A group of senior women recently approached Suzi Weiss-Fischmann after a speaking engagement, whispered “a little guilt under the kilt,” and walked away giggling. As odd as this encounter may seem, it is common for Weiss-Fischmann, the co-founder of OPI Products. A Little Guilt Under the Kilt is just one of the many creative names her company’s nail polish colors carry.
“I laughed to myself all the way home that night,” Weiss-Fischmann says. “Those women were a great reminder of how good it feels to bring delight into other people’s lives.”
Bringing delight to people around her is both a talent and a goal for Weiss-Fischmann. She started OPI with her brother-in-law and business partner, George Schaeffer, as a dental supply business in Los Angeles called Odontorium Products, Inc. When the two realized that nail artists were using their products for top-notch manicures, they seized the opportunity to begin serving a new market, and from there blossomed a multi-million-dollar business.
Anyone familiar with OPI knows that the only thing more iconic than their nail polish colors are the polish names, which have from the beginning been generated by a small group of witty people. With zingers like Up the Amazon Without a Paddle, I’m Not Really a Waitress, and My Chihuahua Bites, it’s no wonder OPI’s nail colors have attracted attention around the world. And every color inspires a story.
One shade of red, called Hey Vito Is My Car Ready, opened up an unlikely distribution channel for OPI. “A mechanic in New Jersey named Vito learned about it,” Weiss-Fischmann explains. “He ordered cases directly from the distributor and was giving a bottle to every customer whose car he worked on!”
Weiss-Fischmann is a natural storyteller and has plenty of stories to tell. Her own life story is the embodiment of the American Dream. Born in communist Hungary in the 1950s to parents who survived the Holocaust, her formative years were full of discipline and short on options. When she was 10, she left Hungary with her parents for “The Land of Opportunity.” Their first stop: Israel. “As our boat approached the shores of Haifa at sunrise,” she says, “I will never forget what it felt like to see the morning sun shining on the golden dome [of the Baha’i Temple].”
That bright optimism—and perhaps the brilliant color of that moment—followed Weiss-Fischmann to New York two years later. From the moment she arrived, she realized she was living in a country with more freedom and opportunity than she had ever imagined. Even decades later, she reminds people that, with hard work, patience, and determination, they can reach any goal they set.
While the U.S. offered her limitless opportunity, she says growing up in a communist country developed her work ethic and discipline, valuable tools on her path to success. Her path was also paved by the dedicated, hard-working, insightful women in Weiss-Fischmann’s life. “My mother and my sister played the biggest role in my business success because they helped me balance work and family. I could not have done it without them.”
Weiss-Fischmann knows firsthand how challenging it can be to balance raising children with being a successful professional, and she is quick to credit other women who have done the same, as well as the network of supportive women who inspired her. In fact, Weiss-Fischmann holds up many of the women working at OPI as her role models. From the head of marketing to the creative team to the purchasing agents, these women rose from their challenges to become successful. Even as head of the company, Weiss-Fischmann readily admits she looked up to these women who inspired her and became her second family.
Another important aspect of Weiss-Fischmann’s life: being Jewish. No matter how busy she and her husband were with work, the family always gathered for Shabbat dinner. It was a vital way to maintain connection to each other and their traditions. Judaism provided the “scaffolding” during the challenge of co-founding a multimillion-dollar beauty empire. “We are part of a tradition that’s been going on for thousands of years…and I want it to continue for thousands of years after I’m gone,” she reflects. “Our children are our legacy so it’s been important for my husband and me to pass on our Judaism so they can pass it on to theirs.” And that has happened. Even as their children got older, they have opted to go home for Friday night dinners. “The greatest thing about Shabbat dinner now is that I get to spend time with my children and grandchild.”
One of the most tangible traditions that Weiss-Fischmann has passed on is the importance of tzedakah. Her father instilled in her a belief she lives by: “If you give, you get.” She has also taught her children the importance of taking care of people who are less fortunate, and every day she tries to make the world a better place. “I tell people it can be anything—giving $10 a month or some small act of kindness. No matter what, it’s significant.”
