Archive | the beginnings of kahina giving beauty

What is in a name? A look at the women behind the Kahina Giving Beauty artwork

star logo

Since launching Kahina 7 years ago, a frequent question has been what the artwork on the packaging represents. For those of you who still don’t know, the artwork is a compilation of signatures of the women of one of the first argan cooperatives I worked with. Most of these women cannot read or write their names. In putting their “marks” and signatures on the packaging I hoped to honor these women as the true artisans behind the brand while illustrating who they are in spirit.

These women are very poor and mostly illiterate, but have great dignity, and make an effort to create beauty out of the simplest raw materials. They were thrilled when I gave them pens and paper to use to write their name, as these materials are typically out of reach to them.  Because of literacy programs offered to them through the cooperatives, one or two of them were able to actually write their names, which are identifiable on the box to those who read Arabic.  Others drew simple squiggles or their own designs, like the star in the circle above by Zahara Aziz pictured below.

collecting signatures for the packaging copy

Recently, I was alarmed to be asked whether I will be modifying my brand identity given the current climate of tension and fear brought about by the events in Paris and San Bernadino and heightened by the statements of Donald Trump.  While I hesitate to engage in these conversations for fear of politicizing my brand, I feel inspired to introduce these women and to bring to light some of the faces behind these signatures – loving, kind and generous people, mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

BerberFace copy


BerberWomanSmiling copy

zahra Elkatim copy

Read more about these women and their stories on here

Kahina throw rugs hand-loomed by the women of Kahina in Morocco

presenting the rug edited

In May of 2011, on a trip to visit my argan supplier in a remote village high in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, I was shown the weaving cooperative in the village, where the women who crack the nuts for our argan oil were learning to weave rugs as a way to make extra money. The following year, Kahina donated money to buy sheep in order that the women would have wool to use for their weaving. In 2013, on a return trip to the village, I was presented with a beautiful hand-loomed rug decorated with the Kahina circle and star graphic. My rug has lived beside my bed warming my feet and heart ever since.

Kahina Berber Rug


Earlier this year, I asked the women to weave me more rugs exactly like the one they presented to me three years ago. I am thrilled to now offer these exclusively on SHOP NOW.

Each 2’ x 4’ rug is hand-loomed using virgin sheep’s wool and natural dyes by the Berber women of the weaving cooperatives who also do the work of cracking the nuts for our argan oil.

Happy Birthday Kahina!

Happy BDay Kahina
I’m not big on celebrating. I’m usually grumpy on my birthday and my husband is typically the one to note an upcoming anniversary. It’s not that I’m particularly serious, or don’t like to mark special occasions. It’s more that I enjoy simple evenings with family at home most of all and I don’t need a special occasion to do it. I’m not much better at remembering other people’s birthdays either. It’s no wonder then that I failed to notice an important milestone for Kahina. The first Kahina Giving Beauty product was sold in April, 2009, five years ago.

These past five years have been a spectacular ride. When I conceived of Kahina Giving Beauty in 2007 after my first trip to Morocco, argan oil had not yet been introduced to the US, and people shied away from putting pure oils on their faces. Most organic skincare was considered ineffective and relegated to the health food store. There was no Instagram or Pinterest, and Facebook was not used by brands. Personally, I knew nothing about customs, shipping, accounting, margins, the difference between letterpress or digital printing, and could not have told you what GMP, FOB, or RTV meant.

It’s been incredibly stressful, but even more rewarding. For accomplishing something I am very proud of, and also for the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, many of whom I now call good friends.

Those who had faith in me from the very beginning, some providing advice and services for very little or no money. Here’s to you: Ann, Will, Michael, Hall, Andy & Diane, Marion, Zaina, Aimee, Franca, Heather, Maria, Alix and Marcella.

The wonderful community of organic devotees, particularly those early adoptors who supported, inspired and taught me so much when I was just starting out. Here’s to you: Siobhan, Jessa, Spirit, Melissa, Donna, Jessica & Jules, Oresta & Laryssa.

The incredible team of talented people who make it all happen. Here’s to you: Michael, Marianne, Matthew, Fatima, Mark, Lewis, Lorraine, and Miriam.

To new friends taking Kahina forward to exciting places. Here’s to you: Amira, Yossef, Aicha, Jeffrey, and Carrie.

For taking me to Morocco in the first place. Here’s to you, Bob and Alex.

To those who have made me feel so at home in Morocco: Cathy & Fred, Madame Alaoui, Helene & Hassan, Christine, Zaina, Fatima, and Khalissa.

For those who have made a home for Kahina in far away lands: Peter & Alexander, Michelle, Luca, Suzy, Floris

The amazing people who have provided invaluable support here and in Morocco and who I couldn’t function without: Here’s to you Mairin and Majid.

Those who tolerated my work stress over numerous takeout dinners, and stood by me through thick and thin: With so much love, here’s to you Jim, Armant, Jamie, and Grace.

And to all the rest, you know who you are.

