How one woman went from being a pastry chef to starting an eco-friendly skincare brand

Moving to New York City, Kate McLeod felt lost and depressed in the busy city. She found solace in business, accidentally.

In 2015, McLeod lived in a small Brooklyn apartment while engaged to her high school sweetheart. Yet she was struggling in the city: the pace, the rush, the lack of meaningful human connection. She had left her in a depressed state. During this time, a visit with her sister-in-law gave her the spark for a new business idea that she put her culinary skills and her environmental ethic to work with.

“I was having a chat with my sister-in-law while she was applying the lotion and she asked me what I was using. I hadn’t paid too much attention to skincare ingredients at that point in my life,” she says. Her sister-in-law, however, traded the generic bottle of lotion for a tub of cocoa butter and told her to spend some time rubbing her dry skin.

McLeod didn’t think much of it, but she took the bottle home and began applying it daily, taking a few minutes each day to care for herself. “I think I didn’t understand the deeper meaning of it all at the time. But taking care of myself, I was starting to feel a little better. I had the courage to get out of my apartment and the motivation to do something meaningful with my day.”

McLeod, who liked to cook, worked as a pastry chef and had taken chocolate-making courses in Paris, began experimenting with cocoa butter in her kitchen. For her wedding, she made canelés (small decorated cakes) from cocoa butter, the ancestor of the Body Stone, which would become the flagship product of her business.

“It had 5 ingredients and they were all edible. I told the wedding guests they could eat it, although it might not taste very good, but it was safe,” he jokes.

And that was the start of her personal care business, named after her, Kate McLeod. She transformed it from a boulevard, which she felt was “too cute,” to a minimalist ball that was easy to hold and apply.

Shortly after taking the product to Shen, a popular skincare store in Brooklyn, she began receiving orders and unexpected attention. Actress Naomi Watts mentioned Body Stone in a grooming video for Into The Gloss, and McLeod was getting orders from all over the world.

“I remember seeing orders from Japan and Australia, and I’m not sure we were ready for that,” she recalls.

So he did something drastic: he shut down the website for a while. And in the meantime, he found a business partner: Nichola Gray, who convinced McLeod that he needed to stop making cocoa butter rocks in his kitchen and expand the operation.

Today, all of the products are made in a workshop in upstate New York in Duchess County, which McLeod says has only deepened his environmental mission. “Not only are we water-free and plastic-free, but we’re also locally made, so our stuff isn’t trucked all over the place. And during the pandemic, our delivery times were weeks, not months, because we were local.”

McLeod also scored big scores by being persistent and tenacious. She remembers how she went after the QVC buyer to convince him to try his product. Similarly, she got on the radar of the Goop team and began sending samples to employees of any interested retailer so they could understand how to use the product.

“You have to use it yourself to be able to explain it to a client,” he says. “Because it is different from the usual lotion. So experiencing it is key.”

What started with a $90,000 investment, split equally between her, her mother and Gray, has allowed the company to grow steadily and slowly based on sales. And despite the success, McLeod remains so involved and is seen in the shop building products on a regular basis.

“For me, the process of discovering a recipe for the stone was a moving and meditative process. Cocoa butter can be tempered like chocolate, slowly, resulting in this silky smooth texture that absorbs into the skin, rather than sitting on it,” he says.

Packaged in a bamboo container, McLeod hopes this simple balm will not only replace plastic lotion bottles, but also instill a little calm into her clients’ lives, just like it did for her.

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