[12 MINUTE READ]
Happy Wednesday all, and Happy Christmas eve Eve! We are coming to you with your weekly interview a little early this week as, of course, this Friday is Christmas.
We want all our readers to know that whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and whether you are alone or with family, we are thinking of you and sending you love and strength in these hard times.
We started these Friday Founder interviews with the intent to champion small businesses and collaborate with new and existing brands we admire. We hoped that the interviews would become an inspiring segment for both our readers, the brands we interview and ourselves.
What we never could have imagined was how important these interviews would become in shining a light on small businesses in 2020. So thank you for reading and thank you for supporting small and new businesses.
This week we were lucky enough to chat to Vanessa Karlo and Jehan Anda Marei, the Co-Founders of Khali Min. Khali Min is an independent women-owned haircare brand with roots in both England and Eygpt.
"We launched once we finally had our Rescue Oil ready, and we stepped straight into a challenging year."
Khali Min creates clean hair products based on need, that challenge the status quo that haircare should target a hair type. So without further ado, grab a cosy morning coffee, wrap yourself up in a blanket and take the next few minutes to dive into the behind the scenes of Khali Min.
Morning ladies! Could you start by telling me a bit about your childhood and how you feel it has influenced you today?
AM: I grew up in Egypt in a culture that celebrates beauty rituals and creates occasions around them. You would go with your friends to the beauty salon to get your hair and nails done on a regular basis. As teens, we would sit patiently at my grandmother’s house amongst cousins and aunts, waiting for the Saudi Arabian aesthetician with the glass skin to give us a facial with her homemade clean beauty line. My mother has had a skincare fridge since the ‘80s, and growing up, I would often rummage, read the labels and test the magical contents. She still has one today!
VK: I vividly remember the agony of being a child and waiting for my mother while she was having her hair done. I grew up in New York, and my mother was born in the Philippines. To this day, she has phenomenal hair: strong, smooth, abundant. She would only have her hair cut by a Japanese stylist who took what felt like an eternity. I can still see the tips of my shoes sticking out as I swivelled in the chair next to her. The final step in this elaborate process was her standing up so that he could use delicate scissors to perfect how each strand fell. Her appreciation of craftsmanship and care, and the way she felt when she walked out, have really stayed with me.
You both have such vivid childhood memories surrounding beauty rituals. So, how did you get started in the beauty industry?
AM: I am a real ingredients geek and love to experiment on my hair and skin. I buy small amounts of oils, butters, essences and silk protein powders and just play with them. I also love off-label uses of ingredients and I’m a voracious reader of INCIs, so there was definitely a sense that certain products could be improved or positioned more innovatively.
VK: My start in the beauty industry began with a bold leap into the unknown. I am interested in sustainability, private sector development in emerging markets, and women entrepreneurship. I decided it was time for some firsthand experience.
It seems as though your pairing works perfectly as Anda is all about the ingredients and Vanessa, you are all about the ethics and business side. When did you decide to start up Khali Min and why? Was the timing important?
AM: The seed for the idea was planted as early as 2017, but we did not start formulating until a year later. Vanessa had recently moved to London from New York, and we had lost touch since we worked together in Egypt back in the early noughties. There was definitely a feeling of things converging at the right place and time.
VK: We launched once we finally had our Khali Min Rescue Oil ready, and we stepped straight into a challenging year. Market stalls, pop-ups, all of the traditional ways for a small brand to get the word out were not available to us. We channelled our energy into our digital strategy.
That must have been so tough. What were your other biggest challenges in starting up Khali Min?
AM: Pitching our hybrid, multicultural brand identity was very difficult. In different ways, we both grew up in international, multilingual environments and that perspective continues to inform our lives. As we worked to make our vision a reality, this hybridism was not always understood.
VK: We were so lucky that a fantastic design agency in Brick Lane, Magpie Studio, grasped the soul of Khali Min right away. They worked with us on a bespoke Arabic, script-influenced, typographical logo and a contemporary Arabesque design.
What a stroke of luck! I feel the design really captures what Khali Min is about. What strategies do you think have been key to the success of Khali Min?
AM: We have been agile in responding to an unexpected year. We are the first luxury haircare line paying tribute to Egyptian beauty traditions, so we expected our first traction to be primarily in the Middle East. However, with travel restrictions and quarantines, not to mention at-home schooling, our ability to travel and expand those relationships was delayed. At the same time, we saw an early, strong interest in our Khali Min Rescue Oil in the UK, US, and Europe, so we pivoted quickly to target these markets.
That is a nice surprise in an unprecedented year! Could you talk about how Khali Min considers issues relating to sensitive skin/allergies?
VK: We view scalp health as integral to haircare formulation. We are as focused on scalp health as we are on hair issues because it is often literally the root of the problem. We harness ingredients more commonly used in skincare formulations like rosehip, avocado, broccoli and baobab oils to refine our formulas and to address scalp concerns. We also make every effort to substitute synthetic ingredients with clean, plant-derived alternatives. Our formulas are clean, effective and gentle.
