The natural appeal of Follain

Founder and CEO Tara Foley on the clean beauty store’s origins and future plans

What started as Tara Foley’s personal health and wellness journey evolved into her first clean beauty specialty store: Follain opened in 2013 and today has six locations across the country and a strong digital presence. And if the founder and CEO has her way, the momentum she has built will continue to surge.

Some 50 brands including OSEA, One Love Organics, Naturopathica and Tata Harper are part of Follain’s portfolio; more than two dozen items created by Foley are merchandised under the brand. Last month, Follain products debuted at Ulta and Anthropologie, marking its first foray into other retail stores. In February, the brand was presented for the first time on QVC.

Tara Foley
Tara Foley, founder and CEO of Follain

Like every other nonessential retailer, Follain stores are closed right now; the digital business is up and running. While complying with the mandate is non-negotiable, trying to operate stores without being able to offer product samples and conduct consults would have compromised Follain’s selling approach.

“One of the most powerful elements of our stores is the experience we deliver. Sampling products builds relationships. It allows people to understand that it’s possible to have a product that is incredibly efficient and effective at achieving goals, while at the same time having a gorgeous texture and smell. Not being able to do that really hurts the business,” says Foley, who is optimistic that when the COVID-19 virus is contained, people will crave sensory experiences.

NRF spoke with Foley about Follain’s origins, its strict parameters for authenticating products and the one product she won’t be without.

Take us back to the early days. What sparked your interest in clean beauty products?

I never really thought about beauty products when I was growing up. That started to change when I was working my first job and living alone. I was unhappy at my job, so I began focusing on my personal health and wellness journey. It wasn’t long before I realized the skincare products I was using every day didn’t sync up with my new values.

I had the opportunity to use healthier products on my skin and quickly experienced the difference it made. One of the first things I did back in 2009 was to start a blog about what I was learning, the research I was doing and the brands I was meeting with. One thing I heard over and over from makers of these products was that they didn’t have a home for their goods. They wanted an environment that was exclusively for clean beauty products — brands that had been vetted as ‘clean.’

That was really the origin of my business, but it took another three years spent working for a private-label skincare manufacturer and pursuing an MBA before I built out the business plan for what became Follain. When I was about to graduate in 2013, there still wasn’t a clean beauty retailer out there that was focused on growing and really shifting the mindset in the way I was hoping to, so I went for it.

You were a clean beauty pioneer when Follain opened. Today there are so many brands marketed as clean. What defines the segment?

Unfortunately, there’s no regulation of the word and there are a lot of people doing what we call ‘cleanwashing’ and ‘greenwashing.’ It says on the bottle that it’s free of parabens, or free of foam aids, or clean, or green, but if you read the ingredient labels, they’re not clean or green. Cleanwashing is running rampant because so many companies want to get on the bandwagon.

Follain beauty products

At Follain, we have an extremely rigorous criteria for clean. But even parameters set by some other retailers that aren’t as rigorous as ours would exclude some brands that call themselves clean.

That said, we are seeing progress and there are a growing number of companies choosing to do the right thing, and I have a lot of respect for it. Retailers like Sephora and Target have started to create chemical policies, which is incredible. Our chemical policy is the only thing that really made us a clean retailer when we opened back in 2013 — we had the first restricted substance list for multi-brand retail.

What can you share about Follain’s approval process?

It begins with a customer need — we start by looking for products that can fit customer needs — then quickly moves into whether a product has any ingredients on our restricted list. If it does, it automatically gets disqualified. If it doesn’t, then we look at other things including how the brand makes other choices, how they run their business, etc.

What sets Follain products apart from the other brands the store carries?

I went into the product development of our line with an extremely strong point of view on what was missing from clean beauty, including what that product needed to look like, feel like, how it needed to perform, and the hole it was going to fill on our shelves.

That turned out to be a blessing and a curse because it was hard to create a product that was perfectly fabricated in my head. Still, I think that passion is what made our products amazing, and the reason they performed so well out of the gate.

Our collection tends to be more accessible in terms of price point, yet it really stands on its own in terms of performance. We have critical before-and-afters, to show the performance of products.

Do you have a favorite?

Definitely. Our moisturizer — it’s just the hero product for me. While it might seem basic to some, I felt strongly that there needed to be something that was deeply, deeply hydrating, but didn’t feel heavy on the skin. Historically, that’s been really hard to achieve with clean ingredients. I wanted something that sat well under makeup, didn’t feel heavy or sticky on your skin, but it still helped somebody like me, with super-duper dry skin.

I heard that request from customers over and over — they wanted something for dullness and dehydration, and we created it.

We’re only a few months into 2020 and I dare say every retailer has had their business plan upended. What goals are you holding onto, despite uncertainty?

We continue to be excited about growing brand awareness, through the partnerships we have with the other retailers. I think those collaborations are going to lend a little bit more credibility and awareness to our own direct business.

One of the reasons I’m excited about the partnership with Ulta is that we’re one of the first truly clean brands in its space, and I expect it will introduce other brands that will fit the clean criteria.

Working with Ulta allows us to introduce clean ethos to parts of the country that haven’t had access to clean. Clean beauty is on the coasts — in California, New England, New York — in those area it’s been around for a while, but in certain parts of the country people will now have access to it in a bricks-and-mortar store for the first time.

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