Laura Lemon learned about natural beauty from an unlikely source, her job at Walmart, where as a young buying assistant she was given the small task of bringing natural beauty into 1200 stores. It was a turning point in her beauty-focused career that ultimately led her to branch out a year-and-a-half ago with her own first natural beauty boutique, Lemon Laine, in Nashville. She just recently added a second location in Houston. While everything in her stores might seem millennial-focused…from the affordable assortment of products to the pink-centric interiors, there is one way it is definitely not–there is no online boutique. At least not yet. Laura finds the beauty retail experience flawed and intimidating and is focused on changing that. She wants her customers to consider her stores a safe space where they can bring their beauty issues (which are often not just skin deep) and have someone spend time with them trying to figure out solutions. Each store features a custom oil bar where a Lemon Laine expert will help formulate one specific to your needs (for $65). Laura is onto something; I expect many more Lemon Laine stores in the near future. Here she shares why she thinks the natural beauty phenomenon has just begun, her geography talent and why we could benefit from a bit of magnesium (not in supplement form).
Tell us what you do and why: Overall, I’m focused on Lemon Laine being a destination for natural beauty, and being a place that’s fun, approachable and very knowledgeable at the same time. That’s what I’m always seeking towards, making sure that we’re focused. I guess it’s just having that vision, which I’ve had for a while now; it’s been really fun to see it come to life and making sure as we grow, and now that we’re in another city, that we still maintain that vision and execute the best way we can.
What was your career path? What led you to launch Lemon Laine? It’s been a lot of hops, skips, and jumps.
Like most of us. Right? That’s how it should be. Nothing is linear. I’ve been in the beauty industry, though, for a while. My first job in high school was a makeup artist. I was self-taught; Kevyn Aucoin books were my bible. I really came into makeup because I had a lot of skin issues, and that was the only thing that made me feel better, covering up my cystic acne.
Then, I got addicted to the feeling of helping other women feel their best. When you give them a fun lip or a pop of eye color, and they leave feeling like they’re on cloud nine, that was a really fun experience for me. So, I did that throughout high school and college, I actually worked at Saks Fifth Avenue, which was crazy. I was really proud of that. Then I had the unfortunate path of graduating in 2008 from college [the financial crisis], so my options were very limited.
But I knew I wanted to be in the beauty industry, and got this crazy opportunity through a friend to intern at Walmart, of all places. I met a woman by the name of Shannon Curtin there, who led the beauty buying team, she saw my passion and really wanted to give me a chance.That kind of was the moment that opened up my career in beauty, and was such an amazing test ground and learning space. It was the first time that I heard about natural beauty. Walmart was ahead of the curve, which you maybe wouldn’t expect, but they were really interested in where the industry was going. And my first project once I was full-time as a buyer assistant was to launch natural beauty in about 1,200 doors. I mean, no big deal, right? I even got the opportunity to meet Burt of Burt’s Bees, and really help them get into more households. That was the crazy thing about Walmart, just that access, that these types of brands weren’t able to communicate up until that point to a different demographic. I took the responsibility very seriously and wanted to immerse myself in it. As soon as I learned what natural beauty stood for and what that meant, I couldn’t unlearn it. I was like, “Wow. Why has no one ever told me this? Why aren’t people asking more questions about what’s in their products?”
I knew that this industry wasn’t happening primarily in Arkansas, but in California, so I figured out a way to get my butt to California. I went to Yes To where I did more sales and marketing with mainly mass accounts–Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods. I was really interested in healthy eating too, so I enrolled in a holistic nutrition program in Berkeley, California, and did that at night. I thought I wanted to go into the nutrition counseling world, but I loved products so much.
After Yes To, I went to Juice Beauty, and I took on a different role there and got to be on their product development team. We had just signed on Gwyneth Paltrow as our creative director and we launched Goop when I was there. Being a part of that process and seeing how natural beauty products are made was so great, and how not-complicated you can make it when formulating, especially when you don’t introduce water. That was kind of the genesis for the oil bar, which is part of our retail experience, where you can custom blend oils for your skin.
So, it’s a long answer. But ultimately, it was just a lot of different experiences and that’s why Lemon Laine exists.
