A clean beauty expert beloved by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Rachel Weisz has spoken out about New York’s treatment of small businesses amid the pandemic, insisting that they have been ‘left in the dust’ and ‘forgotten’ while ‘large corporations’ have been ‘taken care of’.
Jessica Richards, the owner behind Brooklyn based beauty company Shen, was due to open her new Brooklyn store back in March – before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing to shelve her plans completely.
Now, the entrepreneur has revealed to DailyMail.com the many challenges she faced while fighting to keep her popular business afloat during the pandemic – which has seen dozens of companies forced to shut up shop – while detailing how she went back to the drawing board to re-design her store in order to make it safer for socially-distanced shopping.
Design delight: The stunning new 1550 sq ft. space on Court Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was created by leading design collective Mythology who were inspired the unpretentious nature of Jessica’s low-key “in-the-know” approach to beauty and shopping services
The re-imagined space is a haven to shop, escape and renew with a vast range of clean beauty products available plus it also features treatment rooms offering the best skincare services
Relax: The treatment menu includes the latest innovations in microblading, facials, waxing, brows, makeup artistry and lash services. ‘When people visit the new Shen space, I want them to feel a sense of calm, a sense of escape and a sense of community’ explains Jessica
Team work: The Shen beauty experts include lash, brow and microblading specialists, make up artists and licensed estheticians
The new 1550 sq. ft space in Cobble Hill, which was created by leading design collective Mythology, opened its doors earlier this month, having had its layout and overall design tweaked to reflect the safety measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Over the last decade Shen has cemented itself as a Goop-like destination for New Yorkers to discover the best clean beauty products on the market.
Well-known brands like Tata Harper, Westman Atelier, fur, Goop, Kjaer Weis, Dr. Barbara Sturm and Mason Pearson stock the shelves, sitting side by side with independent names like Ilia, Kosas, Lanolips, Haoma, Pai and May Lindstrom.
But it was time for the store itself to undergo a makeover and Jessica teamed with Mythology– who have also worked with Warby Parker, Allbirds, Away and Sonos- with the intention of relocating and reopening at a glossy new Court Street location by April 1st.
Then the COVID-19 crisis hit and the government mandated shut downs of businesses and construction, meaning that everything had to stop and the open date was pushed back to September.
Jessica and celebrity favorite Dr. Barbara Sturm pose at an event before Covid-19
‘The timeline was not the only change,’ explains Jessica. ‘The design of the space was always a major consideration but now even more so.
‘I knew I wanted it to be beautiful as the next chapter in the Shen journey, but of course, we needed to allow people an easy marker for social distance shopping so the bays are 6.5 feet apart, we’ve added a sink in the store for clients to wash hands upon entering, we’ve created our own Shen Hand Sanitizer with 80 per cent alcohol (which exceeds the CDC requirements of only 75 per cent) and we have UV lights which run through the space each evening.’
Just walking through the store will make you feel cleansed thanks to the neutral palate of the sustainable plywood which wraps the entirety of the space. Re-purposed 1950s Thonet stools, sconces by lighting designer Lindsey Adelman and bespoke hand-painted murals by Petra Börner continue the chic aesthetic.
Ted Galperin, a partner and Director of Retail at Mythology, explains the design process: ‘Shen Beauty came to us due to our experience with creating highly functional, but beautiful retail spaces that embody brand. Looking at our previous experience with brands like Warby Parker, Allbirds and Sonos, we understand how to strike the right balance between extraordinary customer experience and judicious store efficiency.
‘We designed the store to focus on supporting around their extensive product line, full makeup and brow bar and four treatment rooms, as well as a place to host beauty insider events. Our goal was to create a retail space that had many different functions but felt totally unified.
‘Since the store is in a residential neighborhood of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, there is a community of local beauty cognoscenti that has made the brand so successful over the past decade and for whom we wanted to maintain a level of understated panache.’
In uncertain times it is even more important for beauty lovers to escape and renew explains Jessica: ‘When people visit the new Shen space, I want them to feel a sense of calm, a sense of escape and a sense of community. Our clients come here seeking advice on which products their skin will love and what services they should treat themselves to, to feel better, healthy and more vibrant.’
Tried and tested: Shen stocks more than 100 brands including Tata Harper, Westman Atelier, fur, Goop, Kjaer Weis, Dr. Barbara Sturm and Mason Pearson
Carefully curated: Independent brands like Ilia, Kosas, Lanolips, Haoma, Pai and May Lindstrom also feature on the shelves
Not always so zen: ‘The challenges far exceeded what I could have imagined: from laying off staff, to construction delays, to the pandemic and all the uncertainty around timelines and reopening requirements. It was overwhelming at times, but here we are,’ says Jessica
Things haven’t always been so zen however. During the pandemic like all independent businesses Jessica faced unprecedented challenges: ‘The challenges far exceeded what I could have imagined: from laying off staff, to construction delays, to the pandemic and all the uncertainty around timelines and reopening requirements.
‘It was overwhelming at times, but here we are and I think it’s even better than I could have imagined. Being a single mother of two boys and maintaining some sort of normalcy for them while the world is collapsing is not something I would wish on anyone.’
With the brick-and-mortar side unable to open, Jessica had to adapt: ‘I had to pivot and adapt to the complete uncertainty. We amped up our focus in online shopping, invested in the website and connected with clients on social. As soon as I could, I offered curb side pick up for my clients and whenever possible, would email and be in touch to ensure that community connection continued to be strong and consistent.
‘I honestly could not have done all of this without my loyal clients and the larger Brooklyn community who continues to show its love for independent business owners.’
She may have been grateful for her loyal customers, but as a small business owner Jessica didn’t feel supported by the State.
‘I pay a fortune in taxes and feel like small business owners have been left in the dust and the large corporations have been completely taken care of, or rather profiting from all of this,’ she explains. ‘It’s really sad as we are the lifeblood of nation and yet the first ones to be forgotten.’
Pre-COVIDevents: Jessica takes a selfie with wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow and writer Emily Dougherty following a Shen skincare Q&A on Facebook live
But now, with a shiny new space, Jessica is looking forward to the future and giving her customers what they want. Although unsurprisingly the new bestselling beauty product is now… hand sanitizer.
‘Any type of hand sanitizer has been the number one most requested – so I made my own,’ she says.
‘I’m really excited to debut the Shen Hand Sanitizer ($10), which I formulated myself (I believe I’m the first retailer to formulate one vs. just carrying another brand’s offering). It meets all the CDC guidelines, there is no scent and of course, it is an essential for the retail shopping experience and when you head out the door.’
It’s also no surprise that clients are also seeking help for bad skin: ‘Acne, which is often driven by stress and of course, now with the constant need to wear a mask, has (unfortunately) become a big issue for a lot of clients,’ explains Jessica.
Thankfully, when it comes to battling blemishes and maskne, the beauty guru has plenty of products on-hand to make the fight easier.
‘The Skin Design London On the Spot Superstar Serum ($125) can be used all over, on a targeted area or as a spot treatment,’ she explains. ‘Definitely one I recommend to many Shen clients, and use myself.
‘Also definitely seeing an uptick in at-home treatments such as Hair Masks, Facial Masks and people have become obsessed with tools! We offer the Shen Facial Tool ($56) to help clients sculpt contours and promote circulation between facials (which has been quite the stretch since March!).’
And what advice would Jessica give to other small businesses trying to navigate in these tough times?
‘Perseverance is critical. When you think you’ve gotten knocked down, know it will come again. Each time it doesn’t get any easier, but if you want it bad enough you’ll find a way to make it happen.’