Why I Left Color Street

What you’ll read below is my explanation for why I left Color Street and Facebook.

In the weeks since I resigned, I’ve received messages from Color Street stylists who’ve had similar experiences to mine, which was news to me. At the time I stepped away, I firmly believed that what happened in my case was an isolated incident. I’ve received messages from customers and stylists alike expressing confusion, disappointment, and disillusionment toward the company itself. I’ve received messages from Stylists expressing their intention to quit too, and those have kept me up at night.

I don’t want anyone to make decisions about their business or their future on rumors, theories, and speculation. The only way to put them to rest is to be transparent about what happened.

I have always been on the fence about whether to share what happened. Even while it was going on, and I was writing down my experience, I wasn’t clear on whether telling my side would do more harm than good. I think there are lessons here that could help the current leadership and overall culture of the company. There certainly needs to be a shift in the way home office handles Color Street stylists reporting other stylists. But at the same time, I didn’t want anyone to question their future or their decisions based on my experience alone.

But in the end, it came down to closure and a need to set the record straight. There are two sides to every story. This, is mine.

May 25th 2019

To process what is happening right now, I’m going to start at the beginning and write down everything that has happened up until today. I feel like the writing is on the wall and it makes me sad. After this holiday weekend, Color Street will get back to me with their decision and I must decide what I’m willing to do. I want to write it down before I’m even more bitter and upset. Maybe starting at the beginning will help me see it more clearly.

I joined Color Street January 5th 2018. I joined for the discount. I knew nothing about Direct Sales.  At the time, Color Street was only 6 months old.  They were in the middle of many growing pains. Out of stocks, a slow and glitchy website, and record growth, to name just a few. In short order, I found myself excited about the fact that this opportunity was ground floor. I saw the potential. I love business, marketing, and learning new things. I watched the company closely and was so impressed by the transparency and the way they worked tirelessly to be better and make things better for us. I was so excited about my new future.

My personal network LOVED the product as much as I did. Though I had no previous experience in direct sales, by March I had sales just shy of 4k and was listed in the top 25 in personal sales in the monthly superstar newsletter. In the 2nd quarter of 2018 I had the highest sales in my state. Things were good. Things were so good.

March and April brought me my first teammates. I was nervous to step into leadership, but I found that I really loved it. I loved experimenting with sales techniques and sharing what worked with my girls and watching them find success and grow. I LOVED vendor shows and parties, and I loved my VIP group most of all.

In May I hit the rank of Director and I couldn’t believe what was happening. Through spring and summer corporate was busy planning and executing national conference, launching a brand-new website (THANK GOODNESS!) and hiring staff and new equipment to keep up with production. Plus, we got a new Chief Marketing Officer and he brought us the best fall collection EVER. Color Street was doing all the right things, their priorities were straight in my opinion. The only gap that I observed was that they didn’t have a lot of time for marketing resources, photos, and trainings.

That was okay because the stylists community is full of positive, collaborative, and brilliant women who were willing and excited to share what they knew and create images and marketing graphics from scratch.

Through the fall something clicked for me when it came to product photos, aka nailfies. I learned that nailfies were our most powerful selling tool for online parties and vendor shows.  I took a couple of pictures that were well lit and that I felt showed the colors accurately and I watched as those photos helped my sales. I am always curious about how and why things work so I started paying attention to the relationship between better photos and better sales. It seemed very simple. I needed a nice collection of consistent photos that showed the product on real hands to post in my online parties and to make into a photobook for vendor shows and in-homes. In fall 2018, Color Street didn’t have a collection like that and had no immediate plans to produce them.

So, being the nerd that I am, I became super curious about what makes one photo more effective than another. I did research. I practiced, and practiced, and practiced; taking thousands of terrible photos of my nails. I bought a lightbox and my photos got better. I studied composition, and my photos got better. I perfected my application technique. I changed my nails. A lot.

Around Christmas, one of the members of my upline joked that I should just take a photo of EVERY set in the catalog. Color Street didn’t have photos of every set on real nails. Nobody had a whole collection of photos that showed every current set on real nails because it would be such a huge undertaking. It sounded like a crazy idea. Nuts. Insane.

I said, Ok!

In the next few weeks a couple of members of my upline organized a donation of nail sets for me so that I could photograph all 78 current sets. I received nail mail from teammates who wanted to support me on my quest. Along with the nails, many of them sent me nice notes. On the days that I was feeling burnt out; nailfie #32… nailfie #48… nailfie #60… I read those notes and they kept me going. I spent 6 weeks, all my patience, and a lot of money on props during this time, but it was worth it in the end. I got it done.

The first thing I did with my photos once I’d shared them with all the stylists who’d donated strips was create a photo book for my events and parties.  That book helped my sales. I felt validated; the effort had been worth it.

