Whenever you think of high-powered lawyers, an image of them in the kitchen whipping up a batch of beauty products is probably the last thing that comes to mind. But that’s exactly what Samantha Addonizio, an attorney by trade, has been doing for the last few years.
About eight years ago, Addonizio began making more conscious decisions about the type of food she fed her family and eventually her attention shifted to the types of products that she was putting on her skin as well. She believed that skincare products shouldn’t be exempt from the same standards and health requirements we give our food.
That epiphany inspired Addonizio to begin experimenting with home-made skincare products that contained only natural and wholesome ingredients. And it wasn’t until seeing the positive reactions from friends and family members who tried the products that she realized she might have a viable business idea on her hands.
That business became official in August of last year, when Addonizio launched KYI, Inc. (KYI is short for Know Your Ingredients). Here, she talks about the inspiration behind the products, her company’s ambitious mission and her long-term goals.
Hashtags + Stilettos: How would you describe KYI to someone who is hearing about your company for the first time?
Samantha Addonizio: KYI is a “whole food” skincare company. At KYI, we believe that what you put on your body is equally as important as what you put in it. KYI provides health-conscious people with body and skin care products that are as wholesome as the food that they put on their tables. I believe that products can be simple, yet effective, as well as individually appealing. For that reason, KYI offers a variety of scents, as well as offering all of our products in an unscented version.
H+S: What inspired you to launch KYI?
SA: I have always been a product junkie. But about 8 years ago, I became very concerned about what I was putting on my, and my childrens’, bodies on a daily basis. So I searched for basic, simple products with scents that appealed to me (or in the case of my children, for products that had no scent at all). Even though the front label of many products claimed that they were all natural, or even organic, once I read the back label, I became discouraged. So I decided to create my own products. I loved them. I gave some to friends. They loved them. I put together gift baskets for friends’ weddings. Once people started using the products, they started asking me for more. It was inspiring to me to turn people on, not only to my products, but to a greater awareness of what type of ingredients we are putting on our skin. It was much more fulfilling than my day job. So I decided to go for the gusto and launch a company around my passion.
H+S: KYI is short for ‘Know Your Ingredients,’ why did you want this to be the name of your company?
SA: I wanted to put those words front and center so that people would understand the need to be aware of what’s inside the products that they put on their bodies. I want everyone to “KYI” for every product that they use. Once they do, I think people will start selecting products that are healthy for their skin, and reject products that have unnecessary chemicals or preservatives. The skincare industry today is comparable to the food industry 20 years ago, when people ate all the processed food they bought at the supermarket without really thinking about what was in that food. Slowly the public has become more aware of the benefits of eating more wholesome foods. And, I believe that people need to extend this awareness to what they put on their skin as well.
H+S: What is your mission for this company?
SA: KYI’s mission is twofold: First, KYI’s goal is to grow awareness around the importance of what we put on our bodies – to teach people that what we put on our bodies is just as important as what we put in them; and secondly, KYI wants to make it easy for people to choose wholesome skin care by making it affordable. I just don’t believe that people have to spend over $100 on products that are healthy and effective.
H+S: How many employees do you have?
SA: Right now, I am the only employee. I do however have a very large family that pitches in to help package, label and ship. I couldn’t do it without them.
H+S: You still work full-time as an attorney. When do you think you’ll be able to shift your total focus to KYI?
SA: I love being an attorney, but KYI is my passion [and] is still in its infancy. As it grows, I will have to decide if and when the time is right to run KYI on a full-time basis.
H+S: How did you fund the launch? Investors? Savings?
SA: To date, I have funded KYI with my own savings (and some contributions from friends and family).
H+S: What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far?
SA: I think that the biggest obstacle was making the initial decision to go for it. So often people dream about doing something and do not follow through because the details seem overwhelming. There is no blueprint or plan for getting it done, you have to figure it out, be self-reliant and resourceful and keep moving toward your goal. I just decided that I need to do something that I loved and that I could not let anything get in the way of that. And once I committed, I have not looked back or second guessed myself. It has been exciting, nerve-wracking, and exhausting. But I am the happiest I have ever been.
H+S: What’s been the biggest surprise?
SA: The biggest surprise to me is the broad appeal of KYI’s concept. At first, I thought it would be a bit more difficult to convince people that they should “know [their] ingredients”. But I am finding that it the idea is really resonating with people from many backgrounds and walks of life. My products have broad appeal to everyone who wants to live healthier.
H+S: What is your most popular product?
SA: Definitely the Sweet Almond Softening Oil. People love the idea of softening up as the last thing they do before they leave the shower. I have literally been told “it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that KYI has actually changed the way I moisturize my body”. Being able to challenge how people currently use products, is part of KYI’s plan to revolutionize how people think of their skin care products. People also love that it is available in different scents so that they can use a fresh scent like the Litsea Cubeba to start their day and a more relaxing scent, like the Chamomile Lavender, to unwind in the evening.
