Barbara Close

Coronavirus is fundamentally changing the way consumers view wellness, according to Barbara Close, founder of Naturopathica.

There is more of a focus on “well-care,” Close said, especially among those who feel failed by the health-care, scientific and political communities since the onset of the pandemic.

“What I see now is a great interest in complementary medicine, in herbal medicine in particular. People are wanting to understand, ‘how can adaptogen herbs strengthen my immunity? By adding things like thyme or turmeric or oregano to my diet, how can I build up stamina? What kind of herbs or aromatherapy can help with stress?'” Close said.

“This sense of self-reliance, especially for younger consumers, is a big change in how COVID-19 has affected wellness,” she added.

In terms of beauty care, COVID-19 has meant the adoption of “a more considered approach,” Close said, where instead of prizing organic ingredient purity, consumers are looking for both botanicals and clean actives.

“The other thing that’s important to remember is that herbal medicine is still 85 percent of the world population’s primary form of health care. Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine,” Close said. “Pre-COVID-19, wellness had somewhat of an elitist image, whether it was unicorn lattes or looking for the latest superfood, and especially younger consumers are embracing this idea of wanting to understand how to use herbal medicine and wellness practices to really enrich their lives and to feel empowered and in control of their health rather than simply relying on experts.”

Close, who started Naturopathica with a small spa in East Hampton in 1995, was into wellness “way before it was cool,” noted Ellen Thomas, WWD’s mass market and wellness editor, who interviewed Close.

As an herbalist, aesthetician and massage therapist, Close knew when she started Naturopathica that she wanted to combine all of those things into one location where clients could get to the root cause of imbalances with ingredients that were safe for them and for the environment.

“We had teas and tinctures and salves and homeopathic remedies, and it was really a place where people could learn about traditional healing practices for everyday wellness,” Close said. When she looked into adding a skin-care line to the assortment, she decided to create her own.

Barbara Close speaking at the Beauty Inc. Wellness Summit.

Barbara Close speaking at the Beauty Inc. Wellness Summit.  Courtesy Photo

It was picked up by spas and professionals who liked the marriage of botanicals and clean active ingredients. “Back then, people saw clean or natural as not being effective,” Close noted.

But attitudes have changed, Close said, and Naturopathica continues to innovate and expand its physical footprint to reach new consumers. In the past five years, the brand opened up two more holistic health centers in New York — one in Chelsea, and one on Madison Avenue.

As those locations reopen, Naturopathica has started rethinking the spa strategy.

“The idea of spas being this escapist fantasy where we’re all going to sit in a relaxation room with a fluffy pillow and read magazines and listen to new-age music — it’s about reframing this wellness experience,” Close said. That means treating retail outposts as places for discovery, and showing consumers herbal remedies for ailments like aching necks or sleep troubles.

“Let’s show you how to use an arnica compress for your stiff neck, or an Indian head massage for your headache, or how about a passionflower tincture to help you sleep, or doing an oat milk bath to help with sensitized skin?” Close said. “Spas are in a very exciting place of being discovery enters. That can be virtually, or brick-and-mortar.”

It’s also about modernizing treatments. Younger consumers especially want things that show results and are fast, Close said. “They want to come in for a peel or an LED treatment and know they’re going to see real results,” Close said.

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