Williamsburg, Brooklyn wasn’t exactly a secret when Katie Chang opened Miomia nearly ten years ago, but it certainly didn’t look like the sleek, modern neighborhood it is today. What was once a largely industrial area rarely visited by Manhattan residents was in the midst of a renaissance, rapidly becoming popular with artists and creative types not by destroying its warehouses and factories, but by fixing them up and making them vital again. The idea of men’s grooming was in transition at the time as well, which led Chang to open her welcoming little apothecary on a buzzing strip of Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg’s main commercial artery, in October of 2005. In the years since, the shop has flourished, drawing locals and visitors of all stripes with a lovingly-curated selection of grooming products and accessories as well as a relaxed atmosphere where no personal care question is off-limits. Here, she discusses the idea behind the store, the rise of men’s grooming, and the three essential products that no guy should be without.
Where did the idea for Miomia come from?
I had been living in Washington, D.C. Someone tipped me off to a hip new neighborhood in Brooklyn called Williamsburg and recommended I fulfill my dream of opening an apothecary devoted to men there. I went to grad school at Georgetown for communication, culture, and technology, and I actually wrote my thesis on men’s grooming. I was working at a miserable corporate job, so I packed up and moved up Brooklyn.
Why men’s grooming?
When I was writing my thesis, “metrosexual” was one of the most Googled words of the year. I thought it was interesting that all of a sudden men were starting to really take care of themselves. Not to be dapper dandies, but with a new focus on clipping their nails, brushing their hair, basic things that a lot of men weren’t doing that much, or that well, before then.
Does the name Miomia have any meaning?
It’s the masculine and feminine form of the word “mine” in Spanish, so it’s unisex. It’s also a component of vanity—of self-care. And it has a nice ring to it.
Is Miomia exclusively a men’s shop?
Miomia is an apothecary for all. We’ve gotten to be known for catering to men because of my academic experience and the writing I do. I was just tired of seeing these sterile beauty counters and other apothecaries that felt like I was in a hospital. I don’t think guys feel comfortable shopping in that kind of environment. In my store, it’s old wood and there’s nothing there that says beauty shop.
How is Miomia different?
We’re different because we’re a tiny operation, and we like to focus on smaller lines that have really great stories, but also mix it up with bigger brands like Malin + Goetz. What it boils down to is there’s no hassle, there’s no pressure, there’s no commission. I sell only what I love and the brands I really stand behind. I want people to feel comfortable and be well educated about what they’re buying and why they’re using it.
So this men’s grooming thing is more than a flash in the pan?
We don’t use the word metrosexual anymore, but men’s grooming is booming.
What three essential products do most guys need to start with?
If you shave, you want a really great shave cream. And all sorts of hair pomades fly out of my store. Guys with hair, they really love their product. Some use it up so fast I ask if they’re eating it. And here’s a rule I get really preachy about with both men and women: you need moisturizer with sunscreen. Sunscreen is an absolute must, winter or summer, even on cloudy days.
Are you seeing a throwback to an earlier time when guys felt no shame about taking good care of themselves?
Yes. Trends in men’s grooming are cyclical. Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire and other shows are influencing how men are taking care of themselves, how they want to be perceived, what they’re doing with their hair, and what they’re doing with their faces.
It seems to bridge lines too. You’ve got the clean-cut finance types as well as the hip Brooklyn guys.
There are products for every type of guy and guys for every type of product. We’ve got the bearded tattoo types looking for moisturizers and we’ve got the bankers looking for good shave cream. My customers can come from anywhere. They could be Japanese or Swedish tourists. They range from service and industry people from the neighborhood to musicians to quirky actors that I can’t disclose the names of.
How much advice do you offer when people come in without really knowing what they want?
Guys start grooming with drugstore products. When they want to upgrade a bit, that’s where I step in. I’ve had guys with beards down to the floor walk in completely bewildered and I know exactly what they want. Nothing’s off limits when it comes to grooming—I’ve had some pretty funny questions.
Do you have any products you like for the holidays?
I’m looking forward to a busy holiday season, but I don’t like to play favorites. That said, I love candles. Luxurious candles are one of the best things you can give anyone. I own a store and I still love it when someone gives me a $50 candle.
You have an in-shop aesthetician, don’t you?
We have Hillery Sklar, and she is the most amazing aesthetician. Women make up the majority of her business but she also offers facials designed for guys. She typically does European-style facials, which take five steps. I liken it to tuning up your car or going in for a physical. It’s a matter of taking care of your face.
Do you enjoy what you do?
I love it. Retail can be really tough, especially when you’re in a 400-square-foot store with people constantly coming at you, but my freelance writing career helps keep me balanced.
Who do you write for?
A few places. I started with The New York Times, now I mostly write for Details. I do a weekly grooming item for them and I’ve been working on some fashion stories. And I’ve been doing some writing for a really great site called Food Republic, which was originally founded by Marcus Samuelsson and Richard Martin.
Speaking of food, where do you like to go out to eat and drink in Williamsburg?
I am obsessed with Roebling Tea Room. It’s got a great vibe and the best burgers in the world. I will argue with anyone on this point. I’m also at the Commodore a lot. It’s loud, and they make a killer piña colada. They add a floater and put a maraschino cherry and a pineapple garnish on top, and it’s served in a tall glass. They also have phenomenal fried chicken and nachos. I kind of like my junk food. I go to Bedford Cheese Shop more often than I should, and I love getting meats from Marlowe & Daughters and going up on my roof.
Any clothing boutiques you like in the area?
One of my best friends manages In God We Trust, up on North Bedford. Everything is designed and made in New York. The clothes are classic with a great sense of cut, and it’s always a fun place to shop.
Miomia has been open nearly ten years. What have you learned about running a business in that time?
Being flexible is important. No matter what your projections are, it never quite happens that way. You have to readjust, reevaluate, and keep going. I think about my store constantly. There are always problems, but at least they’re my problems. I go to sleep with ownership of my work.
Photo: Nicholas Prakas