A decade after the birth of what Kerr calls her “baby girl”, KORA Organics has passed another milestone. It has just moved into Japan and the UK, taking its distribution to 25 countries. It moved into the US in 2017, via an exclusive partnership with coveted beauty retailer Sephora, which has 420 stores in North America.
That’s helped drive strong revenue growth, up 190 per cent in the 2018 calendar year compared with 2017. KORA currently has 29 products and another six on the way. Mostly it’s the skincare you might expect – oils and exfoliants – but there are also more of-the-moment items, such as a rose quartz facial sculptor and oral supplements, both of which are perfect for the current boom in Millennial-focused skincare, of which Kerr herself was an early pioneer.
Now 35, Kerr is a working mother of two – to eight-year-old Flynn, her son with ex Orlando Bloom, and nine-month-old Hart. When LUXURY visits Kerr at her Los Angeles home, he’s napping. She apologises for occasionally interrupting the interview to check the app that’s monitoring him.
Hart is named after the grandfather of Kerr’s husband Evan Spiegel. Spiegel, of course, is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire – the chief executive and co-founder of Snap Inc, developer of the Snapchat app.
Their first date was at a kundalini yoga class – “Lots of breath work,” says Kerr, “good for calming the spirit.” When Spiegel told her that was exactly what he needed, and took a place at the front of the class, the model and yoga devotee was seriously impressed. Now, they do yoga together every weekend.
Kerr and Spiegel were married in 2017 in a private ceremony at home (Kerr’s grandmother played piano; the bride wore Dior) and together form one of the world’s most fascinating power couples.
They’ve visited her hometown since their wedding, but you’d hardly realise it (eagle eyes know to look out for Spiegel’s helicopter; he has a private and commercial licence and recently took Kerr and her old school friends for a spin).
But even though Spiegel created one of the world’s biggest social media apps, he’s incredibly private, rarely speaking about his wife in public and refusing to share a photo of their son.
For Kerr, who relies on social media to connect with her customers, striking a balance has been a challenge. “I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve, but my husband is a very private man. He developed an app where the messages are ephemeral and disappear. So he thinks that’s the way it should be.”
Kerr has pulled back on family selfies, but when it comes to KORA, she’s the voice – and face – of every social media post. “It’s my business,” she says plainly. “Not my life.”
Girl from Gunnedah
Kerr’s own life has been something of an open book since a friend entered her in the 1997 DOLLY magazine modelling competition (spoiler: she won). Though modelling was an early love, Kerr knew she needed a plan B. “I come from a long line of strong women who worked to support their families. From a young age I learnt the importance of being financially independent. That’s why I was always good at saving money. And whatever I do, I put my all into, like I am now with KORA.”
One of Kerr’s first jobs in Gunnedah (population: 9726) was helping at her mum’s friend’s hair salon, sweeping up hair and making cups of tea for the customers. After that, Kerr worked at Crazy Prices doing stock take. “I was so excited when I got upgraded to the register, so I could finally interact with people,” she laughs.
It was Kerr’s grandmother who introduced her to organic farming, which would become a defining feature in her life and career. “My grandparents had a vegetable patch, like we do at our house here,” says Kerr, referring to the home she shares with Spiegel. “I’d go and pick the vegetables with my grandma and she would teach me about organic farming – why the nutrient content of an organically grown fruit or vegetable is higher than one grown in depleted soil.”
Her grandma also introduced her to Tahitian noni fruit, a superfood packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This was in the ’90s, of course, when turmeric was still just that yellow powder that stained your fingers when you made a curry, and Beyoncé had not yet made kale famous.
“My whole family – my aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins – all still drink noni juice every day,” she says. “Back then, whenever I’d go to my grandma’s house she’d give me a little shot glass of it.” It worked for all sorts of things, she says, from soothing sunburn to tackling pimples. “When I was modelling full-time I’d travel with a big bottle of the stuff.”
The idea for KORA began in 2006. Kerr was chatting with a friend in Sydney about the indecipherable list of ingredients on the labels of her skincare products. “I thought, why isn’t there an organic skincare brand out there that I can trust is really organic and really works?”
Kerr had tried different products throughout her modelling career and knew of natural brands such as Dr. Hauschka, but they weren’t certified organic. Then there were the brands that claimed to be organic or natural but weren’t. She asked herself, could she try to make what she was looking for?
