Lena Rose Leads The Clean Beauty Charge In Chicago (Nope, Credo Wasn’t First)
Jenny Duranski has sometimes felt like a preacher without much of a choir. A trailblazing convert to the green beauty movement, she’s been devoted to bringing reluctant Chicagoans onto the better-for-your bandwagon since opening nontoxic nail salon Noktivo four years ago. “The green, indie industry has not gained as much traction here as it has in New York, L.A., Austin and Seattle,” she says. “It’s been a slow rise.” Duranski hasn’t backed down. She introduced natural beauty spa and boutique Lena Rose in November, months before Credo planted itself in the Midwestern city, and is hopeful her business will benefit from the clean phenomenon finally taking hold in Chicago. Beauty Independent talked to Duranski about affordable green beauty, Etsy reviews, Cetaphil alternatives and welcoming competition.
Your path to green beauty was paved with personal experiences. What happened?
I have been a nail technician since I was 19, so almost 15 years. I got into the beauty industry to support my life in the city. A lot of my friends were going to beauty school, and I really just enjoyed doing nails. About four years into my career, I got sick from working in a traditional nail salon. I had contact dermatitis up and down my arm, trouble breathing, a foggy memory, and I was tired. I was feeling better on my days off. It took me a while to piece together what was happening.
Why did you decide to start Lena Rose?
There was still not a green beauty boutique in Chicago. I wanted everyone to have access to healthy beauty products. I also wanted to have a local approach. We have a lot of great indie makers in Chicago. I am a small business owner, and I love supporting small business owners.
How big is Lena Rose?
We have 1,000 square feet. We have a treatment room, and an area for workshops, classes and educational events. The front is the boutique, and at least 70 percent of the space is dedicated to retail.
How does Lena Rose’s business break down between retail and spa sales?
It’s maybe 60% service and 40% retail. Industry standard at a spa is 18% retail. We don’t have the foot traffic, and we are driving traffic [to retail] from the services. They come in for a service, and they walk out with a lot of product.
How did you choose your location?
I kind of stumbled upon this little nook of neighborhood [Ravenswood Manor]. It is right off the Brown Line at a very cute L stop, and it happens to be close to my house. I was walking around the neighborhood with my daughter, and I ran into a friend who said this space was going to be for rent. It didn’t even have a ‘for rent’ sign, but I called about the pricing, and it was perfect. We are next to some very good small businesses, but it is not known as a commerce thoroughfare by any means. We are a destination.
How’s business going so far?
It’s steady growth. Comparing the numbers to when I had a boutique inside the Noktivo nail salon, we are doubling sales. [Noktivo’s Lincoln Square location shuttered in February in favor of pop-ups at Lena Rose.]
What’s your approach to bringing in new brands?
My goal is to solve the next problem in green beauty, which is accessibility. There is no middle business in green beauty retail. You have your budget brands and stores, and then you have your luxury green beauty boutiques. That gap brand doesn’t exist, and that’s what I really want Lena Rose to be. A lot of our customer base wants something they can realistically incorporate into their lives. The most expensive product I carry in my store is $50.
What are four bestselling brands at Lena Rose?
Our top seller is a local line called Bonnie Naturally Nourishing. The products work, and they are in this very nice happy budget place. We have had Moon Juice for about a month, and it’s been flying off our shelves. Then, we have Apoterra Skincare and a new line called Whole Love Organics, which has been selling really well. We’ve only had it for two weeks, and we have already placed a restock.
What are some bestselling products?
The Apoterra Rose Hydrating Toner. Toners right now are very hot. Au Naturale’s lip stains are moving very fast. I can never keep in stock 100% Pure’s Black Tea Ultra Lengthening Mascara.
How should brands reach out to Lena Rose?
My creative director Bella Miller is the first point of contact, so they can email her. I like to know terms, your story, how many sku’s you have. If somebody just has a body butter and a body scrub, that’s very hard for me to carry. We are very seasonal here like New York. Our boutique looks very different in the summer and in the winter.
How do you search for brands?
Mostly Instagram. On Etsy, I do a local wholesale search to see any makers that are on there. I look at reviews, that’s very important to me. Whole Love Organics, I came across them on Etsy, and I had seen them at local festivals, too. The first thing I did was read their Etsy reviews.
Is the margin you command around 50%?
What are underserved segments in green beauty?
Haircare is an underserved area, and I don’t know what to call this category, but I’ll call it sexy time. More clean, healthy, effective products for that category are needed. Province Apothecary is really the only line that I know of that carries a range of them.
You’re pretty gung-ho on events, right?
I would love to collab with any brand, even if I don’t carry them. We are having Erin’s Faces teach green beauty one-on-one. We don’t carry that brand. She reached out to us. If you want a Chicago space, the space is yours. If a brand isn’t carried here in Chicago, how else do they get the support and awareness in a region they aren’t in? Maybe you are not a good fit for my store, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a fit for Chicago. I would love to meet you. Come in, let’s do something fun.
Tell me about Lena Rose’s clientele.
It’s moms, and they’re aware of ingredients because they were just pregnant and have a newborn or toddler. I don’t have the random shopper that’s just browsing. They are looking for cleaner options and, really, they are looking for an alternative to Cetaphil. I try to ask them good, targeted questions about their skin. If our aesthetician is here, she can do a quick analysis. I’m usually recommending a Bonnie or a Mad Hippie cleanser because they’re very gentle.
Are you worried about Credo affecting Lena Rose?
I don’t think they will affect me at all. Bella and I went to their grand opening party, and people thought we were weird because we were so excited. We were the first ones there and the last to leave. The lack of competition in the marketplace means it’s an unhealthy one. Now that I have competition with a significant amount of venture capital to spend on local marketing and education, that will lessen the financial burden on me to try and reach the customer.
Why do you think it’s taken Chicago so long to embrace green beauty?
My green beauty business friends and I talk about this all the time over wine. We don’t know why it has taken Chicago so long. I do feel this might be the year that things change, not just because Credo has opened, but because there is a lot more awareness now.