Interview with Lisa Hood of Kheyleve
October box interviews Round 2! I learned a lot from Lisa and I'm excited for her upcoming tattoo balm. Tattoo balm you ask? Keep reading and find out!
Start us off by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about Kheyleve.
LISA HOOD: I’m Lisa with Kheyleve Naturals, and I started this business about 5 years ago. My daughter and I manufacture our products in Chugiak, Alaska. The cornerstone for about 90% of our products is tallow from grass-fed cows. It’s definitely not the norm! So that for us has been a lot of fun. We have a mama line, a baby line, a few men’s products, and skincare products specifically for women as well. I also make pain blends with essential oils.
I was also reading online that you use beeswax?
LISA: Yeah, organic beeswax. We don’t have any preservatives or chemicals in our products whatsoever. They’re all organic, natural products. Right from the get-go, we wanted to make something for skin where no one had to worry about what the ingredients were or how it was processed. So when we talk about tallow, talking about where the tallow comes from is about as important as the tallow itself. We have organic farmers that we get our tallow from. It’s rendered by two sisters in Michigan that have been doing this their whole lives. They actually have a commercial kitchen and this is what they do, they render tallow. Tallow is actually from the kidneys and liver area of the cow, it’s called the suet and it’s really rich in vitamins and minerals, specifically A, D, E, and K. That within your skin actually acts like collagen so it’s super nutritious for your skin. The hard thing, of course, is what are you going to put with it so you don’t smell like you have roast beef rubbed all over you. *laughs* That’s where the essential oils come in. The mama and baby line don’t have any essential oils. They pretty much just smell like chocolate since they have cocoa butter in them. And then the other parts of the skincare line also have essential oils, which are equally as nourishing to your skin but the basis for it is the tallow.
Very cool. Tallow is not something that would even cross my mind, but reading on your website, you talk about doing a lot of research and bringing back some old school methods that they don't really use anymore. Why do you think they've stopped using them.
LISA: There's a good reason for it. In the '20s and '30s, and up until probably the '40s, they actually used tallow in skincare products. They stopped using it because they couldn't trademark it as a secret ingredient. Everybody had access to it and everybody was using it. So then that's when they started trying to go the chemical route and trying to make something in a lab that resembled tallow. So that's how we got to where there are so many different things in our skincare that really isn't great for our skin. I'm a nurse and the thing that made me do this is I kind of get on these tangents where I have to understand why. My husband had a lot of sensitivities to food and started doing Paleo. On the route to that, I started understanding that skin is the biggest organ in our body. So if food is causing him issues, what is putting all this stuff on his skin doing internally. So that is sort of how all of this came about. I was actually trying to do skincare products for him that wouldn't break him out because he has really sensitive skin and in the process, all of my friends were like, "Oh, this is amazing!"
That's awesome. I love when things work out that way. It starts in this small, more personal way and then it builds out from there. So I really like the name, it's very unique. If I didn't go online, I probably would have pronounced it incorrectly. *laughs*
LISA: We laugh about. When we were trying to brand ourselves, we were told to make up a word that's not a word. My grandmother was Jewish and we were sitting around and my husband said, "I wonder what the Yiddish word is for tallow," and we looked it up and it was actually kheylev. So we Americanized that into Kheyleve. People still have trouble pronouncing it sometimes but it's better than kheylev. *laughs*
Did you have any other names before that or was that the first one where things finally clicked?
LISA: We were Southern Belle Essentials for the first year and a half, two years. We couldn't brand that name because there were about seventy other businesses in the US that had Southern belle in their name. So I called a trademark attorney and the tip about coming up with a word that isn't a word is what he told us. We were actually working on the mom and baby line at the time and trying to figure out if we were going to put it underneath the same label or do something different. That's sort of how all of that came about.
Right on. It's definitely unique, definitely memorable. Being an entrepreneur, you have to wear a lot of hats. How do you find that balance?
