On this episode, Indie chats with Kristine Keheley of Taos AER. The two talk about the journey of clean, the artistry of formulation, and alchemy in the beauty industry.
Welcome to coming clean with Indie Lee, a podcast series about living with passion, acting with purpose and being fully present. I'm your host Indie Lee. On today's episode, I get to sit down with Kristine Keheley. Kristine is one of the cofounders and chief formulator of Vapour beauty and Taos AER. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast today, Kristine, I thought we could start by sharing your journey. I mean, you're this incredibly talented artist, and then you kind of transitioned into makeup formulation chemistry, I'm not even fully explaining the breadth of your talent, hi, it's really this lifelong journey that has just kind of unfolded. I think really, by living my life as the most authentic person I can be. And that has led me from being drawn to beauty and art from a really young age, to just loving sense, and loving color and those those becoming languages to me that I want to be fluent in. And that took me really not into chemistry, but i would i would really call my approach to formulating, more akin to alchemy, I love that I love that term, you are an alchemist, you are absolutely an alchemist, your magic. I believe deeply in the magic of the universe. And as you do the magic of the present moment and the connections that we forge by living honestly, in the present moment. And so I have quite a, you know, nonlinear path that got me from childhood to lipstick, and deodorant. And it really it really starts at my earliest memory was my family was living in Paris in the 60s. And my dad was holding me in his arms in front of Van Gogh's Starry Night in a museum. And I came into my body at that, at that in that moment, and it really was that thing of being struck by lightning, having the feeling of now I'm breathing. And I exist. And this was a calling to you. It's kind of like family legend that I threw this huge tantrum in the museum when he moved on to the next painting, and was just sobbing inconsolably. And he would move back in front of in front of Starry Night. So I would quiet down. And that just kind of that really that that earliest memory of paint of color of beauty of someone's vision and expression is beauty is really the life force to me. So that definitely as I was a child, and as a teenager, took me down this voyage of becoming a painter. And we, we lived in Europe, until I was 12. So I was incredibly fortunate to be immersed in a culture that respected and appreciated and created beauty. And that just became another layer of meaning in my life and a layer of experience. And I just didn't really date, my love of adventure, and travel to that time period. And those were things that my parents really nurtured and fostered. And I would say that, you know, because of that, because of that fortunate childhood, my entire way of being in the world is about that experience of beauty, that kind of visceral connection to what beauty is. So much so that I've come to see and recognize the force of beauty as a healing element. That beauty is the healer. And let's see, I kind of took that through I went to college, studied archaeology because I fell in love with Greek and Roman and Egyptian history, and artifacts and understanding that urge that people have always had to create beauty with their hands. Whether it's architecture or sculpture or painting. I'm certainly very interested in sacred architecture. Why am I not shocked? I could just sit here and listen to this. I'm like, okay, everybody's on this ride. I'm loving it. Kristine. You have such Your beautiful way of, of just sharing your journey with people you really do. You are You are just such a unique, beautiful person and I love an alchemist. So This to me is just, I'm so excited that you and I get to sit down and do this. So keep going. Sorry, I was just so excited about this. No, no, I love it. And you know, I can rip forever on all of this. But eventually, eventually many travels, lots of travel in the Mediterranean, I just became, since I was a little kid just so entranced by all of the countries that surround the Mediterranean and made sure that I was able to study as much as possible through through my college years there. But eventually, I kind of landed in Taos, New Mexico at the age of 24. And I came here expressly to be a painter, to seriously devote myself to just becoming a better painter, no matter what it took. And I it was, it was a vow, it was about a commitment to myself that that was to be my focus. And it was to be my focus until the program out is really the way that I I know that I approached it at that age. And so really, you know, kind of coming here with nothing and and i bartended for 10 years, to Coulson and kind of held myself together any way I could. And during that time at the Coulson, they had fantastic wine program. And I started to recognize that I had an unusual sense of smell that I had, that I was in knows that you were never really, I've never had the opportunity to understand that. That that was a gift that I had. So that that was a that was an element. And I already have the color piece. And so I kind of wanted to stop working nights. And I started working with Greg Martin and krisha boys at their natural lip balm company. And it was a way for me to, you know, stop working nights. And kind of just literally became my day job as an artist. And