Tell me about your personal journey up to and including starting the amazing Kahina?
I was born and raised in San Francisco, spending summers and weekends on my grandparent's vineyard in the Napa Valley. There I was instilled with a deep love for the land and an appreciation for the bounty that it provides. I was also taught to understand that quality ingredients come from proper siting on the land, careful growing and harvesting practices, and diligent stewardship of the land. After pursuing a career in public relations in San Francisco and then New York, I started Kahina Giving Beauty in 2009 after discovering argan oil on a trip to Morocco. I had been looking for simple natural skincare that worked and that felt like the luxury brands I was used to using. When I tried Argan Oil and learned more about its production, I realized I had discovered what I had been looking for in a single ingredient – simple, organic, and effective. Its high vitamin E content and essential fatty acids worked to moisturize and balance my skin, imparting a healthy glow. Understanding that its production provides economic benefits for the impoverished women of rural Morocco who work to produce the oil, I decided to try to create the skincare line I had been seeking based on this amazing ingredient that would improve the lives of these women.
How often do you travel to Morroco? Where do you go there and where?
I travel to Morocco at least once a year, sometimes more. In the early days of sourcing ingredients and developing relationships with suppliers, I was there every three months to oversee production and make sure the quality control and fair trade practices were in place, but now things are running smoothly and my presence is required less frequently. Our Argan and Prickly Pear Seed Oils are grown and extracted in a tiny village high in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. The village is home to approximately 100 women. Their husbands primarily leave for the big cities to find work, returning one month a year for their holy celebration. I usually spend a few days in Marrakech before heading to the village.
If you could live anywhere - where would you live and why?
I love living in New York City for the art, the diversity and the energy. We also have a home in the countryside in Upstate New York where I love to garden and hike and spend time outdoors. It keeps me connected to nature and makes a perfect balance to living in the City. But, otherwise, maybe Sydney?
Have you ever visited Australia?
Yes! I love Australia! Kahina partnered with Mecca Australia for many years and I visited Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane doing training for their staff and in-store events. I can’t wait to return.
What is like working in Morocco?
Exciting - and exacerbating. I love Morocco and I feel so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to see it from a perspective that not many outsiders get to witness. I have met some amazing people along the way, but there are many cultural differences between Moroccans and Americans that can be frustrating to a Westerner trying to work there. Moroccans have their own priorities, rituals, and regulations. I have learned to work according to their particular rhythm, which is more relationship-based than simply transactional. It means drinking a lot of tea!
What do you love the most about living in NYC?
I love the accessibility to art and great food, but my favorite thing is probably that I walk everywhere I go or use public transportation. I rarely get in a car. It is convenient and healthy. And I feel good about having a low carbon footprint.
Do you work closely with Berber women and local villages? How fulfilling is that?
Working with the Berber women in remote villages of Morocco has been one of the most rewarding aspects of starting and running Kahina Giving Beauty. I have had a real window into another way of life that has inspired me greatly. It has been incredibly fulfilling to know that I am making a difference in their lives and to witness the positive impact our partnership has had. I work closely with the women of the village to ensure we receive the highest quality oil, and also to determine how we can best assist them. In the past, at their request, we have provided sheep to each of the women in the village to use for wool, as well as clothing for disaster relief. This year we provided the building materials for a preschool.
How has the industry changed in the last 5-10 years?
When I started Kahina Giving Beauty more than 10 years ago, green beauty was not considered effective and was relegated to the “hippy” aisles at health food stores. There were very few brands creating high-end green beauty products, and very few people in the US were accustomed to using pure oil on their skin. Now, the market is full of luxurious natural and organic skincare lines. Customers have learned that pure oils and other plant-based ingredients are effective, without the harmful consequences of the toxic ingredients traditional skincare. And retailers are responding to the demand.
What challenges do you think lie ahead in the industry in the next 3-5 years?
The industry has responded enthusiastically to the green beauty trend, but there have not been many regulations put in place in the US. In Europe, they have restricted more than 1300 chemicals in skincare, while the US has banned only 11. This has led to a certain amount of “greenwashing” in skincare. I think that companies that have benefited from the lack of oversight in the US will soon find that the customers are educating themselves and not accepting misleading environmental or benefits claims. This is good for the consumer as we see regulations tightened.
The other growing challenge for green beauty is the availability of raw materials. Many of our ingredients come from places around the world affected by climate change and/or political unrest. As green beauty grows in popularity these supplies are becoming stressed. Especially as they compete with agriculture for food production when there is drought and/or flooding, in combination with the population explosion.
Where do you see yourself / Kahina in the next 3-5 years?
Kahina is a niche brand that delivers high-quality skincare that I personally want to use. We are a family business - my husband, daughter, and son all contribute to day-to-day operations, which is really rewarding. We partner with retailers that we love, and suppliers whose lives and livelihoods are positively impacted by our business. I hope that in three to five years, we will be doing exactly the same thing!
What advice would you give to any women starting out a fashion/cosmetic line today?
Have a vision that sets you apart from the rest, articulate it clearly and operate sustainably. Make sure you love what you are producing because you will probably be living with it for a long time!