Jennifer Isaac, B.A.’02, and Cristina Samuels, B.A.’00

A Colorful Calling

By Carol Olechowski

Jonathan Rochelle at Google

Growing up, sisters Cristina Samuels and Jennifer Isaac loved experimenting with makeup. Unlike most little girls, however, they had an “entrepreneurial spirit” that took them from selling cosmetics to their classmates and neighbors to building their own business empire.

“We were raised in an encouraging, supportive and strong business-minded family,” Samuels remembered. “Our parents instilled in us very early on the values of hard work and the notion that all things were possible.”

In fact, the family ran its own cosmetics business. Zela International, founded in the late 1960s, was originally located in New York City until Samuels and Isaac’s father, Ike, moved it to the Capital Region. Their dad, Samuels noted, “single-handedly revolutionized the color-cosmetics industry, pioneering advanced formulas and 101 never-before-seen nail polish colors, like canary yellow, emerald green, sky blue, purple and black, when only nine shades of red existed. These unconventional colors raised eyebrows at the time but caught on very quickly with the younger generation and with celebrities, including Cher and Liza Minnelli.”

By age 7, Samuels was selling Zela products to her neighbors. Jennifer, three years younger, “showcased the cosmetics. It was so gratifying each time we made a sale. We were just kids having fun,” commented Samuels, who went on to sell her father’s line to her junior-high classmates – and to their mothers.

“I knew that this was my calling,” Samuels continued, “but education was always priority one. I graduated with a B.A. in rhetoric and communication, and a double minor in journalism and English.” She considered a career in broadcast journalism but couldn’t resist the pull of the business world.

Isaac, who majored in sociology and minored in business, was planning to pursue a law degree after earning her bachelor’s in 2002 “but realized it wasn’t my calling. The University at Albany offered a great liberal-arts education that allowed us to explore fields and subjects that piqued our interests. The heritage of business and beauty is in our blood, so it was natural that, as sisters and best friends, we carry on the family business,” Isaac observed.

Samuels and Isaac created MODE® while still at UAlbany. “At the time, the few products on the market that contained natural ingredients were all crunch, no glamour, and didn’t perform,” recalled Samuels. “When we were girls, our mother encouraged us to rub fruit peels on our skin, teaching us the nutrient-rich benefits of fruits and botanicals. We believe that makeup and skincare go hand in hand, and we created an entirely new category of beauty by pioneering high-performance, beneficial color cosmetics that were chic, fashion forward and made in the U.S.A. Our innovative products are chock full of our signature proprietary POTENTNATURALS™ derived from the world’s finest botanicals and super fruit extracts to reviving fruit oils and energizing essential oils.”

In 2000, the sisters created Gaga Pure Platinum®. The name – taken from Samuels’ childhood difficulty in pronouncing her elder brother Gregory’s name – “instantly stuck. We designed an intensely vibrant electric-pink lip gloss and lipstick, infusing them with positive energy from crushed gemstones, including ruby, coral, jade, pearl, amethyst, amber and tourmaline, for our personal collection. When I tried the finished product, I said to Jennifer, ‘I’m gaga for this color!’” exclaimed Samuels.

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