• by Julianne Adams •
Tara Foley and her team are on a mission to revolutionize the beauty industry, and one of their first steps was setting up shop on Nantucket. In late May, Foley launched the second outpost of Follain, her burgeoning beauty store brand, on the edge of town. When you walk into that South Beach St. location, you feel a refreshing lift, provided by the clean lines and modern rustic styling of the sun-filled space. Then you see the vast array of products carefully spread before you and it’s hard not get excited because, as the delicate and unusual bottles quickly tell you, this is no ordinary beauty store. It is a healthy beauty store, concerned about your internal wellbeing as much as your external appearance. It’s a movement that, though new to the island this year in a fully-fledged form, Foley has developed over five years.
Follain, which translates to ‘healthy, wholesome, and sound’ in Gaelic, was the outgrowth of Foley’s interest in her own personal wellbeing. While working at a New York City law firm in 2009, Foley found herself becoming more and more devoted to a healthier lifestyle. “I was practicing yoga everyday, I was really concerned about the food that I was consuming, I was racing in triathlons,” she says. “I was really focused on my health and wellness.” Naturally, she became curious about what she was putting on her body as well as in it. “A lot of people were buzzing about the nasty chemicals in skincare products. So I did a lot of research on my own,” she says. “I found out a lot of scary things.” Namely, Foley realized how little the US regulates the beauty industry in comparison to the European Union. While the US impedes on the use of roughly 10 ingredients in cosmetics, the EU bans over 1300.
Statistics like this shocked Foley. “I became very angry and fed up,” she says,” and starting reading labels, finding more and more information.” With this new passion for wholesome beauty products, Foley set up a blog to write about her discoveries. This sideline hobby, which “was getting a few hundred views on each post,” was about to become her main focus. “I was working on it every day after work,” she explains. “Then I decided to write a post listing all the stores in New York City that sold only healthy stuff. I aggregated all of them. Home stores, grocery stores, random markets.” An important insight on the part of Foley was how few places devoted to these products existed. “Not only did I realize from writing that post that there were no beauty stores that sold only healthy stuff, but also that post got 6,000 hits, which, for my little blog, was like going viral.”
At that moment, Foley saw a major gap in retail and an opportunity for herself. “I was like, okay, somebody needs to make a change. People aren’t going to buy healthy beauty products until there’s a store for it. People don’t buy their toilet paper, or food at the same place they buy their lipstick,” she says. “So I decided to make the first healthy beauty store.”
Foley threw herself head first into her project. In 2011, She quit her job in New York and immediately went to work on a lavender farm in Provence. Explaining the unexpected experience, she says the farm-to-table movement inspired her. “I took a cue from my friends in the food industry who went to work on food farms,” she says, “and thought that this isn’t that different—it’s like seed-to-skin.” For the next few months, Foley saw a product born from its literal roots. “I learned a lot there… from growing the lavender all the way through to pressing the oils. Then I went to work for a skincare manufacturer up in Maine to see how the products were made.” The two apprenticeships, as she calls them, lasted four months each and provided invaluable insight into the beauty field. At the family run farm, she says, “I saw how an ingredient comes to life, and I feel like that’s a very rare experience. I nurtured a whole field of lavender plants by weeding them, watering them. Then I was there for the harvest and we took them into a huge still and distilled the oils. It was really an incredible experience that makes me love our products that much more.” At the private skincare label, Foley worked mainly from their Maine headquarters. From viewing the bottling process to helping clients develop a specific scent, Foley “was involved in everything,” she says. “It was building my product knowledge.”
From there, Foley developed her business expertise by getting her MBA at Babson, an education that set in some of the realities of running a small business. “It dawned on me how expensive it was going to be and that maybe I didn’t have the knowledge.” Foley, though, continued to refine her idea and applied to a small retail business competition in early 2013. Competing against teams from Babson, Harvard and MIT, Foley won the regional round. Then she won the entire competition. “It was like the universe telling me to do this.” So she did.
After graduating in May of last year, she opened Follain in Boston’s South End. “The first year was unbelievably good,” says Foley. “People have wanted this stuff for so long.” Boston, though, does not offer much byway of a summer shopping season. “I knew we needed to do something this summer and go to more of a summer location.” Foley visited around and quickly settled on Nantucket. “Nantucket was the very obvious choice,” she says. Her first scouting was in January—not exactly the best time of the year, “but I still fell in love with it,” says Foley. The feeling seems to be mutual. “The island has been so amazing to us in so many ways.” Ashley Hecker, who grew up coming to the island and is Follain’s Director of Store Development, notes, “The year-round community has been so supportive.”
“We came out here,” continues Foley, “and immediately started to try and meet as many people as possible in the health and wellness space,” she says. “Quite frankly, when we opened the store, the whole community came into it. They came to us because we’re the last piece of the pie. If you’re drinking green juice and you’re going to a spinning class or whatever, why would you put toxic chemicals all over your skin?”
