Tag Archives | Argan Oil Production

Beauty Heroes Q&A with Katharine L’Heureux

This month, Kahina is proud to partner with Beauty Heroes to celebrate the naming of Kahina Eye Serum as an Expert Selection. Beauty Heroes is a subscription box that gives you full-sized items that have been vetted by their team of spa & beauty experts. Interested? Subscribe before September 15, 2015 to get a full-size Kahina Eye Serum plus a deluxe travel size (1 oz.) of our Facial Lotion for just $39.

See the original posting of the Q&A here.

Katharine at Agadir Beach

The recent update to our identity, now Beauty Heroes, could not have happened at a more appropriate time as we announce our September selection from Kahina Giving Beauty. Katharine L’Heureux, the founder of Kahina has taken her process of developing an ingredient driven, effective and beautifully packaged skincare line and turned it into a heroic venture that contributes substantially to the lives of women in Morocco. Deeply invested in their wellbeing, she travels to personally oversee how Kahina Giving Beauty can optimally direct resources, and ‘give beauty’ back to these women. I recently spent some time with Katharine in New York and got to see first hand how she balances the success of an iconic beauty brand with a mission to support communities of women making her a defining Beauty Hero. I hope you enjoy this glimpse behind Kahina Giving Beauty and take time to explore more of the line when you consider beauty products that benefit your skin while transforming the lives of women.

What inspired you to create Kahina Giving Beauty? Had you always wanted to formulate natural and organic skincare?
Following the birth of my third child 11 years ago, I was searching for safe and effective all-natural skincare products that, at the time, were hard to find. While on a trip to Morocco in 2007 I discovered argan oil – which is rich in Vitamin E, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. I began by importing the argan oil, then worked with an experienced chemist to formulate the line I was yearning for – simple, effective, organic skincare products, using high quality ingredients from around the world that are ethically produced and beautifully packaged with this amazing ingredient at their core.

What inspired the name Kahina Giving Beauty?
My aim was to honor the Berber women who extract the argan oil in Morocco. Kahina is the name of a Berber queen and prophetess who reigned in North Africa in 700 CE. Giving Beauty, our company name, refers to our policy of giving back to these women – by paying them a fair wage and donating to programs that support them and their families. It also acknowledges the generations of traditional remedies and healing techniques that they’ve been kind enough to share with us.

Katharine L'Heureux in Morocco

What’s your workspace like?
My space is very important to me. I’m very fortunate to work out of my loft in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan with my superstar employee, Mairin Cipolla, where we enjoy great views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Working at home allows me to be flexible with my time, which is necessary with my kids coming and going.

When it’s time to create a new product, how do you begin?
I’ve created each of my products based on what I personally need and would want to use. Usually, we’ll have internal discussions beginning with objectives for the product, outlining the benefits we’d like to achieve and how and when we’d use it.

What IS your process? Do you begin with an ingredient or an objective?
Once we’ve decided on the product we’d like to make, we’ll research ingredients that would work well. This is the fun part! We’re certified by Ecocert, so we search for certified organic and natural ingredients that comply with their standards. The list of proven effective natural ingredients continues to grow and evolve in exciting ways and this most definitely informs the products we produce. We discuss efficacy, scent profile, consistency, texture, and packaging options, and then my chemist gets to work. We’ll go through a number of rounds before we get to a point where we feel satisfied with the precise formula. Once approved, products have to withstand rigorous challenge and stability testing, so our chemist’s knowledge and experience is invaluable in creating products that will stand up over time and in a range of environments.

How often do you make a new product? How long does that process take?
We try to keep the line simple and meaningful, so we introduce a new product just once or twice a year. The entire process, from idea to finished product takes at least 18 months. With testing, certification, production and packaging, there’s no room to be impetuous.

What’s been the biggest discovery for you lately in terms of the creative process – or in creating a specific new product?
I have come to realize that much of the creative process is a result of having an open mind, letting go and trusting in forces beyond my control. If I envision a thing one way, but things happen to make it work out differently, often it will turn out better than originally planned. The most engaging works of art are often dialogues between the creator and the environment. It’s why I enjoy gardening, wine and creating natural cosmetics.

Is it safe to assume that Argan Oil is your favorite superpower ingredient? What specifically do you love about it?
Argan oil is certainly my first love. It’s a multi-purpose ingredient, with high concentrations of vitamin E and essential fatty acids, and works well on most skin types and for a myriad of skin concerns – from addressing signs of aging to acne. It also has uses for hair, nails and body. What’s not to love?