Around this time, the Presidential team went to NJ to tour the company and have their annual meeting. One of them commented on one of my posts in a CS nailfie group and told me that she’d told Bill, Color Street’s new CMO, about my project and he was impressed. He’d asked for my name. I was flattered. Bill and I became FB friends and on my personal timeline I also shared pics of my journey, my nailfies, and my books. I had read our policies and procedures carefully. I followed the rules to the best of my ability and I didn’t have anything to hide from the members of Color Street’s home office.

It was early in February that I started a group where I could share my photo journey with whoever was interested in taking product photos. The group is called Effective Photo Boot Camp. There were mostly CS stylists there, but there were reps from other companies or small business owners with Etsy shops or Ebay stores as well. It is not a Color Street group, it is amateur photography group.  We talk a lot about nails because that’s what I photograph, but the main topic is always how to take effective photos.  I shared my journey in making my photo books in that group. I always encouraged the stylists in that group to take their own photos, but many of them weren’t confident in their abilities or simply didn’t have time to take their own photos and just wanted to use mine.  I had already printed my first photo book of the fall/winter catalog when I started that group. It was called The Nail Your Look Book. When I talked about taking photos, I showed my book in one of my training videos and explained how it had been effective in helping sell sets at vendor shows and parties.

Many people requested access to my look book so I made the link available to them to order directly from the printer. I did not make a profit from the sales of my book.

I told them about the steps and process I’d gone through. I told them that the book was meant to be a resource for their business so there was no reference to me or my watermark inside. I didn’t even use the names of the colors in order to avoid using any of Color Street’s intellectual property. It was very important to me to stay compliant. I know what it’s like to have my intellectual property stolen. I had no interest in breaking any rules.

In the end the winter book was expensive, as all self-published 80-page books tend to be. The printer charged a lot for the book and added a lot for shipping. Fellow Stylists bought the books anyway.

When the spring sets came out, many people asked me if there would be a spring book and wanted order info. I took photos of the 16 new spring sets. And put together The Nail Your Look Book Volume 2, spring/summer catalog which had a total of 81 nailfies.

The time came to order the spring look book. I decided that this time I would set up a preorder for stylists who wanted the spring version of my book. On the printer website they’d have to pay over $50 after adding in shipping and tax. I thought that was CRAZY. I discovered that if I did a bulk order from the printer, I could get the books for cheaper, so I set up a google form in my boot camp group and let people preorder so that I could place a bulk order from the printer and get that discount.

I placed my order for 120 books at $38 each and it was a little bit scary.

I’d already had to learn to be a nail tech, a photographer, a hand model, and layout designer, learn the publishing software, and now I was going to have to successfully execute a rather large shipping operation for just one person.

Two days later I got this message from Bill (Color Street’s CMO) on FB messenger:

Hi Marissa,

I see on Facebook you have created a look book and I think you do a really nice job! I am writing because we have created one here in the home office. It will be out in 3 weeks (no one knows yet) and we will sell it for $10 because I am printing in large quantities. I don’t want you to be blindsided and especially if you are investing your hard earned money in inventory. I am here if you want to chat!

Let me be clear. I always knew this day was coming. I always knew this resource was desperately overdue and that Color Street would step up and create something magical for us. I knew that being backed by a multi-million-dollar marketing team, they would be able to create something bigger and brighter and more diverse than I ever could. They could include descriptions and amazing layouts and color schemes and all the things that this little amateur photographer and mom of three would never be able to do. My little square 7×7, one photo per page book would be nothing compared to what they would release.

With those as my thoughts, this was my reply:

I think that is wonderful! It is something I received so many requests for. It will be a great resource and everyone will be so thrilled!

On a personal note, I just ordered 120 books yesterday for $38 each for the stylists in my Effective Photo Book Camp who requested one. If they back out I’ll be in big trouble. Any advice on how to handle this situation would be welcome.

I appreciate the heads up. I love that everyone at home office listens to Stylists and fulfills the needs of this community. And I don’t regret the hours and resources I spent to create my photos. I became very familiar with every single set and it has been so beneficial to get up close and personal with each set.

Thank you for taking the time to let me know.

Bill replied:

The home office book will not be announced until I have it ready to go. That will easily be three weeks, so hopefully yours will already be in the works. Honesty is always the best policy and you honestly didn’t know when you were creating this! Have a blessed holiday!

So, that was that. When my big order came, I shipped them all, one by one. A few people didn’t pay up so I ended up with 22 books left over. I posted them on my personal timeline and they were all bought and paid for by the time the newsletter came out that showed home office’s look book.

… A look book that was 7×7, one photo per page, and frankly, painfully familiar. I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

The next day I tried to focus on the big picture. The book would help stylists, which is all I ever wanted. But I couldn’t help it; I felt like I’d been used and I was disappointed. I tried not to think of how stupid and naïve I’d been congratulating Bill on his look book. I tried not to be hurt. I tried not to look at my phone at all. Because messages were coming in. Messages of congratulations for my assumed collaboration with Color Street. I didn’t know how to respond.

