With A New York Storefront, Follain Founder Tara Foley Is Building A Clean Beauty Mini-Empire
The clean beauty retailer is combining upscale design and a welcoming atmosphere to build a dedicated community of customers, both online and off
Tara Foley went from working in a corporate law firm and writing a clean beauty blog on the side to founding Follain, a boutique dedicated to introducing customers to clean ingredients and curating a high-quality accompanying product offering. After some successful pop-ups, Follain returns to New York with its first permanent storefront in the city.
In the sleek new space, Follain gives natural beauty an upscale makeover, elevating the category beyond stereotypes of being crunchy or ineffective, while remaining welcoming to customers of all kinds. PSFK caught up with Foley at her new store for a conversation about how she plans to prioritize community and consumer education to become a go-to retailer of clean beauty and personal care products.
PSFK: Can you start off by telling us a little bit about some of the trends that you're seeing in retail and some of the trends that you're leveraging in your business?
Tara Foley: One of the trends that we've been seeing is sending things into brick-and-mortar. We have been spending two years building our digital business. That was awesome.
That's what's really growing our business. Whenever we open brick-and-mortar locations, it complements the digital business in such a great way. We're seeing the feeding of the brick-and-mortar in the digital business. They feed each other in a really unique way.
What led to the opening of your first permanent brick-and-mortar store in New York?
We had a ton of loyal New York customers that were emailing us very regularly saying that they wanted us to come back. That was one heartfelt fun thing. Also, New York is the media capital. It's a great opportunity to talk to people that are spreading the word with their content.
Also, because New York is where so many of our brands are based as well. This is a good home base to interact with them on a regular basis.
How is the store different from your pop-up stores?
It's much smaller. It doesn't have to be big. It has a ton of window frontage. That was important to us. We want to use it as a billboard to tell a story about clean beauty and about Follain. That's another thing.
We have things in here, salvaged items that are from New York and really historic. Our sink is from the 1880s from a place called Mott Iron Works in the Bronx. We wanted to pour a lot of soul into the space. That's what we branded on.
Could you explain a bit about the design of your store and how it reflects your brand ethos?
We try and create these beautiful but still accessible spaces that look like a beautiful bathroom. Hopefully, that's what you feel.
Historically, a lot of people have thought of clean and green beauty as crunchy and not effective. We want to elevate the products in a luxurious space so people knew they were luxurious, effective, really beautiful products. But we also didn't want to feel inaccessible. It needed to be accessible, approachable, really beautiful.
The tile is in all of the stores. The sinks are in all of the stores. We wanted to be very experiential, so people actually used the products, get their hands dirty, get excited about it.
How are you using the store to preach the gospel of clean beauty?
The store is the best place to do it because you have a captive audience and you have a woman who's going to tell you things, like her allergies and her family history and the history of the products that she's liked and disliked. That's really hard to capture online unless you do a very, very long quiz.
You're able to go much deeper with customers and when you go deeper with them, they become evangelists of the brands and then they go and spread the word.
How are you building communities?
Through the evangelism, in many ways. Every single time that you have a really loyal customer who's obsessed with your curation of products and the products that she finds at Follain, and she goes and shares that with more people, I think that evangelism is probably the most important way we develop community.
We also develop social community with our brands through events, but I would say the evangelism is probably the most important way.
Will you host events in the store?
Not as frequently as we do in our other stores. We really want this store to be about match-making and the one-on-one customer intimate experience.
Could you talk a little bit about the curation? I've noticed that you don't carry the full line from each brand. How does that process work?
The first step in the process is really making sure that the products meet our safety and ingredient standards. We work with scientists, researchers, chemists in Boston on our health advisory board to make sure that we're at the forefront of ingredient safety.
We have an external list of ingredients we ban from products and an internal list of things we always want to make sure that we're trying to work with brands to include. As long as these brands meet those standards, then we'll consider them for one of our categories. We're always looking to fill holes in our categories.
For instance, for a while we were looking for moisturizers for oily, sensitive skin. We go out there and we look through the brands that meet those ingredient standards and then we'll try tons, tons of products.
Then we ultimately end up with two or three in that matrix. It's almost scientific. We have a matrix of all the different skin types and concerns at a cross-section and axis with all of the categories. We don't want to over-assort. We don't want to sell too many products in each category.
How do you communicate this process to your shoppers?
We're trying to figure out how to communicate it in a digestible way because what I just explained is a mouthful, and it's a really big process internally. We're trying to figure out the best way to communicate it really easily to customers. We have a page on our website that speaks to it. I don't think it's digestible enough yet. It's a journey. It's a work-in-progress.
Could you talk a little bit about what you have planned for the future?
Sure. We'll definitely be opening a few more stores. The stores are doing well and they're creating this deeply loyal customer base—those evangelist customers. We'll continue rolling out some of our own private label Follain products, which is really cool because what we've done is we've learned from all of the products that we've tried over the past five years in this space—the best of the best of ingredients and what fits for skin types and everything.
Where are you planning on opening stores?
Nothing is set in stone yet. Opening stores is very different from digital because you're at the mercy of the real estate and what's available. We would love to go deeper in some of the markets that we're already in.
How will this complement your digital strategy?
It complements it very well. Basically, we're learning more about customers in the store and that allows us to adapt and adjust our digital business. For instance, if we're hearing a question come up or a need come up in the store often, we add that to our skin quiz, or we change filters on the site.
You learn a lot from the intimate conversations in a store, and then you adjust the digital experience, and then vice-versa. Digital honestly is just growing so fast and we're acquiring so many more customers. That allows us to open stores. That tells us where to open stores.
We just opened a store in Seattle, Washington. It just seems so random, but we were shifting a ton of e-commerce orders there. If it weren't for the growing digital business, we wouldn't know that there was a market there for clean beauty.
Have you noticed an uptick in sales in the markets online where you open physical stores?
Why do you think that is?
Because you do a lot of in-market kind of love. We meet with the influencers in the market, we meet with the media in the market. Also, every single person that you meet, every single customer that you have a great experience with, they're going to go tell their mom and sister and everybody. It's a good effect.
Is there anything you can tell me about the brand and this store?
Well, I'm really excited to be back in New York. The one thing that I would love to share is that we've become known not just for our assortment and the curation, but also for being a great place for people who want to start their clean beauty journey.
The assortment, and the merchandising, and the curation actually makes it easier to find the right things for skin. We have trial kits where you can dip your toes into the water. We have refillable soaps.
We have products across every single category for your medicine cabinet. I think we've become known as a place to come and get that deep education, but also be able to dip your toes in the water to start the process.