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LOS ANGELES — In Kenyan, the name means “a hard-working woman in the sunshine,” and, fulfilling her destiny, Nyakio Kamoche has become just that.
With the launch earlier this month of her namesake body line, Nyakio, during an A-list filled party at Apothia at Fred Segal Melrose that attracted the likes of actresses Selma Blair and Megan Mullally, the California transplant, who goes by Kio (pronounced Kay-oh), and partner Troy Nankin are keeping a pace that seems at odds with the relaxing nature of their essential oil-based products.
Maybe what’s helping is their body scrub of Kenyan coffee beans and sugar: a whiff alone is like a jolt of Starbucks, which is probably why it has already become such a bestseller at the Apothia stores on Melrose and in Brentwood.
“It’s been work — I mean, I’ve basically taken on a second full-time job — but it’s been so smooth, which tells me we’re doing the right thing,” said Nankin, who, as senior vice president of publicity at BWR in Beverly Hills, claims Blair and Mullally as clients, as well as Amber Valletta and Hilary Swank. He enlisted some of them to test the products and offer their input, since, after all, like he and Kamoche, “they are all beauty product obsessed.”
It’s that “obsession” that brought he and his partner together last October via a mutual friend. Last September’s tragedy got Kamoche thinking there was more to life than assisting entertainment agents, a career which she entered five years earlier out of college. (For his part, Nankin is staying put, relying on Kamoche to see to daily matters.)
“I’ve always been infatuated with great skin care,” said Kamoche, a first-generation American of Kenyan parents, who was born in New York and raised in Oklahoma. “I grew up making bath salts and the coffee scrub with my mother in our kitchen. We’d make products from raw materials from our family farm in Kenya where my grandmother still lives.”
Dinner with Nankin lead to a business plan and securing investors. By December 2001, the venture was under way. Besides their entertainment industry friends, the two also turned to Apothia owner Ron Robinson for guidance. At the opening party on Aug. 15, as the rhythmic sounds of live African drummers filled the store, Robinson watched on like a proud father.
“Yes, it’s always important to have the power of a store behind a product. But we’ve reordered five times since then,” the retail pioneer reported this week. “That’s the true test — the reorders really make the success of the product.”
The debut line of five products contains East African ingredients such as kukui nuts and grapefruit extracts, as well as vitamins A, C and E and grape seed and wheat germ oils. The minimalist packaging is branded with the name and a sliver of a strip, striped with colors associated with Africa.
The cream, scrub, wash, serum and candle, wholesale priced between $9 and $22, are intended for a complete experience in the bathroom, said Nankin.
“Now we’ll expand on that experience with face, men’s shaving products — who knows,” he added. As they consider holiday, the pair is hitting New York in the next weeks to meet with buyers.
With the Apothia stores in Los Angeles and the Zebra Club in Seattle as starting points, the pair hope to build the brand in upscale boutiques and better department stores to the tune of $300,000 in first-year sales. An e-commerce site, nyakio.com, is set for next week. The products also sell at apothia.com.