For GR’s self-care entrepreneurs, individualism and expertise are key in booming industry

Jessica Geerling, esthetician and owner of Wanderlux Beauty & Wellness Co., puts it simply: “The wellness industry is booming right now.” And she’s right. According to the Global Wellness Activity Monitor’s 2018 report, wellness, or self-care, grew from a $3.7 trillion to a $4.2 trillion market from 2014-2017. The spa economy itself grew to a $118.8 billion subsection of the industry, showcasing that people throughout the world are increasingly seeking these services (see this great breakdown of the study in Fast Company). And as access to information about its related trends and services only continues to grow, wellness is taking on a life of its own – expanding from simply hair and nails to mind, body, and soul.

In this burgeoning industry of self-care, entrepreneurs are putting their unique stamp on their businesses, all while remaining accessible and well-informed. Three self-care experts explore their own paths to success in this space, from setting up shop to blazing trails with forward-thinking services.

For Femé Naigow, owner of Apsara Spa in Eastown, self-care is the “Time that you would take for yourself that makes you feel valued … that fills your cup.” This philosophy is evident in the spa’s space at 1514 Wealthy, the expansive office building above GR Bagel. Cool, calm, and inviting, Naigow welcomes each client with high-end teas and soothing music, but also in classic scrubs with her hair pulled back into an effortless ponytail.

Femé NaigowFor her, this approachability is vital. Because for Naigow, self-care is also “Finding those spaces where you belong …. and being able to embrace them and to feel safe.” This also means discussing with each client, one-on-one, what the best services are for the individual, whether that means a massage, waxing, or health coaching.

However, Naigow also prides herself on the services she doesn’t offer, such as acrylic nails and spray tanning. She avoids these due to potentially harmful effects to both the client and spa employees when chemicals from those services enter the air. “I work here. I want a long, healthy life too,” says Naigow. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the service so we improve the outcome of the clients.”

Part of maintaining a healthy, positive work culture also means shutting down the spa for holidays so that her staff can enjoy family time. Naigow also stresses that each of her staff members is paid a living wage. “Everyone gets paid here,” she says. "Self-care is something that we actually do.”

For makeup artist Erick Gerson, self-care is about feeling good about yourself and expressing your individuality. “With business, you have to be able to be open,” says Gerson. “My clients love that about me.” Immigrating from Mexico City to Michigan in the early 2000s, Gerson began working in theatre makeup before discovering his true passion for the craft. Working both in theatre and film and adding weddings, private tutorials, and teaching to his repertoire, Gerson has learned to seize every potential client.

Erick Gerson“Being your own business … you have to take as many opportunities as you can,” he says. And this attitude toward his business was essential to overcoming obstacles in the industry.

“It was hard at the beginning,” says Gerson. “Being a person that is not from here … [and also that] my English is not perfect,” he adds. Overcoming stereotypes about his accent or his home country, Gerson persevered, building his business, as well as his expertise. Even when local cosmetology schools did not offer makeup lessons or certifications, he pursued training in Chicago, and brought his skills back to West Michigan.

Years later, specializing in weddings and private tutorials, Gerson is still happy to say: “I do makeup for pretty much anybody.” And that includes every race and gender identity. “I think everybody should wear makeup,” he says. “If you feel pretty, and you feel that makes you feel better, then you should do it.”

“If it makes you feel good and empowered, makeup is just a tool to make you feel good,” Gerson adds.

For Geerling of Wanderlux, “I wanted to see beauty and aesthetics through more of a wellness approach,” she says. Working as an esthetician for the past 20 years and most recently for a local plastic surgeon’s office, she found the services to be somewhat one-dimensional, and noticed that the clients who saw the best results sought treatment from the inside out. “I found that my clients that had the most beautiful skin and had the most confidence and 'that glow' were the ones that took care of all aspects of themselves, not just solely relying on the services and topical treatments to do the work,” she adds.

Believing strongly in self-care and wellness from a holistic perspective, Geerling founded Wanderlux three years ago, and just one year ago located the business in its newly renovated Wealthy Street location. “I always knew that I wanted to open something bigger that had wellness services attached to it.” And for her, combining quality skin treatment, beauty, and wellness, meant reinvention. “The only way [to do what you want] is to create your own thing,” she adds.

Combining her skills as a licensed esthetician, Geerling employs a variety of staff members to offer a diverse range of services at Wanderlux. These include Reiki (energy-based healing massage) and yoni (vaginal) steam, in addition to more traditional services like massage, facials. and eyebrows. “We’re not a huge staff but I like it that way,” says Geerling, who wants to “stay small [and] have more of a boutique feel.”

And these boutiques are popping up all over West Michigan. Just take a stroll down your favorite business corridor, and odds are you’ll find a licensed professional specializing in one or more self-care services. But many, as evidenced by these three entrepreneurs, would stress that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Naigow, a veteran in the industry who launched her own skincare line Mé by Femé in January 2018, challenges Grand Rapidians to consider their values when seeking out services.

Do you value women-owned businesses? Are you a stickler for sustainability? Are you seeking a quick “me” moment, or an in-depth, personal experience? Do you have sensitive skin? Gluten allergies? Are you a vegan?

Here in Grand Rapids, self-care entrepreneurs are carving out their own individualized spaces to meet all of these needs and more. And at their core, they all fundamentally believe in the necessity of self-care. “You can serve others better when you’re taking better care of yourself,” says Geerling.


Building Bridges is a series focused on the diverse entrepreneurial community within the West Michigan region. Throughout the year, the series will highlight the unique problem solvers and change makers who seek to positively impact the growth of the economy and the local ecosystem. Building Bridges is supported by Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).

Photos by Chantal Pasag of Pasagraphy, and courtesy of Apsara Spa and Erick Gerson, respectively.

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