Realising she’d be the first to mass-market noni juice in a beauty product, Kerr knew she was onto a winner – until she started testing the stuff. “Noni is not the prettiest fruit and it smells really bad,” admits Kerr. “When our first round of products was coming back and forth in 2006 and 2007, I was testing them all on myself and my friends and family. I remember thinking, ‘Oh no, this smell!’ ”
Adamant that noni would be the core active ingredient across the range, she kept at it, eventually helping the team develop a way to freeze-dry the extract: all the potency with none of the pungency.
The second hurdle was making sure Kerr delivered on that early promise to herself: to have each product certified organic. Ten years ago, organic beauty was basically limited to jojoba oil and tea tree cleanser; now it’s an industry all of its own.
Organics all the way
Kerr decided that going organic was the only way. But creating products that actually work without using parabens or toxins is tricky. “Every single thing that we do, from our ingredients, to the packages, to the words I write on the packages, is regulated,” she says. Then there’s the expense: organic ingredients tend to have a short shelf life, so you generally need more of them in case of spoilage.
It all has to be approved by Ecocert COSMOS, the independent European non-profit that regulates and audits companies claiming their cosmetics are natural and organic. Every ingredient must be farmed organically, and all ingredients that go through a chemical process do so under strict standards. There is a short list of preservatives that may be used, but only if no natural alternatives to them exist. It’s a big ask to comply with all the rules of organic certification and still produce, say, an eye cream that hides the fact you haven’t slept.
Kerr, though, is determined to find ingredients that work. She points to retinol as an example. The chemical version of retinol, or vitamin A, is commonly avoided during pregnancy as it can cause birth defects. Kerr found a natural form of retinol in kahai oil that’s safe to use while pregnant; it’s the star ingredient in KORA’s eye oil (as well as coffee seed extract; helpful for those dark circles).
Though the KORA demographic skews Millennial and female, in the Kerr-Spiegel household, everyone is a fan. Kerr washes Hart’s hair with the body wash and uses the body lotion and body balm for his body. Spiegel is a face oil man. “When I first met my husband I thought, ‘Oh, you’re cute. But do you even look in the mirror?'”
She gave him KORA’s Noni Glow Face Oil and after a few months, the Turmeric Brightening Scrub. “Now,” she says, “he’s 100 per cent on board.”
Spiegel is not just a loyal consumer. He’s also an important sounding board for Kerr as she experiences the growing pains of having her own business. The Snapchat founder’s belief in KORA and his wife helped Kerr find the confidence to take KORA international.
When Sephora approached her to expand in North America she told Spiegel, “‘I’m scared because I’m going to have to invest more of my money and put all of my eggs into one basket,'” says Kerr. “And he said, ‘Miranda, if you don’t do this and put all of your eggs in there, they’re not going to hatch. And how do you expect people to have the opportunity to learn about your products in America if they can’t physically touch and interact with them, like they can at Sephora?’ ”
It was the push she needed to commit to the company full-time, and let go of many of her modelling interests.
She reveals they are, in effect, each other’s coaches. “I teach him about health and wellness and he teaches me about leadership,” says Kerr. At the beginning, she admits, she was incredibly detail-oriented – a micromanager. It was exhausting. With Spiegel’s mentorship, she learnt to trust that her team understood her vision. “I can’t be everything. I want people around me who know what I don’t.” While she’s across the company’s financials, she knew she needed an expert team to fill in knowledge gaps.
What Kerr does know is her customers. Mostly young women eager to have skin that glows like hers, they’re used to their supermodels being clean living – more likely to be found working out at SoulCycle than fresh off the plane from Ibiza. Organic ingredients are a given for this crowd.
What Kerr also offers, on top of that certification, is a little mystic woo-woo in the form of rose quartz (aka heart stone). At a time when water bottles contain crystal filtration systems and New York gyms offer crystal-clad floors for “grounding”, Kerr’s insistence on including crystals seems especially prescient. Every product, Kerr says, is filtered through or touched upon by rose quartz in the manufacturing process.
“That’s me putting my heart into the products,” she says. “The water [in the products] gets filtered through the rose quartz. [The rose quartz] goes under the sun to be re-energised.” The details are sketchy, but that’s hardly the point. Crystals are hot. And Kerr knew that. The crystals have been in the products since day one.
For Kerr, the brand is a work in progress. Like her own identity, she doesn’t like the idea of putting it in a box. “There’s so much knowledge about health and wellness that’s continually evolving,” she says. “There’s always more work to do.”