As founder of KORA Organics, former Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr is proving her passion for natural ingredients to be popular–and lucrative.
“You don’t mean perfume,” Miranda Kerr gently corrects a colleague. “You mean aromatherapy.” Tucked inside in an unassuming condo building in Santa Monica, the supermodel-turned-cosmetics mogul leads a product meeting for her brand KORA Organics. It’s a modest, fuss-free building; There are no neon signs, peppy front desk personnel, or anything that would have you assume it houses an A-list star’s business. Inside, large quartz crystals and shaggy blankets pepper the simple white interiors that could as easily be a realtor’s office. A handful of people exchange memos and examine early beauty prototypes. This is a place where Kerr comes to get down to business. “I want to keep everything really clean,” Kerr instructs one of her employees during an intricate discussion on product lids. In a firm yet tolerant tone, she spends the next 10 minutes explaining why she specifically prefers one rose gold shade over another, citing the minimalist aesthetic she demands for her wellness line.
From there, she takes aim at a product still in development. She’s isn’t convinced it’s met the ideal texture and consistency. “I’d love to have it 10 times sandier,” she says, instructing the team to find a more granular option. Later, during a group brainstorm on potential new Kora creations, Kerr, pregnant with her second child, suggests something based on her own needs: How about a product that will help you sleep better? It’s quite apparent that Kerr is no mere figurehead. The entrepreneur is more than involved; she’s running this eco-conscious ship.
“She is the driving force behind all the product concepts,” says Brett Riddington, KORA Organics general manager, on a later call. “[She gives input] on the efficacy of the product, the design, the packaging, the bottles we choose, all of the aesthetic.” Other times, she shows a hint of the charming, playful personality that skyrocketed her to nearly 12 million Instagram followers. When told a product was still undergoing quality approvals, she pulls a lighthearted Veruca Salt: “I don’t want to wait,” she jokingly wails, “I’m impatient.” Although strikingly confident and passionate, Kerr still shows signs of vulnerability. During the meeting, she hands out homemade blueberry banana muffins while contemplating the next day’s Sephora appearance. Her team eagerly discusses her schedule and potential outfits, but a visibly nervous Kerr has other concerns. “What if people don’t show up?” she asks. To that end, she attempts to think up a solution: “Maybe I’ll bring them muffins,” she offers, before excitedly adding, “with supplements in them.”
TAKING THE LEAP
Since launching her skincare line in 2009, Kerr took big strides to establish herself as a competitive player within an overcrowded industry. Many models have attempted a beauty line, but few attained the success Kora Organics so quickly amassed, with over 200 retailers. It’s a far cry from where many of her peers end up: a flash-in-the-pan QVC segment. Kerr obviously has a leg up on most competitors due to her celebrity status, which has been unstoppable. She’s modeled for high-end design houses (Prada) and accessible (H&M) brands, and famously became the first Australian model to sport wings for Victoria’s Secret. Her private life has also made news: She has a son with her ex-, actor Orlando Bloom, and last May married Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. But as she builds her brand, she’s no longer known just for her looks and high-profile relationships. She skillfully utilized social media to push her reputation as a health and wellness expert. Her Instagram quickly became a vehicle to showcase her passion for yoga, juice-blending skills, and envy-inducing meditation backdrops. She was also just quirky enough to catch your attention without completely alienating you: When she forced Bloom to pee in a cup lest he miss a moment of her 27-hour delivery labor, women silently cheered. When she told Gwyneth Paltrow at the Goop Summit that she toyed with leech therapy, the snippet overwhelmed the next day’s coverage headlines. Last year, she admitted waiting until after the marriage to consummate her relationship with Spiegel.
With Kora Organics, Kerr managed to inject her personality and quirkiness into a rapidly growing sector. She seized on the health trend and was one of the first to market wellness beauty: how mind, body, and skin are connected. Most of the line features the key ingredient noni, a fruit reportedly known for its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Kerr cherished the tropical species since her Australian childhood. (Her grandmother taught her to use it to treat sunburns, pimples, and later in life, jet lag.) It’s now found in a calming face oil ($68), refreshing facial mist ($34), and hydrating face mask ($34). It’s more than just skin deep, says Kerr; these products are meant to calm and relax the mind. They are meant to be part of a daily “ritual.” KORA Organics—which Kerr funds herself with no outside investment—stemmed from her own needs. While modeling, she wanted certified organic and non-toxic beauty products that not only smelled and felt good, but spoke to her wellness philosophy. “I had this moment where I realized I should maybe just create something myself,” says Kerr. “I wanted to invest my money into something that I was passionate about and dedicated to.” The founder is adamant about what she slathers on her body. “What you put on your skin actually goes in your bloodstream,” she stresses, attesting to recent concerns in the industry.
Kora Organics is one of many brands in the booming organic and natural beauty market, whose value is expected to reach $13.2 billion this year. In fact, lines with a natural and/or botanically derived clinical orientation now represent the largest combined share of prestige skincare sales, reports the NPD Group. The research firm Kline & Company predicts the synthetic cosmetics sector will decline in the next two years, while the natural skin care segment will grow. “[Consumers] are becoming more educated and interested in making healthier decisions for themselves and their families,” says Kerr, expressing her frustration at some of her competitors. “Some products can claim to be organic when they have only one organic ingredient.” Kerr spent the first year trying to learn as much as possible about the research and development process, booking interviews with labs and organic chemists. Working with noni proved difficult: it possesses a pungent smell. That, and the fact that no one had a certified organic noni ingredient. The budding entrepreneur ultimately worked with an Australian lab to source her own ingredients, which she demanded be certified through COSMOS, an international standard for organic and natural cosmetics. “I just remember carrying these little samples with me everywhere, and getting my friend to try them, and testing them on myself and my family,” Kerr recalls.
