In Conversation with Kristine Keheley of Taos AER

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Describe Taos AER in a few words?

Taos AER is a new lifestyle brand elevating everyday essentials with intentional design and innovative, responsible performance. Our goal is to bring uplifting and meaningful experience to daily use products.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I’d been developing clean personal care and cosmetic products for other national brands 10 years prior to co-founding Vapour Beauty, and most recently Taos AER. I wanted to see things that didn’t yet exist. I had ideas about plant–based ingredients that wouldn’t leave me alone. My motto is to Create the Invisible World and I love the journey from inspiration to finished product.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I’ve been a professional fine artist for 30 years, so by definition I started out as an entrepreneur. Art is all about going from an idea to an experience, or tangible object, that has a unique voice and strength. I see product development as very similar.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I’ve known since I was 2 that I’m an artist, so in that respect it’s been a very natural progression. Creativity, experimentation and resiliency are the qualities that have always led me.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Our plan was always to raise the experience for personal care to be more experiential. I mean think about it, today’s consumer demands transparency and wants to be more involved in the beauty brands they support. Why should this be any different for body care and other commodity type products including deodorant?  We have recently launched a subscription plan for our consumer to be convenient and allow us to be able message directly and learn more about what is important to our customer.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I’m an unconventional creative so it’s pretty “normal” for me to go way out there and that love of experimentation means that I endure plenty of failure. The challenge is to not shut down or turn away from the process. I want to continue to dare and be bold and create something new out of nothing.

One experience stands out: I had a hard deadline on a formula that was not behaving. It kept failing stability one way or another. Even worse, I had created something so unique that I didn’t have anyone I could ask for help or dialog on ideas. It was just me shut into my house alone on a Friday staring down the barrel of an isolated blizzardy winter weekend with all my failed formulas. I analyzed the math and the physical results over and over and by Saturday afternoon had hit a serious wall. It was bleak and terrifyingly solitary. At a certain point I knew I had to find the courage and self-belief to just relax and allow myself some time and space. That’s just the nature of the creative process. You get stuck and then you unstick yourself. Or you could give up and never arrive at the breakthrough. After that brief pause for breath, after almost 2 full days of examining that failure, it was like having a fever break – I finally saw how to change the ratios in the formula. It was a moment. I suddenly clearly saw a shining light and the direction forward. 

That was how Taos AER deodorant was reformulated with its current ingredients. You can’t give up. I believe there is always a creative solution and breakthrough on the horizon.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Endurance. My whole journey with Taos AER and Vapour Beauty. I just keep going no matter what. I haven’t had an easy road, but I always seem to have new product ideas and solving those mysteries excites me enough to continue.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

I respect experience, creativity, resilience and strength of character. Right now I’d ask: “What has been your life’s biggest adventure thus far? When were you bravest?” That seems like a rapid way to get to know something personal, but it’s also pretty practical – it can lead to an understanding of someone’s creative problem–solving skills and self–reliance. 

Taking a bit of time on the process and including a couple existing team members for their perspective. Culture and collaborative fit is so important. Hire for the present in terms of what someone can be thrown into immediately to help a team succeed. But also what is their growth and adaptation potential? How much do they love this? What is their desire to learn and stretch their abilities? Are they kind? Is there a spark of humor? And finally, do I instinctively trust them?

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The personal care/wellness industry is ascendant and has added some new twists due to the pandemic. Products need to work, be environmentally responsible, but the consumer wants more than that baseline. There is a rising understanding of the need for a holistic view of health that includes mental and emotional well-being. The desire and need to be uplifted in troubled times is real. How do we address emotional connection with each of our products?

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Expanding the vision of the brand into additional lifestyle categories. I’m intrigued by the thought of our products being a structure for people’s days. A set of personal rituals. I want people to experience a true moment of beauty from these ordinary experiences that they used to take for granted.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

There is no more small talk. We’re in it. All of us. So let’s go deep. I’m speaking up over and over again in favour of beauty, quality and integrity – personally and professionally. My creative integrity has many forms, from products to paintings to transformational experiences. Those creations can be singular, but their unifying source is my connection to the truth of the Universe and wanting to contribute responsibly.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

The obvious for me is that it’s a game of endurance. It’s a never–ending challenge so relax into that and believe in yourself. Accept that times like we’re in now are cyclical and inevitable and we don’t have time for fear. If you get quiet enough you know what to do.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

The rhythms of contact and solitude. We all have what we have this year. “What are you going to do with what you have” has never been a clearer self–examination. Every day I have to calibrate myself. Meditation classes have been profoundly moving and helpful. That’s the most practical thing I do.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I believe in it like a myth. No seriously, you’ve got to try. Balance is dynamic for me. I don’t respond well to rigid habits. I get it all in there but as I need it, when I need it. Sleep and time with loved ones are a priority, as is time spent outside. The beauty of the landscape recharges me every time.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

The extent of my travels and risk taking from an early age. I was born into a life of travel and that adventure is how I became my own friend and a good friend to others. I’m definitely at my best on the road.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Stay neutral as much as possible. 
  • When you’re overwhelmed make an old school list and knock it out one by one as calmly as you can. 
  • Lastly, allow the creative to come into the ordinary I guess – there is always a creative solution.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It means showing up every day with passion, boldness and a mind open to new possibilities.

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