Kahina-Giving Beauty is a new line of skin care that reflects the values of the times: beauty as the expression of well being, and sustainability in every step of the chain from production to customer and beyond. Argan oil is the main ingredient of this line and the connector between the Berber women from Morroco who extract the oil in traditional ways while finding an alternative source of income for their families and a sense of community among other women; and Western women who use it as a beauty secret with a clear conscience as because the line respects people, ancient cultures and the environment. HAND/EYE correspondent Marcella Echavarria talked with found Katherine Phillips L'Heureux.
Marcella Echavarria: What is beauty for you?
Katherine Phillips L'Heureux: Women are beautiful when they feel confident. The French call it “etre bien dans son peau,” translated as feeling good in your skin. It means feeling content, comfortable with oneself. Beauty is a matter of embracing the features you have, living comfortably with them, accenting them to their best expression. So many women now chase an impossible ideal of beauty through extraordinary means and are erasing the character from their faces (and bodies) in the process.
I feel most beautiful when I am at peace with myself, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This comes when I exercise, when I’m helping others and when I’m spending time with my children.
ME: What is luxury?
KPL: Luxury is treating yourself to special things that give you pleasure. These things don’t need to be expensive or even necessarily cost anything at all. More and more in our society, luxury is taking the time to approach things thoughtfully and to bring meaning into our daily lives.
ME: How is Kahina sustainable in cultural terms? social? ecological?
KPL: Sustainability is the protection and preservation of assets for the future. For Kahina, these assets include the land, the people and the culture of the Berber people and the argan forests, as well as those at home. Argan oil, which comes from the nut of the argan tree, is a truly sustainable product on its own. It is organically grown and responsibly harvested. The work to extract the oil is done by the Berber women of Morocco through centuries-old techniques. Working in cooperatives, which often provide literacy and women’s rights programs, this work provides women with their only chance at economic and social opportunity. The growing economy surrounding the argan industry has created an incentive for the local population of mostly shepherds and farmers to preserve the forests, which are endangered. In addition, Kahina donates 25% of profits to the women of the argan cooperatives.
We take this sustainable ingredient and formulate it into organic skin care products. These are packaged in recyclable glass bottles, and in boxes made with recycled paper. We try to use as little packaging material as possible while protecting and preserving the quality of our products.
ME: Beauty and development: what is the connection? How are you moving away from a superficial idea of beauty?
KPL: We live in a world where we can no longer afford to adhere to one concept of beauty that has been handed to us by the media. Beauty comes in all forms and faces, colors and sizes. We need to be able to see beauty in those who don’t conform to our culture’s traditional ideas of beauty, as well see ourselves as beautiful even though we aren’t perfect. Women need to recognize that beauty is in the eyes of those who love you. It comes from the confidence of one’s experience and from a life well-lived. Once women embrace those ideas, their true beauty will shine through.
ME: When you wake up every day what motivates you?
KPL: I am passionate about my business, but starting a new business is very challenging. The thing that keeps me going on Kahina is the response I’ve been getting from people who experience it firsthand, and the knowledge that I am helping the Berber women of Morocco whom I’ve come to know. I can’t wait for the day when I’m finally building the preschool in a small village outside of Agadir that the women of a cooperative there have asked for.
ME: What is beauty for a Berber woman?
KPL: The Berber women in the South of Morocco are very poor for the most part, and live in difficult conditions. The notion of beauty is not something they have the luxury of spending too much time thinking about. Many of them have never even seen themselves in a mirror and love to look at themselves in the viewfinder of my digital camera when I photograph them. On one of my visits to the cooperatives, I conducted interviews with the women there and I asked them what made them feel beautiful. Each of them told me they felt beautiful, but what really drives them is the pride they feel in their work and their ability to provide for their children.
ME: How is beauty a bridge among cultures?
KPL: While different cultures have different ideas of beauty, the basic concept of beauty rituals exists worldwide independent of class lines. Most cultures have traditions of beautification and cleansing based on indigenous ingredients that bring women together within the community. In Morocco, it’s the hammam where women bond over the cleansing and purification process. I’d like to extend that idea to women across cultures. Women can relate to each other at this very basic level while being introduced to ingredients and skin care techniques that have been used for centuries in other parts of the world.
ME: What is your passion and how is it reflected in Kahina?
KPL: My passion is to help women around the world by creating effective skin care that women here in the United States will want to buy. We have created an extremely effective, simple skin care line based on high quality natural and organic ingredients utilizing the recuperative powers of antioxidants and vitamins naturally present in argan oil and other complementary ingredients. Kahina products are formulated from active natural ingredients that really work. By creating an effective skin care line and donating 25% of profits to the Berber women we have a workable social business model.
ME: What makes Kahina different from other skin care brands? What is new?
KPL: I believe the traditional beauty industry has done a disservice to women by playing on their insecurities. Cosmetics companies need to constantly add to their product lines to make a profit and then in order to sell them they need to convince women that they have a need for these new products. The business is based on reinforcing a women’s own self-doubts.
Instead of offering a confusing array of products, I want to offer women only what they really need. Instead of building a business based on negative values, we have created a line of products that are simple and effective that also has the greater benefit of connecting Western women with women in need in other parts of the world and helping them. By donating 25% of profits to the Berber women of Morocco who work to extract the argan oil, my aim is to encourage women to stop comparing themselves to the models in the beauty campaigns and to think instead about women whose lives are so much more difficult than their own. My hope is to stop perpetuating the critical voices in women’s heads and to encourage women to use that energy in a positive way, toward helping other women and becoming more confident themselves.
ME: How does something old become new? Is this the effect of branding?
KPL: America is such a young country. While we have been extremely successful at innovation, we are just discovering so many things that other cultures have known for centuries, such as the benefits of using pure oils and botanical extracts on our skin. The women of Morocco have been using argan oil for hundreds of years and still choose to use it today. Americans are just beginning to understand the beauty and true value of things that are handcrafted.
We have incredible talent at branding in this country and we have become accustomed to things presented in a certain way. The cosmetics field is very competitive. Creating an image is important in order to be successful here.
ME: Can you describe Kahina as a brand? What are the values? The message?
KPL: In creating Kahina, I set out to create an organic brand that would sit in the luxury category. I wanted to create something that was elegant and contemporary but that would convey the meaning behind the product and its message. Kahina as a brand is about honesty and authenticity. We are a company that wants to do “good” by providing simple, organic skin care that works.
While we are a luxury brand in that we only use the finest ingredients and our packaging is very high quality, we hope to provide value with our products. For example, argan oil is a great value because you need only a very small amount for it to be effective. And it is also multi-purpose; the eye serum can be used on the lips and neck area as well as on the eyes.
I am inspired by the idea of women connecting with women in other cultures. That is why I used the women’s signatures on the packaging. I want people to be reminded of the women who labor so hard to create the source of these products and to understand what it is like to be illiterate and not even be able to write your own name.
ME: What is your next destination?
KPL: My criteria is to source excellent raw materials from places where women can use my company’s help. There are so many great cosmetic ingredients from around the world and so many places where women are in need: India, Tibet, Cambodia, Central and South America, West Africa. I’d love to do something in Afghanistan where they are trying to wean farmers away from poppy production by encouraging the farming of roses.
For more information, please visit kahina-givingbeauty.com.