Jean and Jane Ford: The BADGals of Benefit

An interview with the Benefit sisters.

What it’s Like

What It’s Like … to Launch a Beauty Empire with Your Twin Sister

Jean and Jane Ford: The BADGals of Benefit

-Megan Southwick

Jean and Jane FordOnce upon a time, in a land far, far away — well, maybe not so far away. Let’s try a farmhouse in Iowa, where twin babies, Jean and Jane Ford, were born. As the twins grew, they developed rather eccentric habits. Jean, the younger one (by 3 minutes), used to mix mud pies while painting her face with the glowing behinds of fireflies; Jane, her other half, spent hours counting Raisinettes, biting them in half, then trading with her friends for full-sized M&Ms. The entire Ford family and everybody who knew these imaginative little girls had no doubts that these two would end up doing something fabulous with their lives … And it so happened, a short 28 years later, Benefit cosmetics was born. I recently had a chance to talk with Jean and Jane about the Benefit fairy tale.

When I first heard about Benefit, it was because everyone was raving about Benetint. Would you say that was your breakthrough product?

Jane: Absolutely! It’s the product that basically put Benefit on the map!

BenetintJean: Jane and I were both 28 years old at the time when we opened the Face Place in 1976, in the heart of the mission district in San Francisco. The shop grew famous from delivering quick fixes for every gal’s peskiest beauty dilemmas.

Jane: With Jean’s creative flare and Jane’s background in marketing, we always were able to create a fun product that was unique, delivered results and basically made you smile or laugh out loud. Benetint was originally created to solve a pesky dilemma that one of our customers was experiencing.

Jean: I believe it was 1977 when an exotic dancer came into the Face Place looking for a product that could enhance the color of her nipples while withstanding a hard night at work. Never failing to disappoint a customer, Jane and I whipped up a product that could do just that.

Jane: After cooking up a large batch in our kitchen by steaming rose petals, we hit the jackpot when all the exotic dancers in the Mission District had lined up around the block to purchase the product. Jean and I realized that in order to really make this product a household necessity we needed to find another use -

Jean: …and so Benetint, the famous lip & cheek stain was born. Benetint soon gained favor among all the exotic dancers and schoolteachers in the Bay area. News of Benetint spread like wild fire. The secret to its success was through word of mouth. From the streets, to the runway, to all the fashion magazines; rosy tinted lips and cheeks was all the rage and Benetint was the one product that could deliver just that!

Badgal lashCongratulations on winning yet another Best of Sephora award! I noticed it was for Hoola, but I’d be inclined to add Bad Girl lash mascara and anything Maybe Baby related to that list! What are your personal favorite Benefit products? What would you recommend for people just getting interested in Benefit cosmetics?

Jean: Why thank you!

Jane: I have two favorites…I love BADgal lash, it is our best selling mascara with tons of attitude. It’s got this big giant brush that loads on the lashes. The formula is to die-for. It’s like instant false lashes in a tube. We sell one tube of Bad Gal Lash every 30 seconds. My other favorite is Dr. Feelgood. It’s our vitamin complexion balm. Dr. Feelgood makes your complexion velvety smooth and reduces the appearance of fine lines. It has been around for over 10 years and continues to be our #1 seller on our website (Benefitcosmetics.com).

Jean: My absolute favorite of all time is Benetint!

I love the story of the two of you as children, with Jean face painting with butterflies and Jane making hard-nosed business deals involving M&Ms and Raisinettes. Is this relationship between the two of you what makes Benefit work?

Jean: Absolutely… we complete each other.

Jane: We learn so much from each other as well … I love watching Jean in her creative zone.

Jean: And Jane has taught me so much about crunching numbers, etc.

One of the first things that drew me to Benefit was the packaging – did the two of you conceive of the look and feel of the packaging and branding?

Jean: Yes… we bring our own personal tastes into the whole package… everything inspires us and we want that included in the brand.

Jane: The single most important thing when creating a new product is to start with “a need.” This 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.

Our product naming sessions at Benefit take place on Thursday afternoons. There are usually about 10 of us gathered around our tin table, munching on M & M’s. The naming process is always done by democracy, everyone needs to buy into the name, whether it’s a product name or shade name. Everyone votes, there are no egos and when we get it right everyone just lights up. We start by blurting out name ideas, and then we vote thumbs up or thumb down for our favorites. We don’t try to be clever or witty; we try to come up with names that will make people laugh.

Jane: At one meeting years ago, we were all sitting around the table trying out a vitamin C face balm. It was like pomade for your face … with a fabulous finish. It made the skin feel velvety soft and smooth and was chocked full of vitamins. Some one blurted out, “Whoa, baby, does this feel good!” That’s it…I said, Feelgood. It says what it does. Jean then asked, “Remember Dr. Feelgood?” And thus, Dr. Feelgood, was born. We loved the idea of adding romance to this product, so we went through the whole range of doctor, stethoscope, nurse, and ended up with an image of a Doctor making a house call to visit his patient on the front. Instead of kissing his patient’s boo-boo, he’s kissing her!

Your story sounds like such a fairy tale – were there any bumps along the road that made you question your choices? How did you overcome those?

Jean: Thanks for your confidence … yes, there were definite bumps in the road, as in any journey.

Jane: That’s right… we learned from our mistakes and moved on.

Jean: You can’t dwell on what you did wrong… only learn from it and don’t make the same mistake again.

Okay, honestly, I don’t even live in the same town as my sister and sometimes we get sick of each other. Do you guys ever get tired of one another?

Jean: Of course! That is what being sisters is all about…

Jane: We are also each other’s best friend and biggest supporter. 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.

Jean: We never dreamed Benefit would be the global beauty brand it is today. You build your destiny a day at a time. When we opened our first little makeup boutique 32 years ago in San Francisco, our goal was to make enough money to put food on the table for our families.

Jane: This has been an incredible thrill and privilege for Jean & me. We were never an overnight success, it has not always been easy but it has been the most fun and the craziest experience of our lives. We could never have done it alone. Having each other, being in this from the start with my twin sister, Jean is truly key to our success.

If you had to whittle your daily makeup routine down to just one or two products, which would you choose?

Jean: Start with a great concealer. Try Erase Paste. Its melon tone acts as a brightener and hides those nasty dark circles and skin imperfections in a snap. Just put it where you need it. Don’t use it all over. Then use a no-shimmer bronzer to give your skin a healthy look. I love Hoola.

Jane: If there is one product you should never leave home without is lipstick… it makes you look put together, even if you aren’t! Try our new Full-Finish lipstick in Ladies Choice; it’s the perfect nude shade!

Care to give us the scoop on any new products getting ready to launch?

Jean: Would love to…. but can’t give away any secrets. You will have to wait and see…

Jane: We promise we won’t disappoint you, our new products are amazing!


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