Coming clean with Shama Patel
The founder of one of the fastest-growing facial franchises gives the low-down on a debt-free business model and what every female entrepreneur should know
Shama Patel seemed to have everything a beautiful and educated woman of the world could want—a law degree and a successful aerial fitness franchise. Sure, she had skin issues, but she wasn’t complaining. There was just a skin care pet peeve that she could not overcome; she detested skin care labels and their lack of transparency and the fussy spa experiences that did little to correct her skin concerns.
So what was a smart, successful, talented and very forward-thinking woman to do? After all, if she had these issues, then so must a lot of women. As an artist accustomed to looking at subjects from every angle and possibility, Patel amalgamated her business and artistic acumens to create a concept that would free people of the clutter of the spa in favour of a skin-first experience that is not only efficacious, but affordable and obtainable.
Clean Your Dirty Face started with one store in Chicago to over 20 nationwide and growing. The concept: a standard 30-minute facial with upgrade options to address a client’s skin concerns minus the pretentious trappings of expensive spas. Bright colours replaced zen Buddha statues and mandalas. Street clothes stay on, so no need for locker-room facilities. A bespoke line of botanical skin care with easy-to-understand labels for both back bar and purchase, to eliminate a paradox of choice or confusion for the customer.
In this interview, Patel speaks candidly about her working “backward” mindset, why you should take improv classes, and how she created a debt-free business model to inspire women to become entrepreneurs and follow their hearts and dreams.
Lucire Rouge: You’re an artist. How did you fuse the creative and business aspects of yourself?
Shama Patel: I think that creating a business from scratch is art, so I treat it like a painting. Specifically, I visualize what I want to achieve with the business and then work backward. I know that some artists like to begin creating and see where it takes them and I think that’s great, but it’s not my process. I like to know what the end product will be and then work backward to achieve it. Like art, the journey to that goal won’t always be as you expected, but as long as you’re flexible and open-minded, it usually turns out as planned.
How did you come up with the CYDF vivid colour scheme?
I’m the CYDF creative director, too. I have many artists that I enlist to help me with specific projects, but I think it’s fun to launch a new product, service, marketing campaign, basically anything that gets my creative juices flowing. It’s an easy thing to do at Clean Your Dirty Face, where the colours are hot pink and yellow, the copy is crazy, and the artwork fun. The specific yellow that I selected is an energetic colour that also evokes feelings of warmth and joy.
As both an attorney and artist, the facial business was a big leap for you.
I sold my fitness company earlier this year. It was a boutique aerial fitness company that I had founded in 2011, four years before starting Clean Your Dirty Face in 2015, so I understood the health–wellness space and its consumers. CYDF was a natural next step for me, and I ended up incorporating so many aspects of yoga into the actual facial process including our signature five-point acupressure face massage, and product names like Savasana Stress Fix for our eucalyptus toner.
What was your prior experience with beauty and æsthetics?
I did not have any prior æsthetic experience before starting CYDF. Like most entrepreneurs, I started my business as a frustrated consumer. I’m always perplexed when I see industries over-complicating really simple things. In this case, skin care. I had experienced breakouts my entire life and I knew there was a simpler, more approachable way to get the information that I needed rather than paying for a long facial in an intimidating spa, or from the oral medication that my dermatologist always prescribed to me. I wanted more people to benefit from easy that produced real results. Ten years prior, on my first day of law school we were taught that ineffective, obsolete lawyers use legal jargon to confuse clients, but that effective, modern attorneys simplify concepts to effectively communicate to the layperson. My training in law school refined my perspective on the need to simplify and be an effective communicator.
How is CYDF different from any other æsthetic franchise?
While Clean Your Dirty Face is a facial bar franchise, we are very different. My goal is to deliver results. Once I know the goal, I can ask myself a series of follow-up questions to figure out the small tasks that I must accomplish in order to achieve that big goal. For example: how do you get results? You have to do something consistently.
How do you get a client to do something consistently?