pretty quickly, I discovered an affinity for the kinds of things that they were doing. I love the natural beeswax, I love the natural plant ingredients. always had a real love of the plants and plant medicine and understanding the ways that that plants are healers that plants have magical benefits and properties. And so that kind of fell into place and I kind of accidentally fell into becoming the formulator for their business. And, and, and it's it's amazing. It's a truly amazing, as I said, just nonlinear path, right? I didn't set out with an ambition to be a cosmetic formulator I had been a very natural I think teenager in terms of a love of cosmetics and perfume. But I think so many women have that. Right. But I didn't I didn't expressly set out with certainly a career in cosmetics are formulating as my goal. Well, are you are you in good company here? Right. I mean, you get it that nonlinear path. Oh, this was it that is nonlinear as you can get for me. So yeah, I totally get it. And I'm sure you paid attention along the way to whatever the signposts for that led you and it's, um, you know, a lot of things about being in the present moment made that we don't ignore the stimulus around us. Right, yeah, we we make the connections to the opportunities, and the leaps and the risks that we have to take to get where we want to go. So that all kind of came together. And I worked I ended up I ended up creating a bunch of products for national brands that sold mostly through Whole Foods, teaching myself inventing products, nice part of the cosmetics industry, which is anhydrous formulation. And the most basic anhydrous formula is a lip balm. And if you think about that, it's there's great lip balms in the world. I'll give a little plug for vapors luck, lip balms are not a like they're not a classic moisturizer. They're not a classic foundation. They aren't really the texture that you would normally associate with a high end cosmetic product. So, along the way, I started experimenting with a lot of natural ingredients, just idea building upon idea inspiration coming the way that it does. And I would, I would take the time and have the patience to experiment and persevere. And I started to come up with some really interesting textures that didn't need water. And that was incredibly exciting because I was getting to sort of almost emulsion, or cream, textures, but without using any water. And the beautiful thing about that is that you if you if you don't use water in a product, you don't need to include a harsh preservative or bacterial complex to kill off bacteria. antibacterial complex. Mm hmm. So that means that the product stays super pure, they say very, very close to the magic and the benefits of the plants. And so it was very exciting. And I really felt that mission of creating safe products for women to use. Being very concerned about pollution, from a very young age, and really concerned about packaging, and how how we could make the best decisions possible to make the cleanest, safest, most responsible and accountable products that then morphed into what is now vapor. Right? And so in 2008, I'm person and I had seen so many brands that we worked with, you know, had that classic moment of, I think we can do this better. And so we decided to start our own brand, which was vapor. And that was 2008. And we launched in 2009. With I think 3033 skews or, and by the time 2017 came around. So you know a little less than 10 years later, we had grown up to 180 products. Unbelievable. It was really a very something I'm sure you can identify with it. You start a business. And before you know it, it's everything. Yeah, right. discern this, where it's on and where I saw, Oh, absolutely. It can take over and grow it. I mean to pardon panic, it grows organically. But then you know, you blink and you're almost 10 years later, and what started out as the small thing has has really taken over most of your life. And hey, by the way, I love what I do. And I have I'm thrilled to take over most of my life like it fulfills me. But it's it's incredible. It really it. It has a life of its own. Okay, so now you and krisha have vapor, which is this well known beauty line that started out in the anhydrous makeup sector. And then all of a sudden you went off into deodorants explain how to like, what was the process there? Right. So so in 2008, when, um, when Krishna and I decided to form vapor, we were both in the midst of some of the most painful stuff in our lives. My mother died literally the week that I named the brand vapor. I was with her and my family and Krishna and I were involved with in talks with some marketing partners that we were going to work with. And that was all happening that week of preparing for her funeral. And krisha had just gotten diagnosis of a recurrence of breast cancer. And so I just remember very clearly having this phone call with her about, you know, we're talking about are we crazy to be doing this when we were both so depleted, and in such an awful place, personally, and we just decided that we were going to do our best come out of that and make something beautiful from it. And that that's, that's where we kind of committed to let's do vapor. And in 2012 or I can't remember the exact year but for sure had a had a star I think her initial diagnosis was 2008. And then she had a recurrence A few years later, and her doctor told her Hey, one of the best things you could do is not use an antiperspirant and switch to a natural