Meet the Brooklyn-Based Beauty Shop Owner Who Curates for Free People

The wellness industry is expanding at a breakneck pace, and women are leading the charge. This series profiles the brand founders and influencers who are breaking the mold. Follow along as we learn about the ins and outs of their daily gigs, how they're looking to change the collective conversation, and what they envision for the future of wellness.


(Image credit: Jessica Richards)

Jessica Richards opened her retail shop, Shen Beauty, in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill in 2010. She did so after realizing there weren't any other places like it in her neighborhood and, after having her first child, couldn't shake the blaring white space. There, she focuses on a selection of natural products as well as science-backed, effective formulas and offerings that aren't available at most other places. Among the usual cult favorites you'll find up-and-coming brands you've either never tried or only read about online. Shen has a homey feel, one that I notice each time I walk in and peruse the shelves. That and the retail associates now know me by name. Now, the space has grown from solely brick-and-mortar to e-commerce and offers in-house beauty treatments like facials, brow shaping, lash tints, and even makeup lessons, and Richards has taken up curating Free People's beauty collection, both on its site and in stores.

Over the years, and as our careers in beauty blossomed, she's become a friend and confidant—an expert on all things skin and wellness. It's only natural she share her know-how with the rest of our community. So without further ado, find Richards's thoughts and musings on her own journey, as well as what form the wellness industry may take now and in the future.

On going into business for herself…

"Shen came to life because I couldn't find anywhere to shop in Brooklyn after I had a baby—and because there was nowhere I wanted to shop even outside of Brooklyn. I had worked in retail all through high school and then for a year in Aspen before moving to New York. I thought it wouldn't be that hard… Hindsight is 20/20! Had I known then what I know now about the trials and tribulations of owning your own retail store, I may have steered clear. I do have to say, though, opening my own business, it has been the most rewarding but also the hardest. When you succeed in your goals, be it financial or otherwise, no one can take that from you. It's this special sense of relief and excitement that I can only relate to seeing my child succeed at something. After all, Shen is my middle child."

On a typical day in her life…

"A typical day of work changes from moment to moment and day to day. I would say no day is similar. If I am at Shen, it could be opening the doors early, going over bills, and then cleaning a toilet and helping a customer find the absolute best cream for their skin. If I am at Free People, I usually start my day in the office about 7:30 a.m. and don't leave until about 7:30 or 8 at night. I am in the office two days a week, so I cram all my meetings into two days—everything from business review for retail stores to direct-to-site layout, copy, events, product-development meetings, and store team meetings. A rough estimate of my schedule is this:

"6 a.m. Wake up to the coffee pot brewing, make waffles and get my kids up, pack lunches and get the kids out the door and onto the bus by 7:25 a.m.

"7:30 a.m. I take a SoulCycle class.

"9 a.m. I head to Shen or my first meeting for Free People. Usually, that happens at Soho House, or Dumbo House because it's closer. It's a beautiful place to get some work done.

"3:30 p.m. I pick up the kids from the bus and hang with them for a few hours while responding to emails and conference calls.

"6:30 p.m. I have dinner with the kids, then deal with their homework, bath time, and bedtime.

"9:30 p.m. The kids go to sleep and I go back to work for an hour to finalize everything for the day and tie up loose ends."


(Image credit: Jessica Richards)

On the strategies she uses to stay focused and calm…

"Since I do so many jobs, from Shen to Free People, consulting, and being a mother, I typically experience all the emotions every day. If I worked out in the morning, that's the thing that helps me the most. Then I can cope pretty well, but if I haven't, things can take a deep dive. What I have learned, though, over the years, is everything can be fixed, and no matter how bad it is, it could always be worse. I wish I could say I meditate or count down from 100 to get focused, but truth be told I just try and tackle one task at a time and be thorough in that task."

On the most unexpected lessons she's learned…

"You need to choose the right business partner, as it can make or break your growth. Choose one that works as hard as you do but also that possesses the set of skills you lack. You are not great at everything; no one is. I have this running list of skills that I am great at and another for those I'm terrible at. For my next business, I want to find the person who's strengths balance my weaknesses and vice versa. As a single mother, you can't have it all. Something has to suffer each day—either work or family. If you are okay with not being the best at both every day, you have already half succeeded. I am extremely hard on myself, so I could learn to be less of a perfectionist."


(Image credit: @jrbeautybk)

On the future of wellness…

"Health and wellness is the next trillion-dollar industry. I have seen extreme growth in particular over the last two to three years. I love this quote. Forgive me because I can't remember who said it, but I keep it on my phone: 'Wellness is defined as the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort. It is a mindset we believe has seeped into the lives of the everyday [person] and has emerged as a lifestyle here to stay.' It's a great example of where the wellness industry will go. It's a deliberate effort. Everyone is making a deliberate effort to better themselves. People are making the choice to join workout classes, discover the positive effects of spices like turmeric, get into adaptogens, and practice meditation. All of this requires effort. The lifestyle becomes your whole being. At Shen, we've brought in products from The Beauty Chef, Moon Juice, Nue Co. All of these brands are wellness-focused by way of skincare and otherwise. I would love to open a café within Shen someday for people to truly enjoy themselves. I think for Shen, the idea of giving answers and education is the growth."


(Image credit: @jrbeautybk)

On curating for Free People and how that differs from Shen…

"The opportunity to work with Free People came about when I was not expecting it. I had bought my business partner out of Shen, Eva [Chen] had hired me to be the beauty buyer and brand curator for Lucky magazine's transition into e-commerce, and I was focusing on growing Shen to the next level. I was not interested, but I always take a meeting because one never knows what is going to come out of it. I went down to visit the offices and team and fell in love with the idea of creating a voice and platform for a mass retailer that hadn't yet ventured into the beauty space. The Free People customer resonates so strongly with me because I am from Southern California, so curating a voice and products for them was something that seemed like a no-brainer for me. The difference between Free People and Shen is the customer, although there quite a lot of crossover. The Shen customer is a bit older and looking for specifics, whereas those who shop at Free People are looking for newness and trends. There are many similarities but so many differences. For instance, I don't launch many new brands at Shen and instead really hone in on the voice. Whereas with Free People, I launch new things every week. It's definitely more trend-driven."

Next, read how Vitruvi's Sara Panton put essential oils on the map.


This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions.

Hallie Gould