Retailer House Of Green Beauty Opens In North London
While Alex Nicolaou was developing his brand Nini Organics, he’d pop into large and small stores in the U.K. to check out beauty merchandise for research purposes.
“I picked up a product and went up to a girl at the cosmetic counter. I asked her, ‘Does it have hyaluronic acid?’ She said, ‘No, we don’t use that. It will burn your skin,’” he recounts. “I was just like, ‘Oh, you don’t even know what hyaluronic acid is, and you are telling me it will burn my skin and selling me a hydration product.’ It showed that the product was being sold for profit and profit alone, not for your skin.”
At House of Beauty, the North London store Nicolaou has opened with his sister Nicole Stanton, he guarantees customers won’t receive ill-informed product advice. Nicolaou, an actor introduced to natural skincare during a horrible bout with acne that caused an agent to let him go, has extensive beauty industry expertise accrued from positions at Harrods, Space NK, The Organic Pharmacy, Tata Harper and Content Beauty & Wellbeing, and perfecting his own waterless skincare, bath and body-care products that launched a year ago.
“I won’t sell you with buzzwords. I want to tell people what I wanted to know when I was younger and had acne,” he says, adding, “The big corporate companies don’t have time to train their workers because the turnaround is so quick at those kinds of brands. People are doing it for the job, not for the love of skincare. That’s what I completely want to change. You should know your stuff. If a customer asks a tricky question, turn around with pride and say, ‘It’s this or that.’ If you can’t answer, there’s no harm in finding someone else rather than lying to my face to get sales.”
At the pint-sized House of Green Beauty in Blue House Yard, a creative hub in a refurbished carpark, the main draws are the intimate setting and beauty product education straight from Nicolaou. Of course, the merchandise is important, too. The eight debut brands at the shop are Twelve Beauty, Josh Rosebrook Skin and Hair Care, Natural Wisdom, Nathalie Bond, 14e Cosmetics, Gressa Skin, Absolution Cosmetics and Nini Organics.
“The big corporate companies don’t have time to train their workers because the turnaround is so quick at those kinds of brands. People are doing it for the job, not for the love of skincare. That’s what I completely want to change. You should know your stuff.”
Nicolaou believes the store is filling a gap in the London market for natural beauty retail. “There’s really only one shop in the U.K. and it’s Content Beauty. I worked there for a little bit, and I thought, ‘Why is there are another shop like this?’ I decided, I’m going to create it. Why not?” he says. “If you want something, you have to do it yourself. You can’t rely on anybody else to do it.”
Nicolaou stumbled upon Blue House Yard because a zero-waste shop in it, Harmless, stocked his brand. To determine if the complex, which doesn’t attract heavy footfall, could be a good business move, he tested Nini Organics at a three-day pop and discovered there was sufficient customer interest for a permanent outpost. Once a spot became available, Nicolaou grabbed it. The location happens to be painted green, and House of Green Beauty was born.
“The space that we are in doesn’t require all of the costs that often come with having a retail store. We need to be able to survive and make money, but, because the cost of the shop is so low, it’s more about getting knowledge to the customer than trying to sell loads and loads of product,” he says. “At a big store, it’s almost like saying, ‘I’ve had so much investment, here’s my store, come and purchase to give me more money.’ Whereas, when it’s a small boutique, you feel your money is going to the dream and vision of the person sitting there.”
The people behind companies played crucial roles in Nicolaou’s brand selection process for House of Green Beauty. He cares as deeply about founders as he does products. Nicolaou says, “Whenever I see a green beauty brand, I reach out to the owner, and I get to know their story before I get to know their products. By them telling me their story, it makes sense why they created their products.”
“There’s really only one shop in the U.K. and it’s Content Beauty. I worked there for a little bit, and I thought, ‘Why is there are another shop like this?’ I decided, I’m going to create it. Why not? If you want something, you have to do it yourself. You can’t rely on anybody else to do it.”
As House is Beauty is getting underway, Nicolaou is revamping Nini Organics to elevate the brand’s look to match its prices and ingredients. Running primarily from 24 to 45 pounds, Nini Organics’ products include bath soaks and oils as well as a body butter, face scrub, mask and illuminator. Each item has a clear intent grounded in Nicolaou’s experience. For instance, he formulated the product Coco Mylk Bath with organic coconut milk to provide a vegan alternative to bath soaks containing goat’s milk. Nicolaou is a vegan.
Nini Organics is carried by five stores online and offline, and Nicolaou would consider additional distribution partners. However, he’s not anxious to put the brand in massive chains. “We have been approached by huge retailers and turned them all down. We do want to be big in terms of the green beauty industry, but we don’t want to be big in terms of selling multiple products to a big corporate company,” he says. “They squeeze your margins down to nothing. When we got approached by big companies, we were like, ‘Wow, how can you think we can produce this amount of product for you at this point? Do you understand small batches and niche branding?’”
At House of Beauty, where niche branding and small batches are appreciated, Nicolaou’s challenge is to broadcast his fervent passion for green skincare to a broad audience and convince customers to modify their beauty routines. “I tell people to forget whatever they learned about skincare and listen to me about a completely new approach,” he says. “People layer so much on their skin – acids and preservatives – and it makes their skin behave in such a way that they have to address a new thing going on. I want them to change their mindset around skincare to think of it as skin enhancement and to use the bare minimum on their skin.”