Women with GRITT
December 07, 2020
by Erin Cook

WOMEN WITH GRITT: MIRANDA KERR ON GROWING UP IN RURAL AUSTRALIA, LAUNCHING KORA ORGANICS & WHY FAMILY ALWAYS COMES FIRST

by Erin Cook

“KORA Organics is successful; it’s sold in 30 different countries. I think people would assume we’re raking in the dough but I’m actually just putting it all back in the company and continuing to grow it.”

Welcome to Women with GRITT: a series where we interview the resilient, hardworking women who have kicked in the glass ceiling and inspire us to do the same.

There are celebrity-founded beauty brands and then there is KORA Organics. Not to be confused with the ‘I’ll just slap my name on these products’ variety of celebrity endorsement, Miranda Kerr’s KORA Organics is 100 per cent authentic. 

Kerr is one of Australia’s most well-known fashion exports. However, in 2009, the now 37-year-old took a step back from her modelling career (and promoting other people’s brands) to create something of her own. 

Kerr built KORA Organics from the ground up. In the lead up to the brand’s launch in October 2009, by her own admission, she gave KORA her all “to make sure everything was done the right way.” In the driver’s seat, Kerr had a clear vision in mind. She wanted to create a certified organic skincare brand that was free of questionable chemicals and put her favourite-ever skincare ingredient front and centre: noni oil. 

In the past 11 years, KORA Organics has grown from a local operation to a global skincare player, now stocked in 30 countries. Despite the company’s rapid growth, she owns 95 per cent of the business with a 5 per cent investor (the same way it’s been since the beginning). In this interview, we speak to Kerr about her journey to date – from growing up on her grandparent’s farm to the invaluable contacts she made during her modelling career, how she spotted a gap in the skincare market and expanding KORA Organics into what it is today.

Miranda, hi! You grew up in Gunnedah in north-eastern New South Wales – what are some of your fondest childhood memories and how did your upbringing shape the woman you are today?

I spend a lot of time on my grandparent’s farm. It was so much fun [to spend time there]; my cousins were always there, too. Growing up on the farm was like growing up in a little wonderland. It was nice to be surrounded by nature. There was a big willow tree that we’d climb all the time. I learned how to cook there because my grandma had a vegetable patch. 

My grandfather moved houses [for work] and he would bring these big geode crystals back for my grandma. She wasn’t that interested in them but I was fascinated. So we put them all around the base of the willow tree. 

[That experience] really planted the foundation for who I am today. It was my grandma who introduced me to noni juice. She also had a generosity of spirit – everyone was always welcome. The doors were open and everyone was welcome for a cup of tea.

But I think as well, when my boyfriend passed away in a car accident at 16, it made me realise at a young age about the fragility of life. It taught me that one of the most important things is to be in the moment with those that you love and always enjoy that time together. That’s why I always want to make sure I’m on good terms with people, because we just don’t know what’s around the corner.

You’re one of Australia’s most well known and instantly-recognisable supermodels. How did you break into the modelling industry and did your first years on the job match up to what you’d imagined?

A friend of mine entered me into the Dolly Magazine modelling competition when I was 13 years old. I started [modelling] at a young age but I didn’t let it interfere with my school. I made sure that I graduated. If I did any [modelling jobs] before that, it would only be in school holidays or I wasn’t there. 

After [finishing school], my first trip was to Japan – I celebrated my 18th birthday there. I didn’t really expect any glamour because at that point, there wasn’t really social media. There weren’t any reality shows. So when I got there, there were six models [staying in an apartment] with one tiny bathroom and two bedrooms. 

KORA Organics is the only brand we know of that harnesses the power of crystals within its formulas. Have you always been fascinated by crystals?

I became so fascinated by crystals at a young age when my grandpa was collecting them for my grandma. A few years on, I went on holiday with my family and found this crystal store. I realised that crystals had different meanings and uses. I gravitated towards rose quartz and I felt that it was a very soothing stone to encourage self love and nurturing. As human beings, we are most critical of ourselves. 

I felt that [energising the products with rose quartz] was a really great way to bring up a similar feeling of self love and nurturing. I wanted to create that little bit of magic in people’s daily routine of cleanse, mist, moisturise.

What has been the most challenging part of running a business to date?