Weiss-Fischmann’s connection to Judaism has evolved over the years and she’s enjoying exploring her faith more deeply now. “As I get older I’m finding myself more traditional and more connected to G-d in prayers. What I love about the Jewish religion is that it’s very personal. It is about the relationship between yourself and G-d.”
Personal connections and relationships are at the heart of everything Weiss-Fischmann does. So the advent of social media has been a challenge. “I love to sit down with people and connect over a cup of coffee, but I also understand why that’s limiting. I realize that these platforms give me the opportunity to inspire people all over the world.” Never one to give in to limitations, she has embraced technology and is encouraged by the positive feedback she receives online (find her social media links at: 1stladyofcolors.com).
When speaking in public, Weiss-Fischmann is acutely aware that in the crowd there are likely to be teenagers who are overcoming their own obstacles. And although she is speaking to the entire audience, she aims to motivate those young people. “What they don’t realize is that they inspire me,” she emphasizes. “I see them in the audience and think, “this is why I’m here.”
Passing insights on to the next generation didn’t start on such a large scale. She has told and retold her parents’ stories to her children and hopes that they will in turn pass on her stories. “My mother used to tell me stories about her parents. It’s how I learned about Jewish life before the Holocaust.”
Today, Weiss-Fischmann is delighted to pass on her experience and wisdom to women of all ages. “We tell stories when we get together; it’s how we connect with other women and inspire each other.” This is why she spends so much of her time traveling and speaking to audiences around the country. “If I can inspire just one person, I feel like I’ve done something good for the next generation.” The Jewish tradition of L’dor v’dor—from generation to generation—is a philosophy she takes to heart.
So what’s next for a woman who has sold her business and published a well-received autobiography? Between speaking engagements, she enjoys time in her garden and beautifying her home. “My home is my sanctuary…every Friday I fill it with fresh flowers.” Today she also loves to beautify with art, but even when she was living in a small apartment on a small budget, she kept a fresh flower or two in her home. A small candle, flowers, even a lovely smelling bowl of lemons placed on the kitchen counter—she believes that beautifying one’s space is an important indulgence at any budget.
Suzi Weiss-Fischmann will speak in Orange County on Sunday, March 15, at Women’s VOICES, the signature women’s fundraising event of Jewish Federation & Family Services. Her new book, “I’m Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry,” will be available for purchase at the event. You can find more details here: JewishOC.org/Voices2020.
JFFS honors ann moskowitz at women’s VOICES 2020
On March 15, 2020, Women’s Philanthropy of
Jewish Federation & Family Services will hold its annual Women’s VOICES Luncheon, an Orange County Business Journal “Top 5 Charity Luncheon” since 2014. The event will feature special guest speaker Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, OPI Products Co-Founder and Brand Ambassador, and will honor philanthropist and Jewish community leader Ann Moskowitz as Woman of the Year.
Ann Moskowitz has served as a Jewish Federation & Family Services volunteer leader for many years, most notably as Chair of the Passport to Jewish Life Committee since 2007. Under Ann’s leadership, more than 2,300 Passport grants have been awarded to date, totaling over $1.3 million dollars, which have made Jewish education and experiences like summer camp and JCC Maccabi programs available to children in our community.
Ann has also served in leadership roles for other community organizations, including Temple Bat Yahm and Gateway Housing. Ann and her husband Joel (z”l) were married for 50 years before Joel passed away in March 2015, and for their 50th anniversary, Joel created the Ann Moskowitz Passport to Jewish Life Endowment at the Jewish Community Foundation. “This was the most meaningful gift he could ever have given me,” Ann shares.
Women’s VOICES takes place at Hotel Irvine on Sunday, March 15, and tickets are on sale now at:
Jennifer Frank is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.