College Game Plan

Dorm Room CEO: Meet Aviva Kamler, Who Launched A Beauty App During College

When Aviva Kamler set out to create SHELF Cosmetics — an app that tracks your and your friends’ favorite beauty products — as a student at American University, she realized she had a perfect network at her disposal to get the business off the ground: her sorority. As president, she had some clout. But she also knew she had created something that would interest her sorority sisters, and that they’d want to be involved in.

“If you have 120 women in a room, you can actually make some stuff happen,” she told NBC News. Tapping that network led to a network across the country, and last semester Kamler launched a growing brand ambassador program of 20 women who learn about marketing, HR, or the socially conscious side of the business (part of SHELF’s purpose is to help users learn about the chemicals in their cosmetics).

“It’s just really motivating to see these women who are still in college, gaining experience in something they actually like,” Kamler said.


I grew up going to the nail salon with my mom. She was a lawyer and the weekends were our time together. Every time I walked into a salon or a CVS I would get so overwhelmed by all the colors. And I was like, gosh, there’s got to be a better way. What emerged was SHELF, a mobile app that enables women to track, evaluate, and share their favorite nail polish colors with the touch of a button, while accessing the products’ chemical information. Think Instagram plus Yelp, but for cosmetics.

Aviva Kamler launched a Beauty App from college
Anne Van Wagener / Anne Van Wagener


We did informational interviews with our ugly mockups on the phone, and asked people, “Would you use this? What would you use it for? Who do you trust?” They all said, “We trust our friends and family.” But then why is everyone reading Allure magazine?

Aviva Kamler launched a Beauty App from college
Anne Van Wagener / Anne Van Wagener


It was crazy, to tell you the least. But I loved my classes, and my parents worked so hard to put me through college that I was so grateful to be there that I wasn’t going to miss a class. I’d always done my homework. I had an “I can kind of do it all,” mentality, and anyone can do it all; you just have to really push yourself. There are going to be nights where you’re not going to bed until 3 and you’re waking up at 6, because that’s kind of what you’re going to have to do.

Aviva Kamler launched a Beauty App from college
Aviva Kamler


Jump in. Jump in with two feet. Regardless of what it is — new sports, new foods — it’s hard to try something new. It’s scary. But go to a college that, when you walk on campus, you have this feeling inside that’s just like, I could go here. I could live here. I could learn here, and still be myself.