Being Mama: Tara Foley
The clean-beauty champion and Follain founder talks potty training, faking a good night’s sleep and raising millions for her business while sporting a bump.
A little over three years ago, in the bathroom of one of her Boston-based Follain stores, Tara Foley took a pregnancy test, snapped a picture of the result and headed out to meet her husband for dinner. “I drank mocktails the entire dinner,” she says, while husband James was none the wiser. At the end of the meal, Tara showed him the picture. “He jumped up and down and screamed in the middle of the restaurant – it was pretty funny! I’m surprised I was able to keep the secret the entire dinner. We were both so happy.”
Following her sneaky reveal, Tara did what any modern expectant mother would do. “I Googled it all. I really drove myself crazy! And probably drove my midwife crazy too, emailing her nonstop with questions.” Professionally, she worried that people might not take her as seriously, “and I likely overcompensated with Follain meetings and my workload. I was fundraising at the time, and my giant belly definitely led to a lot of shocked looks in investor boardrooms!”
Bump in tow, Tara raised no less than $3 million for Follain, the clean-beauty company she founded in 2013, marking the culmination of quite the dramatic career pivot.
In 2009, Tara was working in a New York City law firm and preparing to enter law school. She tempered the long, hard hours of this legal path by taking excellent care of herself – by way of vigorous exercise and organic home-cooking – but was alarmed to discover the nasty chemicals she was unwittingly slathering on her skin. So much so that she started a blog, where she shared her research into the largely unregulated beauty industry, and shed light on the (at that point in time, barely heard of) clean-beauty space.
“I really wanted to help women find the best healthy and high-performing beauty for their skin needs,” she says. “I personally only wanted to use beauty products with safe, nourishing ingredients, and I also really wanted products that were just as beautiful – if not more so – than those I had grown up loving.”
After two years of blogging, Tara quit the law firm and hot-heeled to an organic lavender farm in France, where she would spend four months learning on the land before entering an MBA program at Babson College. She graduated in May 2013, two months before opening the first of six (and counting) Follain stores – a non-toxic skincare and makeup destination fast becoming the Sephora of clean beauty.
Today, Tara helms this burgeoning empire while bringing up Henry, now two and a half, and six-month-old Annabel. “I actually wasn’t always sure I wanted to become a mother,” she says. “I did know that I wanted to have a career and I also knew that the balance would be difficult. But after being with my husband – also my biggest supporter and best friend – for so many years, we just felt like something was missing and made the decision to start a family after Follain was already off the ground.”
In the midst of making millions for her business (“I think we ended up with the right investor who appreciated the fact that I was becoming a mom”), Tara was planning a natural birth. But then came a routine check-up three days before Henry’s due date.
“The midwife discovered that he was breech and very low down. After many attempts at turning him and many, many tears shed that I wasn’t getting the experience I had hoped for, we ended up deciding to go for a C-section. Despite how much planning you put into it all, babies are always in charge and I’m beyond grateful the doctors were able to deliver Henry safely.”
On discovering she was pregnant a second time, Tara was the one to jump up and scream. “We weren’t trying for her and she totally took me by surprise. I knew I had four store openings coming up in 2018 and was hoping to not get pregnant until after those happened. Well, Annabel nudged her way in and that plan went right out the window!”
Tara’s second pregnancy was less emotionally frenzied – up until Annabel outstayed her due date. “I began walking 10 plus miles per day, eating the spiciest foods, getting daily acupuncture and drinking gallons of raspberry leaf tea!” She was desperate to experience the natural childbirth she didn’t get the first time around… “and boy did I ever end up getting it. Once Annabel finally arrived, 10 days late, my labor was extremely short and she was born minutes after I arrived at the hospital, before I could even be seen by any doctors at all. It was wild!”
Two is tough, as any seasoned parent will tell you, and Tara is currently struggling to master potty training (Henry) and sleep training (Annabel) in tandem. “I’ve done the sleep training thing before, so I’m more confident with it, but potty training is new and a hard milestone. The worst is when they’re both crying and inconsolable at the same time – but, of course, the best is when they’re smiling at each other and playing together. Watching those happy interactions makes it ALL worthwhile.”
Especially during the potty training.
“I might be having a great day personally and professionally, until I get a message from a teacher that there’s been another accident at school… maybe two! Despite all the hard work and love we pour into it, we can never ever quite get any step of this parenting thing down perfectly and are always surprised by what will be the hardest.”
A nanny, who Tara and James “consider to be an extension of our family”, keeps things ticking over at home, while back on the work front, Tara’s advice on the tricky (and, let’s face it, sticky) matter of breastfeeding on the fly is, simply, “OWN IT!”
“After Henry, I was taking the train between Boston and New York a lot. I would pump in the train bathroom – likely one of the most disgusting re-occurring experiences of my entire life! Now, since having Annabel, I just throw on a nursing cover and pump in my seat on trains, planes, and other public spaces. I know I should get one of those Willowpumps so I don’t even have to cover up, but I just haven’t gotten around to it and, quite frankly, now I’m much more confident about it all and that confidence feels great. Especially when you’re the only woman on a train packed with businessmen! It’s like… whatever you can do, I can do PUMPING!”
Pre-children, Tara was a self-professed gym junkie (“I honestly can’t even believe how much more exercise and self-care I worked in before I had kids), and while her workout regimen has been whittled down to daily short walks, stretching, meditation, and the occasional longer workout (“Like most things now, it’s all about ruthless prioritization – and my kids and husband always come first”) her beauty routine has endured.
“That one I refused to pare back on! I still use my evening skincare routine as serious self-care, and include just as many steps: double-cleanse, toner, oil or balm moisturizer, serums, eye products, jade rolling and facial massage… the works!” Beyond her skincare, however, Tara’s learned to let things slide – and fake a good night’s sleep with a few Follain favorites (“RMS ‘Un’ Cover-Up, Living Luminizer, and Buriti Bronzer, over a great eye gel like Indie Lee’s. They all help provide a nice glow.”)
Has she been able to apply her all-natural, squeaky-clean philosophy to parenthood? Yes – to a point. “In an attempt to help maintain their microbiome [the trillions of bacteria and fungi that live in your gastrointestinal tract], I didn’t really use any soap on my children – even gentle and safe ones – until they were at least a few months old. I’m pretty strict about all their products and food, as you could expect, but where I’ve been struggling is with toys. We’ve received all these great presents and hand-me-downs and I look at them filled with guilt about all the plastic and materials. I’m trying to be easier on myself with this!”
Perhaps Tara owes this more forgiving outlook to a thrilling discovery she’s made – that work-life balance is, in fact, a myth.
“I actually heard this for the first time from a mentor of mine – another female CEO, who is much further along in her career and works in a cutthroat, male-dominated industry, but has managed to build a solid family life. The moment I got pregnant with Henry, she told me about this little secret, that there is no such thing as balance – and not to try and achieve it. This didn’t mean very much to me at the time, but now I think about that daily and try to pass it along to other women as much as possible!”