LISA: I actually have two businesses. My sister and I own a business down in the lower 48. We own corporate rentals and we flip houses. That's another business that I have as well, so I really do have to balance everything. My daughter actually helps me a lot. Even more now, I pretty much do most of the formulating and coming up with the formulations themselves. I teach her how to make it and she actually is the one that does probably 80 percent of the manufacturing, and I do all of the ordering. So we pretty much got it down to a science as far as who's job is what. As an entrepreneur, it's a little bit hard to let go, but she's pretty much my mini-me as far as standards and the strictness to making sure that everything is the way we want it to be. She's OCD like myself. *laughs* It kind of frees my mind to do other things. One of the cool things is we're actually getting into a lot of chiropractic offices and naturopaths and so that's been really exciting to see as well.
Was that always a goal from the beginning or just more of an organic thing that happened?
LISA: More of an organic thing. I have a medical doctor that's actually an investor now. He's a neuro-ophthalmologist and he ended up pursuing me. I've known him for about 13 years. I worked with him and he was like, "Hey, this person that you helped, her hands are completely healed." Her hands were really bad. I had asked her if she'd like to be a guinea pig and just see if it would work for her skin condition. She said, "I've tried everything a dermatologist can give me, I'll try whatever you have." He noticed within three weeks that her hands looked perfect. And he said, "This is your stuff?" I told him yeah. "I want to be part of this." To me, I'm like crunchy granola over here and he's over here going there's something to this. So, I started telling him about tallow. He did some investigating on his own and he pursued me. In January, he told me that he wanted to be a part of it. Once he started, he was the one telling me that I needed to get this into the naturopaths and alternative medicine doctors. That was when we discovered that that was something that we really needed to do for Kheyleve. So that's been cool.
Again, it's really cool when things work out that way. It's the opportunities that come up, the connections you have. I love that. So, earlier you mentioned having to do all of the formulating. When you're doing that, is it more of a trial and error thing or did you have something of a template and then you built off of that?
LISA: I had a template. It would start out with this amount of, say, shea butter and this amount of coconut oil. Then I would play with it and see what I could do with the tallow. I probably spent about three years formulating a moisturizer in our Cherish line. It took me that long. I can't even tell you how many trial and errors it was to get it to the right consistency, where it wasn't too oily or too greasy or this, that, and the other. So it really took a long time. That was probably the longest one. Then from there, you kind of figure out what those percentages are that work together. So a lot of our products are similar ingredients but they're totally different as far as how much of those ingredients are in the product. It's going to give you a different feel on the skin. It's going to last longer on the skin. A little bit more beeswax; a little less beeswax. A little more tallow; a little less tallow. We actually just came up with a new one that's going to hopefully be debuting in November, which is a tattoo balm. It's called Khey-Tat. Labels are being made as we speak. So we've actually been trying that out. It's been kind of fun because I don't have any tattoos but my children do. So it kind of makes me laugh that that's how it's ending up. It's from people at work that know what I do and they've said, "Oh my gosh. You've got to have something that's going to help this." So it was just something that I have been playing around with. It doesn't have any essential oils in it, it's just straight butters and tallow. I've been hearing amazing things so far. Those are the kind of things where I listen to people and what they're telling me and what they're talking about.
What's the demand kind of thing.
LISA: Right. So I'm really excited about it. I never really thought about using this and it was actually a mistake I had made. Ingredients are so expensive and you never throw anything away. So I just kind of label it, put it to the side and try and find a home for it later. And actually, that particular balm is good for cuts and burns. My boss had burned herself twice within a month and she used it and has no scarring and they were second-degree burns. It was pretty amazing to see. Again, it's the nourishment from these organic properties, especially that tallow, that really go deep into that cellular level and nothing else that comes from a laboratory is going to do that.
I wish I would have had that a few years ago! Something like that would have been perfect when I got my tattoos. Maybe the next one. So is it specifically for the healing process?
LISA: It's for aftercare. It actually forms a protective barrier. The girls that we tested it on actually had tattoos that had become really dry and the stuff they were putting on it wasn't helping. So when we tested it on them, they were no longer flaking, there was no scaliness, and it was staying on up to 3 hours before they felt like they needed to reapply it. They would say to me, "Hey, you should feel this." It's really been kind of fun!
That's awesome. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people who get the box that have tattoos on the horizon, so that'll be something worth checking out down the road. I was actually about to ask you about any upcoming products that you might be able to talk about and you beat me to the punch. *laughs* Obviously you have quite a few different products now. Do you have a personal favorite?