[When you launch your own business] you just give it your all, constantly, and you want to make sure that everything is done the right way. I think one of the hardest things for me was not micromanaging the people that work for me and having to trust that the team is right and allow them to thrive in their own way and encourage that growth within them. But by doing that, it allows me to focus more on the things that I need to focus on because you can’t do everything.

What do you wish you’d known before taking the plunge and launching KORA Organics?

I think it’s important to be realistic. Even though my company is super successful, I still haven’t taken a cent out of the company – I just put it all back in. KORA Organics is successful; it’s sold in 30 different countries. I think people would assume we’re raking in the dough but I’m actually just putting it all back in the company and continuing to grow it. I think it’s important for anyone who’s looking at starting their own business to understand that you don’t really switch off.

Being a mum of three, a wife and a business owner, you must be busy. Has there ever been a time where you have had to prioritise your family over your career?

Yeah, all the time. It’s a conscious choice that I make. I think it’s important to be really clear with my team that my family comes first. That’s just who I am. It’s family then KORA and then, unfortunately, my friends

As a mother and woman in business, how important is it to have a supportive network (friends, family, etc) to help champion your career dreams and ambitions?

My husband [Snapchat Co-Founder Evan Spiegel] is the one who encouraged the international expansion of KORA Organics because he was using the Noni Glow Face Oil and he was like, ‘Oh my god, this product is amazing – why aren’t you selling it out here [in America]?’ At the time, I thought that international expansion would be scary because I’d have to invest more of my time and energy. It would be a risk. He said, ‘Your products are incredible, people are going to buy them, what are you afraid of?’ [Evan] was very supportive and encouraging of me to take that leap of faith. If it wasn’t for him, I would have done it [and expanded KORA Organics overseas] but it just twould have taken a bit longer.

Lastly, we couldn’t let you go without asking what your top five desert island beauty products are?

I’m obsessed with the RMS Un-Cover Up Concealer ($58) – I know they’ve just come out with the foundation but I use it with a couple of drops of the KORA Organics Noni Glow Face Oil ($83) all over my face. I love the KORA Organics Rose Quartz Luminizer ($36) because it has a beautiful glow on the brow and cheekbones. I also couldn’t live without the KORA Organics Turmeric Brightening & Exfoliating Mask ($62) – it’s like an at-home facial. And finally, the KORA Organics Noni Glow Skinfood ($80) – it’s good for beauty on the inside and out.

Did your experience as a model help you to then break into the beauty industry as an entrepreneur with KORA Organics?

I learned a lot from working with different CEOs and talking to them about their vision for their own company and what they want to achieve. Also, having that exposure to CEOs and how they would handle situations, I was always learning. 

I’ve also worked with some of the best photographers and stylists and creative people in the business. [When I was modelling] I was working six days a week, three different countries a week and really giving it my all.

Being exposed to all of that, as well as the different cultures that I’ve experienced, has definitely shaped me in so many different ways, from the way that I now live my life to the things I surround myself with.

Where did the idea for KORA Organics come from? Was there a lightbulb moment or were you contemplating launching your own business for a while?

[The idea came to me when] I was talking to a friend of mine about how I really feel that health is wealth. I’m so interested in and fascinated by what the human body is capable of and what it can do when you provide it with the right nutrients. 

What you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream – I learned that because my mum had cancer in her spleen. We learned that all of the products available out there are unregulated from a health point of view [and could be] potentially carcinogenic in large doses. I read a book called The Chemical Maze and it showed you all the different ingredients – whether it be in packaged foods, household products or products for your skin and hair – and how detrimental they could potentially be in large doses. [My family and I] thought that we were being healthy by growing and eating organic fruits and veggies from the farm but we didn’t realise that what we were putting on our skin was filling our bodies with unnecessary toxins. 

I said to my friend, ‘Well, what is out there?’ And I realised that there wasn’t a true certified organic skincare range out there. I said to her, ‘This is crazy’. She told me that she had a friend who was making organic essential oils and that I should speak with her; I did that and one thing led to another and next thing I know, I’m speaking to a lab in Melbourne.

One of the reasons why customers repeat buy products from KORA Organics is because the products are good – not only do they feel nice on your skin but they also work. When you were formulating your first products, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted them to look like?

