A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Suzi Weiss-Fischmann

Co-Founder & Brand Ambassador of OPI


Jul. 11 2022, Published 7:00 a.m. ET

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A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Suzi Weiss-Fischmann
Wearing nail polish is the period at the end of a sentence.Quotation marks
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Just a few decades ago, nail polish was simply a lacquer with limited shades to decorate the human nail. That is, until, Suzi Weiss-Fischmann altered the nail business with her brother-in-law George Schaeffer, and created OPI Products. Suzi, a second-generation Holocaust survivor born in Hungary, revolutionized the nail polish we use today by turning lacquer into a tool for self-expression and an effervescent accessory.

Despite her legendary status in the beauty industry, Suzi refuses to adhere to a superiority complex. From her first job at Dairy Queen to being named ‘The 1st lady of Colors,’ Suzi’s self-worth remains frankly unpersuaded by accolades. After all, she still goes to the nail salon and rarely reveals her identity.

Her Agenda recently spoke with Suzi about being a woman entrepreneur in the 80s, the current state of the beauty industry, and what every woman needs to conquer the world.

A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Suzi Weiss-Fischmann cofounder OPI
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Her Agenda: OPI started in the 1980s as a dental company but transitioned into a nail lacquer in the late 80s. Ronald Reagan started the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, which removed the requirement of male co-signers on loans for female entrepreneurs. Can you please talk about what starting a business as a woman in the 80s was like for you?

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: Starting a business in the 80s, as a woman had its opportunities and challenges, of course. As a woman, I seized an opportunity because we started in the dental industry. And, some of the chemicals used to make artificial nail extensions, called acrylics, were the same in dentures. We saw all these nail salons popping up in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles doing acrylics, and I seized on an opportunity. Being a woman, it totally made sense to go into the beauty industry, specifically nails, which was dominated by men. I could speak the language because I was a woman and I wanted my nails to look better. I wanted to be able to self-express through nails. Challenges and opportunities both existed. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and there was a fire in my gut and I went for it. Whether it was the 80s, 90s, or 2000s, challenges have always existed for women and will continue. Every morning you get up and say, ‘I’m just going to try harder’ and never give up.

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Her Agenda: OPI was sold to Coty, Inc in 2010. After giving decades of your life to this company, how did you know it was time to sell it and how did you feel when you sold it?

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: When you build a company and you get to a certain level, there are steps as the company grows, and each time there is more money to invest and more levels. We reached a level where it was going to be one more big step, and after 30 years, we said ‘Are we ready for this?’ or do we want to take some of the money off the table and do something else in life. We sold to a large company with a large infrastructure and global reach.

In my heart, it was something that I created so it was very sad. In my brain, it was the right decision to make. I’m still involved at the company as a consultant. It’s like having a child, it’s very hard to let go. I still enjoy being part of the company and most of all the people who work at OPI. It’s an amazing group of people who are creative and fun, and there’s always newness to excite the consumer in the nail industry. It’s very rewarding. Yes, it was hard but it was the right decision.

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Suzi Weiss-Fischmann dream

Her Agenda: There’s a quote I like, ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward’ As you were writing your book, ‘I’m Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time’ was there anything that finally made sense to you about your journey, once you looked back on it?

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Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: People ask what was my ‘aha’ moment. But, for me, every day was an ‘aha’ moment. I came as an immigrant to this country to be able to live the American dream. To seize an opportunity and take [OPI] to where I was able to, to connect with women all over the world through nails, to put a smile on people’s faces, was something that I could never dream would happen. As I look back on my journey, every day was great. I was lucky because I loved what I did every day. I have two children who are my greatest passion, but my work was equally something that I had an amazing passion for. The people inspired me every single day. I always say that the average woman was my muse. Looking back, it was a wonderful time.

Her Agenda: I know that your nail polish was inducted into Allure’s Beauty Hall of Fame and has broken numerous records and won numerous awards. But, what would you say is your greatest career achievement?

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: My greatest achievement is connecting with women and helping women. I say in my book if I can do it everyone can do it. For me, it was nail products, but it can be translated to anything. If I can inspire one person, and make a difference, that is my greatest reward. And, also the relationships I formed throughout the years with women all over the world.

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Her Agenda: Even in 2022, there are still gender disparities in the beauty industry. As of 2021, of the top 20 beauty manufacturers, only three are led by women CEOs. However, so many women are creating their own companies and there are more resources. I know it’s an open-ended question, but what’s your opinion on the current state of the beauty industry in the digital age?

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: I love the industry. People ask me what was the greatest change, and I think it is social media because women can connect in seconds. We can see trends and nail art with videos. Unfortunately, I think the COVID-19 pandemic took a little step backward for women because many had to stay home as schools were closed and take care of their families. These things [slightly] put women back but we are coming out of the pandemic and things are getting back to normal.

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We just need to help each other. I always tell women, as you are rising up the ladder, take women along. Don’t push any women down, take people on that ride. I challenge others to accomplish what I have or what others have. It’s important to tell our stories, that’s why I wrote my book. Storytelling is important because we learn from and inspire each other.

Motto from founder of OPI Nails
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Her Agenda: Some people say, give a woman the right shoes or give a woman the right lipstick and she can conquer the world. What do you think is the one thing every woman needs in order to conquer the world?

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: Nail polish, of course. And, I always say, ‘No color is taboo.’ When I first started, it was pink, mauve, and maybe red. Those three colors. But today no color is taboo. When OPI came out [with] the shade Linkin Park After Dark, it was revolutionary. Goth became mainstream. I remember there was an article in the New York Times [saying that] it allowed women to self-express and be anybody they wanted to be. It was chic in boardrooms to wear dark shades and that really made a huge change. You can change your look and your outlook with color. Wearing nail polish is the period at the end of a sentence.

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Advice from Suzi Weiss-Fischmann OPI

Her Agenda: I read that your first job was at Dairy Queen and now you are known as the “First Lady of Nails.” Throughout the years as you’ve grown up and accomplished so much, what do you think is the one thing about you that has stayed the same?

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann: I’m very humble. People say, ‘Oh my god, look what you’ve accomplished!’ And I say, ‘No, that’s not the way I am.’ I’m very positive. I wake up every day and try to do my best. I never forgot where I came from. My roots are my roots, it is who I am. That’s something that I have instilled in my children and hope to inspire my grandchildren to do the same. I really hope to inspire and help others. Nobody goes through life alone. When you can help others, it’s important to give back.

[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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By: Desjah Altvater

Through Her Agenda, Desjah aims to interview groundbreaking women and uniquely cover the pop culture and entertainment verticals. When she isn't telling people how to pronounce her name, she can be found watching Abbott Elementary and keeping up with everything but the Kardashians.

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