Founder & CEO, Kahina Giving Beauty
Posted on: February 9, 2012 | Go to profile
Though she never thought she would end up where she did, Katharine sees now that everything she had done was for a greater purpose, which they call Maktoub in Morocco. After representing natural and healthy product-based companies like Odwalla Fresh Juice and Bare Escentuals, Katharine created Kahina Giving Beauty, a skincare line based on the power of argan oil. Katharine combines philanthropy with beauty by donating a portion of profits from her company to organizations working in girls’ education and alternative income projects for women in the Moroccan communities that produce her skincare’s argan oil.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I really never set out to create a line of organic skin care, but now I see that everything I had done before was leading up to this in some way. In Morocco, this is called Maktoub, or Destiny. I now see the development of Kahina Giving Beauty as the culmination of many experiences, professional and personal, I’ve had in my life.
I grew up in San Francisco and on my family’s sustainable vineyard outside Yountville, California, in the Napa Valley. The emphasis there has always been on the quality of the grapes and on sustaining the land and the community. Later in life, I founded my own marketing and public relations firm representing several natural and organic brands, including Bare Escentuals, one of the first natural cosmetics companies, and Odwalla Fresh Juice, whose tag line was “no mumbo jumbo.” My firm also represented The French Laundry when Thomas Keller first opened it in Yountville. Again, he was so focused on offering the best possible product based on the best sustainable ingredients. These companies are firmly committed to the communities they serve as well. That philosophy of sustainability, simplicity, quality and authenticity has really inspired my vision for Kahina Giving Beauty.
I discovered argan oil by chance on a trip to Morocco in 2007. I was looking for organic skincare that worked at the time. Creating the Kahina line allowed me to realize my own desire for a simple and effective organic skincare line, while helping women in need.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: I would advise entrepreneurs just starting out to make sure your vision and values are well-defined, and to know your audience. Your vision and values can serve as a road map to help guide you during the many challenges and decisions you will inevitably face. If you have a clear vision and know your audience, your instincts will guide you and your message will be clearly articulated. Also, network. You never know whether the next person you meet might become an amazing resource.
Q: I love the quote “the bigger the vision, the smaller the first step.” Right now, what is the big vision you have for your career?
A: Based on the response to Kahina Giving Beauty’s philosophy and products, I feel very positive about the future of the company. I plan to continue to release high quality products based on argan oil under the Kahina label and look forward to extending the concept to product lines and extensions based on material sourced from other countries as well, always giving back to women in need from the countries where these ingredients are sourced.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: Kahina Giving Beauty crosses so many worlds, from the world of design, to helping women, and organic beauty. All of these communities are incredibly supportive of each other and I have made invaluable contacts and friends through my networking in each. An example of one great connection established through networking originated at an event at ABC Home for New York Women Entrepreneurs. Rebecca Kousky, CEO and Founder of Nest, was speaking. Nest provides artisans with interest-free loans, education and market access to create sustainable and successful businesses. We now are collaborating on our Kahina Gift Bags. Nest’s hand-blocked cotton cases made by formerly trafficked women in India house our artisinal argan soap and argan oil. It’s a great example of how two different worlds can come together, enhance each other, and potentially make change in the world.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: Of course, the skincare market is very competitive, but many of the traditional skincare companies use harmful ingredients in their products. At Kahina, we use only the highest quality natural and organic ingredients. We are certified by Ecocert, ensuring the greatest respect for our consumers and the environment.
More and more companies are doing some form of giving back. Our brand is unique in that our mission is fully integrated with our product, connecting the consumer on an emotional level to our cause – and to our brand. Starting with giving back 25% of profits to the women who extract the oil at the heart of our line, incorporating their signatures into our package design, and naming the product line after a Berber queen, we continue to try to build a bridge between women here and the Berber women of Morocco. This has worked well to build loyalty for our brand.
Q: What or who in your life gives you the strength to persevere?
A: I would have to say my daughter. Now 17 years old, she has suffered through some serious medical problems in the past two years which has caused her to miss a great deal of high school through several surgeries and resulting complications. I think of all she missed, but she never complained. Her strength and fortitude during that time continue to inspire me.
Q: What simple things in life today bring you joy?
A: I love to travel, but I would rather be home with my family than anywhere else. Easy dinners outside with them in the country are my favorite time together. I also enjoy gardening in my home in Upstate New York and taking long walks, especially in New York. I am continually energized and visually inspired by living in New York City.
ON Letting go
Q: What do you do to unwind or disconnect?
A: Yoga, gardening, enjoying a glass of wine with my husband.
ON Taking Risk
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: I have always been quite insecure when meeting new people, but have never had a problem taking large risks, such as starting a business. My position now requires lots of meeting people all over the world and speaking. I have gotten much better at it now, but before I go into an important meeting or give a speech, I always give myself a little pep talk and remind myself of my accomplishments and my mission to help women in order to conjure up my reserves of strength.
ON Giving Back
Q: Can you share with us an experience of giving that was extremely rewarding or transformational?
A: One year ago, I first visited a cooperative near Agadir of 46 women who had no work, unable to sell their oil because they couldn’t complete their organic certification due to bureaucratic and financial constraints. They had done all the work to set up their cooperative, including raising the money to build a structure where they could work, but their vision came to a halt when their certification didn’t come through. When I first saw them, they were sitting idle with no nuts to crack. I paid for their certification and assisted with the legal documentation. When I returned last month, the women were busy at work with large piles of nuts to crack for an upcoming order. They insisted I join them in singing and dancing in the traditional Berber fashion to show me their appreciation.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure.” What do you know for sure?
A: That I don’t know anything for sure.
Q: What are the top 3 things that you do to stay healthy?
A: I have always exercised, tried to eat right, and got plenty of sleep, but I have to admit that it’s getting harder to adhere to a healthy regimen with the amount of travel I need to do these days. Now, the top thing I do to stay healthy is to try to keep my stress levels down. When I can’t get to a yoga class, I do some sun salutes first thing in the morning at home.
Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A: I have three kids, ages 7, 15 and 17. Each of them requires my attention and focus in different ways. My office is currently the dining room table in my Manhattan loft. This way, I am usually home when they need me and I can pick up my youngest from school most days. The biggest challenge is when I travel and am gone for weeks at a time. My husband has learned to take care of everything without me now so things are running pretty smoothly.
Q: Who are your favorite designers?
A: I like clothes that are easy to wear, but with interesting lines. Bibbhu Mohapatra is one of my favorites, and not just because he is a great friend. He manages to create an edgy, progressive look with classic and beautifully cut pieces. For everyday, I love Donna Karan. She understands the way I want to feel comfortable but still look good. Other designers that I adore are Maria Conejo and Ohne Titel. Both of these produce beautiful clothes pairing architectural details with soft draping and meticulous attention to detail.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you love to cook, can you share a favorite recipe?
A: I always bring home lots of Moroccan spices when I travel there. I like to cook very simply and rarely use measurements. Cumin, tumeric and coriander make everything taste exotic and delicious. Here’s a recipe that works for any fish and chicken:
Combine together and marinate the chicken pieces or fish. Combine tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and spices (tumeric, coriander, cumin, saffron) in a sauté pan and heat until soft. Add a drop of water. When it steams, add the fish or chicken to the sauce. Cover and cook until cooked through (5 – 10 minutes for fish/15 – 20 minutes for chicken).
Q: What are the beauty items you could not live without?
A: Argan Oil, Argan Oil, Argan Oil
I also love the organic and Fair for Life shea butter leave-in conditioner from Beautiful Curls.
I wear very little makeup, but when I want a little more finish, I use the RMS Living Luminizer.