deodorant. And I think that you had a similar experience of Don't, don't add to your toxic load by using any kind of conventional chemical based products on your body. Write up. Yep. Like here's something that you can make a switch with and bring awareness to and it was that light bulb that was my awakening was like, wait a minute, I know we can do this better. And it can be beautiful and effective. And I love that both what you and and Krishna did and lush like me as you took something terrible and created something beautiful from it. And that I have to tell you, your deodorant is beautiful. It is it is the one that I use and and saying it here now guys, and I certainly want you to tell people about what makes yours different. But if I was ever going to have a deodorant. Christine, you're formulating it just saying. Just saying. We can talk about that. Okay, about that. After Okay, what makes your deodorant so formula so different? And why is it so effective? Well, so so krisha wanted to do deodorant, and I was, I kind of honestly I kind of balked at it. At first, I hated every single natural deodorant that I'd ever tried. And I just started to understand that any kind of solid natural deodorant was going to be just inherently flawed. It just, it wasn't going to hold together structurally. And short. You know, truly, all natural deodorants that were the sick at that point, were very brittle. And they just kind of fell apart after a few uses. Yep, they were very unsatisfying experience. I mean, not, you know, even odor aside, like, this wasn't a good user experience for me. Yeah. horrible experience is either like wet and gooey, really hard words like herding, when I put a shrine to bed, I'm like, is this am I actually doing anything on my body. And as a result, I always ended up going back to conventional until I started using yours, and I've tried them all. So it was a long process of I knew I needed it to be perfect, I needed it to perform. And I wanted it to be delivered in as conventional a format as I could, as I could pull off, right. So it took me years, it took me years of experimenting, I also really wanted it to have that beautiful sense structure. 16 Tell me a little bit about the SEC, because I know it's it's really important to you, as you discussed, you know, you recognized that you have a nose and and how you it works into how you formulate. And so tell me a little bit about them how that really works and plays into the air brand. Sure, so it is really critical to air in terms of its sensory experience and what it really can add to your day, I see centers poetry and music and color all at once. And yet it's invisible. So it's incredibly mysterious and beautiful. It's an immediate bridge from the physical to the metaphysical. I think we all understand how sent memory are entwined. And to me, there's this way of using sent to transport people across time to your fondest past memory or inviting you into an unknown for just future. I think that wearing sent as a gift that you give yourself about that connection to beauty and meaning. And now there is really about that connection to the plants through essential oils. And the essential oil is the most beautiful and expressive part of the plant soul. And so this was, I think this is really one of the things I'm proud of says is the deodorant formula. Definitely some of our foundation formulas to that the deodorant was a huge leap and risk and willingness to go into the unknown experiment upon experiment upon failed experiment, to get to this really precise and tight threshold of what all the correct ratios or what the process was going to be an All the while, keeping it anhydrous keeping it as organic as possible. And that means using as many certified organic ingredients as possible. No water and it had to work. Yeah. So it really it really was a lengthy development process. very much a leap into the unknown. And I think that that's that's something that I would like speak up for, for all formulators on that We are risk takers into the unknown. Because when you're really working on something that's outside the bounds of cosmetic chemistry, which is what all natural products are really like that the cleaner something is the stranger, the path to getting there was what I love is that air Well, at this point, it was still vapor. But the deodorant is, it's Delta powder, which is really different. So there is no stickiness. It's like, it's, it's just the nicest user experience, like I could put on clothes right afterwards, I don't feel like I'm, you know, flapping my wings waiting for to dry or anything like that. It's just, Christina, it's beautiful. That's, that's always been super important. Right? I know, that's important to you with your product. Yeah. But the user experience has to be elegant, it has to be elevated, it has to be almost transported, right? You want that you've got first of all, you have a relationship with the user, the product has the you I respect that moment that someone decides to buy our products. And I also respect the moment that someone is using it to make themselves feel better, or perform better have give themselves a experience of beauty during the day. Not that moment, I never take that moment for granted. So if you think about like, you've got a few seconds in a store for somebody to try that texture and feel it on their skin and smell it. It's kind of work immediately, it's got a it's got a got to wow them immediately, right? Otherwise, they're