Two Mothers Build A Skincare Business In Nashville: Clary Collection
Think of the most ancient forms of healing—a hunter-gatherer woman chewing herbs into a paste to create a poultice for her child, a clutch of dried flowers infusing a pot of medicinal oil on a windowsill. You can’t easily bottle that kind of history and magic, and you certainly can’t buy it at the corner drugstore. But you can find it in the products of Clary Collection.
Nashville entrepreneurs (and real-life best friends) Jen Auerbach and Adriel Denae are carrying on that centuries-old legacy of natural remedies and working to put the human touch back at the center of how we treat our bodies. But they’re doing it in the modern age, as women and mothers in an Instagram era that filters out our flaws and doesn’t always show the tender, painful parts of being ourselves. That’s what makes their product—and their partnership—so remarkable. Clary Collection gives you something as simple and curative as a best friend’s hand to hold in the midst of life’s weathering changes, delivered in a package that will make you feel as beautiful as that friend implores you to believe that you are.
Keep reading for our interview with Auerbach and Denae about their work, friendship and putting generations of compassion into a jar.
It seems like your friendship with one another is at the core of the Clary Collection’s brand. You’ve mentioned how close you are, and that Adriel was actually in the room when Jen gave birth to her son. Tell me the story of how you first met, realized your shared passion for healing skincare, and the moment you recognized that you could create something extraordinary together.
Jen Auerbach: Adriel and I first met when she came to my house to play poker, heavily pregnant. I had just moved to Nashville and my [then-boyfriend, now] husband, Dan, lied and said he could play poker to impress me. Of course, he won anyway.
The night Adriel walked in was like an instant connection. She walked in a stranger and left my new best friend. We talked about pregnancy and how isolating and petrifying it could be. We talked about all the things you start thinking about when you’re thrown into the world of being a mother for the first time.
Not long after Adriel had Rhodes, I found myself pregnant, too! I will forever treasure the memory of Adriel holding my hand during my 22-hour-long birth. She never left the room; It was the first night she had ever been away from her own baby, and she slept on the floor, in the corner. Adriel was present for the most incredible experience of any woman’s life, and she has been the pillar of constant support throughout the building of Clary.
Adriel Denae: Meeting Jen was like an answer to a soul-longing. I was preparing to birth my first child and facing a massive life-shift away from life as a constantly touring musician, and I was in deep need of relationships and ideas I could root to. After Rhodes was born, Jen came to my apartment almost every day and popped in like a burst of light and love. I had a very difficult recovery, and she laid next to me in my bed and brought flowers and kindness, and we stared at my son together. It was a very profound connection that helped me anchor to my new life.
A few months later, as we sat on my balcony trying a first batch of home-made balm, she got a wild spark in her eyes and proclaimed that we should start a business and figure out how to take care of our family’s skin ourselves and share what we found with others. That was the beginning of a wonderful adventure of discovery and friendship that I have loved ever since. It has been a common thread woven through our individual experiences and the roads our lives have pulled us down.
AM: You two also seem to have some other things in common besides skincare: You both have backgrounds in nonprofits—Jen with the Small Steps Foundation in your native England; Adriel with the arts center, The Refuge, that you founded on a former monastery in Wisconsin. And you both are part of musical marriages—Adriel’s also a singer who collaborates with her partner, Cory Chisel, and Jen’s married to Dan Auerbach, who fronts The Black Keys. How do your other passions influence your work with the Clary Collection?
JA: Well, the only thing we don’t have in common is the singing ability. Is this where I can plug Adriel and Cory’s new record that just came out, “Tell Me True?”, because it’s beautiful. And this is where I will plug that I am really good at karaoke.
I think I can speak for both Adriel and I when I say that we both have a strong passion to give back and share something special. From the age of 19, I spent time in India, Cambodia and East Timor on aid-delivery missions. I’ve seen how impoverished this world is and how cruel it can be. We are so fortunate to have resources that many don’t. We owe it to ourselves and our environment to responsibly use what the planet has given us, like as plants—and not chemicals.
AD: I think my life in music and my work in helping to create opportunities for artists ties in deeply with Clary. I believe that we are interconnected and interdependent on every other facet of life around us, whether we are conscious of that or not. We depend on each other just as we depend on the health of our planet to sustain us physically and spiritually. Jen produces the bulk of our product in her barn in Nashville, and I produce a small amount at The Refuge in Wisconsin, where I share it with artists who are unplugging for a season to work on their passion projects. We also give away portions of what we make to people in need and enjoy partnering with community organizations who are providing sanctuary to refugees and those affected by homelessness and domestic abuse.
AM: Tell me a little bit about the process of how Clary products are made. It sounds like you’ve done a ton of research into things like the ancient historical traditions of oil infusion and gotten a little witchy in the kitchen as you developed your line. Tell me more about who you are and what you do as makers.
