After one of the most difficult years in living memory, it’s fair to assume a mother of three-slash-entrepreneur-slash-expat might not be feeling her best.
Only, when multi-hyphenate businesswoma Miranda Kerr enters the room—via Zoom, of course—she is positively glowing. With reason.
Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the 38-year-old has seen KORA Organics, her certified organic beauty business, thrive.
“I just feel really proud of where we’re at,” Kerr tells me through a sip of celery juice. “That we were able to really pave the way for so many people that are interested in clean beauty.”
Since its very small launch back in 2009, all of KORA Organics’ products have not only been ‘clean’ but certified organic—a rarity in the beauty industry then and now.
“Certified organic wasn’t just because I wanted to use healthy products, I wanted to use really powerful, highly effective, healthy products,” she says.
Initially, Kerr had to ask a chemist if creating such a line was even possible, as she had never come across certified organic products as a consumer.
“I worked with organic chemists for three years developing KORA, and then we just launched at the end of 2009 in Australia. At the time, I was working crazy hours and travelling around the world—it was like a hobby project.”
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As one of the world’s most recognizable faces, she was not only at the peak of her career but had just been ranked on Forbes’ list of highest-paid models for the first time.
Though she was only 26, she had already spent thirteen years building a name for herself as a model, trying different moisturisers, creams, oils and beauty products that make-up artists would recommend—all of which she felt looked good, but rarely did much good.
“I mean, I was really quite primed to be in this category without even realizing,” she says. “I knew what felt right, what melted into the skin or was sitting on the surface, and it’s just been a really incredible process working with our chemist to get our products to where they are.
In the early years, Kerr’s modeling career showed no signs of slowing down: she was chosen to present the $2.5 million Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Treasure bra, became the first pregnant model for Vogue, walked high fashion shows for Dior, Lanvin, Chanel, and even replaced Kate Moss as the face of Mango.
But it was never her long-term goal. “My mom would say to me, ‘look, modelling could stop tomorrow, so save every penny and you’ll be able to invest in your own business one day’.”
As the brand grew larger and larger in Australia, Kerr plugged every cent the business made back in to its growth and product expansion. All of which were self-funded, bar a small stake from a private investor. To this day, she still owns 95% of the business.
“I’ve kept it that way because I really wanted to maintain the integrity of the brand,” she says. I wanted to be able to bring my visions to life without having other people trying to dilute that. This is my vision, my passion, and I’ve been so specific about what I’ve wanted from day one.”
Steadily but not-at-all slowly, people began to take notice of KORA and started approaching her with offers to both invest and buy the business outright. But she has always turned them down.
“In my ideal world, I’ll be able to pass this company down to my boys, just like Estee Lauder passed her company down to her boys, and you need that integrity for longevity,” she brushes a piece of hair away and fixes her glance. “I’m not here to create a pipe, sell it and make a bunch of money. I really want these products to help transform people’s skin all over the world, and I want it to be part of my legacy.”
Of course, global domination demands global expansion and Kerr—who had recently started dating Snap Inc CEO Evan Spiegel—spent much of 2015 and 2016 tinkering with the idea of moving herself, and her business, to America.
“It was a big leap of faith to make more of an investment in the company, because I had to invest more my own money,” she admits. “Really, it was a little daunting to take that big step.”
In a fortunate turn of events, however, Sephora approached Kerr directly in 2017 asking if she’d be interested in an exclusive Stateside launch with their support.
“When I said this to Evan—that I would be putting all my eggs in one basket, that it’s a little scary, it’s a big investment, it’s overwhelming—he said, ‘Well, I just don’t understand why you haven’t, why has it taken this long?’
“He had this full faith in me and the products. He was just like, ‘I don’t know why you spending all your time building other people’s brands when you should be spending this time and energy focusing on your brands—what are you doing?’,” she giggles, adopting a faux-angry tone. “Well, other people pay me and this costs me money.”
Still, seeing the company’s potential through Spiegel’s eyes gave her the push she needed. Shortly after, she began talking with Sephora and looking for a US-based general manager.
“One thing that my [now] husband taught me is not to be afraid to reach out and ask someone for advice. Or if I don’t know how to do something, not to be afraid to say it. That was really valuable because I had known so many people in the industry for so long and could have gone to them and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ but being Australian, I guess ,I didn’t want to impose.
