We’ve been big fans of Health Hut for years now, starting from the day our founder Sheryl stumbled upon their tiny shop on Harbord street while traversing on her bike in downtown Toronto. At the time, the little space could barely fit more than three people inside. But while it was little in size, we knew right away this place had huge potential.
Today, Sheryl sits down with Health Hut’s founder Tara Miller on her journey growing Health Hut and why it’s important to create a space that’s inclusive for all people and lifestyles.
Our founder Sheryl sits down with Health Hut’s founder Tara Miller to talk about natural beauty, wellness, and inclusiveness.
Sheryl: Tell us about your journey getting here. How did you find yourself in the natural beauty space?
I finished nutrition school and I was working as a nutrition counsellor, but felt like I wanted to do more. We had done a course in school on nutrition and the environment, and one of the assignments was to go home, take ten products you use everyday and research all the ingredients. I had never considered the health impacts before of the things we use day to day. From there, I just started asking, ‘where could I get alternatives?’
At the same time, as funny as it sounds, I just wanted to be in Muskoka. My family has a cottage there and they own a property that housed an ice cream hut. I talked to my mom about putting a bunch of natural products I had discovered and she said yes! I honestly didn’t think it would become anything bigger than that. That’s why it was called Health Hut. I don’t think I even cared how creative the name was at the time!
Sheryl: It’s funny that Health Hut began as a literal hut on the side of the road, and you’ve since transformed into an online shop with a beautiful Toronto location. What do you think has led to your success?
One, I don’t think really had anything to do with me. I think the industry’s momentum was so strong. People were interested and brands were elevating their packaging and marketing to meet the market needs, so it was already growing organically.
Health Hut started as a literal hut on the side of the road to having multiple storefront locations and an online shop.
But I do think a big part of my own success is just not giving up. Many people go hard and strong when they start things, and it can fizzle out. For us, it’s been eight years and we’ve grown so slowly and steadily. I really think that if I had gone hard and fast that first summer and opened up a location in Toronto right away, I would not be here now.
I’m thankful I took baby steps to learn and grow and build relationships. There were times I was doing pop-ups and not making much money, and I kept asking myself, ‘what is the point of this?!’
Sheryl: Oh I know that feeling, girl! Did you just have really strong faith this model would work?
It wasn’t even a business model at first! But I picked up very quickly that I was at the right place at the right time. I had faith in the industry, and I trusted in myself and the products I was choosing.
Sheryl: I love how your journey has been so organic and you’re so patient about your growth. Personally, I get anxious thinking ‘what’s next?!’ but I love how Health Hut is slowly evolving, and it’s consistent and it’s steady.
Some people may argue otherwise. I never went to business school, but I go a lot on what feels right and feels good day to day. I bet there are people who would think maybe this isn’t the best way to do it, but this is the way I know, so it works for me.
Sheryl: Let’s talk misinformation. There's so much of it out there about natural beauty. What's the biggest clean beauty myth right now?
I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest myth, but I think people get wrapped up in discovering the potential chemicals in their conventional products, and then feel they need to go all or nothing right away. I think the stress of changing your whole routine overnight in itself is not healthy. Instead, make it a slow transition.
Lots of brands use scare tactics to drive sales, and that’s something we really won’t do here. I would rather focus on adding something great to someone’s life rather than scaring you into taking things away.
Health Hut features natural beauty brands from Toronto and abroad to fit different budgets and lifestyles.
Sheryl: Is that why you use the term ‘natural beauty’ instead of ‘clean beauty’?
Yes! It’s for everybody. It’s about inclusiveness. That’s why I avoid talking about ‘clean beauty’ because those words create a ‘dirty/clean’ distinction. Instead, let’s talk about the benefits of natural ingredients.
Sheryl: What advice do you have for someone who wants to transition towards all natural beauty products? Is it possible?
Just start somewhere, even if it’s a hand soap or a lipstick. Pick something, and then just pay attention to how you like it, how it feels.
There’s no point in using something just for health’s sake if you don’t like it. Find something you enjoy. Discover the benefits. Connect to it. And then, the rest will follow.
