THE NATURAL, SKIN-HEALING POWER OF KAWAKAWA

Kara Picking Kawakawa
Kara Picking Kawakawa

It was her upbringing in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, foraging in her backyard surrounded by native plants, that inspired Kara Cowin to start Kara Kawa. Her skincare range is made from kawakawa and 100% natural ingredients. Kawakawa is a native New Zealand tree that is one of the most important herbs used in traditional Māori medicine. It is used to treat a wide range of ailments, including wounds, skin disorders, stomach issues and burns, because of its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Kara Kawa products are gentle, effective and made by hand in Kara’s specially designed and built Kara Cottage. Here, she shares her story with The Natural Parent Magazine.

The passion: What inspired you to set up your business? 

I grew up in the Marlborough Sounds surrounded by native plants and nature. I can remember when I was young we had a book called How to Survive in the Bush, on the Coast, in the Mountains of New Zealand. My brother and I used to go out and forage for food in our backyard and make up all sorts of concoctions. 

My upbringing and where I grew up is the inspiration and passion that drove me to start Kara Kawa. 

The fact that natural skincare was so expensive when it didn’t have to be. And because of this, people were using non-natural products, most of which have long-term side effects. 

Some Kara Kawa Products
Kara Kawa Products
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning? 

An opportunity to make a natural healing balm for a local tattoo artist began my journey. She needed Kawakawa Healing Balm for healing tattoos, and I had the time and the knowledge to do it. 

I started out making small batches. The very first batch made 100g of Kawakawa Healing Balm and it took me over six weeks to produce from start to finish. 

I had a small stall to start with at one of the local markets, sales were hard and the days were long. But I persevered and quickly increased the people’s knowledge of how Kawakawa can help our skin. 

The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business? 

A local company fell in love with my Kawakawa Healing Balm, and all of their customers loved the results, so the demand increased from there. Customer feedback has been amazing, with people telling me how much the Healing Balm has helped their eczema, psoriasis and many other ailments. This gave me the push to further increase my product range, get my business online, and in more shops. 

Another breakthrough was finally having my own room to make my products. During the lockdown in 2020, my partner and I were able to finish off the building and setting up of my Kara Kawa Cottage. This is a standalone cottage that is set up specifically for my business. It is mainly benches and shelves that provide me with the ultimate area for making and producing my handmade products in a clean and safe environment. 

Kara in her Cottage
Kara in her Cottage
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family? 

Balancing work and family has been a struggle since I started Kara Kawa. I have to stick to a tight schedule to fit everything into my day, but quite often days do not run to plan. Some nights I can be found in my cottage at 10pm wrestling a batch of soap or packaging orders. 

Working from home allows me to see my family and friends more than if I worked full time elsewhere. As long as I plan for it, I can take a day off if needed. 

My 17-year-old son loves helping me out, so we get to work and hang out at the same time.  

I also work 15 hours a week in a retail job, which I love because it gives me the opportunity to get out of the house and meet new people. Otherwise, I would probably just stay at home, become a recluse and work all of the time. 

The drive: What challenges have you overcome? 

Since I started Kara Kawa, I have overcome many challenges and hurdles. Some of the main ones that stand out to me are: 

  • The trial and error of designing a new product formula, and many batches of binned product that just didn’t work. 
  • Pricing; I absolutely hate pricing my products. I want them to be affordable, but I still need to cover my costs. 
  • Finding all-natural palm oil-free ingredients that are suitable and available in New Zealand. 
  • Teaching myself as I go, as there are no real qualifications in New Zealand for this type of work. The testing process is often time-consuming and can waste a lot of resources making things work. 
  • Working with a chronic illness. 
Kara Stamping Soap
Kara Stamping Soap
For better or worse: What are the pros and cons of running your own business? 

There are many pros to running your own business, including being able to work from home and learning something new and exciting every day. I like knowing exactly what is in my products, seeing the great feedback and seeing my products work for the people who need them the most. I get to do what I love doing while being my own boss, exloring new products, creating my own formulas, designing my own packages and meeting amazing people along the way. 

In terms of cons, I have less time for me and the family, and there is definitely stress that comes with being my own boss. Learning as I go can be costly and time-consuming, and, dishes… there are always so many dishes! Sourcing ingredients is difficult in New Zealand too. Having my office in the dining room can be hard. My son keeps distracting me as I am writing this – I wish this room had a door! 

Kara Kawa Products
Hopes and dreams: What next?

I want to help as many people with skin conditions as possible. 

I have just started studying towards a Diploma in Natural Haircare Formulation, so I cant wait to complete that, then I will add shampoo and conditioners to my products. 

Once I have finished my Haircare course, I will move on to the Diploma in Natural Skincare Formulation. 

I hope to expand my range and get my products in more shops throughout New Zealand and to be able to give up my part-time job and be fully supported by my own income. 

I would love to eventually grow my business to the point where I need to employ staff to help me. 

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