In 1976, twins from Indiana, Jane and Jean Ford, flipped a coin: Heads they would open up a casserole cafe, tails they open up a makeup shop. That coin toss paved the path for San Francisco's Benefit Cosmetics, now raking in $500 million a year.
Following in the footsteps of their mom and aunt, Maggie and Annie Ford Danielson became the brand's global beauty authorities in 2008. We asked the two sisters to dish their favorite makeup tips and guilty pleasures in San Francisco:
1. What made you get into the family business at Benefit?
Maggie: I didn’t always know that I would one day join Benefit. There was never any pressure to join from our mom and aunt. Annie and I were always encouraged to go after our dreams and “do what makes you happy.” For a long time I worked for a marketing and design firm and was a project manager, but something just didn’t feel right. I somehow knew that it wasn’t going to be my career. Joining the family business is not something you enter into lightly because there are unique expectations and pressures associated with it. What caused me to finally take the plunge was the passion I have for the brand and the people who are a part of it. Once I was there, it felt like home. It’s like they always say, “when you know, you know.”
Annie: Joining Benefit was definitely a big decision, but an easy one for me. It just felt so natural. For as long as Maggie and I can remember, we have been around Benefit in some way. Whether it was accompanying mom to the Benefit boutique to get her brows done, helping decorate store windows, working at the corporate office as a summer intern, matching pantone chips back into a giant pantone book for hours upon hours in the Benefit art department, or mixing up different patches of product sample. Benefit is just what we know best.
2. If you weren't doing what you do now, what other career fields would you pursue?
M: In my next life I’d love to own a specialty foods store. I love cooking and making people happy through food so I think that would be great. I’m also a morning person so I wouldn’t mind waking up super early to start cooking!
A: I am really into design. I love interior design and also event design. I think if I wasn’t working for Benefit I would love to design really high end events. I could look at color swatches and fabrics for hours! One of my favorite stores to waste time in is Sue Fisher King, they have the most creative pieces.
3. What is your favorite Benefit product? And why?
M: My two favorites are Instant Brow and They’re Real. I basically feel like my face disappears when I don’t enhance my brows and my lashes. I want something that’s super fast and easy which is why instant brow is perfect for me, and They’re Real works because I have smaller eyes, so I really need to add mascara to look more open and awake.
A: I can’t live without The POREfessional and Hello Flawless Oxygen Wow. It makes my skin feel so velvety-smooth. I wear it over and under my makeup. I love that the formula melts into the skin and feels so lightweight.
4. What kind of influence has San Francisco had on the creation and design of the cosmetics?
M: I really believe that being a brand that was born in SF made it possible for our mom and aunt to break the mold and do things differently. There were no rules and really no boundaries so they “went there” and created something that was different from the traditional brands at the time.
A: SF gives us so much inspiration for our products and our marketing. One aspect of the City that we try to replicate in our business is the constant interaction with the unexpected. You could walk down the street and see the Magic Bus or a beautiful mural that you would never expect. We try to always surprise and delight our customers with the unexpected.
5. What neighborhood do you currently call home? Would you ever move or are you happy in your 'hood?
M: I was living in NYC for the last 10 years and moved back to SF about a year and a half ago. My husband and I knew that we weren’t ready to live in a fully residential neighborhood and wanted to be able to walk to most stores, especially with our new baby. So we moved to Pacific and Polk Streets, which I love! It’s right in the middle of everything but also feels like a neighborhood. I can walk to the grocery store, coffee, Walgreens, multiple parks, and I can also walk to work!
A: My husband and I just moved to Polk Street and we love it! We were SoMa dwellers for 5 years and we love love the Polk vibe. It’s a really great neighborhood that still has that bit of old SF grunge.
6. What's your hands-down, absolute favorite thing to eat in SF?
7. What's your perfect night on the town?
M: With a 1-year-old daughter I don’t have too many nights on the town but happy hour is the easiest. I went to Brass Tacks recently and they have delicious cocktails. They make a mean Paloma. But a bottle of wine, take out, and Netflix really can’t be beat.
A: I am pretty lame these days so any chance I get to meet up with my girlfriends I take. We usually go out to dinner and then find the nearest wine bar.
8. When you need a low-key afternoon, where do you go for down time?
M: Most weekend afternoons I’m either at the park with my daughter or I try to carve out a little time for myself to go for a run or grab a class at Soul Cycle.
A: It’s pretty rare that I get a full weekend at home so when I do I really love to just take my pup to the beach at Crissy Field with my husband.
9. What's your favorite place to go on a day trip from the city?
M: Bodega Bay is so beautiful (even the drive there is great) and I love how low key it is. The dunes, the fried fish with a cold beer, it’s just great.
A: I absolutely love going down to Half Moon Bay. It’s a quick drive but when you get there you feel like you are in another world!
10. Quick-fire round
Burrito or Burger:
A: Taco (they are naturally gluten free).
M: Burrito 100%
Presidio or Golden Gate Park?
BiRite or Mitchell's?
A: BiRite (best ice cream cake in town)
Bike or MUNI?
A: Neither. I prefer to walk everywhere and if it’s more than 2 miles I Uber, let’s be honest.
M: Neither! Walking is how I get around and when I can’t walk I take UberX.
Fort Mason or Dolores Park?
A: Fort Mason, my French bulldog prefers the views.
M: Fort Mason
The Independent or the Fillmore?
A: The Fillmore because it has such great roots in SF.
Baker Beach or Ocean Beach?
A: Ocean Beach
M: Baker Beach. Took my daughter there for the first time and had such a flash back to going there in high school with friends and now I’m there as a mom. Full circle!
11. Three words that describe your lives in SF?
A: Peaceful, fun, beautiful.
M: Family, fresh air, makeup.