I can’t remember when I first heard about Poppy King, her lipsticks, or her seemingly implausible accomplishments, but I was always impressed and intrigued by King and her runaway success in the make-up business at a very young age. So when I saw that King had written a book about her experiences, Lessons of a Lipstick Queen, I was very interested in reading what she had to say. Truth be told I’ve never tried one of her lipsticks; it was always her story that I found fascinating.
So who is Poppy King and what is so interesting about her life? I’ll let King explain in her own words:
Gosh… It is hard to know how to tell this without it sounding like I made it up… But I didn’t! I started my own lipstick brand in 1992 in Melbourne Australia when I was about 6 months out of high school and had just turned 18.
I did this not because I was a chemist, a make up artist, a designer or anything else (I was barely an adult and sometimes wonder if I am one yet!) I did this because I couldn’t find any lipsticks I liked. They were all thin, slimy and too greasy feeling. Plus there were no deep colors or browns and most reds went pink. I wanted lipsticks that gave me the look of the 1940’s. Rich, opaque and filled with pigment.
So… On a whim I found manufactures to mix up some lipsticks, a business partner and the nerve to approach a few stores. It became a run away success!
For 12 years I had a brand called Poppy that specialized in all sorts of lipsticks and lip glosses (I am obsessed with the lips and every possible color, texture, finish and technology there is to make your lips look amazing). During those 12 years I experienced many of the ups and downs involved in running a business so when I was approached in 2002 to move to New York and join a large cosmetic company I decided it was time for me to try something new.
Which I did… However my fascination, obsession and borderline insanity regarding specialized lipsticks and lip products would not leave me. So last year I decided once again to return to having my own business and the obsession that has been with me since my school days.
Intriguing, right? How many of us can say that at the age of 18 we took a personal obsession, created a business because of that obsession, and made that business a success very quickly? Not many people have done what Poppy King has done.
The book is actually a how-to guide for the would be entrepreneur in all of us. Interspersed amongst King’s advice for how to start, develop, and grow your business are short asides titled “my story” where King illustrates her points with a tale from her own experiences. I found King’s book straight-forward, heartfelt, and helpful. I’m not someone with a business background or any business know-how so reading a clear guide to how to start and build a business was interesting for me. I was grateful to King for being so honest about her own mistakes (her candor reminded me of Ruth Reichl’s autobiographies which I loved), lack of confidence at times, and her own need for both professional and personal improvements. I liked the fact that King was enthusiastic, upbeat, and lastly that she broke down everything about starting a business into the easiest of terms.
There were two things that “bothered” me about the book. The first is that I kept finding that I would skip pages ahead in the book just to get to the “my story” parts. I wished the book was done in reverse – that most of the book was King’s personal story and the asides were her advice. As I wrote at the very beginning of this post, I was always captivated by King’s personal story and journey. The book only provided a glimpse into her story; I was left wanting to know more. The other thing that I found interesting about the book, which was published in 2008, was for the most part a lack of acknowledgement or instruction on the use of social media and the internet to promote or otherwise help your business. While I know that King started her original business before the internet was such a daily, powerful force in our lives nonetheless I thought it was strange that the its power and possibilities weren’t addressed further.
All in all, I would recommend this book if you have an idea for a business but don’t know how to proceed with that idea. If I ever have an original idea for a business I will definitely give this book a read again. In the meantime, I will be waiting for King to write a true autobiography which I will be interested in reading. Lastly, I do have to say that while reading this book I had an almost overwhelming urge to put on lipstick and will definitely think to try or even buy one of King’s lipsticks in the future.
Poppy King’s current lipstick line can be found at Lipstick Queen.
For an interview with King read this BBC article.