Meet Tara Foley, President of Follain, a healthy beauty store located in Boston and Nantucket (and online, too). Tara built her brand and shop from the ground up and has since reached a wide audience with her mission. But back to the beginning: Tara started her career with the goal of becoming a lawyer, and worked at a law firm as a paralegal and a case manager for a number of years before realizing her small business beauty dream. She was on the fast-track to a career in law, and it wasn’t until she took a job in the Business Development and Marketing group at the law firm that she realized her skills would be put to better use in a different field.
How did Tara go from law to beauty products, you ask? After moving to New York City post-college, Tara started to focus on her health—in terms of food and fitness, and in terms of the products she was using in her everyday life. It was during this time that Tara noticed many unsafe ingredients in the beauty products she had been using, and decided to start a blog on the topic. Suddenly Tara found her niche and her curiosity led to a major career change. After completing two apprenticeships and earning an MBA, Tara started her own business around what she had found to be her passion—healthy beauty products. Follain began in 2013, and has grown a great deal since it’s opening.
Tara’s advice to other women who want to open their own business? “Start by taking small steps. Often the idea of launching a business is terrifying because we are so fixated on the end goal. The end goal is—and should be—HUGE, but it shouldn’t intimidate us from starting.” Keep reading to learn more about Tara’s career, and the steps she took to get her business where it is today.
Full Name: Tara Foley
Current Title/Company: President, Follain Inc.
Education: MBA – Babson College; BA, Public Policy – Trinity College
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was as a paralegal at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a corporate law firm in New York. This job was intended to be a stepping-stone to law school. I’ve always felt pulled towards a career where I can give back, and help positively changes others’ lives. In college, I thought I wanted to become an advocacy lawyer, so I majored in public policy and held three internships (legal aid, public affairs, and lobbying) to learn about this career track and build a great resume for law school. References from these internships proved that I was a hard worker, and hard work was the biggest prerequisite for that job at Cravath.
Tell us about your job responsibilities while working at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. What did you learn from your time here?
I began as a paralegal, and was quickly promoted to case manager, where I liaised between a team of attorneys and a team of paralegals. This job included hard work, long hours, and attention to detail—usually doing research or document review. I worked with some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met in my life at that firm. It was a fulfilling job, but I realized almost immediately that a career in law was not for me. It was 2008, and there weren’t many jobs available for new college graduates, so I took a position in the Business Development and Marketing group at the firm. It was here that I realized I was much better at creating marketing materials and pitching the firm to potential clients, than I was ever going to be at practicing law.
While working at the law firm you started your blog, the Naturalchemyst. It was at this point that you started developing an interest for natural skincare and beauty products. What initially sparked your interest in this topic?
When I graduated college and moved to NYC, I became hyper focused on getting healthy. New York was the perfect place to pursue this newfound interest, as I gained access to juice bars, yoga studios, spinning studios, farmers markets, and tons of knowledgeable people on the topic. While researching healthy food and fitness, I learned that most of my beloved beauty products at the time were filled with toxic ingredients, which were unsafe for me, and for the environment. Realizing that none of my friends and family knew about these unsafe skincare ingredients, I launched the blog in 2009 to begin sharing my research and product reviews with them, and with anyone else that might be interested. Then, the blog took over my life. Research for it consumed every second of my time outside of work, and it became clear that I wanted to pursue an actual career that would help change the U.S. skincare and beauty industry, for good.
After working at the law firm you had an apprenticeship with an organic lavender farm in France. Tell us about this experience! How did you land this position?
When I wanted to learn about safe, plant-based skincare and beauty products, I took a cue from my friends who were going into the food industry as entrepreneurs and chefs. Many of these friends spent time on farms around the world, learning about ingredients. I wanted to see how a plant was turned into a skincare ingredient, which isn’t all that different! The most popular program for this exploration is called WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). Through WWOOF, I found a family in the Southwest region of France, who put me up and fed me, in return for long days of tending to their lavender fields. Like any other farming, this was hard work that began at dawn and left me exhausted by the end of the day each day. I was there for a season—from planting through harvest—and saw how the lavender grew, and was then distilled into oils. The experience helped me appreciate every single one of the ingredients used in the products we sell at Follain. It helped me understand how terroir and love is so crucial to these ingredients, and how important it is that we support the people and planet that give us these ingredients.
Upon your return from France you had another apprenticeship, this time with a private label skincare manufacturer in Maine. What did you learn from your time there?
After learning how skincare ingredients were brought to life on the lavender farm, I wanted to learn how these ingredients were formulated and packaged into the final products that we buy at beauty stores. As it turns out, most of the products found on chain store shelves are produced in only a small few labs and factories across the country. I wanted to gain access to these labs, but I was not a chemist! I found a small company in Maine—led by the former head of skincare at Sephora—that coordinates private label skincare manufacturing for many boutique beauty companies. Here, I learned the nitty gritty—from ingredient formulation to packaging—and I was able to visit many of those labs while doing so! This access was critical, because it made me realize how big and powerful the U.S. beauty industry is—and, in turn, how difficult it was going to be to change it.
In August 2011 you returned to school to obtain your MBA from Babson College. What led you to make the decision to return to school?
I knew I wanted change the U.S. beauty business, but I didn’t have any actual experience running a business. I thought an MBA would be a quick and easy way to get this experience while still working on my plan and research. I only considered schools that excelled in entrepreneurship and social enterprise. Babson was the obvious choice because it had a smaller more intimate class size, and it gave me access to a large network of amazing professors and peers who have started businesses and understand the unique obstacles of entrepreneurship!