When I started this conversation [with the lab in Melbourne] and then when we started trailing samples back and forth, there were things I knew from the beginning. I knew that I wanted the products to contain noni [a plant native to SouthEast Asia and Australasia] which is what I’ve been drinking since I was 13, and I knew that I wanted to find really potent ingredients to work synergistically with noni to create powerful skincare results. I also wanted to make sure the products created a nurturing experience – so from day one, they were filtered through rose quartz crystals in the manufacturing process to bring about feelings of self love. 

There are celebrity-founded beauty brands and then there is KORA Organics. Not to be confused with the ‘I’ll just slap my name on these products’ variety of celebrity endorsement, Miranda Kerr’s KORA Organics is 100 per cent authentic. 

Kerr is one of Australia’s most well-known fashion exports. However, in 2009, the now 37-year-old took a step back from her modelling career (and promoting other people’s brands) to create something of her own. 

Kerr built KORA Organics from the ground up. In the lead up to the brand’s launch in October 2009, by her own admission, she gave KORA her all “to make sure everything was done the right way.” In the driver’s seat, Kerr had a clear vision in mind. She wanted to create a certified organic skincare brand that was free of questionable chemicals and put her favourite-ever skincare ingredient front and centre: noni oil. 

In the past 11 years, KORA Organics has grown from a local operation to a global skincare player, now stocked in 30 countries. Despite the company’s rapid growth, she owns 95 per cent of the business with a 5 per cent investor (the same way it’s been since the beginning). In this interview, we speak to Kerr about her journey to date – from growing up on her grandparent’s farm to the invaluable contacts she made during her modelling career, how she spotted a gap in the skincare market and expanding KORA Organics into what it is today.

Miranda, hi! You grew up in Gunnedah in north-eastern New South Wales – what are some of your fondest childhood memories and how did your upbringing shape the woman you are today?

I spend a lot of time on my grandparent’s farm. It was so much fun [to spend time there]; my cousins were always there, too. Growing up on the farm was like growing up in a little wonderland. It was nice to be surrounded by nature. There was a big willow tree that we’d climb all the time. I learned how to cook there because my grandma had a vegetable patch. 

My grandfather moved houses [for work] and he would bring these big geode crystals back for my grandma. She wasn’t that interested in them but I was fascinated. So we put them all around the base of the willow tree. 

[That experience] really planted the foundation for who I am today. It was my grandma who introduced me to noni juice. She also had a generosity of spirit – everyone was always welcome. The doors were open and everyone was welcome for a cup of tea.

But I think as well, when my boyfriend passed away in a car accident at 16, it made me realise at a young age about the fragility of life. It taught me that one of the most important things is to be in the moment with those that you love and always enjoy that time together. That’s why I always want to make sure I’m on good terms with people, because we just don’t know what’s around the corner.

You’re one of Australia’s most well known and instantly-recognisable supermodels. How did you break into the modelling industry and did your first years on the job match up to what you’d imagined?

A friend of mine entered me into the Dolly Magazine modelling competition when I was 13 years old. I started [modelling] at a young age but I didn’t let it interfere with my school. I made sure that I graduated. If I did any [modelling jobs] before that, it would only be in school holidays or I wasn’t there. 

After [finishing school], my first trip was to Japan – I celebrated my 18th birthday there. I didn’t really expect any glamour because at that point, there wasn’t really social media. There weren’t any reality shows. So when I got there, there were six models [staying in an apartment] with one tiny bathroom and two bedrooms. 

Did your experience as a model help you to then break into the beauty industry as an entrepreneur with KORA Organics?

I learned a lot from working with different CEOs and talking to them about their vision for their own company and what they want to achieve. Also, having that exposure to CEOs and how they would handle situations, I was always learning. 

I’ve also worked with some of the best photographers and stylists and creative people in the business. [When I was modelling] I was working six days a week, three different countries a week and really giving it my all.

Being exposed to all of that, as well as the different cultures that I’ve experienced, has definitely shaped me in so many different ways, from the way that I now live my life to the things I surround myself with.

Where did the idea for KORA Organics come from? Was there a lightbulb moment or were you contemplating launching your own business for a while?

[The idea came to me when] I was talking to a friend of mine about how I really feel that health is wealth. I’m so interested in and fascinated by what the human body is capable of and what it can do when you provide it with the right nutrients. 

