Clary Collection's Jen Auerbach and Adriel Denae run Nashville's coolest skincare company.
As seen in The Line Issue 02 Spring/Summer 2018 by Abby White
How did you two meet?
ADE: We met at an afterparty when I was 7 months pregnant. I felt very sober and very awkward and this gorgeous blonde with a British accent walked up to me, sat down and started asking me questions about how I was feeling and what it was like to be pregnant and what I thought about a hundred topics. I just loved her instantly. A few days later she invited me over for a poker game and that’s when I knew we’d be friends forever. I have a mild obsession with Texas hold ‘em. Jen became a steady source of love and support in my last weeks of pregnancy. She was one of the first people to meet my son and she came over to my apartment every day to check on me and bring me flowers and tea. Pretty soon after, we started experimenting in the kitchen together too.
JEN: I had just moved to Nashville from NYC and remember that night spotting this beautiful pregnant woman. If you’ve met Adriel, you will know she has this instantaneous magical energy about her which draws you to her. We sat down and I told her she should lay down and let me do the gender test with a stand of her hair a gold ring! Looking back she must have thought I was insane. But, not that insane because I told her she was having a boy and (luckily) she did!
Adriel was one of my first best friends and she will never escape me now. Her warmth and kind nature made me feel Nashville was my new home.
When did you decide to go into business together? I read that you relied upon the input of friends and family as you were perfecting your formulas – was Nashville the first place where you actually sold your products?
ADE: We decided to go into business together one afternoon when we were sitting on my balcony, obsessing over the balm we had made and Jen said “we are turning this into a business”. Ha. I was in a creative slump and my life of wild freedom and constant touring had changed so dramatically with the birth of my son, I loved her ambition and the possibility of creating something with a friend and widening my new knowledge and fascination with the healing qualities of plants. It was an easy decision to make - and since we had no real idea how to start a business, it was also an exhilarating leap of faith - in ourselves and each other.
JEN: I think Adriel had gauged from the first night we met that I was a little bossy, persuasive? I told her we were going to start a business and like any professional new business owner we jumped online and registered every possible domain name we could think of. Later to only use one of them of course, and ring up unnecessary charges on our credit cards. We spent over a year perfecting our blends and using our friends and family as guinea pigs. I remember that feeling of having a real business when Whites Mercantile and Arcade kids store placed their first order.
Where else can your products be found?
Where else can your products be found?
ADE: You can find all of our products on our website at clarycollection.com and we are currently stocked in 58 shops in the US, including several hotels, spas and yoga studios, 6 international stores and a handful of online boutiques. We choose to stock with retailers who have a similar aesthetic to ours, we like working with individuals who are putting a lot of soul into their curations and are highlighting craftsmanship and sustainable ideas. We also love stocking with female-led businesses.
JEN: Out of those 58 stores I am proud to say that many of them are based here in Nashville. Having moved to Nashville from London and NYC I had never met such an embracing, friendly town. I have seen Nashville grow so rapidly over the past 4yrs and am happy to be along for the ride and growth of this town. We are also very excited to be stocking the Keep Shop here at Noelle!
How did you develop the 100% organic, synthetic chemical-free and preservative-free formulas for the products in Clary Collection?
ADE: We began with a very simple infusion of olive oil, calendula, chamomile and lavender. We loved that first batch of oil and began reading old herbalism texts, midwifery journals and seeking advice from individuals who were further along the road of learning than us. We were fascinated by the thought that people had been harnessing the power of plants for thousands of years without the of use of synthetic ingredients and we were bothered by the fact that we didn’t know how to do this. If they could, why couldn’t we? We learned about Plantain from an herbalist in Wisconsin and everything really shifted for us when we started working with that plant. It is such a powerful healer and it grows everywhere here in the south and midwest. It’s considered a nuisance by many, but it really opened our eyes to the abundance of healing that nature offers us. We started to see the earth in our own surroundings very differently then. And now we utilize Plantain in almost every product. Once we had found a formulation for infused oil that created a real shift in our skin - and particularly my infant son’s, we started expanding on those ideas. We crafted our balm, then moved on to an avocado based oil for skin that is stretching or healing or stressed. Then we created a nursing balm and a beard oil for the men in our lives. We have several other products waiting in the wings that we use regularly ourselves and are excited to share them eventually. A facial cleansing oil, a facial serum and a line of perineum products designed for use in preparing for birth and postpartum healing. We are midway through our second year as a company and are focused on steady growth and expansion in accessibility to more consumers. We continue to be a small batch company where each product is made by hand with a lot of care and attention and our challenge in the coming year will be how to maintain this core value while also being able to fulfill supply with a growing demand. So far, so good!
Your website has a beautiful statement about your company mission, to compassionately create products crafted in an environment that is nurtured by individuals who are creating products that fill both personal and collective needs in our communities. Can you expand on that a little?
ADE: It’s difficult to work with ingredients like flowers and herbs and oils, using methods that stretch back several centuries, without forming a kind of relationship as the maker with your ingredients. There is a real transference of energy inherent in the creation of each of our products. These are traditional beliefs in herbalism, but were recognizable to us right off the bat when we started this journey. We want to make sure that each Clary product is created with love and an intention for healing. We think the products are better that way. And we are happier this way. So, we work really hard to foster an environment in our production space that is conducive to this. We are building relationships with our suppliers, we are careful about who works with us and we look for ways to give back to our communities and support other folks that are trying to generate healing on our planet.
Your website tells the story behind the name Clary Collection, but can you explain in your own words? Also, what was the inspiration behind the packaging?
