The wellness industry, worth an estimated $1.5 trillion, is vast, but Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton stands out among the rest with Chillhouse—a spa meets nail salon meets café with an active online community.
As a young professional, Ramirez-Fulton aimed to disrupt the wellness industry, and that’s exactly what she’s doing. Growing up, she didn’t feel like wellness spaces catered to her. According to the Queens, New York-raised Colombian-American, spas were either too expensive or offered too few services. Inside, these spaces didn’t feel welcoming. Instead, they felt exclusive and sterile, and she wanted something more aspirational.
“[The spas] didn’t appeal to people my age and my generation,” she tells Refinery29 Somos. “That kind of stuck with me for a while.” Then one day it clicked: "We—my husband and I—kind of got to work and started thinking, ‘What are the things that were missing in New York? What were the things that were missing for young adults? What was that price point that felt really comfortable for people like us?’ The whole company started really because I felt like I wasn’t being seen in the wellness industry.”
Since launching Chillhouse in 2017, Ramirez-Fulton has worked to build an inclusive brand. She started with the Chillhouse flagship store in Manhattan—an Instagram-worthy space where customers can get facials, massages, manicures, and pedicures at reasonable prices that range from $15 to $185. Then she branched out into e-commerce—selling press-on nails, face and body oil, clothing, and facial tools—and informational content—providing career advice, self-care tips, and beauty insights on The Chill Times. Her goal with the expansion: to give customers the opportunity to bring the spa experience into their homes. After all, Chillhouse was created so that self-care could be available to everyone—and its diverse clientele pictured on its social media pages emphasize that all are welcome.
“It feels natural to always keep it diverse, keep it inclusive,” she says. “I think that it’s just about continuing to think about all the people that need to be seen and how we put them forward.”
While Chillhouse has seen a lot of success in its first five years, Ramirez-Fulton also faced plenty of setbacks, including struggling to find the right management team, not knowing the Department of Health would have a problem with how close Chillhouse’s café is to the nail salon, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which ended promising partnerships. Through it all, she found ways to be creative and continue to engage her community, all while prioritizing her own mental health. From setting big goals to finding ways to decompress, Ramirez-Fulton offers tips for other Latina entrepreneurs.
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Chillhouse wasn’t Ramirez-Fulton’s first entry into entrepreneurship; she previously founded Taste the Style, a lifestyle site, and served as a partner for Den Hospitality, which owns and operates several restaurants and craft cocktail bars. But with Chillhouse, she partially followed in her mother’s footsteps. An aesthetician who immigrated from Colombia and began working in skincare, her mom launched a medi spa in Queens and grew her business from one location to three.
Similarly, Ramirez-Fulton has ambitious plans. She started with a brick-and-mortar location in SoHo and has expanded through products and experiences, both in-person and online. Chillhouse has allowed her to “really get creative and kind of think outside the box when it comes to wellness, self-care, and beauty.” Instead of trying to fit within a specific definition for wellness, Ramirez-Fulton is building a lifestyle company focused on feel-good moments.
As she’s navigated unknown and tricky territory, Ramirez-Fulton has sought guidance from people with experience.
“I’ve just always immersed myself with a lot of really accomplished people that have been really forthcoming with their insights and their experience,” she says. “I really credit a lot of our success and the journey to having had access to people that have been in my shoes before and are a few steps ahead.”
Ramirez-Fulton isn’t shy about asking questions, and she thinks it’s important for every entrepreneur to get really comfortable with being vulnerable, putting themselves out there, and asking what may seem like a “dumb question.” As Ramirez-Fulton explains, there’s no room for ego when you’re a business owner. Instead, you should aim to learn as you go.
That’s exactly what she’s been doing. About a year ago, Chillhouse began selling press-on nails. They hadn’t been in the e-commerce space before, but they didn’t wait until they had all the answers before diving in. There’s so much that remains unclear, but she says the journey, and learning from those who have been on similar ones, has been her greatest teacher. “It’s so new and fresh and also confusing to us at times because we have never been in that position before as founders,” she adds. “So [it’s about] really being able to have [access] to people that have been there before.”
Find the self-care methods that work for you
Ramirez-Fulton and her husband are both entrepreneurs, which can make it difficult for both of them to fully shut off, but they find ways to combat the stress that comes with entrepreneurship through open communication and their support system.
“We’re really open about it, and we definitely try to enjoy our lives as much as we can because we’re only here once,” she says. “Anytime there is any tension there, we’re very honest about it and open about it, and we kind of get past it pretty quickly. That’s not to say that we’ve had obstacles along the way in actually working together, but for the most part, I think we know that we have the same goals in mind.”
She’s also discovered that finding the right team has helped her worry less about different aspects of the business. As the company has grown, she has been able to build a team that she can trust and count on, allowing her to release tasks and mental burdens.
“Self-care, to me, really is identifying the things that keep your energy, your mental energy, safe. To me, right now, it’s my team,” she says. “To some people, it’s their therapy or their meditation. You have to identify that for yourself. Everybody’s super different when it comes to it. For me, it’s more about just feeling like I have support.”
Lead the way
Growing up, Ramirez-Fulton, like many first-generation Latinxs, resisted her culture because the narratives around Latinidad were limiting. With the media’s focus on Latinx criminalization and deportation, she didn’t see too many examples of Latinas in power—that is, outside of the entertainment industry. Other than Jennifer Lopez, she didn’t have many role models to look up to.
“I started looking at other people and other women, and not particularly women of color,” she says. “So I think it’s super important for women … to bring that part of you forward so that other women that are just getting started or have aspirations of getting started have something to look toward.”
As she continues to progress as a business owner, she wants to take more time to help others on their own paths, providing insight on what it takes to become an entrepreneur through mentorship and/or workshops. Latinas have played a big role in her success, and she wants to be there for them as well.
“We’re great at supporting each other,” she adds. “My Latina community, they’re so warm and they’re like ride-or-dies. I don’t know what I would do without them. A goal of mine is to be able to provide more insights into the journey as I get a little older and have more time.”