In honor of Women’s History Month in March and International Women’s Day on March 8th, we sat down with our female founder for an inspired Q&A. A true trail blazer, Kate gave us the inside scoop on what motivates and inspires her to continue innovating as a fierce female pioneer in the skincare industry.
Tell us about your childhood and how that impacted your desire to launch your own skincare company.
I grew up on a farm in Fresno, California. I was a total tomboy who rode my horse Ginger to the school bus stop every day. My upbringing was tumultuous. My mom was an addict who left me and my dad when I was nine. It was the worst feeling in the world to be a young girl without a mom. For the next year, it was just my dad and me living in the barn on our land. It was incredibly eclectic and artistic with a beautiful garden, a trailer for a kitchen and an outhouse for a bathroom. I was the only person I knew who lived this way and I’m convinced it was the source of my creativity.
As a result of all of the chaos in my personal life, I broke out in eczema from head to toe when I was in my early teens. My skin would get so dry and inflamed, it would crack and bleed. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, literally and figuratively, which sparked my interest in skincare.
How did you make the leap from personal experience into a passionate profession?
Because I grew up with horrible eczema, I looked for different remedies to solve my own skin issues. From a young age, I knew what it felt like to be uncomfortable in my own skin. This sparked my passion for helping others. And because I had a natural interest in skincare, a good friend of mine who was a dermatologist suggested I get a degree in esthetics, which I did.
While I was in school, I had an idea to work side by side with doctors to complement their services. This was unusual at the time, as most estheticians were facialists working in a spa. I put together a business plan, and shortly after graduation opened my own clinic inside a cosmetic surgeon’s office in San Louis Obispo, CA.
How did you make the leap from working for others to starting your own business?
After several years working alongside some of the world’s top dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons, I decided it was time to do my own thing. I helped pioneer paramedical esthetics when I opened my own Skin Health Experts™ Clinic on Melrose place in 2004. I wanted to create something new, where clients could experience cutting-edge medical technologies and advanced facial treatments – a one-stop shop. My goal was to deliver the same results you could get in a doctor’s office, in a comfortable, beautiful environment. I wanted to open a place that would not only change my client’s skin, but also empower them to take control of their lives.
When I opened the doors to the Clinic there were just a few of us, including two estheticians and one nurse. We gave hope to those who couldn’t find solutions to their skin concerns anywhere else. Not long after we opened, word spread throughout the entertainment industry that we could solve skin issues and be trusted. Within a year, we had a long list of celebrity clients who depended on us. What we were doing caught the attention of the media and my strategies and skin philosophies soon appeared with many major media outlets. It was an exciting time!
Tell us about one of your most memorable Big Break moments.
The first time I went on QVC was with ExfoliKate. I was so nervous…we sold out in 1 hour!
As a female pioneer in your industry, what role did mentorship play in your success?
Mentorship is everything for women! The greatest mentor in my life was a woman named Barbara Wells. She was my boyfriend’s mother and she took me in young. She had unconditional love, but tough love. When I was 20, Barbara told me, “You have a choice of what you want your life to be. You can either dwell on your childhood and the past or you can make your life what you want it to be.”
Having grown up in a chaotic environment, as a kid I didn’t know what choices were available to me. Life felt out of control. Barbara let me know I had a choice and changed my life personally and professionally from that moment on.
After so many years, what still inspires you to get up every day and keep innovating?
What inspires me most still about what I do is hearing the personal skincare transformation stories of my clients, friends and the Kate Somerville team. It’s such an emotional thing, to feel comfortable in your own skin. Everyone has their own personal skincare journey. Seeing someone overcome their skin challenges and feeling more confident and happier is what this is all about for me. It feeds my soul and is what I love most about what I do.
You’re a living example of integrity in business and giving back. What are some of the causes near and dear to your heart?
Growing up on a farm, I’ve always loved animals. Helping animals has always been a passion of mine. I work closely with Living Free Animal Sanctuary. They rescue, rehabilitate and find permanent homes for animals. Also, I’m thrilled to share that our company was recently certified Cruelty Free by PETA, which means we’re always tough on skin concerns, but always kind to animals. Another company initiative that’s near and dear to my heart is our partnership with Plastic Oceans where we’ve made the pledge to ensure all of our packaging is 100% recyclable by the year 2022. This decision was inspired by a snorkeling trip I took to the Barrier Reef where I realized our oceans are in trouble. As an industry, we have to take responsibility and help solve this problem.
Do you have a mantra for success?
From a business perspective, it’s not to lose sight of what you’re trying to do. A business will take you over – the sales, the cash flow, etc. If you lose sight of why you’re doing it, it’s not fun anymore. For me it’s important to connect with clients and stay close to what motivated me to start this – to heal people. Keeping your focus on the mission of what you’re doing!
What advice would you give other women who want to blaze their own trail?
For beauty or any industry you’re interested in, have the courage to take the path. When there is a “no” or a slammed door go the other way, don’t give up. Keep going. There are so many incredibly successful people who failed before they made it.
Is Having It All just a myth for women? Or can we truly have it all?
When I was my 20s, “having it all” meant building a brand and being married with kids. I was really driven to do something big. Now that I’ve achieved that, “having it all” to me is having time. A lot of my time has been spent building the dream of my 20s. Now I want to spend my time being a wife and a mother and in nature (where I think most creatively). My idea of success now is less about the “things” and more about the time.
Tell us about a fellow lady boss who inspires you. Who would you like to grab brunch with?
Oprah. She’s one of the most powerful women in the world and she overcame so many obstacles to get there. Who wouldn’t want a brunch with her?!
What advice do you have for your fellow lady bosses?
Delegation is key! Know what your strengths and weaknesses are and hire the people you need to. I am an esthetician first and business woman second, so it’s important to have the right team in place.
Also, take time for yourself! I love being a wife and a mother and a business woman, but with so much going on it’s important to take time for yourself in order to be able to be your best. Small luxuries like relaxing in a beautiful bath with candles lit allows me to recharge so I can continue to give to my family and my business.
Learn more about Kate’s skin-transformations here.