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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.

GIVING BACK: High Atlas Foundation Spring Project

High Atlas Foundation Team to Make A Difference

I was contacted by the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco one month ago with an urgent plea for help. A one-room school outside of Marrakesh for boys and girls in Grades 3 – 6 was noticing a sharp dropoff in attendance by the girls. Without a bathroom for the children, there was no privacy or sanitation, an unacceptable situation for the parents of the girls, not to mention humiliating for the girls themselves. Kahina was able to provide the money for building and plumbing supplies, and the fathers of the children went right to work.

I met Abderrahim, the program director of the High Atlas Foundation and went with him to view the project on my trip to Morocco in April. I was amazed to see what the men had accomplished in just one month. A square structure built of cement blocks stood next to the school, complete with septic system and plumbed for four toilets, showers, and faucets. On my arrival at the school, I was welcomed by the school principal, teacher and the men of the village, as well as 50 boys and girls waving and calling out “Bonjour”. The children lined up and each one politely shook my hand, and, with huge smiles, repeated “Bonjour”. It is a tragic circumstance that so many lively, eager children should be deprived of a future over something we so easily take for granted, clean running water. I am grateful to all of our Kahina customers for participating in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of these children.

Children outside schoolhouse

Interior of schoolhouse

Katharine L'Heureux with children in High Atlas region

International Women’s Day 2015

International Women’s Day: a chat with Kahina founder Katharine L’Heureux

by Oresta Korbutiak of Oresta Organic Skincare. To view the original post, click here.

Katharine L'Heureux interview with Oresta

It is a pleasure to feature my chat with Katharine L’Heureux, founder of Kahina Giving Beauty. I first met Katharine in 2012 when she attended the launch party of Kahina at ORESTA. She spoke about the magic of argan oil: Morocco’s ‘liquid gold’ and her creation of Kahina: a luxurious holistic line of organic argan oil skin care products.

Katharine is a dynamic and inspiring woman who exudes radiance and grace. Kahina’s philanthropic philosophy is ‘Women Helping Women Through Shared Beauty Rituals’ and Katharine works with the Berber women of Morocco who extract the argan oil using techniques that have been passed down through generations. All of Kahina’s products are produced from start to finish with consideration of cultural and environmental sustainability. Katharine visits the women’s cooperatives in Morocco and donates a percentage of Kahina profits to support programs that improve the lives of these women whose signatures grace Kahina’s packaging.

Katharine introduced me to the wonderful world of oils and I’m excited to share with you Katharine’s experience and wisdom on empowering women around the world with healthy beauty.

Katharine L'Heureux in Morocco

O: How did you discover argan oil?

K: I was on an extended trip through Morocco and was in desperate need for a moisturizer in that extremely dry desert climate. I asked my guide what the local women use and he proceeded to tell me all about argan oil and how it was made. I was intrigued by the story of the oil, unique to Morocco, that I had never heard of before, and made by hand by the indigenous women of Morocco. When I tried it and discovered how well it worked on my skin, I was convinced that I needed to share this miraculous ingredient with women at home. I never dreamed at that time that this discovery would turn into a full-blown skincare company.

O: What makes Kahina’s argan oil superior to the many other argan oils on the market?

K: First of all, our oil is certified fair trade and organic. Just because an oil is sourced from a women’s cooperative (as most are) doesn’t mean that the women in the cooperative are being paid. Also, our argan oil is the finest grade, meaning that the nuts are carefully picked by hand from the argan tree, not gathered from the ground where they may have been pre-digested by livestock. The nuts are then sorted by hand to ensure quality, and cold-pressed and filtered by machine to eliminate the chance of bacterial contamination. Region pays a part also, delivering our signature mild, nutty fragrance. Our oil is never deodorized, which many argan oil manufacturers do to disguise an inferior quality oil.

O: What role does Kahina play in supporting women?

K: We purchase certified fair trade argan oil, which means that the women who are doing the work of harvesting and cracking the nuts for our oil are paid a fair wage. We also donate additional funds programs in Morocco that support these women who are very poor and mostly illiterate.

