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Kiehl’s – All Round Goodness

Kiehl’s certainly makes taking care of your skin an easy and responsible job! How? By being naturally best at all it does!

Kiehl's Pharmacy historyThe ‘trend’ of philanthropy started about 20 years back. Before that, I guess, hard-earned money was too precious to be given out to anyone. But Kiehl’s, an apothecary that came in existence as far back as 1851, understood the need to give back to the society much earlier.

The ‘Mission of Kiehl’s’ was written by Mr Aaron Morse, the second generation successor to Kiehl’s, about 40 years ago, before ‘eco-friendly’ became a buzz-word. It clearly states that apart from producing efficacious products, Kiehl’s would strive to give back to the society in which it lives. Today, the brand supports three major causes worldwide – research and prevention of AIDS; supporting local communities, especially children; and environment.

L’Oreal bought Kiehl’s under its fold in 2000 – taking charge from the Morse family and making it a global brand. So when I was given a choice, I asked to interview Ms Cammann Cannella, Vice President, Global Education Development at Kiehl’s. Apart from her obviously impressive designation, I was excited to interact with her since she has been working at Kiehl’s since 1995. She has seen the pre- and the post-L’Oreal era as well!

My obvious question was that how did the take-over by L’Oreal help this family-protected brand? Many family-owned luxury brands are scared of the ‘corporatisation’ that comes after being bought by huge conglomerates. Ms Cannella, however, told us – In 1999, the Wall Street Journal published an article about Kiehl‘s entitled, ‘Ad Budget Zero. Buzz Deafening’ – talking about the Kiehl‘s business model of reaching customers through sampling and word of mouth. That year, the business finally outgrew their means. Kiehl’s had been first and foremost dedicated to customers. But the founding family realized this was no longer happening the way they wanted to and the way Kiehl‘s customers expected. For example, they had only one freestanding store in the world (in New York) with a global customer base! They were frequently challenged with out-of-stock situations as they struggled to meet customers’ demands.

Kiehl's New York store designConsequently, Jami Morse and her husband, handpicked L‘Oreal out of the numerous companies that had been ‘courting’ Kiehl’s for years, for two specific reasons: because of the company’s commitment to product development (L‘Oreal spends more than any other cosmetic company in the world on R&D)) and because L‘Oreal valued all of aspects of the Kiehl’s business model and saw them as central to the brand’s success (at the time of the merger, Kiehl‘s flagship store was one of the most successful freestanding cosmetic stores in the world).

Therefore, instead of changing anything about Kiehl’s, they simply gave them more resources to support their growth. The next major article published after this partnership was in the New York Times, titled ‘New Owners Let Kiehl’s Be Kiehl’s’.

Kiehl’s kitschy image, if eradicated, will definitely mean the death of the brand. The stores sell skin products, but are adorned with vintage motorcycles, historical photographs lined up on brick walls, and a quite lovable skeleton called Mr Bones!

But coming back to the main point of this article, Kiehl’s, as we said before, is very eco-friendly. “Kiehl‘s has been dedicated to protecting the environment since our business began back in the 1800‘s. Many of our long-standing practices – such as using minimal, recyclable packaging for our products and printing on recycled paper for our collateral – are actually essential parts of our business philosophy, as our primary commitment to our customers is to bring them the most efficacious formulas. We therefore have always avoided unnecessary packaging,” says Ms Cannella.

Kiehl's Cammann Cannella interviewFor the past several years, Kiehl’s has been promoting a ‘Recycle and Be Rewarded’ program to their customers. Although Kiehl’s packaging is recyclable through most local recycling programs, their specific recycling program invites customers to bring back their empty bottles back to the store and be rewarded with new products and/or samples. Kiehl’s, then, recycles these bottles and jars. And, whenever possible, when creating new products, Kiehl’s selects post-consumer recycled materials for packaging. “Our number one priority is the safety and efficacy of our products, so we are not always able to use PCR materials for formula compatibility reasons, but more and more going forward, we are seeking to use these options,” Ms Cannella explains.

In India, as well, Kiehl’s has been doing a lot of work to keep standing on its core of commitment to the society. Their usual practices, like the Recycle and Be Rewarded program; using recycled paper for printing collateral in stores; and being green in their stores (which means that employees recycle their trash as much as possible, save energy and choose environmentally-friendly cleaning products for maintenance, whenever possible) are also encouraged in India.

Kiehl’s has also formed a partnership with ‘Nanhi Chhaan’ in India which works towards the protection of the girl child and preservation of the environment. Kiehl‘s supports the organisation by periodically donating a part of its profits from the sales of its products in India. So if you are buying a Kiehl’s product, be assured you are automatically contributing to a worthy cause relevant to India today.

In fact, Kiehl’s employed those empties for a fashionable cause as well and roped in musician Pharrell Williams to design a kitschy tote for all the lunching ladies. Kiehl’s partnered with Mr Williams’ Returns Textiles,, which manufactures eco-friendly materials and is also the innovator of Bionic Yarn technology. 

Since we are talking about celebrities, let me throw in a few more names. Brad Pitt and Kiehl’s introduced the Aloe Vera Biodegradable Liquid Body Cleanser, 100 per cent of net profits of which benefited JPF Eco Systems, a charitable foundation created with Mr Pitt to support global environmental initiatives. The first project of JPF Eco Systems supports Make it Right, a charity which focuses on minimizing environmental impact through thoughtful design. Make it Right helped to fund construction of environmentally sustainable, affordable housing in New Orleans for the displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina. This Kiehl’s body cleanser was formulated with minimal number of ingredients, which are 100 per cent environmentally conscious, readily biodegradable ingredients – which helped to minimize our impact by biodegrading in the earth within 28 days.

Similarly, on Earth Day in 2010, Kiehl’s announced a limited edition collection, where 100 per cent of net proceeds benefited the Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. For this cause, ‘friends of Kiehl’s’, created limited edition labels for the 100 per cent natural and ECOCERT-certified organic, Açaí Damage-Protecting Toning Mist. The product utilizes a high concentration of super-antioxidant organic açaí berry, which is grown and cultivated in the Brazilian Amazon. The limited edition series featured four special labels designed by internationally renowned, socially-conscious influencers – actress Julianne Moore, artist Jeff Koons and musician Pharrell Williams. Each created a label that depicts their vision of social responsibility. One of the labels also featured a colourful pencil sketch, hand drawn by one of the children in the Brazilian Amazon community. Not that it’s necessary to add, but the açaí berry range of products by Kiehl’s is one f my favourites!

In case you still think it’s a marketing gimmick, let me tell you that all these superstars are regular users of Kiehl’s and associate with the brand for these causes free-of-charge!