Meet the Founders: Smith & Cult

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The inventor of 90’s cool girl staple Hard Candy nails it again… naturally!

This post comes from our dear friend and contributor Carlen Altman….

When I was told I had the opportunity to interview Dineh Mohajer, my 90s obsessed glittery heart skipped a major beat. I don’t know about you but, as a teenager, CLUELESS was one of my favorite movies (and totally still is!) and huge inspiration for me style-wise (even if my teenage self couldn’t actually pull off a yellow plaid blazer with matching mini skirt at the time…WHATEVER). However, what I could confidently pull off was the baby blue nail polish that adorned Alicia Silverstone’s nails throughout the mid-90s , created by a very forward-thinking nail polish company called HARD CANDY, run by  a college student named Dineh Mohajer.

Flash forward 20 years, and Dineh is taking the beauty industry by storm  — this time, a non-toxic cruelty-free storm, that is — with Smith & Cult, the nail polish brand (and makeup, too!) that I have become obsessed with for its great colors, funny style names (Bitter Buddhist is an example) and amazing brand story. Read on for more….

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Could you introduce yourself and your company to our readers? Outside of being the founder of Smith & Cult, who are you? Where are you from? Where are you now? What do you enjoy?

I am from Michigan, but left the Midwest when I was 18 and have called LA home ever since. Soon after moving to the city of (plastic) angels, I found myself thrust into the beauty industry in a way that still shocks me to this day. I think it was part luck, part random, and perhaps destiny? As a disgruntled pre-med student, I often procrastinated by going to my happy place which was doing ANYTHING except studying. One day, I was on the hunt for a pastel baby blue nail lacquer because I wanted to match my toes to a pair of Marc Jacobs sandals. Let’s thank/blame the 90s for this ridiculousness. The shade I wanted didn’t exist but I stumbled upon a shocking blue shade and mixed it with white, which yielded an opaque baby blue nail lacquer. People constantly stopped me asking where to buy the shade that I eventually named Sky. Cut to the creation of Hard Candy, my first big break that took me from biochemistry to beauty. Flash forward to I’ve accumulated infinitely more experiences in the past 20 years in this industry (thank goodness). Smith & Cult is my newest brand and again, just as Hard Candy was, is a reflection of my experiences and perspective.

Unlike your previous beauty ventures (including my ‘90s teenage dream brand, Hard Candy) Smith & Cult prides itself on using natural ingredients for its lip glosses and nail polishes. What inspired this shift?

The landscape of the beauty industry has evolved so much since the 90s and I’ve been lucky to witness tremendous advancements in technology. Developments in nail and lip lacquer formulations have allowed the removal of toxic chemicals, providing us with healthier formulas that benefit both our bodies and the environment. Our nail lacquer formula is 8-free (the current standard for most luxury beauty brands is 5-free) and our other product formulas are also vegan-, gluten-, paraben-free but, unfortunately, not free free or we would be out of business. There has been a real shift in the collective consciousness and I’m incredibly proud that Smith & Cult is aligned with this growing awareness that beauty and social responsibility must be aligned.

Where does the name Smith & Cult come from? (Or is this a secret?)

The name Smith & Cult embodies the clashing duality and its harmonious existence within each of us. People are never one-dimensional, but rather multi-layered and complex creatures. Smith represents the refined, elegant side of the spectrum, whereas Cult represents the more subversive and unruly side. I strive to weave this philosophy throughout every facet of the brand. The brand name came out of a late night brainstorming session I had in bed in PJ’s (my happy place).

All of your products have very witty names like Bitter Buddhist and One Word Chorus. I love the way your brain works. Do you have a particular name you’re especially proud of?

Naming the shades is actually one of the best parts of product development. Each and every one of the Smith & Cult shade names is derived from the chaos in my brain, bizarre characters in my life, or by something that I simply love. I love all the shade names for different reasons, but one that stands out at the moment is The Queen is Dead from The Shining Lip Lacquer collection. The sheer aubergine hue with a bit of shimmer is a regal yet badass shade inspired by the time my friend’s mother (who is basically Grace Kelly reincarnated) gave me the cold shoulder.

I totally remember running out to buy “Sky,” the baby blue Hard Candy nail polish that Alicia Silverstone helped make famous when promoting Clueless on David Letterman. Hypothetically, if Alicia were promoting “Clueless 2” in 2016, what must-have color from Smith & Cult could you see her wearing today?

I think if Clueless 2 came out in 2016 I would be die of happiness. Beyond that, I could see Alicia/Cher donning a new shade of ours, called 1972 (the first rose gold foil) as well as a new matte top coat called Flatte that will transform any shade in your current collection. Now I can’t stop thinking about Clueless 2. Can that be a reality? As if.

AS IF, IS RIGHT!  This may be “so random” (ok, I’ll stop quoting Clueless) but I want to ditch all of my chemical nail polishes. Do you know what I should do with them or if it’s possible to recycle them?

I would check with your local neighborhood recyclers to see what they suggest.

(Author Carlen’s Update:  Check out Earth911 to find out how to recycle nailpolish!)

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I really enjoy getting manicures but most nail salons use toxic nail polish ingredients. Have you ever brought your own polish to a nail salon? Is there a right way to do this without offending or confusing the nail salon technician?

There are salons that offer nail lacquers with healthier formulas, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing your own. I always bring my own Smith & Cult nailed lacquer as well as the Above it All top coat and Basis of Everything base coat. Personally, I have never come across anyone who had a problem with it. I’m definitely on team bring-your-own-polish.

What advice would you tell your college-aged self, sitting and concocting nail polish in your dorm room?

Where do I begin? Let’s see…at 18 years old, I was an overworked, disgruntled pre-med student. The hunt for a baby blue pastel nail polish led to me creating Hard Candy. As we rapidly grew, I remained adamant about not following rules, which yielded unfiltered creativity and awesome products but I made a bazillion and one mistakes on the business side of things. On the business side of things, I would tell my younger self to find like-minded creatives with a similar aesthetic and business savvy smarties to help execute the vision. On the personal side, I would tell young Dineh to be nicer to herself.

I read somewhere that you once made lipstick with caffeine in it and nail polish specifically for men (Candy Man). Do you think either of these will ever make a comeback?

While I have great fondness and pride for the unique products I developed during the Hard Candy era, my focus is now on creating new trends and collections via Smith & Cult to help people express themselves and feel beautiful.

OK, OK…fine. My future boyfriend will be very disappointed Candy Man is not coming back. JK, this interview is about you, not me. We often think of beauty as a surface quality — how do you nurture your inner beauty?

In the ideal Pinterest version of my life, I would be that woman who wakes up at 5am drinking some type of homemade green juice before doing yoga as the sun comes up, but the problem is I am often working through the wee hours of the morning and usually hit the snooze button 5 times before I can form a coherent sentence.

Truth be told, I completely burnt myself out (understatement of the century) over the last couple years creating Smith & Cult. I loved every minute of it, but I have not made overall wellness, which I think is inner beauty, enough of a priority. I am working on nurturing my foundation by engaging in activities that are healthy, and forgoing those that have not served me. That means more volunteer work, exercise and spending more time with my dearest friends.

What is your idea of success?

While I love what I do and have immense gratitude for my career, my idea of success involves leading a more balanced life. I am really working on setting aside time to nurture personal relationships and to curb some of my workaholic tendencies. Wish me luck…and sleep…I could really use some non-Ambien-induced-sleep.

Here’s to cruelty-free, non-toxic manis and mindsets for all!

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