LISA: I have two favorites. The first is I can't live without my facial skin care products. I use a cleanser at night that has all these wonderful oils in it. When you steam your face and you wipe all the day's grime away and it's just kind of like a little spa in a jar. And then I put this amazing moisturizer on top of that. For me, I can't go anywhere without it. Sometimes I get stuck at work, and I can't get home because of the snow or whatever. I literally have to put this into an overnight bag and keep it in my locker at work. All of our products have no water whatsoever because water actually dehydrates your skin. We also don't use any alcohol. If you read the ingredients on a lot of products, those labels are going to have water and they're going to have some form of alcohol. These products are all oil-based. So when you're actually putting oil on your face, it feels totally different than water. From chemistry, we know that like breaks down like. When you put oil on your face and you already have natural oils, it actually goes down deep into the cellular level and breaks that down. So you're are literally taking everything off and actually detoxing your face. That's why fats, in general, have gotten a bad rap. You'll hear, "Don't put anything that's fatty, or anything that's greasy on your face," when in reality, it's the water that actually dehydrates your skin because water is not a natural moisturizer so it doesn't do anything for your skin. The beeswax and that moisturizer actually take the moisture from the air, instead of just water which doesn't do anything, and helps hold everything in so that your skin is literally moisturized all day. So yeah, the facial line is probably my favorite product and then our original body butter, which is called Skin Soiree, is probably my next favorite. I really can't live without that either. If I was on a deserted island, at least I could put that on my face too. *laughs*
You have to have some go-tos! You mentioned earlier about how the idea for the tattoo balm came from people asking you if you had a product that would fulfill a specific purpose. Do you find that that informs your creating process quite a bit?
LISA: Yeah, somebody may say something and then I'll kind of run with it. Khey-Dude was actually made for my husband and my girls. They're into functional fitness and so they're always lifting weights. Probably a year and a half ago he had started to develop these calluses. He wants the calluses; He's lifting weights; He doesn't want to have hands that don't have calluses to try and do that. Personally, I didn't want them always feeling like they were cutting my skin, thank you very much. *laughs* I was like, "Oh my gosh, you have to do something about that." He's like, "Well, do you have anything for that?" So he was the tester for all of that, as well as his buddies at the gym. Also, the physician that's our partner is a jiu-jitsu master. He's Mr. Jiu-jitsu and so some of the guys at work would work out with him. So I would hand that out to them to see you know what they thought about it. Then my girls started using it because they have calluses now. So that's sort of how this came to be and then we realized that it was great for your hands and so now we all use it. It was a hard balance to find because you wanted to soften the calluses but you don't want it to be too greasy. You don't want it to be too oily. That made it tough but we found the balance. So now he just keeps two in his gym bag, two in his office, two at home. That's the funny thing about the products is we all kind of got to a point where we can't do without them. *laughs*
That makes total sense. When a product is doing something so well and you get used to the feeling, I imagine that it's hard to go back. It seems like such a natural fit for Alaska, especially in the wintertime and that's speaking from experience. Sometimes my skin will get so dry. Do you feel like that helped a lot at the start of your business?
LISA: I think so, for sure. Although I will say, I have a lot of customers in Georgia and Florida. Which for me is kind of funny because it's humid, but I think if your skin is dry or if you have a problem with a particular area of your skin, whether you're in Alaska; or whether you're in Florida or Georgia where it's hot, you may just have different needs. We have a facial moisturizer, one for nighttime and one for daytime. I rarely sell nighttime moisturizer down there but I sell a lot of the daytime and up here I sell a lot more of the nighttime because it's a little bit thicker. I definitely think that being in Alaska and realizing how wrecked out hands get, and also being a nurse, it feels like all of us sanitize our hands 50,000 times a day. I change my gloves with just one patient an average of 12-15. So that's taking off gloves, sanitizing my hands, putting gloves on again. So you can imagine how dry my hands would be once I get a chance to actually thoroughly wash my hands.
That also sort of brings back up the point you made earlier about the water.
LISA: Yeah, it definitely just dries your skin out even more. So putting oils on your skin to actually hydrate it and hold that hydration in, that's our thing with all of our products.