Sheryl: What are some independent brands that have really impressed you and why?
Toronto has some FANTASTIC indie beauty brands that are recognized all over the world, such as Wildcraft, Province Apothecary, Lovefresh, and Living Libations (so great!). They are becoming really well known, and they all started here in our city (or close by). Their commitment to safe, natural and conscious products makes me so proud to work with them.
When you meet the people that make these products and the work they put into it, it’s so hard to go to Shoppers Drug Mart and spend your money there.
Sheryl: And it also just feels so much more personal. It’s so much easier to connect with products when you know the story behind it.
Yes! And when you put it on, there’s such a different connection to what you’re using. Knowing that someone has taken the time and done their research… it’s so nice.
Tara Miller offers workshops on intuitive eating, a form of eating that moves away from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ to eating in a way that feels right for you.
Sheryl: Can you tell us why inclusivity is so important to you?
Inclusivity in the store is so important to me because as a nutritionist, I practice intuitive eating and something known as Health at Every Size. This is a weight neutral, anti-diet approach to health, and I want these principles to be reflected our messaging. I want everyone to feel welcome here, and never judged based on size, sexual orientation, gender or race.
Sheryl: Ooo, tell us more about that!
Gladly! Intuitive eating is all about learning to listen to your body and internal cues, versus external ones. Instead of “I shouldn’t eat this” it’s about “how does this food make me feel?”
I help my clients eat for nourishment as well as pleasure, while encouraging flexibility and satisfaction. This helps improve their relationship to food and well as physical and psychological well being. We talk a lot about strengthening their compassionate voice over their critical one - which is my favourite part.
Sheryl: Is this similar to mindful eating?
It can be, although it is important not to let it turn into another type of diet. Intuitive eating is just about being free to be a normal eater and improving your relationship with food. Everything then becomes permissive, and you can decide what feels right for you. It’s simple, but can be very hard.
When people think of nutrition in a natural shop, they may think ‘detoxing’ and ‘clean eating’ or ‘how can I eat to get perfect skin’. We are not about that. Instead, I want people to feel free and empowered to decide what feels good for them, while at the same time not having it take up too much mental energy. Health looks different for everyone and we’re here to support that!
Sheryl: In a way, it’s a lot about self-discovery right?
Totally. You learn a lot about yourself - the good stuff and the things that may need a little more attention. People use food for so many things and that’s okay! I love intuitive eating because it allows you to explore this objectively and without judgement.
Health Hut offers several workshops about natural beauty inside the shop. They hope to offer intuitive eating workshops in the fall.
Sheryl: How did you get into the whole ‘intuitive eating’ thing?
I was practicing as a regular nutritionist and I really felt something was missing. In school, they taught us to tell people what they should and shouldn’t eat to be ‘healthy’. Meanwhile, I would go home and have pizza and wine, and salad and smoothies and knew that this flexibility felt right.
Then attended a course on disordered eating, and I learned that this world of permission and health could (and should!) exist together. I went on to become an Intuitive Eating Counselor. It transformed my practice from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ to empowering people to makes choice that feel best for them.
Sheryl: It’s almost redefining what wellness is supposed to be.
Yes! There can be so much guilt and shame in the wellness world. We praise people based on food restrictions or size, but we have no idea what struggles may be on behind the scenes. My definition of wellness includes flexibility, psychological well-being, and the freedom from obsessing over food and the ‘perfect’ choices.
That’s why at Health Hut we may have a vegan cookbook, but we also have many books that use sugar and butter. If baking a cake with real sugar makes you happy and it feels good, there is health in that.
Sheryl: Yes, and now that leads to the whole conversation about standards of beauty, which forces us to beat ourselves up so much.
Totally, and that’s what I want to avoid at Health Hut. Maybe it would be more profitable for me to leverage those ‘hot beauty trends’, but I don’t want to do that. I just want to make people feel good, and focus on personal happiness.
It may be less glamorous to go down this route, but I think it’s the more real route.