By Anna Kaplan
Photos courtesy of Milk + Honey
An Austin spa spreads its message of clean beauty to Fort Worth.
Any time a buzzy brand enters the Fort Worth market before opening its doors in Dallas is cause for celebration.
When it’s a trailblazer such as Milk + Honey, it’s especially sweet.
The Austin-based clean-beauty company, established as one stand-alone spa in 2006, is slowly but surely expanding in Texas. With four locations in Austin, plus one in Houston’s tony River Oaks, M + H spa founder Alissa Bayer looked to former ranchland in Fort Worth for the 7, 800-square-foot spa, set to open in late March at The Shops at Clearfork.
Visiting the downtown Austin spa, we speak to Bayer over lunch. “[We realized] Fort Worth would benefit from an upscale salon and spa experience,” she says.
Bayer and her husband and partner, Shon, have made a significant investment in making Cowtown a destination for men and women — as far as beauty and wellness go — with the opening of the spa. In fact, the Clearfork location is larger than the Austin flagship, with 14 treatment rooms, eight salon chairs and four manicure and pedicure stations.
The space features the brand’s trademark modern, minimalist aesthetic, with pops of color in the lobby and retail area. Expect white oak accents and white walls in the “very intentional” space: “It’s soothing to your nervous system,” according to Bayer. “All of our locations, they evolve,” she says. “I want them to look more like siblings than identical twins.”
The mother of three young children has seen her company grow over the past 13 years, and she fondly recalls building her first spa in Austin using green construction practices. Bayer had moved to Austin in 2002 to attend the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.
After obtaining her MBA in 2004 — she wrote Milk + Honey’s business plan as part of her coursework — Bayer launched the brand. It was inspired by her own practice of clean eating in San Francisco, as well as her visits to the city’s famous Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
She says an encounter with Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher gave her the motivation to take the leap. And instead of relying on contract labor such as nail technicians and hairstylists, Bayer created a company where employees receive 401(k)s, paid time off and health care benefits.
While spa and beauty services are the mainstay of Milk + Honey, the company rolled out a line of products in 2013 (a limited selection is available at Neiman Marcus Clearfork and NorthPark, and the Colleyville Whole Foods).
All are made in a small-batch lab in Austin (they even partner with a local beekeeper to source honey); containers are filled by hand. Nearly all of them — from the muscle soak with eucalyptus, rosemary, sweet marjoram and arnica to the cardamom and vanilla lip butter to the lavender and eucalyptus home fragrance — are organic and nontoxic.
Bayer and her team constantly tweak ingredients so that their clean offerings work. “It used to be a compromise,” Bayer says of the notion that products without parabens and sulfites wouldn’t compare to their preservatives-laden brethren, “but not anymore.”
Witness the success of what Bayer calls the “gateway drug” of the clean beauty movement: aluminum-free deodorant. Milk + Honey offers three stick varieties as well as a cream version ($20).
Bayer, who has made frequent site visits to Fort Worth during the build-out, modestly shuns the idea that she’s a pioneer in the industry, even as she’s eyeing other states for expansion as we speak. (California, here she comes.)
“It’s just really important to find a brand you can trust,” she says with a wide smile.