When Kim Smith, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, moved with her family to India, she said goodbye to her career as a PR beauty exec and took some time off to figure out her next path. Yet, Kim never stopped caring about beauty, and when she came back to NJ, she embraced the burgeoning clean beauty trend and knew this would be her calling to get back into the beauty biz. In 2017, she opened Rose City Beauty in Madison, NJ, the first entirely toxin-free beauty boutique in the state, and has been helping other moms learn about natural beauty ever since. We sat down with this Madison mom of three (who’s recently moved her brick and mortar to online-only) to chat about what it was like to live in India, the one product you should be using in 2021, and the local Morris County trails where you can find her hiking these days.
Featured photo via Kim Smith
Please share a little bit about your background and how it led you to launch Rose City Beauty.
I’ve worked in the beauty industry for my entire adult life. First, in the beauty department at Glamour, then as a beauty editor at Allure. Eventually, I switched sides and worked in beauty public relations for Kiehl’s, Hard Candy, Orlane Paris, the Chelsea Piers, and then at Bumble and Bumble as the head of PR for 15 years. I left Bumble in 2010 to live in India for a year, and when I returned, I was trying to figure out my next steps. I had recently started exploring toxin-free products, and the more I learned, the more I knew I wanted to do something in the toxin-free field. A few years (and a thousand conversations with my husband) later, Rose City Beauty was born, which was the first toxin-free beauty boutique in the state of NJ.
Tell us about your experience of living in India.
We were living in Madison, and we moved to Bangalore, India, in 2010 for a year for my husband’s work. It was such an adventure. We traveled a lot and had friends from England, Australia, Ireland, France, Denmark, Sweden, and India. It wasn’t uncommon to hear ten different languages on the playground, which was exciting, especially for my kids. We just loved it. I believe that everyone should live in the East at some point—it’s like waiting-tables—it’s good to see the other side of things.
How do you choose the items for your store?
First, they have to be completely toxin-free, and I have an extremely high bar. Because brands in the U.S. can claim they are “all-natural” or “organic” no matter what they put in the formulas, you really can’t trust what a company says. The proof is in the ingredient list. I start with the ingredient label and make sure it has no chemical preservatives, emulsifiers, fragrances, or colors. There are more, but this is the general list I start with. Then, I look to see what’s in it—if it’s filled with cheap fillers like dimethicone or other silicones, I’m not interested. I want formulas that have high-quality essential oils, peptides, anti-oxidants, and rich oils that moisturize. In that way, beauty products are like food—they need to have vitamins and super-food ingredients if we want them to feed our skin. Last, the products need to look great. Sometimes I love a product but have to pass because it doesn’t match my aesthetic.
Who is your customer, and how are you reaching them?
It’s mostly moms just like you and me. I reach them through Instagram, Facebook, and my consumer emails, but word-of-mouth is powerful. I get many phone calls where people say, “I’ve heard such good things about you” or “you helped my neighbor’s skin so much,” which feels great. I also have moms who contact me because their teenager’s skin has started to break out. I’ve met so many wonderful people since opening my shop and appreciate my customers. Even though I don’t have a physical store now, I want to keep helping people with their skin and teaching them about beauty labels— they are not easy to decipher, and I want to give guidance as much as I can.
Since COVID, Rose City Beauty has moved to online-only, with a comprehensive assortment of natural beauty and gifts to choose from via Jennifer Lavelle Photography.
You recently pivoted to an online-only store. Was this decision COVID-related? Do you plan on eventually opening another brick and mortar store?
It was very COVID-related. I was fortunate, and I’m so grateful because when I closed my doors on March 16th, my customers really supported me and started ordering online, and it’s been steady online ever since. I have such respect for stores that have re-opened, but for me, the smarter move is to pull the whole operation online. I don’t know if I’ll re-open as a brick and mortar again—it would have to be the right situation and far removed from the virus.
What specific items are customer favorites? What makes them stand out?
I can’t keep the Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash in stock. It’s great for women, men, and teens and is a wonderful, low-foam cleanser. I’m really into face oils, and my customers love them. If you haven’t tried a cleansing oil, this year should be the time you try it—they moisturize and plump the face and leave a healthy, youthful glow. My customers are also fans of French Girl Organics. They have a Rose Facial Polish made from milled brown rice, crushed rose petals, and dried essential oils in powder form and mixes with your face cleanser, so you add exfoliating grit when you need it. Last, Little Barn Apothecary has a Honeysuckle + Grapefruit Body Oil that has a real cult following.
What are some of your favorite local places, and what do you love most about them?
For local businesses, I like The Pink Pear, which has a phenomenal selection of housewares, clothing, jewelry, and other unique items. I can always find something there, especially if I’m searching for a gift. If I’m looking for clothes for myself or my girls, I head to Stitch. The owner, Caitlin, has exquisite taste, and all the clothes she sells are pretty and wearable for everyday and special occasion. If you have a tween, Sugar Rush is nirvana—it’s an adorable candy store with amazingly yummy treats and fun toys. When I’m with my family, we take a lot of hikes together, especially now that we’re all at home together. We love the trails at Loantaka and Jockey Hollow these days, which are close and have dedicated walking or biking paths.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for an NJMOMpreneur just starting?
Don’t be afraid and find the thing that will make you feel brave. For me, it was uprooting my life and moving to India. Doing that made me more daring—and after having gone through that, I knew I could do anything.