gonna move on to the next product. So it has to grab them. And then all I think in beauty and personal care, really every area is becoming a crowded space. So you have to stand out. And by standing out, it has to be a beautiful user experience. But it has to be effective, otherwise, it's not going to be successful. Totally. And so one of the biggest performance hurdles to overcome with a natural deodorant is that sticky drydown some natural deodorants feel like they're never going to dry, and that they're going to leave you sticky for quite a while. So that gels powder was the way to get it to dry down immediately to be silky on the skin. And I say that so it was easier to get there. And it was I know. Right? And the main thing, the main thing is that it's it works. Yep. And it works immediately, you know? Exactly. So then it went from being vapor, right from vapors air next level, and then all sudden, you created Taos err. So tell me a little bit how that happened? Well, again, it's one of those obvious choices when you look back at it, but it's nonlinear in the beginning. It never really fit in very well with the cosmetic line. And we started to see and recognize that there was this huge opportunity to use the deodorant as the starting point, to build this whole line of products that elevates the daily essential product, taking that opportunity for thoughtfulness and ritual, and a way to connect to yourself for true moment of self care. And just take that pause and be present with a beautiful sensory experience. So that that's not really what vapor is about vapors about beautiful cosmetic experience, that that's that experience of color. And complexion is a really different moment in your day. Then rituals of self care, personal care. So then, tell me a little bit so then it's called Taos AER and as far as I know, Taos is the Muse for this. So what's the story behind the brand name because I think it's such a beautiful story I'd love for people to know. Sure, so tell us air is the name that we that we spawn out of vapor It's its own entity now its own brand. And air in its name and its soul is inspired by my my 30 year loves of living in Taos, New Mexico and Taos this very old small town. It is located at the southern end of the Southern Rockies. So it's the very tail end of the Rockies. We're close to the border with Colorado. It's it's this incredibly dramatically beautiful place. And it's so close to the elements of earth, water, fire and air. It sits at about 7000 feet above sea level. And it's surrounded by mountains that rise and other 6000 feet above that. So I've always thought about this valley As this island in the sky that's just kind of floating here. And the valley itself is also it's bisected by a rift zone and volcanic rift zone. That is actually the Rio Grande River Gorge. So there's volcanoes, there's extinct volcanoes in the valley. And so the landscape is this ancient ancient plate that feels so connected constantly to, to the elements, and that that connection is real, and it's vital. And it's every day, it's not abstract. I think that most people that live in town could probably tell you what phase the moon is in pets, tell you what kind of day it was, by the way, the color of the light is, you could be dropped here from anywhere, and be able to tell what time of year it is by the light. So that 7000 foot elevation is really a key to, to understanding this. And it's really, it's, it's a brand I mean, it's not just Yes, it's the Muse since then. But that in of itself is, is for me speaks to a brand that encompasses taking care of oneself, and being tied to the earth. Yes, and connected, connected to the elements connected to an intentional way of life, connected to a responsible way of life. We're very much aware of our community, our community water resources, our interconnectedness with one another, is something that's, that's real, you rely on people here, and you give to people here. And I've lived with that. And I've lived that way for for very intentionally the last 30 years. And so with what I do, as a formulator, as a brand founder, I'm just super passionate about all of those things coming together to protect plants, water, and people with every choice that I make as, as the founder of a brand. And I take that global and local perspective, really seriously, it's my my source of my inspiration, your intentional, intentional, at every step of the way. And so that, it's that it's kind of that root of that, which is the source energy. That kind of takes us back to my Greek past with archaeology. And the Greeks had a concept of Acer and that's a e th er, and that is the plasma and the soul that infuses and holds together the rest of the elements. And so that concept is something that I live my daily life with very intimately. And that's where was the root inspiration for talent. They're amazing. And it's also that it's that connection to we are up here in the air, we are the island in the sky. I love I love that. I love that. Okay, so you and I have certainly seen clean beauty evolve over the last five years and where it's come and it's now here to stay. But where do you see it going? Like, it's now it's now mainstream? So where do you see clean? going from here? What do you think is next? Um, I think that as, as clean gets mainstream, there's always going to be people that are sort of along for the ride that doesn't know what that authentic journey is. So there's going to be a growing awareness of who's