Business With Berbers


I have found that most of Moroccan business is done over tea and a handshake at the very least, and more often involves a show of their extreme hospitality.  I was invited to numerous meals in the homes of my Berber friends, all of which included enough food to feed the entire village.  These meals were extravagant by any means, especially considering the relative poverty of my hosts.  Amazing multi-course meals, in which all the ingredients were grown organically on the premises, were produced in the simplest of homes over a wood-burning stove.  Even inside the cooperatives, the Berber women would share their simple staple of ground argan nuts combined with honey and olive oil.

These events are the starting point for good, lasting business relationships in Morocco.   The exchange of money is never mentioned during these meals, which can last for hours once the rituals of hand washing and drinking tea have been completed, the “bismallah’s have been said, and the food eaten from a communal plate.

The elaborate paperwork that is required to import products, meet FDA and cosmetic manufacturing regulations pales in importance to the bonds formed over good food and mint tea and for that reason the business forms we rely on can be difficult to obtain.  Most urgent requests for paperwork are met with “I’ll send it to you next week Inshallah (interpreted to mean something like “I’ll send it to you if God wills that my computer works, my car doesn’t break down, it isn’t a feast day, or  there is any other possible obstruction.”).

While we can email the most basic information to each other in French, when I am there conversation requires two translators — from English to Arabic, and from Arabic to Berber.  Interviewing the women who work in the cooperatives on a recent visit was a version of the childhood game of telephone – I would ask a question, which was translated into Arabic and then into Berber for the final recipient.  Peals of laughter and chatter would ring the room of women before an answer would come back down the line to me, which by the time it reached me would be reduced to a simple word or two.

I am often amazed when the oil actually arrives.  The first few shipments I received were shipped to the Post Office in rustic, hand-made wooden crates with nails sticking out of them and my address  scrawled on the outside in black ink.  It took a month for them to arrive by boat and by the time the crates got to me, the writing was barely legible.

But it is this part of the experience that keeps bringing me back to Morocco, to the simple life there and good-humored temperament of the people that live there  And it is this experience I hope to share with others through Kahina Giving Beauty.

Cactus Fibers

These beautiful threads are obtained from fibers of the aloe vera cactus plant in Morocco.  The long, pointed leaves of the cactus are crushed, the fibers washed and hammered, then the leaves soaked in water to separate the fibers and filaments.  These are then spun to make thread and died using all-natural dies such as indigo, henna and saffron.

These threads form the basis for our beautiful “sabra silk” fabrics, which are hand-loomed by artisans in Fes.  Coming soon from Living Beauty!

Cooperative Tilila One Year Later

Sharing a Berber Dance at Cooperative Tilila

On my visit to Cooperative Tilila one year ago, the women had no work because they could not afford to pay for their organic certification, necessary to sell oil internationally.  I was pleased to see them busy at work on this visit, surrounded by piles of nuts to be cracked for my next order.  I received warm thanks for my help in obtaining their certification for them, including henna painting, lots of dancing and singing, and a certificate of thanks with each of their signatures.

Certificate of Thanks signed by the women of Cooperative Tilila

A Look Back at 2009

It’s been quite a year.  It’s hard to believe that one year ago, we were just finishing up our packaging design and planning production.  We didn’t even have a product to sell or a website until March.  In the short, crazed eight months since we officially launched, we’ve received incredible press, including write ups in Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Nylon, Organic Spa, Natural Solutions and numerous blogs, and are now selling our products in select boutiques and spas around the country, from New York and LA to Kansas City and San Antonio.  While its been a tough year in many ways for a start up, we’ve always believed in our products and in our mission and have known that we would eventually find success.  The response from our customers has only underscored our belief.  Without actually making a profit this year (we borrowed against our apartment, have postponed making any major purchases and I have yet to take a salary) I am committed to making a difference and am confident in the future of Kahina.   Therefore I am committing 10% of revenue to the women until we turn a profit.  I am looking forward to a bright 2010 for Kahina, starting with a trip to Morocco in three weeks, where I am planning to meet with various cooperatives to determine the programs we will instigate/contribute to.

The 3 Graces.Santa Monica

I was on a quick trip to Santa Monica earlier this month to train the sales staff at Fred Segal.  Deciding to browse Montana Avenue on my one free hour in LA, my eye was drawn to a small store front featuring some new independent beauty brands.  I entered for a brief look around and discovered a new haven for natural and organic skin care called The 3 Graces.Santa Monica.  The space is beautiful – clean, spare and elegant – and showcases a wide selection of little known natural cosmetic solutions.  After striking up a conversation with the owners, Corinne and Joey Dunne, I wrote my name and the Kahina Giving Beauty url on a post-it and was merrily on my way.  Next morning, as I was sitting in a meeting in the cafe outside of Fred Segal, Joey Dunne appeared.  After visiting the Kahina website he had tracked me down and wanted to place an order immediately.  I am thrilled to be included in a store that shares my enthusiasm for and belief in organic and natural cosmetics and that is run by such a knowledgeable team with a great aesthetic.  The store is located at 1309 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica.

Mom and Pop

To give you a glimpse of what its like starting your own company, here’s a photo of my husband/business partner Jim (aka Pop) on the assembly line of the packaging plant getting our products ready for our first shipment to our Italian distributor.


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