Since starting Kahina, I’ve discovered so many amazing new ingredients that we combine with the argan oil in our formulations, including sea buckthorn seed oil, carrot seed oil, and my latest love, Prickly Pear Seed Oil, which is sourced from the same women who supply our argan oil in Morocco.

Women cracking argan nuts photo credit Kahina Giving Beauty

How about a favorite product in the collection?
It’s so hard to choose only one, as they’re meant to be used together for the best results. Each product assists the next in achieving optimal, glowing, healthy skin. I do have a soft spot for the eye serum, though. It’s resolved issues of under-eye puffiness many mornings when I didn’t look as bright and awake as I would’ve wished!

How often do you visit Morocco? How long do you stay when you go? Any favorite places you’d like to tell us about?
I visit Morocco at least once or twice a year for at least 10 days each time. There is a lot of ground to cover on my trips, usually from Casablanca to Marrakesh, then Essaouira, Agadir and Taroudant in the South. This usually means a couple of hours a day are spent driving, but it’s a great way to experience Morocco and witness the rural way of life there. One of my favorite drives is from Essaouira to Agadir, through the argan forest and along the beautiful unspoiled Atlantic coastline, passing through some typical small villages along the way. My two favorite places to stay in all of Morocco are Riad Laaroussa in Fez and the Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge in Agadir – both of which are meticulously restored historic structures run by friendly and charming couples with an eye toward authenticity and cultural preservation.

You recently visited Morocco and the cooperatives where you source your ingredients? Can you share a glimpse into your trip?
Visiting the women who extract the oil for Kahina is always a touchstone for me, renewing my passion and excitement for the work I do. These women live in a remote village high in the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Southern Morocco. They are extremely poor, with no electricity or running water. They work hard just to survive, but they are truly aligned with nature in their daily rhythms, which connects them to the earth and to each other in a joyful way. It’s very rewarding for me to see how their work for Kahina benefits them, and to discover other ways in which we can help. In the last six months, we were able to build a bathroom with clean running water for a Middle School to help increase girls’ attendance. We also donated clothing and supplies to a village devastated by flooding last Fall.

Children outside schoolhouse

Do you have a personal mantra that inspires you?
One very simple, but helpful one I picked up in Morocco, “give time to time,” meaning be patient and let events unfold as they will. Also, thank you, God.

Where might I run into you on a Sunday morning?
That depends on where I am and the time of year. Right now, weekends are spent at our home in the Hudson Valley working in the garden followed by lunch with my husband and whichever kids are home. Fall and Winter weekends find my family and I in Manhattan where my husband and I like to take walks along the Hudson River and then we shop for lunch at Chelsea Market.

How do you relax?
Nothing makes me lose track of time like working in the garden. I love that it stretches me physically while also offering a time of contemplation and a creative outlet. There are also so many philosophical aspects to working in the garden: You can learn so much from observing plants, their power to heal and delight, to attract and repel in order to survive.

Open House at Everlane NYC

Kahina at Everlane

Everlane, a fashion e-tailer that’s made a name for itself with pared-down styles at “radically transparent” prices, is hosting their biggest pop-up yet in NYC this June.  We’ve been a fan of Everlane ever since it launched, so we were thrilled when they asked to include Kahina Argan Oil in their model home.

From their site:
“We’ve created a “home space” in our shop where all of the objects will be accompanied by their origin and cost stories. To uncover these, we researched household items and partnered with Taavo Somer’s creative agency Friends & Family and a number of like-minded brands, including Kaufmann Mercantile, simplehuman, and ABC Carpet & Home.”

You’re invited to stop-by, try on Everlane’s signature styles, and tour the house of the future, featuring Kahina Argan Oil. 

Where: 199 Lafayette St, NYC
When: Housewarming launch party is Friday, June 13th, 7-10 PM. Otherwise, stop by every day from 11 AM to 6 PM from 6/13-6/28
More information: Click here

 

Get the Kahina Glow: Sara Jane Mercer Shows You How

In this video, Sara uses three Kahina products to revitalize and treat her skin. This three-step routine is the perfect at-home mini-facial, but can also be done before a big night out to get a glow and prep for make-up application. Enjoy!

