I am super excited to launch this new series, Business Love, on Among the Colors. This series is inspired by awesome businesses that we love. Business Love is all about getting to talk with creative entrepreneurs and learn what inspires them to start their own businesses, and to gain a peek into their worlds.
For our first profile, I am featuring Denver’s own all natural beauty boutique, AILLEA, and the female powerhouse behind it, Kathryn Murray Dickinson. I first stumbled into AILLEA when I was waiting to meet a girlfriend at happy hour at Tag across the street. AILLEA is located in the heart of Larimar Square Downtown Denver. To my surprise I saw an array of organic makeup that I had heard of from Instagram but hadn’t been able to try along with many, many organic and natural skin lines that I had yet to be introduced to. My initial reaction was a sign of relief. “Finally, Denver. Now I have somewhere I can go shop for organic skincare and makeup and have tons of brands to chose from and a knowledgable and passionate staff to help curate the process. So long, Sephora.” AILLEA makes shopping for natural and pure beauty products so easy because everything in the store is carefully selected and free of all the toxic chemicals you don’t want to put on your body. Not in Denver? No biggie, their website is super easy to use.
Washing and moisturizing with oil has completely changed my skin. I can’t recommend it enough. Plus a little goes a long way, so these products last for quite some time.
Check out the beautiful photos from AILLEA’s brick and mortar, followed by an exclusive interview with owner Kathryn Murray Dickinson. Her story of food allergies and health is something I can relate to and have lived through myself. Using organic and natural beauty products is something I am very passionate about, and I am grateful to have found Kathryn to introduce me to cool, quality brands that work for my sensitive skin.
Business Love: AILLEA
ATC: Tell me about your background, both professionally and personally.
K: I have always loved the beauty industry. Loved, Loved, Loved. After attending business school in NYC I became the VP of Marketing and Sales for a cosmetics company in NYC which retailers included Sephora, Barneys NY and LA and Ulta. Since that time, I have worked in PR and Marketing for multiple brands and companies (skincare, beauty, lifestyle and mobile). All of these experiences helped me prepare in launching my own business – AILLEA!
I moved to Denver almost ten years ago and couldn’t be happier. The vibrancy of Denver truly makes my soul happy – the people, restaurants, farmers markets, hiking, skiing, music, museums. Denver truly has it all.
ATC: What inspired you to open AILLEA?
K: I was always a big product girl. Several years after some health issues, I went to my bathroom and decided to get rid of everything toxic and replace them with something that worked as well or better. I started with my shampoo and conditioner. 3 months, $150, and multiple humorous missteps later, I finally found my shampoo. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to weed through the green washing and find products that were clean and still delivered the performance I had come to love. Realizing this was what many women wanted, I decided to take the leap and start AILLEA.
ATC: Tell me more about your favorite lines and specific products that you carry in-store?
K: All of the lines are special and have been carefully curated to fill specific needs. Some of my favorites today (it changes with the seasons as my skin changes) – Indie Lee Squalane Oil (my husband says he would bathe in it if he could), suki exfoliating foaming facial cleanser makes my skin so soft and smooth and my makeup goes on flawlessly after I use it. Ilia foundations, RMS Buriti Bronzer, Kjaer Weis mascara and Lily Lolo glosses are currently my daily staples.
ATC: Do you personally test out of the product lines? Can you describe this process?
K: Yes, I have 3 pillars of consideration for being carried in the store: #1: Ingredient quality/integrity. I have over 1,000 ingredients banned from the store. (We have all of the major toxins banned – sulfates, phthalates, parabens, petrochemicals, coal tar dyes, formaldehyde etc, but in reality, we have over 1,000 banned ingredients. We used the EU list of banned ingredients as our standard.) If a product has any bad ingredients the review stops there. After that, #2: we test for quality – does the product perform and perform across multiple skin types and age ranges. And finally #3 – “it factor”. Sometimes it is packaging, sometimes it is scent or ingredient or all three. But I am looking for that extra “something” that just draws people in and helps them fall in love with the product.
ATC: Why did you choose to open AILLEA in Larimer Square?
K: I can’t imagine launching AILLEA anywhere else. Being on Larimer Square has been a dream – the block’s history, charm and draw are unmatched in Denver. Larimer Square is one of the few places that draws locals and tourists, giving the store great exposure. On top of that – the other retailers are all amazing advocates and supporters of each other which is really wonderful.
ATC: What motivates you professionally?
K: My team and my customers are the biggest motivation for me. When someone posts on Instagram how we have changed their skin and their life – it is beyond inspirational. I know I believe in what I am doing, but when people come in my store and validate that by falling in love with the store and continuing to order products, I know I am doing something great.
ATC: Are there any new product lines that you’ll be introducing at AILLEA?
K: Yes, lots of excitement for AILLEA in 2016 – new products (first of a kind SPF 30 lipsticks), new lines, monthly makeup classes and personal appearances by several of the brands and a few other exciting announcements I can’t talk about yet.
ATC: What is your favorite part about being a small business owner?
K: I love that the future of AILLEA can really be as big as I dream it to be. I get calls from all over the country from people wanting the products, and beg me to put a store near them. I want to help deliver clean beauty products to all of them! One day I will get there.
ATC: Why is organic beauty your passion?
K: Beauty has always been my love. But my passion for CLEAN beauty started 8 years ago when I was getting sick, and doctors couldn’t say why I was ill, but still medicating me on pills that had sever side effects. After some trial and error, I discovered on my own that I had severe food allergies. I had been on medicine that didn’t really work and even worse made me feel groggy and out of it for months, but only 2 weeks after changing my diet, I was a different human being. I had the “a-ha” moment then, that what we put in and on our bodies has a massive impact on our health. This ignited my passion for clean beauty.
ATC: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your day-to-day work routine?
K: I have 2 favorite parts. #1 is the people I get to work with. From the brands, to the team and the customers, I work with the most amazing people every day and that makes all of the difference. #2 is the belief that the clean beauty mission is really important, not just to me, but to everyone. Breast cancer rates have increased from 1 in 20 to 1 in 8, and 1 in 2 women will get some type of cancer. Genetics don’t change that quickly, this shift is being driven by the toxins in our food, personal care products, household cleaners, the air and our water. I know that it is only one piece of the puzzle, but I really believe I am helping people stay healthy and happy longer!
ATC: If you could go back in time, is there any advice that you would offer yourself based on what you know now? Likewise, is there any advice that you could offer to someone who is considering opening their own business?
K: My advice to myself – there are some things I got really right, there are also a few things I got wrong.
1) Mentors/supporters and lots of them are important. My network of mentors has helped me on so many levels – emotional support, professional feedback and network connections.
2) Let the experts do what the experts have been trained to do. I have cost myself so much time and money trying to be frugal during the launch and do everything myself. If you are looking for office/retail space – hire a broker, if you are setting up your business structure – consult an accountant and business lawyer. It may seem costly up front, but I promise it will cost you ten fold on the back end if you don’t.
3) Last – and possibly most importantly – you can have the greatest idea EVER, but if people don’t know you exist, its like a tree falling in the woods. Sadly, you can’t just open your doors and be trampled just because you have a great idea. You need to market, network and partner to drive awareness.