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SXSW: Miranda Kerr’s Connection to Organics Isn’t Skin Deep

The Kora Organics founder talked family, how she started the company, ingredients and even her own skin care regimen at SXSW. But please, just don’t call Kora a “clean” brand.

AUSTIN, Texas To Miranda Kerr, founder of skin care brand Kora Organics, good ingredients aren’t just good business. It’s personal.

In fact, for the former Victoria’s Secret model, healthy beauty is a deep-rooted passion dating back to her teen years in Australia. That’s when her mother was diagnosed with cancer in her spleen, an organ that essentially works like the body’s filter, blocking out bad blood cells and letting in the good.

The news kicked the family into gear.

“We really had to have a look at all of the products that we were using — not just what we were eating, but also the products that we were using in our household,” she explained in a fireside chat at SXSW with WWD executive editor of beauty Jenny B. Fine.

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They were already leading pretty health-conscious lifestyles, or so they thought. Her grandparents grew organic vegetables and they prepared home-cooked meals together. But the home audit was a revelation. “We were very surprised to see that there were potentially harmful ingredients,” continued Kerr, ”whether it be cleaning products, packaged goods, shampoo or, of course, skincare.”

Fortunately, there were alternatives for most products, but there was one category that stumped her: skin care. It’s the largest organ, she said, and yet she couldn’t find decent skincare replacements that were free from worrying chemicals. So she decided to make her own.

That’s how Kora was born, not as an ambitious brand, but as a way to take care of her skin and that of her family in a healthier way. She put her own money in, lined up a lab and got to work. It wasn’t until later that she thought about turning it into a business.

Her mother urged her to do it. Kora’s Noni Glow Face Oil cleared up her rosacea, allowing her to toss her steroid cream. “She was like, ‘We need to make this available to everyone’, and now we’re in over 30 countries and physical stores, and we ship to over 160 countries,” said Kerr. “But it started with that genuine passion for finding something that I wanted to put on my skin and my family’s skin.”

Naturally, Fine wanted to know more about the ingredients on Kora’s radar. So Kerr ran through a list ranging from the familiar, like turmeric, to the esoteric.

She’s a huge fan of Noni, an odiferous, mango-shaped fruit from Southeast Asia that’s loaded with antioxidants. It’s considered a superfruit by wellness communities and Kora uses it as a key ingredient for several products. Silver ear mushroom is another favorite because it’s a glow-up that plumps and binds moisture to the skin. But one of her most recent obsessions is Kakadu Plum.

The Australian fruit is the richest natural source of vitamin C, Kerr explained, so the company developed it into a powerful serum that carries as much as 12 percent, in a blend that also includes Noni and Acerola Cherry Ferment. She seemed especially proud of this product. After taking the extra steps to have it evaluated, she can (and did) proudly describe it as “the first certified organic vitamin C serum in the world.” It’s also a mainstay in her daily regimen.

“It’s so potent, and it really helps with pigmentation. Every time I was pregnant, I would use it in order to help combat the pigmentation that I would get naturally from pregnancy. So it really kept that at bay and transformed my skin.”

Another that fascinates her is called Bakuchiol, which has been trending lately as a potential natural alternative for retinol. Kora has been working with it, and the resulting product is nearly ready for its debut, so expect the release of some sort of product around the end of March, Kerr said. The mix will include perennial favorite acai, plus alfalfa, which promises to help smooth fine lines and strengthen skin. It’s newer as a beauty ingredient, so it’s not yet widely used.

That will likely change quickly if it works. After all, results are the entire point of beauty, and that’s especially true for skincare. For organic brands, however, it’s a little more complicated. Kerr believes that organic products tend to get a bad rap. Consumers have a misconception that they don’t work well or at all compared to traditionally derived versions. Yet Kora has a number of studies showing the efficacy of its products.

Confusion about terms such as green beauty versus clean beauty doesn’t help.

Kerr was very clear about where Kora belongs: “Clean is a step in the right direction, [but] I think it’s a baby step in the right direction because clean is really unregulated,” she said. “And so I don’t really like to be put in a clean category because I feel like certified organic skin care is so much more than clean. Because when you have a certified organic ingredient, not only do you avoid the use of pesticides on the actual ingredient, then you avoid unnecessary, potentially harmful ingredients in the actual product.”

But it’s not just the absence of “bad stuff” that should define organics. She referenced studies showing that a certified organic ingredient can contain up to 60 percent more antioxidants. “That is why I think our products are getting such incredible results,” she said. “Because you have that potent source of antioxidants, and I really feel that healthy skin is the most beautiful skin.”

At one point, she outlined the steps in her daily regimen, setting off some noise in the auditorium. A lot of pens, phones and laptops kicked into gear, probably to crib tips. Because Kerr’s skin looked flawless.

In that way, the founder herself might be the best evidence that Kora products work. She’s a walking proof point. Then again, it’s hard to know if the glow is because of her products, or the love of family that led her to create them.

Maybe it’s both.