What you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream – I learned that because my mum had cancer in her spleen. We learned that all of the products available out there are unregulated from a health point of view [and could be] potentially carcinogenic in large doses. I read a book called The Chemical Maze and it showed you all the different ingredients – whether it be in packaged foods, household products or products for your skin and hair – and how detrimental they could potentially be in large doses. [My family and I] thought that we were being healthy by growing and eating organic fruits and veggies from the farm but we didn’t realise that what we were putting on our skin was filling our bodies with unnecessary toxins. 

I said to my friend, ‘Well, what is out there?’ And I realised that there wasn’t a true certified organic skincare range out there. I said to her, ‘This is crazy’. She told me that she had a friend who was making organic essential oils and that I should speak with her; I did that and one thing led to another and next thing I know, I’m speaking to a lab in Melbourne.

One of the reasons why customers repeat buy products from KORA Organics is because the products are good – not only do they feel nice on your skin but they also work. When you were formulating your first products, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted them to look like?

When I started this conversation [with the lab in Melbourne] and then when we started trailing samples back and forth, there were things I knew from the beginning. I knew that I wanted the products to contain noni [a plant native to SouthEast Asia and Australasia] which is what I’ve been drinking since I was 13, and I knew that I wanted to find really potent ingredients to work synergistically with noni to create powerful skincare results. I also wanted to make sure the products created a nurturing experience – so from day one, they were filtered through rose quartz crystals in the manufacturing process to bring about feelings of self love. 

KORA Organics is the only brand we know of that harnesses the power of crystals within its formulas. Have you always been fascinated by crystals?

I became so fascinated by crystals at a young age when my grandpa was collecting them for my grandma. A few years on, I went on holiday with my family and found this crystal store. I realised that crystals had different meanings and uses. I gravitated towards rose quartz and I felt that it was a very soothing stone to encourage self love and nurturing. As human beings, we are most critical of ourselves. 

I felt that [energising the products with rose quartz] was a really great way to bring up a similar feeling of self love and nurturing. I wanted to create that little bit of magic in people’s daily routine of cleanse, mist, moisturise.

What has been the most challenging part of running a business to date?

[When you launch your own business] you just give it your all, constantly, and you want to make sure that everything is done the right way. I think one of the hardest things for me was not micromanaging the people that work for me and having to trust that the team is right and allow them to thrive in their own way and encourage that growth within them. But by doing that, it allows me to focus more on the things that I need to focus on because you can’t do everything.

What do you wish you’d known before taking the plunge and launching KORA Organics?

I think it’s important to be realistic. Even though my company is super successful, I still haven’t taken a cent out of the company – I just put it all back in. KORA Organics is successful; it’s sold in 30 different countries. I think people would assume we’re raking in the dough but I’m actually just putting it all back in the company and continuing to grow it. I think it’s important for anyone who’s looking at starting their own business to understand that you don’t really switch off.

Being a mum of three, a wife and a business owner, you must be busy. Has there ever been a time where you have had to prioritise your family over your career?

Yeah, all the time. It’s a conscious choice that I make. I think it’s important to be really clear with my team that my family comes first. That’s just who I am. It’s family then KORA and then, unfortunately, my friends

As a mother and woman in business, how important is it to have a supportive network (friends, family, etc) to help champion your career dreams and ambitions?

My husband [Snapchat Co-Founder Evan Spiegel] is the one who encouraged the international expansion of KORA Organics because he was using the Noni Glow Face Oil and he was like, ‘Oh my god, this product is amazing – why aren’t you selling it out here [in America]?’ At the time, I thought that international expansion would be scary because I’d have to invest more of my time and energy. It would be a risk. He said, ‘Your products are incredible, people are going to buy them, what are you afraid of?’ [Evan] was very supportive and encouraging of me to take that leap of faith. If it wasn’t for him, I would have done it [and expanded KORA Organics overseas] but it just twould have taken a bit longer.

Lastly, we couldn’t let you go without asking what your top five desert island beauty products are?

I’m obsessed with the RMS Un-Cover Up Concealer ($58) – I know they’ve just come out with the foundation but I use it with a couple of drops of the KORA Organics Noni Glow Face Oil ($83) all over my face. I love the KORA Organics Rose Quartz Luminizer ($36) because it has a beautiful glow on the brow and cheekbones. I also couldn’t live without the KORA Organics Turmeric Brightening & Exfoliating Mask ($62) – it’s like an at-home facial. And finally, the KORA Organics Noni Glow Skinfood ($80) – it’s good for beauty on the inside and out.

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