She began with a few products, with availability mostly restricted to her native Australia. At the time, she was still working tirelessly for numerous fashion campaigns. Kerr, who has modeled since age 13, admits she wanted to devote more time to Kora Organics (“her baby,” as she calls it), but was scared. “Modeling was always my safety net,” she says. “It was a big leap for me.” That changed, however, when she met future husband Evan Spiegel, who pushed her to further commit to her own business. “He said, ‘Why are you running around doing all of this other work for clients when you could be focusing on your company?’” recounts Kerr. ‘”You really need to focus on this because when you focus on it, it’s going to grow.’” With Spiegel’s emotional support, Kerr pulled in the reins on her modeling career and set her sights on launching Kora Organics in the U.S. Not that Kerr doesn’t still wrestle with the temptations of her previous employment. Every so often, her agent calls with a lucrative opportunity. “It’s hard,” she says. “My manager is like, ‘Miranda, you’re crazy. Why would you turn that job down?’ And I respond, ‘Well, because I’m focusing on building my skincare brand and on being a mother.’”
WALKING A FINE, LUCRATIVE LINE
Kora Organics’ appeal lies in its ability to tout several unique and popular ingredients (coconut oil, green tea, rose quartz crystal, among them) while simultaneously incorporating wellness trends. Since dedicating herself full time to her business, Kerr released a number of new products that doubled down on this concept. This includes luminizers with rose quartz particles ($28), noni-infused skin health supplements ($10 for a pack of 5), and a body oil that comes in a mess-free stick format ($34). Cashing in on the crystal craze, all products are filtered through an actual quartz crystal during the manufacturing process. (“It’s intricate, expensive, and complicated,” laughs Riddington.) Some believe quartz contains healing and soothing properties, although that’s yet to be proven in scientific studies. “I did that just to add a personal little touch because I have used crystals for the longest time,” Kerr explains. “It was a way for me to personalize the products. [But] the most important thing is that the products are super effective and deliver results—regardless of the crystals.”
At the same time, she says, “It’s about the energy behind it, and my intention is to uplift people, and crystals have been used since the beginning of mankind . . . It doesn’t mean that it has to be for everyone, but I believe they’re helpful.” This is where Kerr proves herself to be a formidable businesswoman who can speak logically about her products without turning off her crystal-loving base. She’s isn’t saying her line totally buys into the woo woo fad, but she isn’t denying it either. With such sly wording, she can appeal to various sectors of consumers. Basically, if Gwyneth is too adamant about the validity of her questionable practices, Miranda might seem like the more approachable version. “It’s great to have those little reminders to take care of ourselves,” says Kerr of her product line, “and have that little bit of magic in our lives. Why wouldn’t I put that little extra touch in there?”
Kerr’s commitment to her business paid off: The Kora Organics website sold five times as much product to international markets in 2017 than the previous year. Meanwhile, in the U.S., e-commerce combined with retailer distribution channels (such as luxury e-retailer Net-A-Porter.com) saw sales increase more than 700%. In May, the brand went mainstream—making its way onto Sephora shelves and quickly becoming an organic best-seller. This past fall, the retailer added Kora Organics supplements, signifying further interest in wellness categories. “The Kora Organics holistic approach to beauty and wellness is one of the reasons why we brought the brand to Sephora,” said Priya Venkatesh, vice president of merchandising for Sephora, in an email. “Similar to Sephora, KORA Organics knows that confidence and wellness is a critical component of celebrating beauty. Miranda is a wonderful partner, she uses her vast expertise and knowledge as an accredited health coach to create certified organic products that offer our clients good-for-you ingredients that deliver results.” In the coming year, the brand will expand to more retailer partners as well as launch in Europe, Canada, Russia, and Asia. “We’ve only just begun in terms of where the product is sold,” says Riddington.
Kerr also plans on extending into more beauty categories, and even releasing an innovative new product that the market has never seen before. I cannot give any details, but upon viewing it, I can attest to its ability to hone in on several wellness trends at once. “Miranda would love Kora Organics to be the name whenever you think of natural and organic skincare,” says Riddington, “but also innovation in product.” Kerr might also consider using koraorganics.com to broaden her views about the more holistic side of the brand and report on healthy lifestyles. It would undoubtedly be a natural extension of what Kerr already does daily for her social media followers. In fact, while speaking with fans at her Sephora appearance, it seemed that was almost her chief appeal. “She really walks the walk,” said one fan of the model’s healthy lifestyle. Another, who aspires to be a professional beauty blogger, said she admired the “approachable” non-snobby way she shared her wellness rituals, but also, “her skin is aaah-mazing.” In the line of dozens waiting for their photo app with Kerr, many seemed to buy into the whole ethos Kerr is so good at selling. They’ve been watching her for years. As for Kerr, she seems to have no reason but to be confident about the future. Greeting each fan with a hug, she laughingly remarks, “I don’t have to make muffins after all.”