Meet Vinzar, co-founder and the new sole owner of Clean Beauty Lab, a vegan salon and hair care line dedicated to the NYC clean beauty movement. Located at 210 Fifth Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets, the salon will celebrate its 12th year this month in the Flatiron District.
1. Tell us more about Clean Beauty Lab, your clientele, and what aspect of the job excites you the most?
Clean Beauty Lab is unique in the hair category in NYC, a hair salon that uses the highest quality ingredients in the beauty arena while avoiding the major chemicals known to cause health hazards such as ammonia, PPDs, and synthetic pigments and dyes. We started playing with the idea of opening a nontoxic salon studio about 15 years ago. Back then, the trend word was organic.
Given the nature of our business, over the years our clientele has become more and more specific. We cater to women who are overall becoming more conscious about what they put in and on their bodies. As of now, our clientele is segmented and I would say the major categories are women who are intending to become pregnant, women who are already pregnant, people who are highly sensitive to chemicals or present an allergy to specific ingredients in traditional hair products, and those who have had a history of cancer and have changed dramatically their choices. It’s a modern-day woman who cares for herself and her family.
My job is to be mostly an artist, but also I see myself as part chemist, part scientist, part therapist, part healer. It’s a beautiful experience, to be able to cater to our clientele whose continued trust in us forges the exciting future of the clean beauty world at large. Leading the clean beauty movement in this category is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously. For instance, before any service a patch test is done, to make sure highly sensitive clients won’t have a reaction to the color application. For pregnant women, she feels confident and at peace because she knows she’s making the best choice for her and for the new human on the way! Therefore, I feel very blessed and very honored to be able to provide that peace of mind during such an important stage in life!
2. Clean Beauty Lab is dedicated to a nontoxic, nature-based approach to hair care. Where does your business philosophy’s inspiration and commitment to clean beauty come from?
When I met Mauricio Artunduaga, the original mind behind the concept, he was set on the idea of wanting to work in an environment where his health wasn’t compromised. He had already been making changes to his overall health, but the salons where he worked were using the conventional products we knew up until then. I remember when we went out on our second date, he had a book and the cover title was “How to Open Your Own Business.” I asked, ‘What kind of business would you like to open?’ He said, ‘I want to open the first nontoxic hair salon in NYC. Mauricio was already a well-established artist known in the Flatiron area. I had just finished cosmetology school. However, I’d worked in the restaurant industry for about 7 years and had great savings and so did he. So when he proposed, I said, ‘I believe in you, let’s make it happen!’
Back then, there were no clean brands, better yet, clean wasn’t even a category in America, but through research he found out about clean, sustainable, vegan, and most importantly, nontoxic brands in Australia and the UK. For about two years, we put our forces together, visualizing, conceptualizing, and figuring out the details of the kind of business we wanted to open. Originally, we almost signed a lease in the SoHo area, which looked attractive at the time. However, Mauricio had already built a name in the Flatiron area and life magically gave us the break. While walking around in front of Madison Square Park, he saw a ‘For Lease’ sign, called, and the rest is history. We signed our lease at 210 Fifth Avenue in October 2010, worked on the interior design of the space from November to December, and opened doors for the first time on January 17, 2011. We’ve been in the same space ever since.
3. What hair colors and styles are trending among customers now? What are your personal favorites?
To be completely honest, we don’t follow trends. Every single head is different. We are hair designers. Each head of hair inspires something absolutely different. We do fantastic blondes, bronze, rich brunettes, intense reds, lots of highlights, and balayage is huge for us. All the colors are accomplishable with nontoxic brands and most importantly 100% gray coverage is doable. Our trend is healthy hair, no matter what your texture, color, or style.
4. Before arriving in NYC, you lived in the Dominican Republic. You also earned a graduate degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. What inspired you to pursue the hair care industry and entrepreneurship?
As a child, I always did hair. I would do my grandma’s, my mom’s. I remember my mom would go to the salon if she had an event. I would get up in a chair and investigate how the updo was put together. I would then recreate it for her, an improved version. People around would compliment and asked who did her hair, but it was a secret as a young boy was not supposed to be playing with hair. As I got older, my aunt would let me come into her room and she’d say, ‘Come, you can do my hair. Close the blinds, shut the windows so the neighbors won’t see.’
As a teenager, I was shying away from my true talents and as I graduated high school, I decided to go for the next thing I was good at, my academics. I came to NYC right after high school and needed to attend a community college to be able to become more proficient in the language. During that process, I was accepted to a very competitive dental hygiene program in an effort to someday go to dentistry school. Given my GPA, as I was chosen to this program, I was also awarded a scholarship to go to NYU. In that moment, I needed to make one of the most important choices in my life. Do I stay in this premed dentistry path, or do I choose the scholarship? I chose the scholarship, but little did I know there were limitations, so I couldn’t choose whatever career path I decided. I needed to stay within their constraints.
I ended up choosing nutrition science because it was the closest to what I had studied up until then and it was one of their offerings. I had fun in the process and it was natural for me to be interested in science. After all, I didn’t make it to medical school or dentistry school, but NYU gave me the chance to come back to do my master’s degree in clinical nutrition, which nowadays is key and very much aligned with our concept of clean living! Everything happens for a reason!
I am grateful for the journey and most importantly so incredibly in awe myself of how life will always have a plan in store for all of us. How could I have ever known that the little boy who was shamed for playing with hair at a young age would now be leading such a powerful movement because clean beauty, clean living, and clean products are here to stay! Keep on dreaming!
5. For those aspiring to own their own business, what professional advice can you share?
I’d say the most important thing to know is that we all need help. When we are young with new bright ideas, we sometimes think we can just run the world, but the truth is that it is almost impossible to move forward in a vacuum. You need support from family, friends, colleagues, etc. Also, it is important to keep true to your story. We have always been about clean beauty and we forever will. Consistency in the story is key because even your algorithm will showcase better as your clients are looking for what makes you unique and specific.
6. When you’re taking a break from the salon, how do you like to spend your time in Flatiron and NoMad? What do you love most about these vibrant communities?
I am very grateful for where we are located. The salon is so convenient for everyone coming from all different geographic points of the city. Also, we are on the top floor at 210 Fifth Avenue and our view is terrific! So grateful for it.
When I am not in the studio, I still find myself coming to the neighborhood. This is my second home. I love having a cocktail at the Edition Hotel–their Penicillin cocktails are the bomb! I love the food at Bazár, their octopus salad is delicious. I am a true lover of iconic ‘hole in the wall’ kind of places. For instance, Great Burrito on 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue has the best tacos! It’s a family-owned business and I love that their recipes are authentically Mexican. Another great Latin restaurant is Latin American on 26th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. It’s a Dominican restaurant and it is also family run. I always order the classic moro and baked ribs with sweet plantains and avocado! So delicious!
7. Finally, choose three words to describe Flatiron and NoMad.