Each product that Follain sells goes through a rigorous testing process. Foley says, “We have a very stringent ingredient safety standard for what can’t be in the product,” says Foley. Follain’s Director of Health and Safety, Holly Moore, is in charge of sanctioning all products, in addition to writing health and safety code. The list of what a product can’t contain is long—toxic emulsifiers and chemicals of all sorts are banned, including sulfates and parabens.
Once products pass the ingredients test, the team tests the product’s effectiveness. Foley had gained a lot of knowledge on healthy brands while blogging, but still tested over 200 brands when it came time to put them on the shelf. 30 brands made the cut. All 30 brands are from the US; seven are based in New England. Foley points out, “We don’t carry a full portfolio of a brand, we carry what they’re best at making”—yet another choice that sets Follain apart from many beauty stores.
The end result of all this research and testing is a product that works for your body and skin. “It’s healthy but still high-performing,” says Foley, “which makes it different than the products you can buy at farmer’s stands and grocery stores. Most of our products are only in spas, otherwise. You’re not going to get an anti-aging serum at a farmer’s market.” Follain’s anti-aging serums, like all of its products, are of the highest quality. “They contain extremely active rare ingredients,” says Foley. “If you look at a conventional brand and read the ingredients there are probably only 1 or 2 actives and its all chemical filler.”
Those conventional brands are appealing—at first. “The chemical products, they’re very strong and they’re going to make a difference very quickly in your skin. They work really well but your skin acclimates to it and after 5-10 years your skin doesn’t respond to those chemicals anymore and you have to use stronger chemicals, stronger chemicals, and you’re putting the most ridiculous stuff on your skin because nothing works anymore. That’s a really bad, scary spiral.”
Instead, Follain follows the tried and true path of wholesome ingredients. “They’re ingredients that our body knows how to digest,” says Foley. “Cleopatra had milk baths because of the lactic acid. We have milk baths. These are things that people have been using since the beginning of time to strengthen their skin that actually work.” Gender has little to no import in what goes on with the skin. While Follain has products specifically for men’s shaving, Foley says, “We’ll never have specific men’s skincare items. Men use all of our face products. What makes a men’s product is usually fragrance and packaging.” Fragrance is something that Follain is vehemently against. “There’s no fragrance in any of our products because fragrance is one of the most toxic ingredients you can put in products. It’s packed with phthalates, and it’s basically the least regulated out of everything. None of our products contain any fragrance. “
When describing Follain’s products and mission, Foley is careful not to say ‘organic’ or ‘natural’—two words that the beauty industry, among others, have co-opted in an effort to make sales. Instead, Follain promotes exactly what it means: “We always say that we’re healthy and wholesome. In the US, there’s almost no regulation of when you can say you’re natural,” she explains. “People come in and they’re like, “Is this all organic?” and what we say is, “This is better than organic.””
Many people, Foley admits, are often hesitant about branching into Follain’s realm. “It’s a very big change. The interaction with products is completely different. Our cleansers for the body, the face, the hair—they don’t suds up as much as people are used to with conventional products because there are no sulfates, a horrible toxic chemical.” At the end of the day, “You’re protecting yourself,” as Foley says, when investing in wholesome products.
When asked where a new customer should start, Foley suggests deodorant, which conventional brands normally pack with aluminum zirconium, an ingredient Foley describes as “incredibly toxic.” Healthy deodorants, though, have gotten a bit of a bad rep. Many people have used ‘natural’ versions that, as Foley says, “make you smell worse, or just cover the scent or make you sweat more.” In the end, Follain tested 32 products before finding the perfect one.
Another quick switch is Follain’s liquid soap program, which was developed out of a dual passion for environmental and personal health. “The fastest moving product in the entire beauty industry is liquid hand and body soap. If you think about how much you use liquid soap a day: you use it in the shower, you use it whenever you use a bathroom. Because of that there’s over 2 million pounds of plastic soap bottles thrown away in the US every year. We felt really passionate about making a dent in that.” So Follain sources simple liquid soaps from manufacturers in Quincy, Massachusetts and Middlebury, Vermont. The soaps are olive oil based, with essential oils for scents and coconut oil. The soaps are sold in Follain containers that are refillable for a third or less of the original price. Delightfully fragrant, the soaps work for hand and body.
Customers can try out the soaps in the store at Follain’s test sink, which plays into Follain’s emphasis on customer experience. One of the other major parts of being a Follain client is education. “People should come in to learn,” says Foley. “It goes without saying that people have heard all the buzz about what’s healthy and not healthy in products. People can feel free to come in and ask questions.”
A great opportunity for customers to explore the healthy lifestyle is the monthly event Follain holds with Authentic Body and 02554 Juice (the next one being Wednesday, July 23). Nutrition, fitness, and skincare focused, the events are packed with information on getting and staying healthy. Follain plans to host more frequent gatherings, too, like a trunk show with neighbor Serenella. “We decided, once people started coming in, that we wanted to hold events to bring together the health and wellness community and people on the island who are interested in health and wellness.” These integrative events help Follain fulfill part of its credo: “We are here to complement your healthy lifestyle, your beautiful self.” With its wholesome 360 approach and vast array of products for people of all ages, Follain is poised to take on the beauty industry.