The Beginnings of a Beauty Startup: Follain Interview
Written by Mary Carolonza
As a clean beauty start-up, Follain is the definition of raw. Founded by Tara Foley in 2013, Follain is a platform of highly curated clean beauty products where customers can trust their cosmetics are as healthy as they are beautiful. I got to interview Maddie Clary, a customer service and experience manager at Follain, to discuss what it’s like working at a cosmetics startup and Tara’s experience as a founder.
Could you describe to me how Tara became motivated to start her blog, and then what gave her the confidence to transition to the health industry?
She’s always been really into nutrition and fitness and loved beauty. She was conscious about what she was eating and taking into her body, but not what was being put on her skin topically. That’s when her blog started; she started doing a ton of research and one of her biggest moments was when she started connecting with brand founders. Her motive was to be the first blog to create a big space for clean, non-toxic brands to have a platform. If you follow Tara on social media, you’ll see that she’s very vocal about laws that are being passed and of the certain legality of ingredients in the beauty industry.
What are some key pain points, or problems, that Follain addresses with its products and services?
The beauty industry is an ever-evolving industry, so there’s not a set game plan and instead Tara has really been a trailblazer for clean beauty. I think some of it is learning as you go and as more products come out and bigger names start entering the clean beauty market, like Sephora, you need to be able to pivot to stay successful. Another pain point is education. Follain is very education-based in that we really want to educate our consumers about why this is such a good product and to illustrate that these products work just as well as your conventional beauty.
What are some particular benefits that Follain offers customers, and how does it differentiate itself against competition?
Follain wants to be a wellness and education hub, so in addition to consultations we have our staff do product demonstrations and really highlight a product or star ingredient. Other times we will have nutritionists come in to discuss the relationship between health and skin. For example, blemishes are one of our most common customer concerns and while our products will make a difference, a blemish is a medical concern due to factors like stress and food that cannot be solved by just a topical application. Therefore, we want to provide resources to make people feel empowered. We’ve also done acupuncture, podcasts, and have had influencers give talks.
What do the day-to-day responsibilities look like for you?
For my job, I’m dealing with the flow of the website and answering product and order questions. One of my favorite aspects of my job is interacting with customers through consultations. I learned a lot of my consultation skills simply through practice and by being mentored by the in-store makeup artists, and I like to approach the consultation process as having a friendly conversation. My goal for when customers enter stores is to have them feel like they are being greeted by their best friends who are ready to share a new product with them and for them to leave feeling really excited about their experience and feel comfortable coming back and asking any questions.
What was the process like from when Tara first got the idea for Follain to when the first store was opened?
Tara was inspired by her blog’s success to leave her paralegal job and move to Paris, France, to work on a lavender farm where she learned about ingredients and sourcing. She then applied to business school at Babson, where she got her MBA and won the Babson Business competition with her idea for Follain. The company began with angel investors and uses private investors for capital. One of our most profitable products has been our refillable soaps, which is a castile soap that can be bought in-store or online.
What was the most exciting event that has occurred during their startup process, and any particular parts of your job that you enjoy?
I got to be on a team that trained the new directors when Follain was expanding and opening more stores, and I liked being able to take a step back and examine the operations and culture of a store that we try to share with a store leader so that they can then share that vision with their store’s team. I also really enjoy coming up with makeup consultation strategies for specific events, like weddings or an everyday brunch look, and in addition to my everyday tasks I like to participate in the in-store education events like face mask Fridays. I love coming into the store at the end of the work week and talking people through putting on a mask.
Had you been interested in a career in beauty/cosmetics all your life?
I actually never thought I would be in beauty. I’ve always loved masks, but I came at the industry from more of a wellness perspective. I’ve always been very conscious about the food that I consume and how I feel, so the wellness aspect of Follain aligned with me. I went to Skidmore, a liberal arts college, where I majored in business management and minored in religious studies. I really wanted there to be an ethics requirement for our business department and religious studies was focused on different religions and cultures and I wanted to have a deeper understanding of how others think based on their backgrounds.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in a career in the cosmetics industry?
If you can intern in any kind of beauty or cosmetic environment, that’s really helpful and will provide a lot of insight and will help you align your interests with a career. I am a big believer in the base of a company, and for us that’s our retail stores. An internship sets a good foundation for giving you background knowledge to then apply at a higher level, which I think is really invaluable. If there’s a store where you can get a lot of customer interaction I think that’s really valuable!
Maddie’s detailed explanations and warm personality showed me exactly why she is an excellent skincare and beauty consultant for Follain. I loved learning about Follain’s emphasis on customer education and self care, since radiant skin is due to so much more than a simple face cream. Be sure to check out the local Follain store on 53 Dartmouth St to find dates of different educational events or try a skin consultation for yourself!