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Katharine Phillips L’Heureux started Kahina after a trip to Morocco, where she learned that argan oil — rich in vitamin E, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids — has great calming, hydrating, anti-aging effects. We’ve been fans of Kahina since the brand first launched, when facialist Julia March first told us of their organic argan oil (which we think is the very best on the market). Kahina’s story is a rich one, and we love the team behind these beautiful products, so we asked Katharine to share more of their story with you. You'll also learn some little secrets about their newest introduction, the beautiful Kahina Hand Cream — which is scented with our favorite fragrance, Kahina's Essaouira (pictured below).
KATHARINE: Our official company name is Giving Beauty, which represents our mission to give back while creating beautiful products.
Kahina, our brand name, is the name of a Berber queen and prophetess who reigned in North Africa in the 8th Century. We chose the name as a tribute to the Berber women of Morocco who do the hard work to produce the argan oil at the heart of our line. In additional homage to these women, the artwork on our packaging is a compilation of signatures and graphic marks of a few of the women of the argan cooperatives from which we source our argan oil.
Ayla: You spend a good deal of time in Morocco, visiting the cooperatives where your raw ingredients are produced. How often do you go, and what do you do while you’re there?
KATHARINE: We source our oil from a small village high in the Anti-Atlas Mountains inhabited by the indigenous people of Morocco, the Berbers. The village is mostly populated by women, as the men leave for the big cities to earn a living, returning only one month out of the year to celebrate the Eid Feast. I visit at least once a year to strengthen my bond with these women, to check on the year’s argan crop and ensure the quality of the oil, and to determine ways in which we can provide support for these women beyond providing a livelihood from the production of argan oil. One year I purchased each of the women a sheep so that they could have wool for their weaving. Now when I go, I purchase the rugs that they have woven.
We also donate to additional non-governmental organizations that serve rural Moroccan communities including Education for All and The High Atlas Foundation. I often visit these programs to check on the progress they are making towards improving access to education for girls, and elevating rural populations out of poverty.
Morocco, with its beautiful architecture and design, people, food, scents, and traditions, continually inspires me. I am always searching for new ingredients, traditional remedies, and beauty rituals when I go there. And I always dedicate a few days to shopping in the souks!
Above: Katharine and some of the women of Tazghilite, where she sources her argan oil.
Ayla: In the beauty industry in general, a lot of lip service is paid to ethical sourcing — but you’ve been doing it from the beginning, and at a deeper and more personal level than most. What about your work with these cooperatives is different from the typical supplier/producer relationship?
KATHARINE: Kahina begins and ends with the Berber women of Morocco. My discovery of argan oil on a 2007 trip to Morocco led me to appreciate the work that these women do and the lives that they lead. Our work to support them is a cornerstone of the brand, as is my desire to bring these women to life in some way for our customers. Giving back to these women is more than simply a cause for us, it is deeply embedded in our DNA.
Ayla: International Women’s Day must hold particular importance for you. What do you plan to do or keep in mind as you celebrate it this year?
KATHARINE: International Women’s Day serves as a reminder of the milestones that women around the world have achieved, including strides in social, political and economic equality (though we still have a long way to go!). At Kahina, we strive to help women who don’t have the benefit of full participation in society. I don’t do anything special day-of, except to reflect on how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities I have and to be grateful that I can help underserved women achieve their goals through Kahina.
Ayla: You were one of the first brands we ever saw packaged in the now-ubiquitous violet glass, and we were thrilled to see that you used that beautiful glass for your new Hand Cream. Tell us about how you came to develop this product and what you love most about it.
KATHARINE: I consider myself an active person who is very “hands on”, in operating my small business as well as being a mom, taking care of our home, and pursuing my passion for landscaping our home in Upstate New York. But I have neglected my hands and they are showing it. As with developing all of our products, I felt a need – in this case, for a green Hand Cream, one that is easily absorbed, can plump and brighten skin, and looks and feels like a luxury product. The Kahina Hand Cream sinks right in to skin without leaving a sticky residue or any whiteness, and smells divine. What I love most though, is that it works to reduce the dark spots that are appearing on my hands after so many years of sun exposure. I keep a bottle by my desk and by my bed.
Ayla: The Hand Cream features the Essaouira scent, which is our favorite. What prompted you to select that fragrance for it, and what does it evoke for you?
KATHARINE: The Essaouira fragrance, inspired by the ancient Moroccan seaside village, is light yet grounding, with notes of rose, sandalwood, herbaceous geranium and lavender, and accented with a bright note of petitgrain. It transports me to the blue and white-washed town that I first visited in January of 2008 when I set out to research argan oil for my yet-to-be-formed skincare line. I fell in love with the town’s Moroccan-beach-y vibe and always try to pay a visit to relax and enjoy the beach on my way to our argan producers further south in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Personally, I’m addicted to the fragrance and never tire of wearing it, so it made sense to use in a product that I reapply day and night.
Ayla: We’re very excited about your single-ingredient rose water, which is also featured in the Hand Cream. Can you tell us about the rose harvest? When is it, and what happens?
KATHARINE: This is such a beautiful product and I am so excited to bring it to our customers. Kahina’s Moroccan Rose Water is derived from pure steam-distilled damask roses, wild harvested from Morocco’s Valley of Roses. One week each spring during the Festival of Roses, women rise before dawn to pick the rose petals. The roses are then brought to the Kasbah for sorting. Only the petals are distilled for rose water. The buds are used for drying in potpourri.
Ayla: What makes your rose water unique?
KATHARINE: The wild damask rose of Morocco has a slightly sweeter scent than its European counterpart because of the dry desert conditions in which it grows. The water that is used in the steam distillation process flows from the Atlas Mountains to the Dades Gorge where the Valley of Roses lies. The Rose Water is imbued with the rich mineral content of the Atlas Mountains.
AYLA: We also love your Beldi soap — which has only two ingredients, and is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. How is it made?
KATHARINE: The Beldi Soap is made from organic olive oil and essential oil (rose or eucalyptus). The olive oil is saponified using sodium hydroxide mixed with water, which disappears during the production process. The result is a unique, gel-like consistency that works wonders to cleanse and soften skin.
KATHARINE: It is a tricky balance! I love argan oil as a body oil, but often find it actually absorbs too easily. So we blended it with watermelon seed oil from West Africa, olive oil, sunflower seed oil and jojoba oil to get just the right consistency to make it feel super nourishing yet absorbent.
Don't those products sound delicious? Shop the Kahina line here. Our current favorites are the new Hand Cream, the unique and skin-softening Moroccan Beldi Soap, heavenly-smelling Essaouira Body Serum and Perfume Oil, purer-than-pure Moroccan Rose Water, and perfectly hydrating and line-plumping Eye Serum...as well as the original, multitasking Argan Oil.