As someone with a particularly sensitive, dry scalp I find that really comforting! In what ways do you consider sensitivities and allergies throughout the manufacturing process and when selecting ingredients?
AM: Both the Khali Min Rescue Oil and the Khali Min Clean Cream are free from synthetic colours and perfume. We experimented with a delicate blend of essential oils, which we included at half the usual percentage to avoid sensitive reactions. We also used a gentle preservative system in the leave-in conditioner that is accepted in clean beauty circles. As an anhydrous formula made of 100% pure oils, the Khali Min Rescue Oil does not need a preservative.
That is great to hear! And how does sustainability factor into your business?
AM: It informs many aspects of our business: we formulated pure, versatile products that can multitask. Our Khali Min Rescue Oil can take on many roles: a soothing scalp treatment, a hair tonic that boosts hair strength and vibrancy, a final styling step, or simply to unwind after a long day with a relaxing head massage. Our Khali Min Clean Cream can also be used as a leave-in or rinse-out conditioner and can easily be incorporated into different routines.
VK: We work with ingredient suppliers who share our commitment to sustainability. We source our Egyptian jojoba and moringa oils from a supplier who uses modern irrigation methods to reduce water usage and uses solar energy to power operations. Our macadamia, grapeseed, and avocado oils come from a family business that makes reusing packaging, waste oil and water their standard practice.
We also cherry-pick our primary packaging and shipping materials. Our glass bottles are recyclable, and perhaps more importantly, easily reusable. The droppers are acrylic, which is standard for safety in cosmetics. Our plastic tubes are also recyclable. We only use recyclable wrapping and boxes, as well as compostable stickers and tape.
"We are continuously inspired by new ingredients and formulations and the speed with which the indie beauty industry moves."
Good for you! It’s so important that companies start to make those things standard practice! Do you think people are more conscious of the ingredients in their beauty and skincare products nowadays? If so, why?
AM: There has been a real shift over the last decade towards reading labels on beauty products in the same discerning way usually reserved for food labels. Brands have also contributed to this shift by making a bigger effort to be more transparent about where they source their ingredients and why they chose to include them in their line.
Many brands that used to market their products as aspirational are definitely shifting more towards educational messaging. And, of course, social media provides a direct line between consumers and brands so the education is ongoing.
As ingredients get praised and demonised, though, exhaustion has crept in. There is a lot of noise. We think people want to find brands whose underlying ethos resonates with them.
Absolutely! I have noticed that more and more. And on a more personal level, what is your favourite thing about your job?
VK: Every part of the process has really challenged different parts of our skillset and problem-solving methods. The cliché about wearing a different hat every day as the founder of a start-up is exactly right and it is so fulfilling.
That is awesome. A varied job is what makes the day-to-day exciting! What do you think makes Khali Min stand out?
AM: Obsessive attention to detail, definitely. Whether it is ingredient selection, new product development, visual storytelling, educational content, or responding to our community, we’re real sticklers. Our exacting development model means that we only bring new products to market that we are really passionate about.
That is so pivotal! What do you think has been your biggest “pinch-me” moment since starting up Khali Min?
VK: When we asked a new customer from the Middle East how she had heard about us and she told us it was through a friend who had brought the Khali Min Rescue Oil along to their weekend trip. Isn’t that just wonderful?
So wonderful! Word of mouth can be extremely powerful! What inspires you?
AM: We are inspired by the process. It has been exciting and immersive so far; you really live and breathe your brand as a founder and we have enjoyed this aspect. We are also continuously inspired by new ingredients and formulations and the speed with which the indie beauty industry moves. We are always on our toes and would not have it any other way!
Your passion is inspiring. Would you say that you have a work/life balance?
VK: We launched Khali Min in 2020. Does anyone have a work/life balance? I feel like we all lost our boundaries between our work life and our personal life in March. However, it helps that we have fluidity in our partnership as founders so that we can support each other by stepping in where needed, and we are very privileged to be able to work remotely.
That is very true! We have to be grateful for jobs that allow us to work remotely in times like these. What words do you live by?
AM: We jokingly quote to each other what someone once told us: “You’re not Mitsubishi, you are two nice ladies with a nice idea.” He meant it as a putdown, but it makes us laugh and spurs us on!
Oh, I love that! Being able to reframe a negative narrative into a positive one is a sign of strength. So what is next for Khali Min?
VK: We have some exciting new products in early development. It is nearly time for the citrus harvest in Egypt and we are currently developing a signature blend of citrus oils from fruit harvested from the Marei Orchard, a Nile Valley farm that has been in the family since the 1930s.
Liked what you read? Head to the Khali Min site to shop now!
Alternatively, if you fancy checking out some of our previous interviews, you can find them here. Want more from CAROLINAGMX? Check this out: The Ultimate Review of UFO 2 By Foreo Sweden- Is It Worth It?