You launched Follain, a healthy beauty store, in 2013. Tell us about your business and the inspiration behind it. What is the mission of Follain?
Follain is a retail store that can be trusted to sell the most effective, healthy and safe beauty products available. Follain is the Gaelic word for healthy, wholesome, and sound, and these are the three pillars at the foundation of everything we do. We carry a curated selection of skincare, hair care and cosmetic products by 35 U.S. brands. Select products—like liquid hand and body soap—are available for refill in-store, as we aim to remedy the immense plastic waste generated by soap bottles. We are committed to transparency and health, and we want to give the U.S. beauty industry a better reputation than it has now—we want to change it, for good! We make sure to stay on track with our safety goals by advising with our environmental health mentors and our Director of Health and Safety on every product decision we make!
Take us through the process of launching your business. How did you come up with the business plan and the funds to launch Follain?
I wrote a post on the Naturalchemyst blog in March 2010, listing all the stores in NYC—where I lived at the time—that sold healthy beauty products. Interestingly enough, most of these retailers were food stores, furniture stores, and pharmacies. Knowing that women want to buy their beauty products from a beauty-specific store, I immediately saw the need for a truly healthy beauty store, and I made it my goal to open one! That lead to the apprenticeships with the lavender farm and skincare manufacturer, and then business school. At business school I worked on the plan for Follain almost every day. Then I entered and won a national retail business plan competition—sponsored by EDENS—and used the money and mentors from that competition (along with selling my car and liquidating my savings account) to open our first little corner store in Boston’s South End. We saw an immediate success from that store, so then I reached out to investors to help us continue the growth.
After the initial Follain store opened in Boston, you launched an e-commerce site and opened the second and third Follain stores in Wellesley, MA and Nantucket. Tell us more about how your business has grown since 2013.
Well, we know from market research (and common sense) that women like to buy beauty products in-person, so that they can touch, smell, and experience the products first. In turn, we know that if we truly want to change the products women buy—to make a change in the beauty industry—then we need to open additional Follain stores. We want to make sure we open in the right locations, though, so we’ve spent the past year opening temporary stores to meet people in the Boston and DC areas. We have a few more cities in mind, and can’t wait to meet more people every day!
Meet with as many people as possible to learn all the paths and opportunities out there, but then make your own way.
What has been the most challenging part of owning and operating a business?
Working against the clock! When I launched Follain I had big goals but was doing almost everything myself. It was a great learning experience—and I now know every little thing that makes the business tick—but it wasn’t smart or sustainable, and it wore me down. Even now that we have an amazing, growing team there are still enough things for all of us to do around the clock! Stepping away from work every night is the most difficult part of my day.
What advice can you give women looking to open their own business?
Start by taking small steps. Often the idea of launching a business is terrifying because we are so fixated on the end goal. The end goal is—and should be!—HUGE, but it shouldn’t intimidate us from starting. For me, the first experiment was launching a blog to see if people were even interested in healthy beauty. Each experiment since then has fueled and informed the next. Before I knew it, I was equipped with tons of research and knowledge, and we were on that path towards that amazing end goal.
What is a typical workday like for you?
I wish I had a typical workday! For now, every day is different than the last. Some days I work in a Follain store all day (which is my favorite!), and other days I work on our growth—building models to determine how many new people, products, and even stores we can afford—then going out to make all those additions! It doesn’t sound like much, but it takes more time than you could imagine. I start working the moment I open my eyes and take up to two real breaks—to eat dinner with my husband, exercise, or both—before making some additional progress and going to sleep! I’ve become a big believer in the importance of sleep. I used to run on fumes, but am now much more productive that I strive for seven hours a night.
Best moment of your career so far?
Our team holiday dinner, last December. I spent the entire time awed by the people gathered around that table who have all quit their jobs and chosen to join Follain, in order change the lives of others. Our team and customers are some of the best people I’ve met in my life. It’s an honor to work with such passionate people every day.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
That it’s okay to reinvent yourself! When I graduated from college, I had planned and studied for so many years to become a lawyer. When I realized a legal career wasn’t for me I was frightened by the idea of starting from scratch! Thank goodness I did, because I couldn’t imagine ever feeling so fulfilled and excited by a career, as I am now.
Tara Foley is The Everygirl…
Morning or night?
What are some of your go-to beauty products?
That’s always a difficult question. My favorite splurge item is our May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon—to moisturize and calm any kind of irritated or dry skin. I also believe that stress reduction is completely linked to beauty, and in turn I’m a huge fan of our bath products like the RICA bath tea and our calming and nourishing body oils by Tammy Fender, Soapwalla, and Farmaesthetics. Ilia lip conditioner in Arabian Knights or Perfect Day will always make me smile!
Best advice you’ve ever received?
That there isn’t one perfect way to reach your goals. The best path is different for everyone. Meet with as many people as possible to learn all the paths and opportunities out there, but then make your own way.
Favorite part about living in Boston?
Boston is a center of innovation and social change! It’s packed with educated and passionate students who want to make a difference. You feel this everywhere.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I would have lunch with Sandra Day O’Connor, and I wouldn’t even attempt ordering because I’d be so excited and anxious to respect and soak in every second of her time!