A Northern Liberties boutique dedicated entirely to skincare and fragrances from companies founded by women has gotten some national attention as one of five winners from across the U.S. of a $10,000 grant designed to amplify and celebrate Black-owned, women-owned businesses.
“In a climate like COVID-19, a lot of the money has gone to staying open,” said Morrisa Jenkins, co-owner of Freedom Apothecary, “whether that’s paying salaries or rent and utilities, or keeping our inventory stocked so that we can continue to have our web shop open and accessible.”
Recipients of the grant, sponsored by the wine company Barefoot and the New Voices Foundation, also receive mentorship and business coaching through New Voices.
Following its opening in the summer of 2019, Freedom Apothecary had quickly become a popular destination for skincare and beauty enthusiasts. The boutique’s treasure trove of toxin-free serums, cleansers, fragrances, and elixirs includes products from their own house brand.
Since March the owners have pivoted to curbside pickups and shipping only. In-person experiences that had been a major draw — including facials and a blend bar for creating custom scrubs, butters, and oils — aren’t available at the moment because of coronavirus restrictions.
But their online presence has expanded. Before the pandemic, “We weren’t planning on having an e-commerce aspect [to the business model], other than our in-house line of products,” said co-owner Bonkosi Horn. “We went from having five products to having 211 products available” online.
Jenkins, a licensed aesthetician, had been selling a line of handmade products, Meaux Moisture, for years before deciding to open a brick-and-mortar space. She met Horn in 2014 while walking through the Gayborhood, shortly after she moved to Philadelphia from New Orleans. “She was a stranger, but she stood out,” Jenkins said. “I was like who is this beautiful woman with this lavender hair?”
Both women are 35 years old, and both are mothers. Jenkins has two children and Horn has three.
When Jenkins looked to expand Meaux Moisture into a physical retail space in 2018, she reached out to Horn, who has a background in brand development and who owns Stripp’d Juice in Old City with her husband.
A vacant space at the corner of North Second and Brown that Jenkins had long admired as she ran errands in Northern Liberties had become available.
“For a long time, it was just abandoned,” Jenkins said. “So the minute I saw someone looking like they were about to do anything with it, I was calling people and getting numbers. I just felt like this was the space. And it worked out.” It took the duo a year to officially open.
While customers can’t shop there now in person, the view from the store windows is spa-like and calming.
On natural-wood shelves with metal accents, boxes of cleansers by Noto Botancis ($38) and bottles of a carrot seed facial serum by Berlin Skin ($74) are merchandised in perfectly straight lines like soldiers. The wall behind the cash register is covered in dried tree moss. The owners say their top sellers are the house brand’s Green Tea Body Butter, Gleaux Body Balm, and Rose Face Oil, which are $35 each and made by Jenkins.
Horn lives in Fishtown and works in the store several times a week. Jenkins has moved back to New Orleans and manages the boutique’s logistics from there. She said she hopes to open a second location there. “It’s been a healthy challenge, being away. But we’re managing,” Jenkins said.
Among other things, Freedom’s mission is to “create a platform for women [entrepreneurs] to know that their products are valued and can be successful,” Horn said. “We’ve had people come in and say, ‘All of these brands are women-founded?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ You just have to do the work to find them.”