NEW YORK--It's not every day that a teenager gets to start a cosmetics company that grows to sales of more than $6 million in two years. But that's what happened to Australian-born Poppy King. Her company, called Poppy Industries, was established in 1992 in Melbourne, when she was just 19 years old. It has blossomed from a line of seven lipsticks sold in two Australian fashion boutiques to a collection of 55 cosmetics items distributed in 392 doors in Australia, Singapore and the U.S. Poppy products are now sold in all 13 Barneys units in the U.S., 60 Myer Grace Bros. and 18 David Jones department store doors in Australia and Tangs department store in Singapore. The majority of the firmís distribution goes to 300 Australian fashion boutiques. According to King, sales at Barneys, where Poppy made its U.S. debut in 1993, account for about 10 percent of the companyís overall $6.1 million (8 million Australian dollars at current exchange rates) wholesale volume, or $610,000. Poppy expanded into Singapore last August, and King plans to enter other Asian markets next year. The U.S. will receive her full attention in 1996, when she said she plans to move here to work on that aspect of the business full time. "I'm not sure how many more doors I will be opening," King said. "It has to be exactly the right accounts. Barneys was so perfect because it is as specialized as I am. But I do want to expand my reach here somewhat." In 1991, at the age of 18, King formed a partnership with Australian businessman Daniel Besin to fill what she perceived as a gap in the Australian color cosmetics market. "I was frustrated at the lack of rich matte lipsticks in Australian department stores," she said. "I had always loved that Forties, glamorous look, and there didn't seem to be any products around that could create that. I found that when I asked around, a lot of other people were looking for those colors too. Women had come a lot further than merely wanting to wear Pink Chiffon Frost." It took about $30,700 (40,000 Australian dollars) to start up the company, and after eight months Poppy had produced a collection of seven super-matte lipsticks called the Seven Virtues, in rich red-browns, plums, burgundies and rust. Each lipstick the firm produces boasts twice the pigment of conventional lip colors, King said. The products also have offbeat names such as Liberty, Avarice, Power and Inspiration. "I really wanted to bring something completely different to the market, not only color and texture-wise, but also in terms of naming the items," King said. The line was first distributed in two fashion boutiques and via an 800 number, which according to King, received at least 100 calls a day. By the end of the first month, Poppy expanded into 40 boutiques. As a result, the initial investment was recovered in the first two months of operation, King said. "My idea at the time was to sell makeup as a fun fashion accessory and to take out the seriousness that afflicts the bigger name brands," Poppy said. "Going forward, I still plan to keep the line positioned that way. It will never be a 400-item line that makes profound claims. And I am not at all interested in going into skin care." By the end of the second month, Myer Grace, which is the largest department store in Australia, took the Seven Virtues into eight of its 75 doors. In terms of product, the Seven Virtues has been joined by three other collections of matte lipsticks that have seven items each: the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of rich fuchsias and pale nudes; Innocence, which comprises subtle matte hues, and Venus, another group of deep, rich colors. The lipsticks retail for $16 each. There are also four lip pencils that retail for $12 each.
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