Others, who rightly assumed that I’d had no part of it, sent me messages of anger. They were mad on my behalf. They wanted to call Color Street out for “copying” my book. I didn’t know how to respond to them either.

Another person was so upset that they said they wanted to quit. I begged them not to. I couldn’t sleep if I thought anybody quit over this. In that moment, I wasn’t even ready to quit over it myself.

I am not wired to cope with drama. And it was dawning on me that I had a larger following in the stylist community than I’d realized. Many people were watching me and waiting for my reaction and I didn’t want the responsibility of shaping anyone’s opinion.  I tried to be logical, generous, and transparent. I decided I needed to explain the situation in a simple, public way, without saying anything negative about the company or what had or hadn’t happened. Because all I really had at that time were suspicions and hope that they were wrong.

So I posted in my Effective Photo Boot Camp because it is not a Color Street group.

“If imitation is the highest form of flattery then I am SO FLATTERED!”

My Facebook post in my photography group.

I included a pic of my book next to the pic they released of their book. I couldn’t help that they were twinning. Big time. There was a lot of reaction in the post, people finally understood what had happened and the private messages slowed down.

Since I’m trying to be transparent, I’ll also share the next message I sent to Bill. I’m not proud of my attitude. I should have given myself more time to calm down before I contacted him, but I didn’t. I was upset and disillusioned. This was my message:

I feel like a fool. You didn’t make “a” look book, you made my look book. Same format, size, layout… everything. I thought you were going to release something original, something that had been in the works for a while. What on earth.

Last time this happened to me, I walked away without standing up for myself. This time I’m going to speak up so that I can get over it. I’m not okay. This was not okay.

It doesn’t change anything, I know. But now I’ve said something.

My husband cancelled conference; he wants me to quit. I don’t want to quit but it’s going to be hard to work with a company that I’m disappointed in. It’s going to be hard to coach a team with enthusiasm. It’s going to be hard to show my face on team pages. Just like it’s hard to see my stolen graphics walking around on leggings.

I’m a positive person. I will get over it. But, ouch.

It would be days before I’d get a response.

I later received a message from my upline that came down from Glenn at corporate that said I had to delete my one-sentence post in Effective Photo Boot Camp citing it as unprofessional. Somebody in that group had reported it to home office.

The conversation with my upline was long and I’m not going to repeat it here. I believed at the time that they didn’t want me to be deactivated and I get that they were trying, for the most part, to protect me. But I declined to remove my post.

The next message came from Bill, on Friday:

Hi Marissa,

I am truly sorry you feel that way. Leaders have been asking for a look book with photos of all the shades on real hands using different ethnicities. The photography style is what Sam has been using all along. It is a standard size and honestly I don’t know how it could be different. All our images for the internet are square and there is no reason to make it bigger or smaller.

Last point – all these designs are technically Color Street’s intellectual property. Again, I’m sorry this makes you feel bad.

Also on Friday I got a call from a member of the Presidential Circle who urged me to remove my post because otherwise they’d be forced to deactivate me.  Her attitude was bullying and condescending at first. When she finally listened to my explanation, she was kinder but it became clear that didn’t have all the facts. She said I needed to remove my boot camp post AND a “negative post” on my personal timeline that never mentioned the company at all. It was about a dinner conversation my husband and I had with our 11 year old about candy companies. This request crossed a line for me. No, Color Street could not control what I posted about my family life and my experience. Absolutely not. I declined, once again, to delete my posts.

From that phone call I gathered that Glenn didn’t know that Bill had messaged me ahead of their book being released.

The PC member didn’t know that Bill had known about my nailfies and asked for my name months and months ago. She didn’t know that he had, “saw on Facebook that I had created a look book.”

Bill didn’t know that that I had been reported to Glenn.

I emailed the PC member my screenshots and invited her to my Effective Photo Boot Camp with the hope that she would understand my efforts and motivation. I thought that home office needed to regroup, communicate with each other, decide, and get back to me. I said I would not delete my posts and did not feel that they had the right to make those demands given the content and location of the posts in question. She said, “Unfortunately if you don’t delete them, deactivation will have to be the outcome.” I responded that I would get prepared for that, but I wouldn’t delete anything.

That’s what has happened so far. And now I’m just waiting.

May 26th

When you are a creative person, your creations are alive to you. They are like family. You feel protective of them and they belong to you.

The trouble is, intellectual property is difficult to protect. It’s difficult to prove if someone copied you. It’s impossible to know when you’ve inspired something, or when it is just weird timing or coincidence.

There are many graphic designs that I’ve made for shirts and scrapbook paper that bigger companies have used and mass produced without my permission.  I’m not interested in legal battles. I love justice, but I hate drama. Hate it. I just want to create and share.