really real and who isn't. And hopefully an education of the consumer I know that the consumer is is hungry and thirsty for that education. We have an extremely savvy consumer, both of our brands do. Yep. So I think the movement forward the progression is towards regenerative and I would say regenerative agricultural regenerative brands regenerative industry is the new organic. And that means moving away from the term sustainability. Sustainability by definition is about maintaining the status quo. It's so funny. Oh my gosh, I okay. Sorry. I have to interject. It's so funny. I was having this conversation with someone not just two days ago, that isn't it interesting that we're all touting the word sustainability which is basically staying with You are. And yeah. And I've like, it's the worst word. And it's so funny I and now I just heard the word regenerative maybe yesterday in terms of like, where the industry is going. And I was like, finally a new word. But yes, because you're actively trying to change things and and for the better. So sorry, it just it thank you know that it's, I love it that it's floating around out there, it's, it's definitely something that we all need to start talking about because it's, we're in this moment of pause with the pandemic. And we've seen the way that the earth wants to heal, that the forces of the planet and the elemental forces of the planet are so much wiser than the human species is. But we've done so much damage as a species. And so the regenerative movement is really about actively trying to leave things, not as we found them, but better. So sustainability is about being in the status quo. But regenerative is saying, Okay, we've got to heal the damage. Yes, I'm so happy we're having this conversation. I hope everybody is listening to this, because this is where we need to go. Listen, this is how, you know, the indie brand. And indie brands need to start thinking it can't be maintaining status quo or improving, we really need to embrace change, and think outside the box and push boundaries. And that's a that's a very, you know, people have different levels of comfort, right? I love risk, you know, I vote it's not even, it's not even conscious that really, it's just something makes sense. And you don't know how to get to the next place. But you know, that's the next place to get to, and is its body about regenerative is, it's time to just start thinking about how we get to the next place. Yeah, and it's, and that's the hard part for like, indie brands like us. It's not, it's not cheap to do. And you're you're inventing. And, you know, that's not easy to do. But I think if we start to talk about it and put it out there, we're gonna see options available. And that I have, you know, say that as a very much of an optimistic moment here is that the changes that I've seen over the years, I've been doing this for 20 years. And so I've seen so many changes, and we're the most hopeful place that I've ever been at. And that is that I was asking for PCR packaging 20 years ago, and I was literally laughed out at a convention in New York. That there, and I was told repeatedly, there will never be PCR in cosmetics, packaging. And now we're at the moment where we're mandating now we're not saying we have to use it. And there's still a lot of work to do to get there. I mean, you and I both know that, you know, yes, it's come so far, but we still have a lot to go. And but that's where the excitement is. It is where the excitement is. And it's where it's where the unknown is, which is why I get so excited, because it means that we start to ask different questions, we start to find the people that that we want to work with in this. And there's so many people that are that are coming along with this. Some of the biggest players in the cosmetics industry are being forced along with it is really as good comes along with the genuine consumer drives. We want better things. We're voting with our dollars, and we want better things. Absolutely. And so there's that consumer awareness and desire for better products. And you're absolutely right to do it right is is can be more expensive, that will eventually result in having pushed the bar to regenerative organic to all of that being more of the norm. Yeah. And that becomes more accessible, the more it becomes the norm. And accessibility is is truly important. Well, that's a perfect that leads me you, you have literally set me up so perfectly for this one, Christine. So talk about accessibility. Where can people find Taos AER? How can they get a piece of the piece of the action here? Okay, so tell us aer.com and that is spelled ta o saer.com. You can also find us at credo at the detox market at follain at Aliyah at anthropology and our mini deodorants just launched on target.com. That's so exciting because talk about making it available for everyone. This is like the first step this is that is so exciting. Okay, so what And by the way, for listeners, I will be putting all this stuff in the show notes, so you'll know how to find how to spell it. So don't worry. But anything that you want to share, besides launching on target, anything else that you'd like to share with us? Sure, our full sizes are back in stock for longtime fans of air, we thank you for being patient already have my stock in our full size. We've got some a really exciting two new sense coming out, first quarter of 2021. And so kind of the consumer has spoken and asked, and we listened. And so we're going