ADE: We named our company after the beautiful, flowering, Clary Sage which gets its name from the Latin word , Clarus, meaning “clear”. The seed of the plant has a sticky coating and in the middle ages, people used to press them against specks of dust that were stuck in their eyes to dislodge the irritants. The plant became known as “Clear See” then “Clear Eye”, then “Clary”. Traditionally, the plant has been used to hasten other forms of clarity. It is written about as the “woman’s companion” and has been used for generations in tinctures, teas and infusions to clear the fog of hormonal imbalance and to bring a sense of calm and creative ease. We really loved learning about the plant and she became our namesake.
JEN: The inspiration behind our packaging came from a 50’s shoe polish tin found in my basement while renovating my home. We took it over to Bryce McCloud at Isle of Printing and he and Elizabeth Williams (now of New Hat Projects) helped us transform it into our logo design. Design for us needs to be classic and timeless. When I look at ours, I appreciate that it is clean and simple. just like our ingredients.
Your products are affordable – is it important to you to make them available to anyone, no matter their income level?
ADE: Yes, we strive for simplicity and transparency with our ingredients and do our best to price them affordably. However, we are also committed to using the highest quality, natural ingredients we can and we package our products in glass and tin, so pricewise, we can’t compete with a plastic tub of vaseline. We aim for the middle road where our products will cost a little more than synthetic brands, but will outperform over-priced, exotic ones. We always go back to a vision of our great-grandmother’s medicine cabinet. What would she have wanted to use? We imagine her shelves held simple, effective, beautiful products.
JEN: From the start we have aimed to make Clary affordable to anyone. As Adriel said we can’t compete with a plastic tub of vaseline, nor do we want to. We feel the time honored, carefully created Clary products are worth their value.
Can your products that are intended for moms-to-be or new moms work on anyone? Can you provide some examples?
ADE: Absolutely. Each product is created with multi-uses in mind and we’ve learned a lot from our community of customers about this too. We’ve received messages about our all-purpose balm being used for everything from diaper rash, bug bites and eczema to lips, tattoos and as a makeup primer. Our Renew + Repair Oil started out as a product for stretching skin in pregnancy, but is being used by many folks enduring chemo and radiation treatments and healing from surgery. I use our Bath+Body Oil after every shower and have used it on my son since he was an infant. I also massaged my grandmother’s arms and legs with it up until the day they passed and we have nurses who share big tins of balm with each other on their shifts. Recently, we heard from a Dog Rescue that uses the balm for skin irritations and wounds on their pups. We learn something new about our products every week.
JEN: We quickly learned from our Clary customers that we had created something more effective than we had given it credit for! We recently launched our Beard Oil which is infused with Plantain, Chamomile Calendula + Lavender. I have had multiple emails from Men and Women saying they now use it in their hair and on their face! Clary is for everyone. Its a staple in my home and I hope for it to be the same in everyone else's!
You list your natural ingredients on your website and explain how each of them work. Do you find that your customers are pretty knowledgeable about natural and organic products, or are you finding that people are changing their buying habits a little when they realize they don’t know what chemicals are in their skin care products?
ADE: We see both. We have customers who are deeply committed to non-toxic skin care and have been for a long time and we have other customers who are purchasing their very first alternative, clean product. Part of the fun of this venture is being a part of a growing movement that is helping to shift an industry. I don’t know anyone who willfully wants to put poison on themselves. I think most of us want to use healthy things, so as more of us are becoming educated consumers, we are helping to generate a change in the way products are created. I read a great piece of advice when my eyes were first opened to how many toxic substances I was buying and bringing into my home - “just start with one thing”. Pick one thing to swap out and then go from there. For me, it was toothpaste and that one switch opened a door into a really wonderful new world.
JEN: Before venturing into Clary I was in no way educated in the way that I am now in safe product usage. We have an array of customers. I get excited when a first time Clary user will write to us and say they have thrown out their chemical moisturizer in place of Clary and their skin has never been better. Being able to provide people with safe products is simply a dream come true. Most people presume when we say Plantain that its the banana leaf and I love educating people thats its probably growing like a weed in their own back yard!
You have some pretty heartfelt testimonials on your website. What does it feel like to know that you’re helping moms caring for children with severe allergies, or who are receiving chemo?
ADE: It honestly helps to make sense of everything we are doing. This is a lot of work and both Jen and I juggle the balancing act of motherhood and entrepreneurship and some days are totally overwhelming, but one message or review from someone who has found real relief in Clary fills us with a huge amount of pride and gratitude for our journey. And it inspires us to keep pushing forward.
JEN: Waking up in the morning with less than 3hrs sleep under my belt, a customer review can be that push to get me out of bed and down to the Clary barn to make more products! Being a Mother myself, I know that animalistic emotion you feel about protecting your young and if Clary can bring some relief to these tiny people my job is done.
I noticed that on International Women’s Day you donated 30% of your profits to the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights. Are there any other causes you’re passionate about supporting? Any local nonprofits?
JEN: With my back ground being in non for profit, it was very important this part of me carried over to Clary. Both Adriel and I are very passionate about giving back and supporting our communities. We have donated our products to the Mom Bag Project which provides Mothers who are a part of refugee resettlement here in Nashville with useful products for themselves and their families.
Safe Haven is an incredible resource here in Nashville. It is the only shelter-to-housing program of its kind in Middle Tennessee that accepts the entire homeless family. I have taken my family there to cook dinner many times.
Nashville Diaper Connection is awesome, they strive to ensure that every baby in Davidson County has enough diapers to stay clean, dry and healthy. 1 in 3 families in our country struggle to afford diapers and often have to choose between them and food. Did you know you can buy candy with food stamps, but diapers are classified with cigarettes and alcohol as unqualified purchases? Crazy. So, thank you NDC.