But, when I see my rocket design walk by on leggings, or I bump into a version of my original graphic tee designs, I understand why people go to great lengths to protect the creations that they’ve poured so much of themselves into.

The thing is, I never said publicly that I believe Color Street copied my book. My post wasn’t negative or disparaging. Was the timing of their book weird? Yes. Were the conversations and reported conversations oddly convenient? Yes. Do they look alike? Yes.

One could believe that, as Bill explained, it’s all coincidental and circumstantial. There are a lot of styles of look book in the fashion world, a lot of layout options, but maybe him and I just have the same taste. Who knows.

To sum up;

It has been insinuated by some, and stated by others, that if I don’t delete my posts I will be deactivated and lose my team, customers, income, and everything I’ve worked so hard to build in the last 18 months of my life.

It is so tempting to comply, but I can’t.

Because I know what it feels like to be bullied; it feels just like this.

My posts will stay. My story is my story. My experience is my experience. It is what it is.

May 30th

Glenn, the Vice President, called from Home Office and we had a productive conversation. He said I was never in any real danger of being deactivated. I was equal parts relieved and infuriated.

I had a chance to clarify many things and give him the whole picture, which he never had. He hadn’t even seen my book and Bill’s book side by side. He said a lot of things that I can’t or won’t repeat. But in the end, I understand what happened. I don’t agree with most of it. I was shocked and saddened by some of it. It should have and could have been handled better.

Effective next week, I will no longer be a Color Street stylist. I have decided to resign. It’s a decision I started when I first saw Bill’s book and I finished after speaking to Glenn. In the end it wasn’t really much of a decision at all. How could I do anything else?

Make no mistake, Color Street, overall, was an amazing and wonderful company with a fantastic product. It was a great way choice for a side-hustle. I loved every minute (up until the last week) of my time there. I’m not one bit sorry that I was part of it.

And what happened to me is very unlikely to happen to anyone else. If it does, I hope and believe that it will be handled differently.

I will still rock my manicures, take nailfies, and post effective photo tips in my FB group. I will still have made great friendships and learned so many new things. I don’t regret my time here.

On the whole, Color Street is amazing.

And I’ll miss it very much.

Reflections of Today

It is hilarious to me, as I’m rereading the above, that I thought what happened to me wouldn’t happen to anyone else. Less than 2 weeks later they went after my friend, Kim Hunt, who created the most amazing graphics group that helped over 19K stylists create content and market the product in compliance with Color Street’s many branding guidelines. Nobody worked harder to protect the brand than Kim did, and what did they do to thank her? They made her shut down her high-resolution file-sharing website that helped so many of us with our parties and vendor booths. A website she didn’t profit from. She too, has resigned.

One of the things that made Color Street so amazing in the beginning was the culture.  The culture of support, excitement, and collaboration. That culture has shifted at its core and I don’t know if it can recover. People are reporting one another to home office over all kinds of things, real and imagined. That’s human I guess and not surprising. What is surprising and disappointing is that Color Street is making the mistake of rewarding those petty troublemakers by acting on the reports without investigating whether they’re valid. It is hurting stylist moral and shifting company culture in an ugly direction. If a compliance department is needed, I hope that is the next development for home office.

I broke no rules. There was no reason to report me. Yet, someone did. Color Street acted on those reports without understanding what they were doing or why they were doing it.

And I learned later that the person who brought home office’s attention to it was a member of my own upline. “Supporting” me with one hand and stabbing me in the back with the other? I am so confused by that.

Leaders, you have got to be leaders. That means taking the bad with the good. That might mean standing up for yourselves or your teammates even when it’s uncomfortable for you. Even when it doesn’t add to your bonus check. Color Street is a ship and you are the crew. If you sit back and do nothing, maybe the ship will whether that storm. And maybe the next one too. But over time, there will be weak spots and frightened passengers. And at some point, the ship will capsize, leak, or sink. If you don’t want to go down with the ship you must be proactive. Sometimes that might mean standing up to home office. Don’t abandon your teammates who are thrown overboard. Don’t throw up your hands and say, “There was nothing I could do.” You could be the life-preserver, or at least try.

The lack of moral and actual support I received from the members in various levels of my upline, was the hardest part of that whole week and experience. The silence hurt my ears. They were happy to connect with me when I was producing content that would help their teams make them money, but the moment they didn’t need me anymore, they disappeared.

I was also initially confused as to why Bill did what he did. Can he deny the similarities, for real?  Then I realized that his whole job is to watch the market for trends that Color Street can duplicate. He gets paid to absorb the creativity of others. I want to have that job when I grow up!

I care very much about what happens to Color Street and the future of its stylists. I hope that the company culture can evolve to something better or shift back to what it once was.

I want everyone to move forward and live happily ever after.

The End.