Just like Rent the Runway’s founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices that prove you can create your runway anywhere.
It all started with… margaritas.
Why can’t a girl get a top-notch manicure and pedicure without having to fork over a whole paycheck? Last year, Lauren Dunne asked her mother that same question while sipping margaritas. At that time, Lauren was knee-deep in a wedding planning career, but was becoming disenchanted and looking for a new venture. So she decided to join her mother and co-founded Varnish Lane, an affordable and luxurious salon. To differentiate their business, the duo adopted the most sanitary concept around: Varnish Lane’s treatments are entirely waterless, which prevents nasty infections and saves a ton of water. Lauren walked us — and her dogs — around her neighborhood and shared what it’s like to be a boss.
Dress (top image), 10 Crosby Derek Lam; Dress, ERIN erin fetherston
You went from the busy world of wedding planning to the always-crazy world of entrepreneurship. Tell us about that decision.
I had a feeling that maybe I needed more structure, like a nine-to-five job. I started interviewing and realized that sitting at a desk wasn’t the most productive use of my skills. Even though I loved wedding planning and it taught me many of the skills that I have today, when my mom and I came up with the idea for the salon and I realized I had a chance to create my own business... it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
What were the early days like? Did people need convincing that Varnish Lane wasn’t just another salon?
We worked out of my parents’ place for about a year. Our littlest dog sat at our desk every single hour when we were there. And with the type of business we own, it was nearly impossible to explain the safety and cleanliness concept to a bunch of men. They just don’t get it the way women do. Thankfully today, they can meet us at the salon and they have a better understanding.
Bag, Loeffler Randall
What’s the vibe like at the salon?
We wanted it to feel like you walked into someone’s living room, but sophisticated and chic at the same time. And we dress according to that, too. I'm not a pencil skirt and button down kind of girl. I don’t get “dressed up,” but I do feel most like myself with red nails. My grandma had her nails painted red every single day of her life.
It truly sounds like a family-owned, family-inspired business. How is it working side-by-side with your mom?
If we’re not careful, my mom and I will only talk about Varnish Lane. I have to remind her sometimes and say, “Let’s talk about this later — we need to have our family time.” When you’re working with family and close friends, you have to make sure you take time to focus on each other and not just the business.
I’ve never had a moment where I wished we weren’t doing this. My mom and I were so gung-ho that I don’t think anything was going to stop us either.
Do you have rough days?
My mom and I laugh sometimes and ask, “What did we get ourselves into?!” There’s literally a roadblock every single day. But I’ve learned that the salon won’t shut down in a matter of minutes. So if something feels upsetting, I take a deep breath, put on some meditation music and give myself time to process. If you get dramatic quickly, it just makes the situation worse. Chugging wine helps, too.
What do you find most rewarding?
I have met and worked with the coolest women through the salon. Because we’re waterless and our products are 100% chemical-free, we’ve developed trust, too. The fact that these women who I admire can relax and enjoy themselves — that’s very fulfilling for me.”
I was drawn to weddings because I love being social. Now, I get to meet new people and reconnect with old friends every day in an environment I built. That is really special and I genuinely love it.
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