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Four winters ago, Sam Kopicko, a 27-year-old who spends her day publicizing book titles at Random House, met Njoki Gitahi, 23, a bright-eyed beauty originally from Kenya who manages the American Museum of Natural History's rock collection, and the two quickly became friends, bonding over their mutual obsession with, of all things, lip balm.
Over coffees, on the phone, at the movieswherever they went, they found themselves debating the finer points of a lip-care-products market that has become flooded with competition. So, naturally, they launched chaptastic.com on the Web in December 2005.
After the first month, Chaptastic had recorded no hits from anyone but Kopicko and Gitahi themselves. But after manufacturers learned about the site (following a strategic e-mail campaign by Gitahi), the site enjoyed a bump in traffic and now brings in about 5,000 readers each month. Perhaps more important, free samples from lip-care companies have been pouring in.
On a late winter Saturday, the lip-expert pair navigated Sephora with practiced skill. They say they've regained their confidence after the stressful news last summer that balm would no longer be permitted by airlines in carry-on bags.
"That was traumatic," said Gitahi.
Kopicko rustled through a bag of products and brought out a Blistex Fruit Smoothie to point out what was bad about itit was too delicious.
"We don't like sweetened lip balms," explained Gitahi. "It encourages you to lick your lips."
"Exactly," said Kopicko. Licking, after all, leads to chapping.
Kopicko picked up a tin of Rosebud Salve, the sort of lip protection that requires dipping a finger to apply. It was another no-no: Who knows where that finger has been.
"Those gross us out a little," said Gitahi.
"And how long do you stick your finger in there anyway?" Kopicko added.
Next up for their disapproval: a $12.95 stick of Dr. Hauschka, which they condemned as price-gouging.
"I could buy five tubes for that price," said Gitahi.
Then Gitahi squealed as she spotted one of her favorites: Juice Beauty. At the website, she gives the balm high praise for its smooth glide, an important factor.
The pair left the store without a purchase, but they were already packing: Each carries at least one tube in each pocket, two in each of their handbags, and more at home, awaiting evaluation. They walked away from Sephora talking about their disappointment that Steve Jobs hadn't designed the new Apple iPhone with a compartment for a stick of lip protection.
"The next model will have it," Kopicko decided.