O: What is Kahina’s latest project?

K: We have a few projects going on right now that I am really excited about. First of all, we recently donated clothing to the women and children of a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains that was devastated by floods over the past winter. We are in the midst of a fundraising effort to raise money to purchase more sheep to use for wool and dairy for the women who extract our oil, and we are working with the High Atlas Foundation to deliver a clean water system to a school outside of Marrakesh. Because there is no clean water or facilities, girls’ attendance has been steadily dropping off.

O: What is your beauty routine?

K: Night and day, I cleanse with the Kahina Facial Cleanser, followed by the Kahina Toning Mist and Brightening Serum then an oil or Serum. Right now, I’m using the Prickly Pear Seed Oil, but I switch this up with the Kahina Serum from time to time, and in the summer I love the pure argan oil. In the morning I layer this with the Kahina Facial Lotion, which makes a great skin primer before makeup and works well to protect and deeply moisturize the skin. For the eye area, I layer the Eye Cream over the Eye Serum to make my eyes look more fresh and awake and to minimize fine lines and wrinkles. And twice a week, I apply the Kahina Antioxidant Mask, letting it sit for approximately 20 minutes before massaging it into my skin as an exfoliating and detoxifying treatment. For body, I use a dry brush 3 times a week. I love my Mio Dry Brush. Then jump into the shower with our Rosemary Lavender Soap for some extra exfoliating. As a special treat, I use Savon Noir with Eucalyptus that I bring home with me from Morocco. Its made from the pits of olives and really softens skin. After the shower, I slather on the Kahina Fez Body Serum before jumping into bed. I love the way it makes my sheets smell!

O: What is your beauty motto?

K: Beauty does not simply come from a product that you slap on your face. It comes from taking care of yourself, and feeling good about yourself. Eating well, drinking lots of water, and getting plenty sleep are crucial. So is trying to eliminate stress and making time for the things that bring you pleasure. Beauty rituals can play a huge role in making you feel good and good about your appearance. An all-natural regimen will contribute to your health. Make the investment in high quality ingredients and take the time to enjoy the fragrances and textures that they provide.

O: What woman do you admire most and why?

K: Right now, I am obsessed with Joan Didion. Obviously, she is an amazing talent, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her books, which have resonated profoundly with me at different stages of my own life. She is a complicated person who has lived a fascinating life, according to her own rules, and shown us how to bear up under the most difficult of circumstances. She has always had a very laissez faire style, which is incredibly chic. As the model for the Celine ads, she is a perfect role model for women on how to age gracefully without conforming to anyone’s rules or conventional ideas of beauty.

O: What is a valuable lesson that you would like to share with your daughter?

K: I was a late bloomer in life, and very insecure growing up. My daughter is a junior in college now. I want her to know that she is beautiful and talented, and that she deserves to expect so much in her relationships. I also want her to trust that the universe has a path for her, and that she needn’t worry. There is no prescribed timeframe for life events to take place. She should trust in herself and life will work itself out.

O: What message would you like to share with women on International Women’s Day?

K: That we, as women, working together, can be such a force for positive change. We need to work to support each other and lift each other up.

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.

Help us support Education for All, helping girls in Morocco go to school

Dar Asni

Very few girls from the rural communities of Morocco get the opportunity to continue their education beyond primary school, which ends at third grade in Morocco. Secondary schools, mostly several miles away in larger towns, are not accessible to them for two main reasons:

1. Their parents cannot afford to pay for lodgings near colleges.
2. Their parents do not have the confidence in existing facilities near colleges to entrust their daughters to their care.

Education For All was established to provide the opportunity of a secondary school education for girls from rural Moroccan communities. Its first project, opened in 2007, facilitated access to secondary school for 36 girls from the remote villages of the High Atlas Mountains by building a boarding house for them in the town of Asni. This year, the organization completed the opening of their fourth boarding house and now provides free room and board (3 meals a day) for approximately 150 girls, allowing them to complete high school. Education for All also provides the girls with school uniforms, learning materials, and clothing and toiletries.

