Jenea Robinson doesn’t remember much from the day she opened the doors of her South Street boutique.
Considering in her previous role she spent years overseeing a large division of a massive city institution, it was the first time she pulled an all-nighter since college. A culmination of almost two years planning and a lifetime of dreaming, on Dec. 13, Robinson, 33, welcomed Philadelphia to Marsh + Mane, a place she’s calling a “true beauty supply experience for women of color.”
Robinson, left her corporate job as the director of public relations at VISIT Philadelphia after finding a need for women of color to have a home to celebrate and enjoy the beauty only one can feel from great looking hair. The result is her spacious 1,000 square ft. space on S. 4th St., nestled between South and Lombard.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve had as a creative,” said Robinson, sunk deep into one of two dark, green velvet chairs in the back of the store. “For anyone who’s creative, we live in our head. People don’t realize how much we live in our heads. So when something has been in your head for so long, and you’ve been visualizing and thinking and planning and pinning things on Pinterest boards and then to see it actually happening, it truly is the best feeling.”
What creativity inspired for Robinson was a room full of organic haircare and skin products with an inviting, airy feel. Additionally, many of the items are locally sourced, a point Robinson noted was equally as important as opening a store.
“There are beauty stores that have products catering to women like me, but what I’ve always felt was lacking is the experience that we have in these spaces,” said Robinson. “Why is it that we can have very high standards in other areas of our lives, like going to Whole Foods for a special shopping experience [or to] Anthropologie for a special shopping experience. But when it comes to hair care for black women, that experience is lacking.”
Understanding her clientele, Robinson is aware and sensitive to the negative past experiences many women of color have endured at other beauty shops.
“Women of color shouldn’t have to have a horrible customer experience, staff that’s not knowledgeable about the product or being followed around the store,” said Robinson. “I wanted to create the experience first and then shop for the products that would add to that.”
The store also features a selection of skin and beard care products for men and products for children too. Robinson noted that since opening the boutique, she has received a number of inquiries from parents of adopted Black and Brown children who are seeking advice on hair care. The need has been so in-demand from parents with non-biological children that she is working on the creation of tutorials and expert demonstrations.
“[This is] a place to ask questions and get what’s going to work for you. At the end of the day, if we can do that for the women that walk in here then all of this planning and preparation was completely worth it.”
– Jenea Robinson, owner, Marsh + Mane
Her location was in some ways by design.
“I think in many ways my location is a statement,” said Robinson. “A lot of times stores like this tend to go to other parts of the city where the clientele is, but I wanted to be centrally located. I looked at some up-and-coming neighborhoods and spoke with their business associations, but I never felt welcome.”
Even in a less conventional area for her store’s demographic, she knows the placement is the most appropriate for Marsh + Mane’s overall goal.
“From the very beginning, I felt our landlord understands our mission and my vision and has been extremely helpful in helping us get off the ground,” Robinson explained. “I couldn’t be happier with the decision to have my store here.”
In an era where products are available at the tap of a screen, Robinson remains steadfast that the experience is of greater importance than the product. It’s why going the analog route of opening a brick and mortar over an online marketplace was always in the cards. For her, Marsh + Mane is a meeting place, a gathering spot for those looking to express themselves, ask questions and leave feeling as though they’ve just purchased the best answer – for them.
“I know e-commerce is a great domain but [people] still want to touch and feel and see products beforehand,” said Robinson. “You can’t do that with a lot of these products. You have to take someone’s word for it who’s getting paid millions of dollars to promote it on Instagram or read a review of a product in an article. But the experience is going in the store and trying some of these products yourself. [This is] a place to ask questions and get what’s going to work for you. At the end of the day, if we can do that for the women that walk in here then all of this planning and preparation was completely worth it.”