Self-Professed Diva Kimba Williams And Doctor Barbara McLaren Created Kushae As A Natural Feminine Care Brand For Today
Kimba Williams and Barbara McLaren could hardly be more different. Williams, a former pharmaceutical sales consultant with a megawatt smile and confidence to match, is a self-proclaimed diva never at a loss for words or ideas. McLaren, a veteran OB-GYN with a studied manner, is considered with her comments and deliberate in her decisions.
“I have a big personality and am just large about everything. She’s rational and has a clinical mindset. She’s the good angel to my bad angel,” says Williams. McLaren acknowledges, “I’m the calming factor.”
For all their differences, Williams and McLaren have several similarities: They both have vulvas and vaginas, and aren’t afraid to discuss them (for proof, check out their YouTube videos exploring the topics chafing, odor and tightness). And they both prefer natural products over the alternatives. Williams dove into natural products after noticing mainstream medicine wasn’t a panacea – “I got sick and tired of seeing people dying,” she says – and McLaren turned to them upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis with no family history of the disease.
Now, Williams and McLaren share a business, Kushae, a new natural feminine care brand that builds on their aligned interests and divergent strengths. It’s starting with four products – Natural Feminine Deodorant Spray, Natural Feminine Soothing Cream, Protective Feminine Skin Balm and Gentle 2-n-1 Foaming Wash – that respond to consumer demand for feminine care merchandise as well as McLaren’s learnings from her practice.
“I hear women’s complaints, and there’s a recurring theme that comes up over and over again: Women have issues of vaginal dryness and irritation,” she says. “We ended up with the four products by talking to each other about those common complaints and finding products that did what we wanted them to do for them with ingredients from our garden or kitchen.”
When McLaren and Williams, who met on a girl’s trip to the Caribbean in 2016, began developing Kushae’s products, they had a clear list of ingredients their formulas couldn’t have, including glycerin, alcohol, mineral oil, sulfates and parabens. Williams, a proud granola mom with an understanding of botanicals, then offered up a list of ingredients she desired for the formulas such as calendula, aloe vera and marshmallow root.
“I hear women’s complaints, and there’s a recurring theme that comes up over and over again: Women have issues of vaginal dryness and irritation. We ended up with the four products by talking to each other about those common complaints and finding products that did what we wanted them to do for them with ingredients from our garden or kitchen.”
The goal was to create nourishing formulas that avoid abrasive or potentially-cancerous ingredients. “The formulas are our own. We came up with 95% of what we wanted, and relied on a chemist for compatibility and stability,” says Williams, adding, “We really want women to know that they have to be vigilant about reading labels. You can put all-natural on labels and literally be talking about the water.”
Early on, Natural Feminine Deodorant Spray and Gentle 2-in-1 Foaming Wash are the bestsellers. However, McLaren’s favorite product is the Protective Feminine Skin Balm, a moisturizing remedy for vulvar skin discomfort. “I’m the biggest user,” she says. The products are priced from $14.99 to $29.99, a range Williams pegs at roughly 30% above mass brands, notably Summer’s Eve and Vagisil. She believes the wellness-oriented consumers Kushae is directed at are willing to pay a premium for products suiting their lifestyle preferences.
Williams and McLaren invested $40,000 to get Kushae off the ground. Their first-year sales goal is $100,000. The brand has entered Amazon, Blk + Grn and Cambridge Naturals, a store in Boston, where Kushae participated in the accelerator MassChallenge. Williams and McLaren aim to spread the brand’s distribution nationwide and expand it internationally by 2019.
“Feminine care is still a very exciting space, and there aren’t a lot of entrants with a suite of products like ours, and that’s what makes us interesting to retailers and distributors,” says Williams. “We’re a brand that women can trust for all their feminine care needs.” Kushae is expected to grow its product portfolio next with Natural Feminine Cleansing Cloths. Body wash, body lotion and lubricant are future possibilities.
“Feminine care is still a very exciting space, and there aren’t a lot of entrants with a suite of products like ours, and that’s what makes us interesting to retailers and distributors. We’re a brand that women can trust for all their feminine care needs.”
Kushae’s design emphasizes its nature-meets-science positioning. It has pink and black lettering on white bottles, tubes and jars. “Some of our competitors have bright yellows and funky purples. Our message is that we’re the only doctor-formulated solution on the market for feminine care. The clean and clinical look conveys that,” says Williams. The brand name, a spin on coochie like Tarjay is a spin on Target, and the logo, a stylized vagina, convey Kushae’s purpose. Williams says, “We wanted to be bold, and let women know they’re in the right place if they’re looking for feminine health, but we don’t want to be crass.”
Williams, a resident of Lake Worth, Fla., and McLaren, a doctor in San Antonio, Tex., text and FaceTime to converse about choices for their brand, whether it’s the logo, product labels or long-term vision. “I’ve seen solopreneurs, and it’s much easier to have someone who’s an expert in the field that you can bounce your ideas off of,” says Williams. The partnership between her and McLaren works despite of and perhaps due to their contrasting dispositions. McLaren says, “We tend to agree on mostly everything. That’s the weird thing about it.”