Sounds like it makes all the difference too. Going completely organic with your products, was that always the plan from the beginning
LISA: Yeah. Say that you put cocoa butter into a product. It could be refined using hexane gas or a number of other things. I try to use things that are in the natural state as much as possible. And the other thing that I decided early on was I wasn't going to make something that I didn't feel comfortable using on my own face. I have grandchildren and all these products are used and tried on them first and foremost. If I'm not willing to use it on myself or my family, I'm certainly not going to use it for a client. Top shelf from the get-go was my plan and we've held to that across the board, even when things are more expensive. Especially given essential oils and that sort of thing. Those are extracted a lot differently. So that's important to me too. I do a lot of research for everything that we put into our products.
That's cool. I admire that a lot. That's sort of where more and more things are going, but I feel like some people kind of shy away from it because, as you said, it can be more expensive. Like you were saying, "What am I putting on my skin." There are all these chemicals and other things that probably aren't the best thing to be putting on your skin. I agree with you, I think that's really important.
LISA: It really is. It's hard to get to the basics with ingredients. It's very confusing. You really have to know what you're looking at and what all these scientific words mean to figure it out. That was probably the hardest thing is I had to do a lot of research to find out what we were talking about.
But it bore fruit!
LISA: It did. It definitely did. For sure.
What is it about The Bear Box that got you excited about being part of it?
LISA: Being that they're all Alaskan products and the fact that we're all entrepreneurs. I just love that. It's not necessarily what's being sold in every store. It's something that we might not know about. And the thing with our products is, you almost need a little intro to them because it has tallow in it, it has things that people aren't necessarily familiar with, so being able to put the product in there with my card that talks about the vintage skin care and tallow and that sort of thing, that was very exciting because that meant that that was that many more people that I could get my products in their hands. At the same time, I ordered a Bear Box because I'm really excited about what other people are doing. I loved that part. Entrepreneurship in Alaska is totally different, I think, then a lot of other places because we have so far to go before we can talk to people. We're such a huge state and there's a lot of different areas like Juneau, Fairbanks, and more that I might not know about. So I'm excited to get my own Bear Box and see what's in it as well.
That's awesome! We were super stoked that you wanted to be a part of it. That definitely makes us feel good. Every time we talk to someone and they're excited and they want to be in there, that makes us really happy because that was sort of the goal going into it. The products were an important aspect but it was really about that community connection. We really wanted to get the social media going and have things like this, like the interview I'm doing right now with you. We want people to know about you. We want people to know your story.
LISA: And see, I didn't even know that that was going to be a part of it. I'm a nurse, and I have all this other stuff going on. The social media aspect of it makes me want to cross my eyes and cry some days. Plus we're keeping up with orders and the website and trying to make sure that that's always running smoothly. Social media really makes me want to pull my hair out. So that was this additional huge perk. When I was talking to LeeAnna and she mentioned all of that, I said, "Really?! Awesome!" *laughs*
That's great. That's exciting. Really glad that you're a part of it. So one more question before we finish up. Is there anything else that you'd like to share about the product, the process, or just anything else that you'd like to say that you haven't been able to mention yet?
LISA: Pretty much covered it all. For me personally, as a nurse, I have a lot of other things that I'm interested in, but I get really excited about talking to people who may have skin issues. I see babies that are having all of these skin issues and they can use one of our products and the mamas call me and say, "Oh my gosh, this stuff is amazing." I have another mom who basically calls her little girl her K-baby because she used our Mama Belly when she was pregnant. As soon as Emma was born, she started with all of the baby products and she called me one day and said, "I've messed up so bad. I ran out of Just LoLo." That's our baby butter. "I ran out of it. I used something that said that it was organic and my child is red from head to toe. I had to give her another bath. I don't know what to do." It was literally SOS. Of course I got her some immediately and she was like, "I will never trust another product on my baby's skin." I was blown away.
That's a good feeling!
LISA: Yeah! That is why we do what we do. We absolutely love those success stories. It puts so much more value on what we do because even an organic product has a lot of things in it that you wouldn't necessarily know. So for me, that's the big thing in my heart. As a nurse, you always want to help people. That's just who we are.
For sure. Making a difference in someone's life, knowing that you had such a huge impact, that's really special. Thank you, Lisa. I really appreciate you taking the time.
LISA: It was so nice meeting you and thank you!
Also, we'll start the Q&A post this Wednesday the 24th, so keep your eyes peeled for that.