It costs 1,000 EU to provide room and board for each girl per year. As you consider your end-of-year charitable giving, I hope you will consider a donation to Education for All. Apart from a paid housemother and cook, there are no administrative expenses as both the committee and volunteers work on a voluntary basis allowing 100% of all donations to go directly to the project. Kahina has been a proud supporter of Education for All since 2010. You can learn more about the program and/or make a donation by visiting www.efamorocco.org.

Raising the Bar: 6 Reasons We Love New Kahina Argan Soap

rosemarylavendersoapbar_highresNEW! Kahina Argan Soap in Rosemary Lavender

There has been a movement afoot to give soap a dirty name.  As some women are forgoing the bar in favor of liquid options – or just rinsing with water, I remain a devoted bar soap-user.  Here are six reasons why:

1. Soap is the perfect, no-waste product.  Unlike liquid soap in plastic packaging, once it is used, there is nothing left to throw away.

2. I love the way a bar of soap fits in your hand.

3. Handmade soaps have character and charm and look great in the bathroom.

4. Soaps are easy to stack and store.

5. The best natural soaps are moisturizing, nourishing, and smell delicious.

6. Soap is an all-purpose product and can be used on face, body and hair.  Always handy for hand-washables when traveling as well.

Raising the bar on soap, we proudly introduce our new Argan Soap made with Rosemary and Lavender.All of the above and more, our handmade soap contains ground rosemary and high concentrations of our personally sourced argan oil for “scrubby, moisturizing goodness”.

Are you a lover of bar soap? Become one! Shop KAHINA ARGAN SOAP TRIO.

Majid Alaoui

honey-tasting

Majid, on the right, tasting the local prickly pear cactus honey, good for medicinal purposes.

I was recently asked what the most important requirement is when starting a philanthropic business in a third-world country.  The first thing that came to mind was having a trusted advisor and guide who knows and lives in the country.  For me, this person is Majid Alaoui.

Majid was the person who introduced me to argan oil as my guide during my first trip through Morocco in 2007, when I was searching for something to replace my cosmetics which had been confiscated on the flight over.  When I decided to create Kahina, I contacted Majid to ask him to send me some bulk argan oil, and then asked him to be my guide through the south while identifying Kahina’s argan suppliers.  Kahina has come a long way since then, but Majid has been a constant by my side in Morocco helping me locate argan cooperatives, communicate with his fellow Moroccans, and navigate the tricky cultural waters of an American woman doing business there.  He has also allowed me to travel not as a tourist, but as a local, eating the best street food, obtaining the best quality at fair prices in the souks, and discovering places otherwise kept from tourists.

Having been raised on a farm in the North of Morocco, Majid is also well-versed in traditional remedies, most passed down from him Mother, and knows where to find the best regional products and ingredients.

Here are a few of Majid’s traditional remedies:

For back pain, place crushed cooked potatoes on area.

To stop gas and bloating, drink a cup of hot water with cinnamon after eating.

To lose weight, drink hot water with a spoonful of apple vinegar.

Drink grape juice or raisin juice for antiaging.

majid-and-kat-small

With Majid in the village

Giving Back in 2012

sheep-face-small

It was wonderful to see the sheep that we donated to the women of the village of Tazghelilt and what a difference they are making in their lives.  Now the women have a source of dairy and wool for their weaving.  Several new sheep have been born, and more will be bred for the women to sell.

I had an opportunity to discuss new projects that Kahina can fund for these and other women in the region.  One group, situated by a busy road, is attempting to draw more tourists to their location and would like to operate a small café in the cooperative.  To do this, they require electricity and a refrigerator.  Another group would like to provide health insurance for each of its members.  And the women of Tazghelilt want still more sheep.

There is no shortage of need in rural Morocco.  Yet, it is amazing what a difference a little bit of help can make in the lives of these women.  The rewards of the success of Kahina Giving Beauty will be to bring all these ideas and more to fruition this year.

The truth about argan cooperatives

smiling-berber-girl-in-blue-small

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.

Free shipping in the US with orders over $75.