Isaac Kusi, Founder and CEO
Headquarters: New York
With encouragement from salon industry colleagues, Isaac Kusi launched his own shea butter line, Krismark, in 1994. After being selected for The Market @ Macy’s last year, Kusi continues to grow his range with new natural ingredients as well as its reach through salons, online and independent shops.
How did your company get off the ground?
Krismark started in 1994 when my contract with Shealan from Germany ended. In the salons, I used to meet Bill Dowdy of Razac and he encouraged me to go into manufacturing. I started outsourcing from the beginning through meager savings and started buying my equipment until I was able to start in 1998 in Woodridge, NY.
Shea butter is a big ingredient today, but it wasn’t always so well known.
I had used shea butter in my hair, when I had some, in Ghana. My hair grew into a nice Afro compared to the pictures we saw advertised with Afro sheen in Ebony/Jet magazines. When I arrived in the USA and spoke to my friends, nobody had heard of shea butter. When Dr. Moses Asante of Germany created Shealan in 1988, I saw the opportunity to introduce shea butter to the American market. It was an uphill climb trying to introduce a unique ingredient to the market. But I pressed on when I thought about the women who went to the bush to pick the shea nuts amid snake bites, hoping to open the door so they could improve their livelihoods. I am glad shea butter has become popular. There are still problems with abject poverty, illiteracy, cutting down the shea trees for firewood in the Shea savannah belt. Krismark is helping to reverse this trend. Eco Restore Ghana is leading efforts at re-planting of shea trees and there are ongoing talks to support them with a percentage of sales next year. My friend Erez Barack, whom I met at Cosmetics Plus still calls me Butterman.
What is your newest product?
Red Palm Oil products. When I saw shea butter becoming accepted and popular, I added red palm oil, another ingredient from Africa which has a lot of beneficial nutrients like tocotrienols. I am excited that Red Palm oil is gradually getting popular not as much in the beauty industry but the food industry. All the margarines on the shelves are made with this ingredient. But the skin is the largest organ, so if you can eat it, you can use it on your skin as well. I will continue to push it. Hopefully formulators will catch up to it for the benefit of mankind.
What has been your biggest challenge as an indie?
As an indie, my biggest challenge is to get around the major brands and get some shelf space in the retail chains despite subscription on Rangeme.com. Many years ago, it was easy to call Ricky Kenig of Ricky’s NYC, The Cosmetics Center or Genovese Drugs to pitch your product. These days there are no phone numbers to buyers except subscription platforms. My friend who was a buyer for a retail chain said, ‘they usually wait until they see fire and then pour gasoline it.’
It is a little encouraging to see the ethnic aisle abolished and companies promising to allocate shelf space to minority owned brands. I’ve relied on the salon route, independent pharmacies, distributors and online sales.
Melanie Mitchell, founder of Gourmet Body Pastries, asks:
What has been or is your strategic plan for sustaining business during COVID-19? Do you have any tips to share?
“As COVID-19 closed a lot of retail doors, we saw the delivery companies increase their activities and hire more people. That is the new trend. So, indie brands should increase their social media spend to increase sales. Shelf space is limited and controlled by the major brands spending hundreds of millions on advertising to move their products. Advertising on social media, if done properly, is effective and will not break the bank. As the ban is gradually lifted, tighten your bootstraps and hit the ground running from door to door. Most of the major beauty brands have done it. From Aveda, John Paul Mitchell, Soft Sheen and all. The beauty salon is the least expensive form of advertising. If you are able to sell to the salon owners, they will sell it to their clients.” — Isaac Kusi