to be coming out with baking soda free, and also an extra string version of the deodorant for for, you know, for high performance, that's a man thing. Also, we want to offer your listeners, free shipping on your first order on our website at tout their.com with the code coming clean. Okay, and that is good until 1231 Oh my gosh, okay, guys, so go over to it, go over to Taos err.com order. I like, by the way, guys stock up on all different sense, because they're all phenomenal. And now you'll have free shipping with coming clean in all caps. Again, that will be in the show notes. Now, I always end the podcast by asking three because obviously the podcast is all about the three P's being present passionate, and on purpose and living purposely. So I always ask everyone these questions, what are you currently passionate about? Um, I think I think mostly what I'm passionate about is I'm passionate about optimism right now. No, that's got to be kind of jarring for anybody to hear. But I've seen a lot in the last 20 years. And I would say that from my college days, as a political activist, during the divestment era, that we're making some progress. I think that it's a very rough, but very beautiful time, people are being incredibly brave. And there's an understanding that we're all connected, and that it's time to start taking meaningful actions, to redress the past so that we all create a better future. And so I'm passionate about hope and truth. And learning from the rise of so many new voices, voices that have been with us all along. Okay, that's probably the most beautiful answer that I've ever received on the podcast for that question. So what's giving you purpose right now. And I hope you're gonna say air. I'm so excited about all of our new products, excited about our new categories, I'm excited about how air has spun off into its own entity, and it's really gathering momentum. And I have so many ideas for the future. And I feel incredible gratitude that this is what I'm doing with my life right now that I'm working on things that matter to me, that I that I think has so much integrity in the sourcing and the creation of them. And it's, it's a lot of work, I know that you know, the consumer gets to see the the beautiful things that that we create. And we want them to appear effortless, and seamless. But from the inside, it's a long and and detailed path of a lot of intentions. And it takes a team of incredible hard working, high minded conscious people to create something that's genuinely new. And that can change this landscape. And so I just feel very fortunate for everyone that I work with that supports that supports this vision every day. And they're they're kind of their whole hearted, really beautiful creativity and experience that goes into that. I mean, you know, for me, the team is my family. And I echo that like that's what gives me purpose is coming and doing what I do every day with the team that I get to do with I mean, in addition, as my kids may be listening in addition to you kids, of course, but really I'm so in the trenches and loving every moment and even in the difficulty. There's so much joy. What are you doing, to stay present? Or get present? Because sometimes it's not easy to say that well, how do you get present because I've talked to you about this Asking for some guidance from you, I've finally started a meditation practice. And it's, it's transformative. And it is. It integrates into every moment of every day. And it is beautiful. And it is powerful. And it is humbling. And it is. It's absolutely astonishing. The difference that it's made for me over the last few months, and I look forward to it being part of my life every day forward. And the funny thing is, is that it's connected to my painting practice, I painted my form of meditation completely, completely. And so starting, really, in January of this year, I really dove back deeply into paint. I think because I needed that grounding in the meditation again, and the meditation of paint. And it's, it's the most present moment experience that I can think of for myself. I fall into that color and the light, and I allow it to carry me and I'm the vehicle. It's rather, I am the vehicle of the voice that wants to emerge. So I tried it. I try to allow all of that information to come through me when I'm painting but it's it comes from beyond me. It's not it's that connection. Yeah, it's truly the connection to the universe. Christine, you are I first of all, thank you for coming on the podcast and thank you for being a part of my life. I really feel so lucky to have you on this journey with me too. Yeah, I'm so I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful for for our personal connection. Love, love supporting you love, love being supported by you. And I'm I'm honored and inspired by your generosity. And thank you thank you for the call out absolutely more to come. And like I said, I will put all this in the show notes everybody, but I know you have now fallen in love with Christine paheli and I know everybody's got to kind of run to air because it seriously guys it is the best deodorant out there. Hands down, hands down. Hope you enjoyed this week's episode of coming clean with indie lay. If you like what you hear, please hit the subscribe button and always love to get some feedback and ratings and reviews. If you have ideas for upcoming episodes, please be sure to email me at coming clean at indie lead.com that's coming clean at indie lead calm