H+S: You have a well-edited product line that falls into three groups: argan oil, shea butter masks and sweet almond oil. Why did you choose these products? Do you plan on expanding your product line any time soon?
SA: I chose those products because those were my personal favorites and the products I used daily. I knew how effective they were from personal, long-term experience. I also chose the current scents because they were my favorites and I literally could not decide on any one scent more than the other.
H+S: What type of products would you add next and what would the key ingredient be?
SA: The next products we will launch will be additional scents for the Sweet Almond Softening Oil and Whipped Shea Butter Mask such as a Jasmine or a Lime Basil. As for the Argan Oil Serum with Vitamin C, I have had requests from customers with teenage daughters to provide a solution for teen acne. I am researching a product that will soothe and heal inflamed skin and have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Of course, it will also have a very simple, whole food formulation.
H+S: Do your products work on all skin types? Was this important to you when you started making them?
SA: The Argan Oil Serum with Vitamin C and Whipped Shea Butter Mask I formulated to work on my own dry and aging skin. I wanted products to prevent and diminish the signs of aging on my own face. And both work very effectively on skin that is dry or showing the signs of age because they are extremely moisturizing. Both are non-comedogenic (meaning tending not to clog pores). As such, they can also be used on combination and oily skin.
H+S: How do you make your products? By hand or with the help of a manufacturer?
SA: Currently, KYI manufactures all of its products on its own, without the help of third party manufacturers.
H+S: You recently changed your packaging from aluminum bottles to glass. What was the reason for the switch?
SA: Originally, I did not want to use plastic bottles because of recent concerns regarding the ingredients in plastic leaching into the bottle contents, and because of the overabundance of plastic polluting our oceans and filling our landfills. I used aluminum at first to be practical: it is tough and would not break if it were dropped against a ceramic sink or tile shower. But I soon realized that the resulting “industrial look” did not accurately reflect the wholesomeness of the ingredients. So KYI redesigned its brand entirely to communicate that its products are simple and transparent.
H+S: The new packaging looks really good, how have customers responded?
SA: Honestly, the new packaging has made a world of difference in how the product is received. The first impression is crucially important to appeal to new customers.
H+S: What is your best DIY beauty tip?
SA: That has to be my favorite way to banish pimples and blemishes practically overnight! It is convenient and cheap, yet amazingly effective. Mix a Q-tip full of calamine lotion with a few drops of rubbing alcohol and apply as a spot treatment for pimples or break out areas. You have to sleep with faint pink blotches on your face. But I swear by it!
The KYI Breakdown: Calamine is a formulation of the minerals zinc oxide and iron oxide (some of the main ingredients in mineral makeup). Calamine lotion contains calamine with added zinc oxide, calcium hydroxide (cal) and betonite clay. Make sure your calamine lotion does not have other anything other than these ingredients and water and/or glycerin. I find the generic brands usually contain these basic ingredients and work the best. The calamine lotion used for this trick should not contain pramoxine HCI, a topical anesthetic used to stop itching, which is often found in calamine lotions marketed as “calamine lotion plus”.
H+S: Who or what inspires you?
SA: About the time I was mulling over whether I should pursue my dream, I was reading two books. One was a biography on Steve Jobs and the other a biography of a woman, Lily Smith, called “Half Broke Horses”. The common theme of both was tenacity. Jobs had monovision when, in his early twenties, barefoot and with long, greasy hair, he steadfastly sold the product he believed in. It was his intensity that led to his success. Lily Smith, the pioneer woman of Half-Broke Horses, never let anything get in her way, setting off to travel hundreds of miles alone to become a small town teacher, breaking wild horses, becoming a rancher and bootlegger. The message to me was clear; it was time I showed some of my own tenacity in following my dream.
H+S: Do you have any mentors in the industry? If so, what impact has their presence had on your career?
SA: I do not have any individual mentors but I have companies that I admire for innovative marketing and product ideas. I admire Jo Malone for bringing the idea of providing a range of scents in traditional and untraditional combinations and encouraging the customer to mix, layer and match them at home. I admire Kiehls for its forthright, no nonsense approach and its unique and effective products that have become cult classics. I admire Bare Escentuals for the mineral makeup revolution. And I have a secret crush on Benefit…I love their founding story, their cult classic products and their whimsy and wide appeal.
H+S: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
SA: The best advice I have received to date has been guidance on my brand, product and website image and it has come from the most unexpected places – friends in the business and fellow industry participants’ candid honesty.
H+S: The worst?
SA: I don’t keep track of the “worst” because I don’t like dwelling on negativity!
H+S: What is one big goal you hope to accomplish by KYI’s first anniversary?
SA: The biggest goal I want to accomplish is to grow KYI to and beyond the point of sustainability.
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