend Sarah’s nails were while we were out to brunch that morning. She’d just bought that color along with a one of the grey hues from American Apparel. Given that we’re both design/branding nerds, we wound up talking about the controversial brand for a little bit.
Sarah told me the line of nail polish had just come out. It sounded unique because the colors were textile-based or had some other industrial influence, so people would see some shades in the line not typically found in other polish lines like OPI or Essie.
There happened to be an American Apparel in the neighborhood we were in, so after walking Sarah to her car, I headed over to check out the nail polish.
I picked up a color called Factory Grey. (I love the color grey.) It’s the second bottle from the right in the top row in the photo below. I snapped the shot with my phone and posted it to my microblog.
Last weekend, I finally had time to sit down and paint my nails. I snapped this photo.
A friend asked me how I liked the polish, so when she stopped by my apartment last weekend, I loaned it to her.
And that was it. Girl hears about pretty polish from friend. Girl finds polish, buys and shares with her friends. End of story.
Then yesterday, another friend who saw the photos I posted of the nail polish sent me an article with news of a product recall. Nitrolicious shared an internal memo allegedly from American Apparel regarding the recall:
Due to some quality issues with the glassware used in the American Apparel nail polish we are requesting all bottles be taken off the sales floor immediately. We are working closely with our vendor to improve the product, and will be shipping an improved polish within 5-10 days. Please remove the nail polish from the floor and store it in the back. We will let you know how to dispose of it on the Monday back stock conference call.
THE ABOVE IS CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION FOR EMPLOYEES OF THE COMPANY ONLY. If customers inquire about the nail polish, please inform them that we are preparing our new stock and that they should check back soon. Also, let them know that we are launching 6 new colors for Spring! Give them a card to the store and encourage them to call and check if we’ve received our new shipment.
Your compliance is appreciated. Please contact me directly with any questions.
I was sort of bummed out about it, but didn’t think about it too much. I don’t bite my nails, and if it came out that there was something wrong with the polish itself, I’d remove it and stop using it.
A little later in the afternoon, the same friend (who had been thinking of buying the polish herself) sent along an update on the recall posted in Jezebel with an update purportedly from American Apparel:
“As for the vendor, here’s what the company press release had to say:
For the initial run of 60,000 bottles… the creative directors found a true family-operated nail polish manufacturer in New York City with… the techniques and secrets the family had been using since the early 1970s – symbolized best by the 91-year-old grandmother who still fills the bottles.
Wonder how that 91-year-old grandma is doing right now.
Update: Looks like the bottles were to blame. An American Apparel rep emails:
After receiving a few reports of bottles breaking, we made the internal decision to do a voluntary recall of the bottles on both a retail and public level.
We chose this small US manufacturer to produce our nail polish because we support their business model and have a fondness for family who runs it. However, one of the realities of all manufacturing is first-run glitches. We worked all last week with the manufacturer to make the improvements necessary for the second run. Another reason we sought out a US-based company is so we would be able make changes and now, we can investigate what went wrong as quickly as possible. We still believe in the factory we’re working with and the new polish will be in stores within the next two weeks.
We will offer an exchange of two new bottles or a $10 giftcard for anyone who brings in a unit from the original run or a receipt.
On another note, one thing we’re taking very seriously is the disposal of the bottles we had in the stores. Even though our polish was DBP, toluene, and formaldehyde-free, we don’t want our stores just tossing it in the trash. We’re using our internal shipping and distribution line to arrange a pickup and removal of the polish to make sure it gets done right.”
Now, THAT is a story. After reading that, I thought to myself, “What a wasted opportunity this was.” Apparently, the company had shared some of this information (along with cool details on what inspired each polish color) in a press release in December. But that information wasn’t anywhere near the point of purchase, out in front of the people ready to spend money. Why would you rely on a press release to deliver your brand story for you?
As far as I was concerned, the only things that were special about this nail polish were that it came in unusual colors and that is was recommended to me by a friend.
Listen, a tomato is a tomato is a tomato. Some tomatoes taste better than others. But to a person that doesn’t care much about tomatoes, tasting better isn’t enough to make a story about that one tomato spread.
But if you bring someone who likes tomatoes even just a little bit to a farm, and you show them fields full of 20 varieties of tomatoes . . . tomatoes in red, yellow, or with pale green stripes. . . round or oblong, smooth or bumpy and kind of ugly, then you’ve educated someone who has the capacity to be passionate about tomatoes and given them a great story to share with their friends.
They will take your gift when you offer them tomatoes, and they will share the tomatoes and the story, and then their friends will never look at tomatoes the same. (That actually happened to me, by the way.)
What if this were the American Apparel story instead: You walk into the shop, and next to the nail polish display you see a sign that looks like a white board with a white filigreed border.
On the white board, in hand-written marker, it reads:
“These bottles are part of an initial run of just 60,000 bottles made for American Apparel by a family-operated nail polish manufacturer in New York City that’s best symbolized by the 91-year-old grandmother who still fills the bottles.
We chose a small US manufacturer to produce our nail polish because we support their business model and have a fondness for the family who runs it.”
That would have been a really fun story that the type of people who shop at American Apparel would have LOVED to have shared. I would have told my friends that story. I would have probably tracked down that grandmother ’cause she sounds cool as fuck and made a YouTube video of her filling a bottle of my Factory Grey polish. American Apparel would have loved it, it would have gone viral and we’d all be famous.
And then … AND THEN … when the news broke (no pun intended) that the glassware was too delicate to be safely shipped or transported, American Apparel could remind everyone who already bought a bottle that this was a very small, exclusive shipment of the product. But because their devoted shoppers were some of the very first people to try this product, they’d be happy to replace the polish for free when the new, perfected shipment arrived in stores.
Then buyers would have felt special for a second time (the first time being when they realized they were buying a limited edition product), they would have been more forgiving and would have spread the positive part of this story faster and more frequently, thereby helping American Apparel sell more nail polish.
Whether we’re talking about tomatoes or nail polish bottles, it sounds as though great stories are better left in the hands of 91-year-old grandmothers than big companies.