When did you launch and what made you want your own space? I launched our first store a year and a half ago in Nashville, Tennessee. When I looked back at my career, I think my favorite job was retail and I just missed it. I realized that I didn’t enjoy shopping for products anymore, I felt that the current beauty landscape and retail experience could be really intimidating and overwhelming, and there were a lot of falsities that just felt kind of gross. Just the usual communication–there are all these things you need to change about yourself.
I saw a need for being authentic and curating a space that was honest and did the work for the customer, where they could trust that all these products are good for them, and really educate themselves. And also taking the conversation a step farther, where if someone comes in with acne, we have some amazing products for their skin, but we’re also having a conversation on their gut health, how well they’re sleeping, and are they stressed? Because all of this plays into your skin. So it’s creating that safe space for people. And I always tell our team, we’re here to plant seeds of information. My skin kind of crawls when I think of a pure play retail store, where you have products on the shelf, and you just sell, sell, sell. That’s never what I want to do. I want to share information and empower the customer to make their own decisions.
What makes your store different from others in your space? It’s hard to explain. There’s all this digital hype, and everything’s moving online….I had that desk job where I was on my computer all week for my job. And the last thing I wanted to do was spend my free time on my computer in my home. I wanted to get out and experience things, talk to people, and create community. I love that we can provide that at Lemon Laine. We hope to be that for people, which is why we’re focused on perfecting the in-store experience. We don’t have an online store at this moment for that reason. I think there’s too much competition and too much of the same online; I wanted to really excel in-store and in person, and have something truly tangible.
Can you talk a little bit about your oil bar? It’s really the heart and soul of what we do. With the oil bar, we have 30 minutes to an hour to spend with each customer to get to know their habits, their skin care routine, their goals for their skin, and create a profile, recommend products that complement the custom oil that we’re making for them on the spot.
First and foremost, skin care should be custom, and not everything works for every single person. When people come to the store they always want to know what products I’m using, or what our staff is using, but our goal is to figure out what’s going to work best for you. The oil bar really embodies that.
Why do you think natural beauty’s become so important? Where do you see it going from here? You know, there’s just so much more that we know now, and the customer votes with their dollar. So, as the customer is transitioning to this space, it’s only going to allow more access and more innovation. The brands that I’m seeing come out, and their level of efficacy that, when compared to more synthetic lines, is amazing. I think that’s going to get people to stay in the category. Because you’ll get people to come over for deodorant or toothpaste. Those are always the first things people change. The key is to get them to stay. They might try it, but if it doesn’t work for them, then they’re not going to stay. So, as innovations and more science that comes into the industry, I think that’s only going to help and benefit.
What was the easiest thing when you launched Lemon Laine, and what was the hardest thing, or something that you were maybe not prepared for? I love those questions. It’s good to reflect sometimes, especially when things are running a mile a minute. The easiest for me was … I had this really clear vision. I knew what I wanted. I think it was just maybe years of kind of dreaming this up in my head in different aspects. But when it came down to go time, I held true to that, and I was like, “This is what I want.” So, seeing the design elements, the products that we had in store, even down to the team we hired…everything came together so seamlessly, and it felt so … like, “Wow. This is the right time and place.” That was awesome.
Then, I think the hardest part for me…and you hear this a million times, even people tell you before you start a company, “Get ready.” But it’s the balance and maintaining the long game, having those ups and downs, and just keeping your perspective positive. Because just when you’re feeling good, something will happen, and it comes crashing down, and you’re humbled again. Nothing’s sacred. Everything can change at a moment’s notice.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed? Gosh. This is me, my Oklahoma-ness coming out. I don’t like to talk about myself, which I guess in some ways is my attribute. Being relatable and being humble, I think. I want that to always be a part of the store experience, too, and not feeling intimidating and pretentious. I think the beauty industry can lean that way sometimes, and just bringing it down home. Well, it’s funny. I say sometimes, “We’re not solving cancer here,” but in some ways we are. That’s maybe not my humble side. But, you know, just keeping it real, and being down to earth.
