Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.
It was a tough spring for salons. Connecticut state law required them to close for three long months, forcing many into unemployment and devastating financial loss. But, for To And From owners Henri Helander and Jeanne Bloom, they weren’t going to let that happen. They were determined to keep paying employees in their Darien-based nail salon—something they were able to do successfully through sales of their popular nail emergency kits, online donations and a Paycheck Protection Program loan provided by the government.
“We didn’t have to lay off one single employee,” Helander says. “We pride ourselves on the fact that our girls make a living wage. Many of them have families to support so it was so important to us that they were taken care of during this time.”
Helander and Bloom also used their time in quarantine wisely—to push forward the development of their new skincare line they’re calling VESSL. The collection of completely non-toxic seaweed-based body care will launch this fall alongside the salt soak, which has been selling at the salon since late last year. Bloom says they will plan to use the products for all To And From services as well as wholesale them to retailers.
“We launched the salon with the idea that we would eventually have a product line that we could use in the salon and feel good about,” Helander says, who met Bloom years ago while attending fashion school in New York. He has a background working as a buyer with Barney’s New York and eventually a stylist.
Bloom grew up in Fairfield County and is a third-generation oyster farmer with her family’s East Norwalk-based business, Copps Island Oysters. Through that business, run by her father Norm Bloom, they’re one of the few licensed locally to grow and harvest kelp, a type of seaweed, in the Long Island Sound. Kelp farming is a relatively new industry that started in Connecticut only a few years ago. Helander and Bloom work closely with kelp farmer J.P. Vellotti who handles the harvesting once a year, in May and June. Kelp farmers in the Sound must go through a rigorous permitting process, but when done correctly, growing kelp in the Sound can be good for the waters and its sea life and remain safe for boaters and swimmers.
In farming the kelp, Helander said they learned that this particular type they’re growing is too delicate to sell to restaurants, but still provides all the benefits of seaweed, making it ideal to use in skincare. Bloom and Helander said they’re continuing to work with a research and development team in order to ensure that all ingredients in the products they produce for VESSL are completely clean and totally non-toxic.
“We already know there are so many amazing benefits in seaweed, which is another reason we wanted this to be the main component in our line,” Helander explained. “It has amazing antioxidant properties; it’s hydrating and has the ability to pull out redness in the skin. It’s anti-inflammatory, which is so much of what people are looking for in skincare.”
The collection will begin with the launch of a body lotion and soon after roll out into more of what they use regularly in services at the salon. You’ll eventually be able to find a body scrub, wash, hand sanitizer and body oil. Helander said he wants the collection to contain “your go-to” for body care and will be priced right, too. Most of the products will fall into the $35 to $40 range, with a body oil retailing a bit higher, at about $68.
Since they’re working with the ocean to retrieve ingredients, Helander said it’s extremely important to them to keep the packaging as clean as its contents.
“When building the line, we have been almost overly cautious,” he says. “Everything will come in glass bottles, no plastic. And, eventually we would like to be able to formulate the seaweed into plastic-like bottles as well.”
The skincare collection will follow the same strict guidelines that Bloom and Helander have instilled in the salon since day one. Just like the product line’s ingredients, they’ve invested in top-notch cleanliness of the salon in order to create a safe environment for employees and clients. This was true even before the pandemic hit our area.
“We are sticklers for making sure every single thing is cleaned and disinfected properly,” Helander explains. “The girls have always worn masks, they’ve always worn gloves. We wipe down each table with medical-grade cleaning supplies, pedicure bowls are completely disinfected after each use, which is why we use bowls, so we can dump, clean and disinfect the entire bowl.”
While the state of Connecticut is just beginning to require licensing for nail technicians, Helander said they personally require each of their technicians to attend licensing courses in New York, where they must take part in 250 hours of schooling. Helander and Bloom foot the bill at roughly $5,000 per person. He says it’s worth it for each employee to have the knowledge they need to keep everyone safe inside the salon.