Products in this video:
Kahina Antioxidant Mask
Kahina Serum
Kahina Eye Cream

About Sara: Sara Jane Mercer knows a thing or two about how to keep your body (including your skin!) in tip-top shape. A certified wellness and whole living expert, Sara shares her passion and knowledge via her blog, where you can find how-to videos on everything from the best way to seed a pomegranate to all-natural makeup tutorials with Rebecca Casciano.

Kahina Argan Oil: How It’s Made

Did you know Kahina Argan Oil comes from the argan nut? Using two stones, Berber women working in cooperatives crack these argan nuts open to get to the fleshy interior. The fleshy interior is then cold-pressed to make our argan oil. The video above, shot by Kahina founder Katharine L’Heureux, shows this traditional process. The women often sing or talk while they crack the argan nuts. Other than a chance to gather together, the production of argan oil gives these women economic opportunities that they would not have had otherwise.

Argan Cooperative Celebration: Berber Women Singing & Dancing

Katharine L’Heureux regularly visits Kahina Giving Beauty‘s argan oil suppliers- the argan cooperatives of southern Morocco. The Berber women of the cooperatives welcome her with open arms and traditional ceremonies. This video, shot by Katharine, shows women dancing and singing as a welcoming ceremony and celebration. These Berber women crack the nuts used to make Kahina Giving Beauty’s Argan Oil.

Like this video and want to see more? Find Kahina Giving Beauty on Youtube!

A model cooperative

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My criteria for selecting an argan supplier are as follows in the order of importance:

  • Highest quality oil produced using best harvesting and extraction practices
  • Fair wages for the women who work to produce the oil
  • A well functioning organization
  • Women in need with a clear vision for ways in which Kahina can assist beyond trade
  • Income staying in the region

It has been challenging to find a producer that satisfies all of these requirements.As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have encountered corruption and groups of women unable to operate a functioning cooperative. Women not being paid for their work and, in some cases, foreigners running companies that pay a fair wage to the women for harvesting and cracking the nuts, but the income from the oil leaves the country.

On my most recent visit I encountered a group of women that operates effectively in the true spirit of a cooperative.The cooperative is run by a woman named Nadia who formed the cooperative at the request of the women in the village.She had been offering the women free literacy courses when they proposed that their group start a cooperative.Nadia did the work of applying for government funding, finding a building, purchasing equipment and setting up the cooperative.The women truly want to work to improve their lives and Nadia is their selfless leader.

I have learned that it is critical for the success of a cooperative to have an educated and dedicated administrator such as Nadia involved in running it. Hopefully, as more girls receive higher education in the region, they will choose to stay on in the villages and adopt these roles.

The truth about argan cooperatives

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While most companies selling argan oil and argan-based products claim to purchase their products from women’s cooperatives in Morocco, it is important to note that all cooperatives are not alike.

On each of my visits to Morocco, I spend lots of time in the rural south visiting argan suppliers in an effort to better understand the situation there.  Along with numerous success stories, I have unfortunately also encountered corruption, groups of women unable to sufficiently organize themselves in order to sustain a business, cooperatives and companies producing poor quality oil and selling it at a lower price, cooperatives run by men who do not pay the women who work there a fair wage, as well as larger conglomerates capitalizing the marketplace and squeezing out less organized/well financed groups of women.

On this visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Charouff, who was responsible for establishing the first women-run cooperative for the production of argan oil in 1999.  During our meeting we discussed the current state of the argan oil industry and the accompanying challenges and opportunities.  Most alarming is the fact that machines have been introduced to do the work of cracking the nuts.  While preserving companies’ bottom line by producing oil at a lower cost, these machines will eliminate jobs for the women of the region.

It will be difficult to determine whether the oil you are purchasing is actually cracked by hand or machine, as it is hard to know whether the oil is organic, or produced using best practices.  At Kahina Giving Beauty we personally source certified Fair Trade organic argan oil and carefully monitor harvesting and extraction techniques.  This ensures the highest quality oil and a fair wage for the women who work to extract the oil at the heart of our line.

Visit to Morocco May 2012

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I’ve just returned from Morocco after a 10-day trip that took me from Casablanca to Marrakesh, Essaouira, Agadir, Taroudant and the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and finally to Rabat.  Since my last visit, life has continued for the people of the villages, marked by marriages, births, and sadly a few deaths. It was especially wonderful to see how the children have grown up.

