It’s one of those majestic L.A. days where the breeze is exactly 72 degrees and the sky is an auspicious cerulean blue. It’s the only thing that makes my drive to Malibu worth the hour and half from the East side (if you know, you know) and as I sit in traffic on the freeway my mind harks back to the first time Kerr and I met. It was 2009, I was a young, bright-eyed journalist for a local newspaper in Australia and I’d flown to Sydney to report on the David Jones (it’s the Nordstrom of Down Under) seasonal fashion show of which Kerr was the ambassador and runway star. Post-event I was invited to an intimate brunch (I’m talking myself and three other journalists) with her mom in her private hotel room at the Sheraton Hotel to experience her new certified organic skincare line over tea and scones. That line was Kora Organics. Fast forward to 2019, and Kerr’s line is now sold in 25 countries and available at Sephora stores nationwide.
Suddenly, Google maps shocks me out of my nostalgic throwback with its “you’ve arrived” and I’m greeted by valet who escort me to a golf cart and told to “hold on tight” as it takes myself and other guests up the winding private driveway to Kerr’s abode. I feel like I’ve come full circle as I walk through the gates of her picturesque beachside residence or as she calls it “my tree house” for the exclusive launch party of the model turned mogul’s Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum. The view at the top is breathtaking, literally, the air is different up there. Combined with the ocean views it’s definitely a sanctuary for Kerr and her young family.
Pregnant with her third child, Kerr is all smiles in a flamingo-pink mini dress (which conveniently matches the Noni Bright packaging) and opens her arms upon seeing me for a warm embrace. She is positively radiant—glowing from the inside out—and after a quick catch-up she ushers me to experience one of the many healing modalities she’s organized for the event including crystal readings, reiki healing, and aura photography. While I have my aura photographed with Steph Shepherd (Kim Kardashian’s former assistant), I look around to see Katy Perry in a circle with guests enjoying a crystal reading with Kelsey Patel and Sophia Richie heading in for her reiki session with Kerr’s favorite, Nousha—surreal is an understatement.
After the event, I hopped on the phone with Kerr to discuss her journey from high-fashion model to successful entrepreneur, what she’s learned along the way, why she opted for a slow approach to new launches, and why trusting her gut has been her greatest mentor.
You created Kora in 2009 by yourself with a small team and now the brand is available worldwide—what has been the biggest learning curve?
Starting any new business is full of learning curves (and I am actually still learning every day) but these are some of the biggest:
1.Really trust your gut. Don’t be swayed by what other people might suggest is better for the company. It’s good to listen to that and take it into consideration, but if you still feel that gut feeling about something then go for it. There have been a couple of times where different people we work with told me not to do something because they wouldn’t carry that product. I thought okay, I’m going to do it anyway, then it sells like crazy and they end up taking it later.
2. Being able to empower your team and understand the value of your team as a leader. You are only as good as what your team is so my job is to really nurture and develop that culture and bring out the best in each team member. That includes direct feedback, constructive feedback, and challenging them to strive beyond what their goals may be so they don’t get comfortable. But also let them know that they are appreciated and heard no matter what their position is—everyone is valuable and needed and I always say teamwork makes the dream work because I couldn’t do it on my own.
3. Don’t afraid to ask for advice or to ask if you don’t understand something. When I am going through the P&L with our CFO that is not my forte but I ask him what do you mean by that? or maybe this is a silly question but can you explain this to me? and I have learned so much. Instead of just pretending to understand I really ask him to show me the formula and teach me along the way. I was always afraid to ask for help because I didn’t want to put anyone out but people love helping out when they can.
You've always taken a very thoughtful and considered approach to launch new products, making sure to test them rigorously first, not giving into buzzy beauty trends—why did you decide to do that?
I didn’t even realize the extent that I beat to the rhythm of my own drum and do my own thing, but the more interviews I do the more I realize, I just want to do my own thing. We are the only certified organic brand in Sephora. It is a big deal for me and my team because it requires a lot of work and it is a lot of auditing but it really ensures customers and brands have integrity. Customers have that insurance they are getting what they are paying for.
Clean beauty is a wonderful step in the right direction but certified organic is so much more than clean beauty—there are more antioxidants in the ingredients because the produce is grown on soil that is nutrient rich which is also why people buy organic food. It is a no brainer that you are going to have more powerful results because you are using a product that isn’t just clean but also certified organic.
For me, results and performance are everything. I don’t want a closet full of lots of products. I am a busy mom, I want a handful of products that work and deliver results that I need. I love research and development. We work with the best organic chemists in the world. I love learning about new innovative ingredients and formulations that push the boundaries in certified organic. So each product is very considered. We do take our time. We do all our stability testing and consumer studies and the results speak for themselves—the products really work.
Tell us about your new Vitamin C serum? How long did it take to develop it from concept to product?
On average it takes about a year with each product. We go back and forth with the labs, then it’s tested on me and my family, then we do consumer studies, we get the results and then we can launch it. This is my third pregnancy so I wanted to create something that was super powerful but at the same time wasn’t harsh on my skin. I wanted something I could use every day and also gave me the results I needed for pigmentation, anti-aging, firmness, and enhanced elasticity in the skin. I am 36 so I really wanted to target those fine lines and wrinkles too.
Even when you’re not pregnant we should all be aware of what we’re putting on our skin. My pigmentation looks better now than it ever has. It wasn’t very good. That’s the only reason I wear makeup, I’m trying to blend in the pigmentation. This product combined with the turmeric scrub mask has really helped. I don’t go a night without my sleeping mask—that really helps too.
You decided not to raise money for Kora and self-fund instead. Why was this important to you? What was the reason behind that decision? Would you recommend this to other women starting a business? Why/Why not?
It was a conscious decision for me because I wanted to be in control of my business. I wanted to make sure I could create a skincare company built on values and integrity. From the beginning I have had such a clear vision of what I wanted the products to be so I didn’t want someone coming in to alter that or water the products down or try to make a quick buck. I wanted the product to be efficacious and results driven and I knew the way I wanted to present it with the packaging and the marketing. I didn't want that to be diluted with anyone else's ideas.
To this day I haven’t taken a dollar out of the company, it all gets reinvested back into the business. I am doing it because I believe in it because it is helping people around the world. I am fortunate enough that I’ve saved my money over the last 20 years and I’ve been able to invest it in something I’m super passionate and involved in—it is my first baby.
Every job is an opportunity to learn something new and each skill contributes to the next role. What are some of the skills you've taken over to Kora from being a model?
Whether I was a spokesperson or an ambassador for another brand (as a model) I was equally interested in the business not just as the face, but the demo and the goals too so I could do the best job for them when I was working for them. I have met and dealt with so many large global corps and different CEOs. I have been on a constant learning curve and that serves me well now when creating my own business. I feel very lucky that my career gave me the platform to have a voice so I could launch my own brand and help educate the importance of using certified organic skincare. I’m not saying just use my products, I’m asking people to read the labels and make an informed decision.
What advice do you have for other women who want to pivot from their current career into something completely different?
You have to have a long term vision because it doesn’t happen overnight. It is really is a lot easier to work for someone else—you have consistent cash flow because you get paid once a week—but when you have your own business I am the last person that I think about. I have to make sure that my team is taken care of and my inventory is taken care of, there is so much to manage. Be sure to do your research and really be prepared for hard work because success won’t come overnight.
Even when your business is super successful the hard work is still there if not more. It is daunting and scary but at the same time, it is the best thing I have ever done.
To learn more about Kerr and her certified organic skincare line, visit Kora Organics.