Ashley Longshore, 42
Artist and Entrepreneur
Ashley Longshore is as unapologetic as they come. Known for her raw artistic talent and a penchant for the ridiculous, this fearless innovator has built a name for herself on social media and in the art world. “We can be our own worst enemy,” says Longshore, who counts amongst her client base (and close friends) the likes of Salma Hayek and Blake Lively. “You have to have self love and be your own best friend when you are in business because it’s hard man, it’s hard out there.” The painter’s greatest achievement has been to inspire other people to to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I feel like you don’t necessarily choose a career path. A career path chooses you if you allow yourself to have plenty of experiences when you are younger. That is why education is so important. Maybe I wouldn’t have known that I was a great oceanographer if I didn’t take oceanography. Maybe I wouldn’t have known that I was a good astronome. I had such a great liberal arts education and I always learned so much. I was always so expressive that fortunately one day I found myself painting and I realized I had found exactly what I wanted to do in my life. My greatest achievement thus far has been to inspire other people to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there. No matter what stage we are in success, it’s really so important to have people that you look up to inspire you. And as much as I try to give myself a pep talk every day, I’m really hoping that I have put that energy out in the world and I have given people the ability to know that they can really accomplish anything.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Uh yes. I was told that I couldn’t do things because I was a girl or a southern girl or my daddy wasn’t as wealthy as a Rockefeller. I think we have to acknowledge the fact that these aren’t always things that people are saying, these are also things we are telling ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy.
This is why I preach so much that you really must have lots of self love and be your own best friend when you are in business because it’s hard man, it’s hard out there.
"My greatest achievement thus far has been to inspire other people to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I mean, the biggest limitation has been the structure of the art industry. I mean, me as an artist I always thought it was so ridiculous to work with galleries, to give off 50 percent of your sale. The business model just seems so antiquated. But also being a woman in the art world has been a limitation.
I constantly feel like a woman’s take on life isn’t valued as much as a man’s take. I don’t know if it’s because women are naturally more expressive and more analytical so when a man is able to do that, it is worth more. That’s been a really hard thing being a woman in the art industry. Will I be as successful as Jeff Koons? Will I be able to have a multi-million dollar company and have the capital to create any of my wildest imaginations, which I think is any artist’s dream? I think as you become more successful, you realize that you are just a human on this planet.
It’s not about male or female. It’s about being a person with a vision and putting yourself out there. And again, that constant pep talk of put down the grilled cheese sandwich. Girl you are a bad ass, you have everything you need. I love me some me kind of situation.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
First of all, everybody says you can’t do it. People always talk about why things are so hard or so difficult. But really, for me in my own life, it’s not why you can’t do it, it’s why you can do it. Something else that can really fuel your fire is being broke and not being able to support yourself. The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel. If somebody would have written me a check, or if I had married some rich guy that was like “oh go open a gallery,” well that’s fun and great, but not the same as making it for yourself. When this is your future, past, and present, there is a real sense of urgency to make sure that you are kind to yourself while working as hard as you possibly can. The same goes for mean girls who said I would never amount to anything. It’s funny when they say living well is the best revenge. Not that anything is really about revenge, but it is absolutely sweet when you start to have success and you are grateful and have a lot of self-love. It is incredible.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Well first of all, you can’t think about preconceived notions and society’s limitations. You have to understand that if you are going to be an entrepreneur and be successful, you really have to be your own universe. You have to be your own entity. You have to absolutely believe in yourself. You have to believe in the endless possibilities of being successful, of knowing that you can do it. You have to be a racehorse with blinders on. You have got to mind your own business, keep your nose to the grindstone and hustle hard than you have ever imagined. And that’s really how you do it.
"You have to understand that if you are going to be an entrepreneur and be successful, you really have to be your own universe. You have to be your own entity."
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.