JA: Firstly our name, Clary Collection, came from our love of Clary Sage, a plant we researched when studying herbalism publications. Clary Sage gets its name from the Latin word “clarus,” which means “clear.” It was referred to as “clear eyes” during the Middle Ages and was used to dislodge irritants in the eye. Clary Sage is also traditionally used to bring a sense of calm and clarity, and that’s exactly what we want our Clary Collection products to do. We use only six ingredients in our Clary balm, and each one serves a medicinal purpose and can be used for multiple skin issues, such as diaper rash, bug bites, psoriasis, eczema, dry lips, chapped hands, healing tattoos and even a makeup primer. It’s important to us to be simple, but also effective.
AD: When I was five months pregnant, I spent a week with my grandmother, sitting beside her while she passed. I remember reading the labels on the backs of the skin products in the hospital and feeling deeply unsettled by them and running to the local market to find something more pure and gentle. This past spring, my other Grandma began her journey onward, and I was grateful to have my balm and oil to rub her arms and legs with and enjoyed sharing it with the hospice nurses whose hands were constantly dry and chapped.
We set out to develop something that could be used by all ages, and I think we’ve succeeded. We don’t put anything into our products that we wouldn’t put on our own family’s skin. There are no artificial or synthetic ingredients. Only sustainably harvested flowers, herbs, cold-pressed, unrefined oil and beeswax—things that have been cultivated and used for many, many generations and still work beautifully today.
AM: It seems like you’re truly interested in your customers as whole people, and particularly, as women; you blog about their birth stories, you post radically honest details about your own babies and your own bodies on Instagram, and you don’t shy away from the raw and tender parts of taking care of a family that we don’t always get to see in the beauty industry. Can you say a little bit about why you’ve decided to be so open in how you tell the Clary Collection story?
JA: Listen, Instagram is not real life. As a new mother, I made the epic fail of scrolling through Instagram and Facebook at two in the morning while breastfeeding after seven consecutive nights of no sleep. You see this perfect mother, this woman in the workplace, families on perfect holiday getaways. We all post our best pictures and our best self. I am guilty of it, probably. But keeping it real is important to us. We want to express that it’s ok to struggle, cry in the shower, have trouble breastfeeding and be covered in stretch marks and leftover lunch. Clary is for everyone.
AD: Vulnerability is one of those things that we all are in such need of, but can be so challenging to cultivate because it requires trust and authenticity. Social media can be an oppressive space for this, or it can be a nurturing space. I think it depends on what you tune in to and just as in other places, one has to be intentional to find what one needs. I hope that Clary continues to grow into an idea where perfection is not the standard we reach for, but rather that we strive for acceptance and compassion for ourselves, our bodies, each other and the planet we share. As individuals, we are learning more about this each day and doing our best to steer our brand in a similar direction, celebrating self-care and love.
AM: Most natural beauty brands are focused on the negative: the elimination of toxins and chemicals, the distillation down to pure ingredients. I get the sense that Clary Collection is a little different. What’s something positive you hope Clary can put out into the world?
JA: We are proud of every Clary product and the process of how it leaves our hands and ends up in yours. I could write an entire book on every household toxin and how damaging other products can be, but instead we find it far more proactive to use Clary as a forum for education. For example, sharing why we use chamomile and its healing properties. Chamomile offers numerous health-boosting benefits. With its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, it helps to ease skin irritation due to eczema, acne, allergic reactions and even wounds that are slow to heal. We want want we make to be simple and effective.
AD: Three years ago, we started a journey of discovering the magic of flowers and plants, and it changed our lives. There is no end to the incredible healing that nature offers us, and we find it completely exhilarating to learn about. We could discuss the negatives of toxins for a long time, but it will take our lifetimes to scratch the surface of the beauty of the natural world. We hope that Clary spreads a bit of this wonder with others and that we are an encouragement in the direction of respecting our planet and caring for each other.
AM: You’re in the midst of launching a new production space. Can you tell me a bit about that, and about what’s next for Clary, more generally?
JA: I am sure my husband would love to share his view of our new Clary Barn. Ha! The new space used to house his second family: his vintage motorbikes. Now we’ve turned his man cave into our new production facility. It’s a huge barn at the end of my garden which has given Clary the space to grow that it’s been demanding. We are super excited to now have the space to step up production; we just launched in Hong Kong and Singapore, so we needed it!
AD: Jen has created a paradise of a space for Clary to expand, and it is so beautiful and functional. It will allow us to say yes to more opportunities and fulfill more orders. We are excited to be expanding into more retail locations nationally and internationally in the second year of our business, and we look forward to releasing new products as well. Most importantly, we are committed to excellence in what we develop and create while growing our business into more sustainable abundance and nurturing our relationships with our customers and retail partners. After all, friendship is at the heart of who we are and what we do.