“My husband’s like, ‘go for it! People love it, when you ask for their advice!’. That’s one of the keys to growing and learning.
“Sometimes I even reach out to people on LinkedIn, and they don’t even know me. I’m like, ‘hey, it’s Miranda, do you want to have a conversation?'”, she laughs, mocking herself with a thicker Aussie accent. “So I’ve gone to the other extreme now.”
While Spiegel has no affiliation with the business at large, Kerr is thankful he not only loves bouncing ideas around with her, but uses her products every day. “He is just such a great sounding board for me and, because he built his business from the ground up, he’s learnt so much. He is just the most intelligent man I know.”
A success in his own right, too; Snapchat’s own expansion (as of Q2 2020 it’s available to over two billion people in their native language) led to faster growth in emerging Snap markets, like India, and generated revenue of $2.5 billion—an increase of 62% year on year.
Comparatively, Kerr tells me, KORA Organics is also up 75% year-on-year in North America, almost doubling, and now has 30 employees in the US, another 30 in Australia, and has expanded into 30 countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Thanks, in large part, to trending consumer interest in ‘clean beauty’—which Kerr is both thankful for and concerned about. She takes a moment to swap her celery juice for coffee.
“I think there’s so much noise out there, which is why I stand by being certified by an outside body, like Eco-Cert COSMOS—they have strict rules and regulations. That’s what really sets the brand apart,” she says.
Though many ‘clean’ and ‘natural’ beauty brands meet the bare minimum to align themselves with the trend, KORA is still the only certified organic brand that Sephora—and many of its competitors—carries. “It is a lot of work for us but it assures people that we’re pure, and completely transparent on our labels.”
Transparent, too, is Kerr’s love for all things spiritual. As we continue to talk through the magical properties of her favorite organic ingredients, she pulls a clear quartz, citrine, amethyst and rose quartz into view of the camera. They sparkle, in tandem.
“Crystals have been a tool that I have really leaned on to help me stay heart-centered. They’ve felt very nurturing to me,” she says, stroking the rose quartz. “When I started KORA I wondered how I could incorporate that magic I feel from the crystals into the line.”
A rather unlikely request, sure, but not impossible. The chemist Kerr initially worked with perfected a process which would use rose quartz crystals, energized in the sun, to energize each organic ingredient in its respective vat during the manufacturing process. And every product has been made this way since.
“First and foremost it’s powerful healthy skincare, right? Secondly, I wanted people to feel nurtured,” says Kerr. “I use essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance, because they’ve also been a powerful tool for me. For instance, our Milky Mushroom cleanser has rose, geranium, and basil—specific oils that are really great for calming and soothing the senses. When you’re using the cleanser, it’s soothing your skin and your spirit at the same time.”
Today, KORA Organics launches one of its most nurturing products to date—the Turmeric Glow Moisturizer, a restorative and ultra-hydrating moisturizer with a custom liposome built to target the appearance of hyperpigmentation, dark spots, dullness, fine lines and wrinkles (with super-powerful certified organic ingredients, natch).
For the first time, the brand has also housed the product in a refillable pod that slips in an out of a beautiful glass jar with sustainable ease.
All in all, the product took over two years to formulate and, to Kerr’s own surprise, being its thick and luxurious in texture, it has also been chemist-approved for all skin types.
“I gave it to Katy Perry, who has openly talked about her issues with acne, and she threw out all her other moisturizers and now just uses this!” she says with pride. “She’s obsessed. She normally breaks out with moisturisers, but hasn’t with this, and I love it just as much but I’m more of a dry skin type. It just works for everyone.”
To mark its launch, Kerr has decided to spend money on digital and social media marketing for the first time in KORA’s history.
“We’ll see how it goes, you know? All the money Kora makes I put back into the company—I still haven’t taken a cent since day one—and it funds these growth investments, new products, expanding the team. It’s like a baby, you just have to give it your all so it can flourish.”
Over the next five years, Kerr is focused on solidifying KORA’s position as the leader in this space…and then some. “I do feel like KORA really has the potential to become the Estee Lauder of organics. I see that clearly.”