The road from investment banking to baking to beauty isn’t obvious, but it’s a circuitous career path that led Kate McLeod to launch her eponymous skin-care brand.
“I was a trader at Goldman Sachs and ended up leaving Goldman and went to culinary school. I had a made-to-order bakery and I loved what I was doing, but then life always changes,” said McLeod on the most recent episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast. “Something very unexpected happened — I was living abroad — that brought me back to New York City in 2015.”
McLeod reunited with a former boyfriend, Justin McLeod, founder and CEO of Hinge, thanks to the help of a New York Times journalist, and the two married shortly thereafter. With her love life on track, McLeod started rediscovering her own passions and personal rituals. A chance introduction by her sister-in-law to solid cocoa butter, the key ingredient of her now hero body stones, led her to play with the material in a deeper way.
“The pastry chef in me came alive,” she said. “I also have a really long history and training of working with chocolate, so I took the cocoa butter into the kitchen and I thought, ‘If I play with this, pretend I’m making a good ganache, what can I do to enhance that application process?’ That’s really what sets us apart.”
Thanks to a key endorsement from Naomi Watts, McLeod went from handmaking her body stones for friends and family to selling 20 body stones in a day in Watts’ Onda Beauty and then 40 more on a weekend. It was then that McLeod went from wrapping her stones in parchment paper to repackaging them in canisters with an official brand label. Three years later, the line is now sold at QVC and Sephora.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
A reflection of herself
“The brand is named Kate McLeod because it’s such a part of my journey. There are so many wacky steps along the way that made all this happen. And it’s my quirkiness that made this happen. I found a silicone mold manufacturer in Long Island City, and I showed up with a chunk of clay in my hand from Michael’s. There was no professional 3D printing and molding I was working with, like a sculptor. The bamboo was from my kitchen. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a spice canister!’ I didn’t know what to call [the brand]. In many ways, it’s no longer me; it’s become bigger than me — especially as our team has grown. But at that first founding moment, it was me.”
Finding and landing retail partners
“One of the last things that I did prior to the pandemic was go to a beauty conference. I knew that the QVC team was going to be there and I was hunting down the QVC team and the buyer. There was a group of women that came by, and I was like, ‘Is this man here?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes.’ I was like, ‘Tell him I want to put some butter on his body, and get him over here.’ He came over and I gave him my pitch. I was very energetic and ‘in it,’ and he was just stone-faced. At the end of it, I was like, ‘So I think we will be an amazing fit for QVC. We are different, no one is doing this on your platform right now. I think that your customer will respond to this.’ And he said, ‘I think so.’ And he gave me an email address. Right as the pandemic started, we got our first purchase order from QVC.”
Focusing on her path
“One of the things I learned from watching my husband with Hinge, is Hinge started growing when they stopped chasing Tinder. When Hinge looked inward and was like, ‘Forget it. We’re not a swiping app. We don’t want to be a swiping app. We don’t even like what we’re becoming. We’re not Tinder, so stop trying to be Tinder.’ When they took a look inside, that is when the true growth [happened], and their identity was born. I don’t have a lot of interest in competing with a ton of the people on Sephora. I love looking at what everyone’s doing. I love learning, and then I love listening to our customers and bringing my team together and being like, ‘OK, how can we best serve our customer? What can we do? How can we continually challenge ourselves? And how can we continue to grow the brand the best way we can?’”