Boston resident Tara Foley is the founder and CEO of Follain, one of the country’s pioneering clean beauty stores. However, it wasn’t until she was in her mid-20s that she started considering how her own beauty routine might be affecting her overall health.
“I was living in New York, and I was a recent public policy graduate,” Foley said. “I was [prepping for] law school, and I wanted to change the world. Around the same time, I started investing in my own health and wellness, and I became a total beauty junkie. But then I started reading about all this toxic stuff in my beloved beauty products.”
Though Follain is now one of a trending group of clean beauty brands, Foley said her focus on non-toxicity was uncommon at the time.
“It was 2009, and no one was talking about this at all,” she said. “No one wanted to hear about it.”
Foley started a blog devoted to the topic in order to connect to clean beauty brand founders and was surprised at the overwhelming interest she received. The industry contacts she made while blogging helped her develop Follain’s concept: a curated collection of toxin-free cosmetics and skincare products.
In 2011, Foley finally decided to “pull the emergency brake” on her life, drop out of law school, and explore the world of natural beauty, even moving to France to work on an organic lavender farm. Foley came to the Boston area to earn an MBA from Babson College, and said she decided to base her business here after graduation because she saw a clientele that represented the future of Follain’s customer base.
“[The Boston customer] is a healthy, highly educated, highly transparent customer,” she said. “They aren’t always going for trends like people in New York and Los Angeles. They’re a much more practical customer. You can have real conversations with real people here. Our customers have helped make our business what it is, and we wanted to create a movement.”
Foley opened her first Follain location in the South End in 2013 on a “bootstrap budget,” she said.
“My husband and I liquidated everything we owned to get started,” she said. “We painted those walls ourselves.”
She credits her fellow Boston-area female business owners with the kind of support she needed to stay afloat in her first year.
“There was a lot of sharing,” she said. “Everything from insurance brokers to questions like, ‘Where did you get the dog bowl that goes outside the store?’”
Today, Follain has three locations in Massachusetts, a robust e-commerce business, and plans to open new stores across the country in 2018. And Foley continues to believe in the power of supporting female-owned businesses in the community.
“Knowing the people behind your business is becoming more important,” she said. “That’s how you know that they’re sticking to values. You know if something goes wrong, there’s a person who will make it right at the end of the day. Female-owned businesses tend to be more transparent about who’s behind the scenes. The empathy that women have is one of the most important and awesome traits that we share.”
Foley said she primarily frequents businesses owned by women. Here are some of her local favorites in honor of International Women’s Day this Thursday, March 8.
“[Dress is] my favorite store probably in all of Boston,” Foley said.
The Beacon Hill designer boutique carries a selection of women’s clothing, accessories, fragrances, and home goods.
“I tell Jane, the owner, that I could buy literally every single thing in there,” Foley said. “She’s there so frequently and really gets to know her customer and the Boston woman. She’s catering to us in a really unique way. It’s dangerous but awesome!”
Misha & Puff
Misha & Puff is a Boston-based clothing line for women and children founded by Anna Wallack. Wallack collaborates with women in Peru to handknit the textiles for her clothing.
“I’m a huge fan,” Foley said. “I have a 19-month-old, and [Wallack] leans toward more sustainable fibers. She’s building a really cool product and bringing attention to Boston.”
The line is available in shops worldwide and for purchase online. Local shoppers can find a selection of children’s clothing from the brand at CouCou in the South End.
For eating and drinking
Foley considers this local cafe chain both a source of inspiration and a business necessity.
“[Owner Tzurit Or] really pours her heart and soul into the coziness and atmosphere of that place,” Foley said. “But it doesn’t end there. The food is always amazing, and she’s made a really unique space for Boston to rely on. We’re growing our team in a big way right now, and somebody said if I ever write a book I need to dedicate it to Tatte because of all the pivotal meetings I’ve had there.”
Tatte has eight locations throughout Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.
Foley sees this popular South End wine, craft beer, and spirits shop as more than just a place to pick up a great bottle.
“[Co-owner Hadley Douglas] is one of the most active community members I’ve ever met,” Foley said. “She knows everything about this community. Urban Grape is the hub for so many community events, and she gets all of us to support places like Rosie’s Place. She’s really inspirational when it comes to the Boston community.”
Speaking of Rosie’s Place, Foley said she’s a “huge advocate” of this South End nonprofit organization, which she said “literally exists to support women.”
It works to provide housing, education, and resources for underprivileged and homeless women in Boston. Follain often holds fundraising and community events to benefit the organization.
Lovin’ Spoonful’s Executive Director Ashley Stanley founded this nonprofit to help solve the dual problems of food waste and hunger in the Boston area. The organization picks up food items from grocery stores, wholesalers, farms, and farmers markets that would otherwise be discarded and redistributes them to 150 community nonprofits around Boston and MetroWest.
“What they’re doing with food waste is unbelievably cool and innovative,” Foley said.
Update 3/6/2018: This story has been updated to clarify that Foley was preparing to enroll in law school but not enrolled in one when she was a recent public policy graduate.