Role models: I think the fact that I can really lean on women right now in business, too, is incredible. Even in Nashville, a lot of my dear friends are women that started businesses around the time I did, and we actually meet every few months just to connect and share what we’re all going through. They’re all different businesses, too, but it’s just that camaraderie, and that feeling of, “I’m not alone,” is huge for me.
Best career advice you’ve received, or something you would share with somebody else starting out: I’d say everything is a learning moment. Even the jobs I’ve had where it just wasn’t the right fit, and I was not maybe in a position that really complemented my skill set. But knowing that’s all a moment for you to learn something. And looking back, you kind of connect the dots, too. You’re like, “Wow. I hated those Excel spreadsheets, but man, I’m so glad that I know how to do that now.” So, just kind of maintain that perspective through your career. Even the little jobs….when I started off sweeping floors at a hair salon so I could get my foot in the door. That moment created the foundation for what I can do now. I mean, it has to start somewhere, right? So, that’s really important. I think so often, people just expect it to be right when they want it, and that’s not the case at all.
To date, what has been your biggest success? What do you think has been a failure or a dud, and what did you learn from it or take away from it? When I look at our team, I’m really, really proud. Just bringing these women together that share an interest in, not only what we’re providing to our customers, but delivering the best customer service possible, and creating that tight-knit group where we all support each other, that’s been really fun for me. I’ve never actually managed people before opening this store, so it was, at the same time, a learning and growing experience for me, too. But everything comes down to the people. I’m only one person. So, I can’t have Lemon Laine without having the people that go there every single day to make the vision come to life and help service the customers.
I would say the biggest dud is just cash flow management. The boring stuff, which sometimes can bite you in the butt. And again, learning moments, right? Sometimes you have to make these mistakes to be like, “Oh. That’s not what I’m supposed to do.” Early on, I probably spent a little more money on things that maybe didn’t matter as much, and I wish I would have that money back right now. But I didn’t know until I did it. That’s been a constant struggle, especially the small business owner, managing cash.
Three words that describe Lemon Laine: Friendly, honest, empowering.
Three words that describe you: Curious, warm, driven.
What motivates you? Customers. They’re just freakin’ amazing and I learn something all the time from them. Even when I’m feeling a little down of, or I have a lot of behind the scenes work on the computer to do, I’m just like, “I need to get back in the store, and engage with the people that are moving this train forward, and that’s the customers.” Hearing from them–their stories, their struggles, they can be so honest with us.
What’s next for Lemon? You just opened a new store: I would say that we gotta kill it in Houston for anything else to happen. But I’m really already excited about increasing our footprint. Also, thinking about our brand in ways that we can create more of our content for our customers, whether that’s through a website, and then maybe even my own line one day. That’d be fun.
Do you have a lot of beauty products in your medicine cabinet at home? Do you try a lot of things? I laughed at that question, because I couldn’t even count. I’m a product junky at heart. I’ve always been. It’s a problem. My husband thinks I’m crazy. They’re not organized, either. I try to test every product before we bring it on. My skin is one that is all skin types, so I have an advantage to be able to try to see how it works.
Can you talk about some of the favorite new products in your shop right now? Yes. Loving everything from Wooden Spoon Herbs. She’s an herbalist out of east Tennessee. And particularly her Tulsi magnesium spray. Magnesium is something that every person in this world should be using. And I prefer it topically, because you just spray it on your skin and it absorbs. If you take it internally, sometimes it kind of wreaks havoc on your digestive system if you’re already a little sensitive there. It’s really good for sleep, stress, anxiety; it’s a mineral that’s found in over 80 cofactors in the body. So, it does so many different things. Unfortunately, most of us are very deficient in it. It’s been a game-changer for me. So, I tell everyone that walks in the door, like, “Hey!” And it’s like $10. Or not. The Wooden Spoon one’s a little bit more, but we have another one that’s like $10, so it’s really incredible.
Then I would say, makeup, which I still have so much fun with. Nothing is better than a good pop of color on the lips. The Kosas line, their pigments are amazing. I love the Violet Fury. I don’t know if you’ve tried that color yet.
