I’m a Beauty Shop Owner (and Former Pastry Chef). This Is How We Eat.
Name: Diana Wang
Location: Columbus, Ohio
How many people eat together in your home? 3 (Diana; her husband, Scott; and her 3-year-old son, Griffin).
Avoidances: Griffin is dairy-intolerant.
Crushing it in any job is already hard enough, and somehow Diana Wang has managed to succeed in three different careers. In the course of a decade she went from working in fashion, to being a pastry chef, and then most recently opening Fine Feather, a popular clean beauty and wellness store in Columbus, Ohio. Although her resume has changed quite a bit, Diana sees these things as all being connected. “When I’m talking to customers about why they would want to choose one product over another, I always use certain food analogies,” she explains. “Product formulation is so similar to making something like a custard or Caesar dressing.”
I caught up with Diana to talk about how becoming a parent changed the way she sees personal care, her favorite clean beauty products (and how she defines “clean” beauty to begin with), and why her cooking habits have changed during the pandemic.
Before you opened Fine Feather, you worked as a pastry chef. Was that something you always wanted to do?
In 2011 I got burned out from the fashion career that I had in New York. I was really inspired by the food scene there at the time, so when I came back to Ohio, I wanted to open a bakery or café — but I had no experience in food. So I started by making a line of granola called Fare City Feed. I was selling it at a farmers market, and it eventually got picked up by a few independent grocers and I had some corporate clients. After one year, I used that as my resumé and started working in kitchens around Columbus.
What was your favorite thing to bake?
I really loved making kouign amann — it’s one of my favorite pastries. I’m also obsessed with pie crust — I love anything laminated. Biscuits, too. Anything with flaky layers is my jam.
How did working in pastry lead to you to opening a beauty and wellness store?
I am super passionate about our food system and what goes in our food. My household has been non-GMO for a long, long time. And five years ago I started to see a lot of connections between the quality of the food that I was eating at home versus the home products I was using. What you eat and what you use on your body — it’s all one and the same at the end of the day.
When I became pregnant with my son, I started to do a ton of research for baby stuff. When it came to trying to find mattresses and toys — even just learning about cotton and dyes — it was very eye-opening. Eventually I fell down a rabbit hole learning about personal care and I became extremely gung-ho about making sure that everything we had [didn’t include certain ingredients]. It was a slow process; when I ran out of something, I replaced it with something better. The more I learned, the more I got into it — and you can’t unlearn this stuff once you know.
I was so envious of people who lived in places that had these clean beauty stores, and I thought how great it would be to have one here in Columbus. Trying to shop for products online — even at these places like Credo and CAP Beauty — is very daunting. You kind of have to take a gamble when you’re purchasing things, and these products are not inexpensive.
How do you define clean beauty?
In Europe, they have banned around 1,400 ingredients from personal care products. There are 8,000 ingredients in use in personal care, so 1,400 is just a fraction. Places like The Detox Market and Follain have explanations for all these ingredients and what they are and what they do — including the banned ingredients. The body doesn’t digest a lot of these banned ingredients — they actually live in the body, things like heavy metals and certain preservatives. But while there are definitely ingredients that I won’t allow at Fine Feather, I’m also concerned with just overall quality.
Fine Feather has been around for a year-and-a-half now, and the majority of that time has been during a pandemic. What’s it like to operate a small business right now?
It’s been extremely stressful and challenging at times, but we’re not doing badly. Every day I feel super lucky that things are going the way they’re going. I have hustled so hard this year and I feel like it’s paid off, but I also really attribute it to the community of customers that I have here. The ones that shop with us, they are so intentional about patronizing us. From the very beginning, I committed to giving a service that people wouldn’t get elsewhere, and I feel like that has made the biggest difference.
How have you been taking care of yourself through it all?
I have been a pretty dedicated meditator for a while now — since long before the pandemic. And when my anxiety was at its worst last spring, I got myself this journal called The Five Minute Journal. It’s all about gratitude and you can do it in just a few minutes. That’s helped me a lot. I have never in my life stopped and been so mindfully grateful for everything.
What are your everyday beauty essentials?
My desert-island product is Living Libations Best Skin Ever Sandalwood; it’s an oil cleanser and moisturizer and it smells absolutely insane. I’ve been using it for years. I also really love Agent Nateur Holi(water); it’s a toner and essence and it makes your skin feel like silk. I also love their vitamin C powder. For sunscreen, I use Josh Rosebrook Day Cream — it’s the best daytime SPF super lightweight moisturizer ever invented. And at nighttime, I’m a big Vintner’s Daughter person — I toggle between that and the Holi(oil) serum from Agent Nateur.
I don’t wear a ton of makeup, but there a couple of things I love — the Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation, and Kjaer Weis cream blush. I use those every day no matter what.
Why do you think beauty and food are so connected for you?
It’s more than just the source of ingredients — it’s also about how products come together. When I was working in food, I was super into food science; I loved J. Kenji López-Alt and Stella Parks. I was a total nerd. I knew that mayonnaise comes from oil, egg yolks, and a little lemon juice — that made perfect sense to me.
There are a lot of things that I’m able to explain to customers at Fine Feather that were informed from working in food. When someone is looking for a moisturizer, for example, I’ll have them try a couple oils or a few lotions or creams and oftentimes we’ll get on the subject of why one would work better than another. I’ll tell them oil is really great because it has a small molecule size, which is why they penetrate your skin so well. But if you want to go with a lotion, an emulsifier — something that has brought together water and oil, two things that don’t mix — it contains an even smaller molecule size, which is why lotions and creams penetrate the skin so quickly. They’re also more hydrating.
Have your cooking habits changed in the past year?
The one thing that has changed significantly in my household is that my husband is cooking way more. We’ve been living together for 12 years, and for the first 11 years I did 95% of the cooking. I had an employee until April and since then it’s been just me — I’ve been pretty overwhelmed. A few months ago, I had a breakdown and I told my husband, “I have so much anxiety about what we are going to be eating for dinner.” He really stepped up and now we alternate nights cooking.
I feel like I have sort of lost my love for cooking a little bit in the past year. I used to make recipes with five sub-recipes and I never do that anymore. Now I’m more concerned that our meals are well-rounded. It’s more of a practical thing. We’ll make this kimchi fried rice recipe from Francis Lam on the New York Times. We’ll make a green salad one night and pasta the next. It’s a lot of template-style cooking.
Wha’s the best meal you ate in 2020?
Once every few weeks we get a rotisserie chicken and I make a chicken salad. We do a different chicken salad every time, and it makes so much food. It’s not the most exciting thing, but good chicken salad can be really, really good.
Did you bake anything delicious in 2020?
If I could have one day where I could do whatever I wanted and had no responsibilities, I would bake. That’s my idea of the perfect day. In 2020, I can only count on one hand the number of times I baked something. I baked the Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookies — the dough lives in our freezer now, so we can pop it in the oven whenever we want.
As an ex-pastry chef and someone who’s worked in a lot of restaurants, what the kitchen tools you can’t live without?
I have two. One is a vegetable cleaver from Global — it’s sharper than my chef’s knife. And then I have a small paring knife from Pallarès Solsona. It’s made of carbon steel, and it’s the best thing for supreming grapefruit or any citrus.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families. We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.