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There's never been a better time for boutique beauty in New York than right now Between the casual (and affordable!) facials of Heyday and the luxury offerings of LA-based Blushington, beauty aficionados can have a field day — and Desiree Verdejo wanted to get in the mix. The former lawyer who's always been obsessed with beauty just made the huge leap from a corporate 9-to-5 to open Vivrant Beauty, a bright, airy boutique in the heart of Harlem, at the end of the summer.
Verdejo wanted to create a customized, personable experience for shoppers while also highlighting diverse, local and women-owned companies, including Ginger + Liz, Oui Shave and Flo + Leo. She even carries the makeup line of Ashunta Sheriff, who is Taraji P. Henson's makeup artist on Empire. We caught up with Verdejo to talk about how she got started, what's she's loving now, and what's next for her brand.
What made you choose Harlem for a beauty boutique?
I think this kind of [boutique experience] is in a lot of neighborhoods, but I'm a Harlem native and and I live in the neighborhood, and this type of thing is missing. It's my favorite way to shop beauty, but it doesn't exist in Harlem. In terms of the diversity of products, I don't think it really exists generally. What's really important is that you make sure to stock products for every skin tone and every hair texture. It's not represented in the media, but it's getting better and it's so exciting to see! For example, we carry Becca Cosmetics, a really well-done makeup line that's a makeup artists' favorite. We love it because it goes from porcelain to deep brown.
How have you selected what you carry?
When we first started choosing products, we started with products and lines that were familiar to me. If someone came in with a skin problem, I can confidently say to come and take a look at some of these brands because they've been vetted by me and my team. But then also our botanically-based indie products like Juara are also as effective as these bigger brands. Our customers get it, and our customers care.
We've been getting calls from other green lines who are developing more diverse colors, too. Both as a consumer and from talking to clients, I know that people really care about their ingredients and what goes into the products they're using. It's nice to see that brand development and to be a part of pushing that out to people, highlighting that these brands exist.
What have customer reactions been like so far?
They've been really good! People love the space, and they feel very relaxed and comfortable. Of course, some people walk by and peek in because they don't know what we are, because there aren't a ton of beauty boutiques up here. But I think the space is inviting and there are different price points for everyone: [Some is] high-end, but on the other end of the spectrum, Shea Terra Organics has products for under $35. We are conscious of how diverse our neighborhood is — it's diverse in terms of race, in terms of income. You have students, families, professionals. People notice that.
There's a chair at the Becca Makeup stand — do you offer services like makeup application or skincare consultations?
The consultations happen naturally. Our salesperson is a certified esthetician and makeup artist. We don't offer full makeup application just yet, but possibly in the future! But we do have someone who is able to assess your skin and match your skin tone to makeup to make sure you're walking out of the door with the right products.
So you're leaning more towards guidance at the moment.
Yes! And because the space is so calm and serene, conversations can happen organically and more attention to be paid to the customer as opposed to somewhere like Sephora, where it can get crowded and loud.
Since you opened so recently, what were your biggest challenges? Was it the start-up, or actually being up and running?
I think that every state has its own challenge! Getting things off the ground was not easy. You know, financing can be tough. Now that we are open, I'm really focused on spreading the word. That's what I'm doing most of the time.
Your Instagram presence is so lush and beautiful!
Thank you so much! We really tried to bring the feeling of the store to social media. That part is really fun. and our customers are really cool, so it's great highlighting them as well. As I said, spreading the word has been a huge challenge. New York is huge, there's always a ton going on, even in this neighborhood, which is like a small village. People have come in and been like, "When did you get here? I live right down the street." That's a common challenge when it comes to starting a business.
What are a few of your favorite beauty products right now?
Why is that the toughest question anyone ever asks me? [Laughs] Can I say what I'm loving right now? For example, I'm loving this Mun serum, especially as we go into the colder, drier months. It'sis perfect because it's super-hydrating and organic. I'm an oil lover, I'm all about the glow, so Mun is something I reach for often.
We carry a lot of indie brands, but we also carry bigger brands, like Ren and Mario Badescu. Something I've been using for a long time is this Ren Gycol Lactic Radiance Mask. Itt gets rid of dead skin, I love the glow it gives me, and I love the way it makes my skin feel. This is an old favorite, while Mun is definitely something I've just introduced into my regimen.
What's next for Vivrant?
At two months, my goal is just getting this right. I'm making sure our product selection is well-balanced and making sure our customers are excited about us and supportive and loyal to the brand. You changed careers, you have to make sure it matches up to your vision. Within beauty, there's so many directions you can go, but I think at two months, I want to be sure to reign myself in.