The girls were amused by photographs I brought of them which I took on my last visit.

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And proud to teach me their weaving techniques.

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They presented me with rugs they had woven and a ceremonial “mozoune” to wear to their celebration which lasted well into the night.

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I was happy to see the sheep donated by Kahina that supplied the wool for my rugs healthy and happy and living inside the home of the shepherd.

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From the Berber villages in the South, I traveled to Rabat, where I was the guest of the Ambassador at Large to Morocco, Assia Bensalah Alaoui, at the henna ceremony of her niece.  While the worlds of Moroccan diplomacy and the Berber women of the villages seem worlds apart, the stong fiber of Moroccan culture was evident in the shared traditions of female bonding through dance and joyous celebration.

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I return to New York with a renewed passion for Kahina’s mission to help the women of Morocco and to extend their notion of bonding through ritual across the Atlantic.

A Healthy and Prosperous New Year to All

Meeting of the Women of the Village

Its been a great year for Kahina Giving Beauty. During our second full year of selling products we reached several milestones, including domestic and international expansion, strengthened ties with our existing retail partners, exciting new product launches, and continued enthusiastic support from you, our customers.Most importantly, we were able to aid the Berber women at the heart of the Kahina line in the following ways:

·the purchase of 60 dairy goats for the women of the village of Tazghelite in the Mid-Atlas Mountains.

·Room and board for one girl for a school year through Education For All in the High Atlas Mountains

·A chance at economic independence for approximately 200 impoverished women through the work of argan oil production.

I am often asked how we determine how to allocate our funds for the Berber women.As a small start-up faced with the costs of running and growing a business, it is important to find ways in which our limited resources can have the most impact.I work directly with the Berber women and others on the ground in Morocco and let them tell me exactly what they need.For those of us in the West with easy access to food, shelter, electricity, and water, their answers can be surprising.Last year, our first full year in business, we paid for the organic certification of a small cooperative so they could participate in the international argan trade.This year, we learned from an association of women in a small village in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, that goats would dramatically improve their lives by providing milk to feed their children, and wool for them to use in their weaving, providing another opportunity for economic independence.In the case of Education For All, safe room and board means that a girl can continue her education beyond the third grade.

I thank all of our customers who have supported our mission of “Women Helping Women Through Shared Beauty Rituals” and look forward to a new year of health and prosperity for all.

Argan Oil Quality

Goats love to eat the argan nuts.

There are varying qualities of cosmetic argan oil on the market, as evidenced by the wildly differing prices for oil sold on sites such as Amazon.com.  There are several factors that are important in determining the quality of argan oil.

The argan nut is a hard almond-like seed, encased in an external shell and a fruity outside pulp.  The nuts that are gathered for oil must have the exterior pulp in tact.  If there is no pulp, it means that the nut has been eaten and digested by a goat (goats love to eat the nuts) imparting a foul smell to the oil.  Often, these “goat nuts” will be sold at a low price and then the oil will be deodorized, a process that destroys the essential nutrients in the oil.  This is typically the case of the lower priced oils on the market.

The location from which the argan nuts are harvested also makes a difference.  There are five distinct regions in the South of Morocco where the argan trees grow.  The five regions engulf the coastland of Essaouira, to the desert of Taroudant and the mountains of the mid and anti atlas.  Each of these areas differ in their soil, exposure and weather conditions.  For example, the trees from Essaouira are exposed to more moisture than the trees of the desert region near Taroudant and so the nuts from Taroudant are smaller but more nutrient-rich.  The area around Agadir includes lots of agriculture, thereby exposing the trees of that region to chemical pesticides and fertilizer, so the oil from that region is rarely organic.

Finally, the method of harvesting, extraction and storage is extremely important.  Nuts must be gathered from the ground, not the tree.  The nuts that have not fallen yet from the tree are not sufficiently ripe.  This also helps to protect the tree.  The nuts are then dried for one week in the sun before depulping and cracking by hand.  The highest quality oil is extracted by machine to eliminate excess water and the chance for bacterial contamination.

It is important to recognize that it is most often the women who do the hard work of extracting the argan oil who are undercut in the market for low-priced argan oil.  It is crucial that these women receive a fair wage for their labor in order to make the money they need to survive.

Of course, Kahina Giving Beauty works with cooperatives that pay a fair wage to the women and ensures that only the highest quality nuts go into its oil.

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