You break it down to its basics, and deliver it in approachable baby steps. In other words, 30-minute facials twice per month at an affordable price, with a two-step at-home skin care routine. From there, you can build up. We are the only facial bar company with our own skin care line that we’ve formulated ourselves. We have not private-labelled our skin care products. When we opened in 2015, the concept of clean beauty did not exist. As someone who was hyper-focused on health–wellness, it was important for me to read (and understand) the ingredients in my products. What the market-place offered was either a big brand with questionable ingredients, or “natural” and made in someone’s kitchen with no testing or credibility. Furthermore, not a single clean skin care company produced back bar sizes for facial service use. So, I worked to develop a skin care line that was anchored by basic food ingredients such as lemon, rose, super berries, charcoal and matcha green tea.
Are CYDF æstheticians as well trained as those in upscale spas?
Our focus on training is unmatched. In any service-based industry, in order to be successful, you must focus on the person who has direct client contact. In our case, that’s our skin boss. So, we host training, retraining, Zoom rallies, and so much more. Our training is not on process or product ingredients, they’re communication training. In other words, we train our skin bosses how to be effective communicators for their clients.
Tell us about the no debt business model.
I started my first Clean Your Dirty Face as a pop-up shop to test the idea. I don’t think I spent more than $10,000 on that first shop. I didn’t know anything about æsthetics, but I figured it out. I am a forever student—I read, study, and constantly educate myself. If I don’t know something, I look it up to learn about it. Clean Your Dirty Face is an extension of me, and it’s my way of life. Specifically, these are the words that apply to my way of living, and CYDF alike: clean, grounded, simple, pragmatic, minimalist, thrives on routine, believes in the basics. I practise the fundamentals in every aspect of my life, including business. To date, I’ve raised zero capital, have no debt, and own 100 per cent of the company. My humble advice to entrepreneurs is to create something valuable, work incredibly hard, and be patient. Great companies aren’t built overnight and they need a proper foundation in order to last for a long time. This lesson is important for all entrepreneurs because it’s easy to lose sight of those fundamentals in today’s social media-driven, fast-paced world where there is a lot of smoke and mirrors.
How can this help more women become entrepreneurs?
This is especially important for female entrepreneurs—only two per cent of venture capital funding goes to female-led startups. I don’t think of this as a disadvantage, it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Our male counterparts sometimes raise capital to start businesses based on business plans, and while these ideas may sound good in theory, they haven’t been tested. When an entrepreneur is building a business with other people’s money, they will sometimes make decisions to satisfy their investors, and not necessarily on what’s good for the business. I believe that true entrepreneurial magic happens when you have your back against a wall, your own money, and no choice but to figure it out. That’s where real, groundbreaking ideas and execution actually happens.
Can you give an example of how you put this into practice while growing your business?
When I started CYDF in 2015, I already had another company. But I still worked the front desk of my first CYDF store for six months, seven days a week from open to close. So many nights, I remember walking home at midnight in the snow from my Chicago store to my apartment because I worked so late and thought it was a waste of my hard-earned money to spend it on an Uber during surge pricing. I did that because I wanted to develop a successful model, tweak it, watch customer patterns, and build the foundation for what would become a great company. If you’re a female entrepreneur, my suggestion is to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Do the work that your male counterparts who are raising capital won’t do. In the beginning, you may feel like you’re at a disadvantage, but later, you’ll realize that you’re leap years ahead of them. I want more females to start thoughtful businesses but not to take any shortcuts. More female-led businesses and more female leaders mean a healthier, wealthier, more egalitarian society.
So many people lack the confidence to start their own business, what advice can you give?
This advice is from one of my team members—take improv classes!! Improv helps build confidence that translates in every aspect of your life. For my advice, I’d say it’s vital to ask questions, be curious, and don’t worry about looking stupid. The quicker you can get comfortable with that, the more you’ll learn, the more you’ll do.
For more information visit www.cleanyourdirtyface.com.