I’m bringing on this line called Clevan. It’s by these two women whose family had an apothecary in Amsterdam, so they’ve taken these wise old recipes and created this product experience that focuses on, not only topically, whether it’s a cream or a mist, but also internally, so doing tinctures that really correspond with the beauty product. That’s really something I just haven’t seen. More brands are going to be thinking about beauty in that way, where they’re coming out with both products at the same time. I think there are things have been done for centuries, that unfortunately we’ve forgotten and lost sight of. A big part of that are right now are adaptogens. They have been used for thousands of years. They weren’t used back then because they were trendy and in the latest fashion magazine; they were used because they worked, they had to work. Seeing those kind of things come back into the mainstream is really cool for me.
Life goals: To not be scared, to get out of my own way.
Daily goals: Make shit happen.
I like that.
And continue just to move forward. I don’t like being stagnant. I like to just keep things going, I get excited by that.
Favorite inspirational/motivational reads: I’m just really sad to admit this, but I don’t read books. I need to. My husband gets onto me all the time, he’s such a book geek. But I love podcasts, I would say the Goop podcast is my favorite. It’s just of the moment for me. I relate to all of them.
Favorite sites or people you follow: I love Instagram. On the funny side of things, I like Overheard LA, or Overheard San Francisco. It makes me laugh so hard. But on the beauty side, I love the Beauty Independent. I get their newsletter every morning. I love Well + Good. I like to follow a woman by the name of Jasmina Aganovic. She is the President of Mother Dirt, which is this incredible natural skin care company that is based out of science and research on the human microbiome, which I think is going to be the next frontier. She’s on every speaker series and conference, and so it’s fun to kind of itch my geek side and hear what she has to say. And Piera Gelardi From Refinery 29. I feel like she’s just really refreshing and is totally her own person, which is inspiring to me.
Daily rituals: Coffee. I went through most of my life without drinking coffee, and then starting this company….
Wow. You made it a long way.
I know, even through college. I guess that shows you I didn’t really put my full effort into college. But now coffee in the morning and then also alone time. I have to have that. It gives me so much clarity to start my day–just getting outside and walking, and being active. My day changes so much too, so it’s hard to kind of maintain anything at this point.
How do you unplug? Baths. Again, something I never used to do, but I just crave them. I use therapeutic bath salts. I use one that has magnesium in it, which I can’t talk about enough. So, I do that at least three or four times a week.
Hidden talent/hobby: This is another one. Apparently for my New Years Resolution, I need to read more and find a hobby. I just don’t have any.
You’re busy right now.
I know, but I never really have. I come from a family of really great painters and that’s kind of where my makeup artistry started. I would like to take classes in painting and even classes in Adobe Illustrator. Randomly, I know every state capital. That’s a hidden talent that has no purpose. I think that’s living in Oklahoma, trying to know about every other state, because you just want to go and travel.
Favorite charity: I love Lipstick Angels. They provide nontoxic beauty services to hospital patients that are going through chemotherapy and cancer. It’s cool to see an organization like that bring these services to people that really need it. And obviously I think there’s a lot of research to be done on how our synthetic, chemical-filled products are … I don’t want to say it the wrong way, but they’re compromising our health.
Do you collect anything? I wanted to find something that felt antique and curated for our oil bars so I now am on the hunt for peach and pink shot glasses. I get on Etsy and hunt them down. At this point I probably have more than we actually need, but I can’t stop.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: It actually just happened. I’ve never spent this much money on a shirt in my life. But I got a top from Stella McCartney, because I just have always loved her designs and how she’s really brought sustainability into the fashion space, which I think is really inspiring. I wore it to our opening and I felt great. It’s like, “Okay. This is why you pay for nice things.”
Favorite small indulgence: Sourdough bread and butter.
Album currently on repeat: Cautious Clay. I love his music.
Scent that brings back memories: Acqua di Gio in high school.
Lucky charm: I picked up this little tiny stuffed alpaca in Buenos Aires. It’s the size of my finger. I don’t know why, but I keep it in my purse. I always have it with me.
Favorite hour of the day: 7 AM. My morning time is just my happy place. I’m in bed by, like, 9 PM.
Follow Lemon Laine: Instagram.