Executive Q&A: Keli Smith

Kaike CEO and founder Keli Smith has a mission: to bring more fun to the natural beauty industry with unique, multiuse solutions.

After studying molecular and cellular biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and marketing at Columbia College of Chicago, businesswoman Keli Smith had an epiphany; she wanted to find a way to make natural products more enjoyable for consumers. “I entered the beauty industry following my own personal journey to live more holistically,” she says.

Because “cake” is a word synonymous with fun (and it’s at the heart of every celebration), Smith founded Kaike–an all-natural, cruelty-free, vegan beauty brand that uses organic ingredients, plant-based oils and butters, cold-pressed essential oils for the body and hair, and recyclable and reusable packaging. Handcrafted in small batches out of Chicago, the products are proudly manufactured without using artificial ingredients, preservatives, fillers, phthalates, sodium laurel sulfate or alcohols. The brand’s hero product, Frosting, is a triple-threat moisturizer for use on the hair, skin and lips; furthermore, it smells and feels like actual frosting!

Smith recently sat down with Beauty Store Business to discuss more about what drives her, and why she hopes other like-minded women find joy in pursuing their dreams.

Beauty Store Business: What inspired you to create Kaike, and when was the brand founded?
Keli Smith: I founded Kaike in 2015, after transitioning from relaxed hair to the big chop. It was a documentary that turned the light bulb on for me, causing me to look at not only the products I was using in my hair, but taking it a step further to skincare products as well. As I searched for more natural products, I discovered that there wasn’t much available out there–and what I did find was either misleading or boring. This led me to create a brand for women in similar situations that I found myself in; women who want to transition to a more natural lifestyle, with transparency in the ingredients used and fun in the brand.

What was the formulation process like for the first product you created?
It was a very long process. Our first product was Frosting, and it took nearly a year to get it right. Even after launching, we went back to perfect the frosting-like consistency, and now it’s one of our best-selling products.

“Don’t rush the journey. Building a brand takes time, and mistakes are more likely to happen when you rush through steps.”

What makes Kaike’s all-natural, vegan, handmade products so special?
I believe it’s a combination between the green ingredients, the fact that each product has multiple uses and the brand’s focus on celebrating natural beauty while having tons of fun!

What are your plans for the future?
One of the more immediate goals is to launch some of the products we have in our pipeline. We are expecting to launch four products this year, with two of them as part of a new product line. Our larger goal is to open our own storefront, which we are planning for 2019.

What retail stores is Kaike currently available in, and do you hope to expand retail distribution?
Kaike is currently available at Lena Rose Natural Beauty, located in Chicago, and several online locations. Our complete list of stockists is available on our site. We do plan to continue expanding our retail distribution, and have some exciting partnerships planned for this year.

As a mompreneur, how are you able to find balance between running a company and raising four kids?
At times, I don’t really know how it all gets done! All joking aside, I am very intentional when managing time and setting priorities. I block time on my calendar to get work done and spend time with family–and don’t schedule over them. Also, my kids help in day-to-day operations. My oldest two have assigned roles for themselves in the company, and I’m amazed at how helpful they are!

“It can take years of planning to become an overnight success.”

What have been your career highlights as a CEO?
My proudest moments have come from my children expressing a desire to start their own businesses, and even writing out business plans. It means a lot that they see what I’m doing with Kaike and want to follow in those footsteps.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t rush the journey. Building a brand takes time, and mistakes are more likely to happen when you rush through steps. Take the time to not only properly prepare, but also to enjoy the step you’re at because it all changes so quickly.

What can fans of the brand expect to see in 2018?
Kaike fans can expect to see some exciting new products, a fresher look to our packaging and a few fun events headed their way!

What advice can you offer other beauty entrepreneurs?
It can take years of planning to become an overnight success. Identify what your unique story is, and become an expert at telling it ... and then keep telling it. You may not see the results you want right away, but keep going and stay consistent!

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[Photos courtesy of Kaike]