Dara Kennedy knew that she wanted to start a beauty-related business since she was eight-years old and tried to make and sell her first skincare product (morning dew, packaged in jam jars that she found in her family’s kitchen). She’s been a beauty junkie ever since. Now she’s living that dream as the founder and chief curator of Ayla Beauty, our favorite one-stop shop for natural and organic beauty products. We caught up with Dara at her San Francisco outpost to chat about products, inspiration and living your dream.
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PH: How did Ayla Beauty come to be? It actually does sound like a dream come true.
Dara: Luckily, I ended up working in marketing and product development for some great beauty companies where I learned a lot; researching and testing every product I came across was actually part of my job, and I had the information I needed to understand which products really worked, and why.
But over time, I began to think that the world didn’t desperately need that many more products. We really needed a better way to find great products that truly make a difference and are safely formulated — and a shopping experience that would actually make us feel good, too. So, with Ayla, which means “bearer of light”, I set out to establish a beauty retailer that offers the world’s most effective non-toxic beauty products, sourced by someone who really knows what to look for (me!). And I paired that with a truly caring, knowledgeable team of Customer Guides that’s devoted to finding every customer the perfect product matches, because each customer is beautifully unique and deserves to be treated that way.
PH: Why was this something the Bay Area needed?
Dara: This is a community where so many of us are careful about what we eat—seeking out natural and organic products and avoiding those with lots of preservatives or artificial ingredients—while at the same time assuming that the products we put on our skin and hair are safe. But a beauty product can be widely sold with shockingly little testing to ensure its safety for people and the planet alike. So I felt there needed to be a place of depth and substance where people could discover great healthy beauty products without fear mongering or misinformation.
PH: What was the most challenging thing about launching?
I suppose the hardest thing was being patient in a world where everything is expected to happen instantaneously. But this isn’t the type of business that’s designed to be an overnight success; we tend to grow on people and deepen our relationships with them over time.
Parenthood helped me a lot with that lesson, actually — and in that sense, it was great that I opened our virtual doors three months before my first child was born and our physical doors three months before my second one arrived, which would probably seem absolutely insane to most people. But to me, parenthood has been a much-needed crash course in not being a total control freak. You have to step in and provide guidance and course correct, certainly, but sometimes you simply have to wait for things to fall into place (for instance, when your child decides that potty training is definitely not happening right now). That’s a tough thing for an extraordinarily Type A individual like me to learn how to do.
PH: What is the most rewarding thing about creating and running Ayla Beauty?
Dara: Every single interaction where I feel as though we’re doing what we set out to do makes me happier than you can imagine. Our customers are so grateful to us, and that means the world to me. I wanted to create a place that makes our customers feel like they truly matter in every way — where unique products on the shelves are chosen with real care, where the thoroughly trained staff really wants to help solve problems, where we share honest and helpful advice from the experts we have access to — and every time someone thanks us for that, I’m overjoyed.
PH: What’s the best thing about living in the Bay Area?
Dara: It’s such a healthy place to be. The first time I lived out here (right after college, between 1999-2002) was when I first got interested in yoga and organic food and alternative healing, and it was transformative. Plus, the fact that you’re surrounded by such great natural beauty — water, forests, mountains — that you can easily get to is something I’m grateful for every day.
PH: Where’s your favorite place to eat in the city?
Dara: Well, I had both lunch and dinner at Little Gem the other day, so that’s my current top pick in San Francisco. Everything I’ve eaten there has been delicious. Their flatbread with roasted vegetables is addictive, and I think about it more often than I’d like to admit. (I love food.) I also really like their wine list, and their coffee is tasty. It’s a beautiful, elegant but casual space, and the service is terrific. They just do everything right.
PH: Favorite place to get out in nature?
Dara: Probably the Wood Line in the Presidio, because it’s so close to my house and I can walk there anytime I need a little shot of nature. Every time I see it, I’m in awe. It’s a gorgeously sinuous wooden sculpture that zigzags up a hill in the woods. Maybe I love it so much because it’s a visual reminder that life is not a straight line — you’ll constantly grow and reach the summit by staying on the path and just living and savoring those graceful twists and turns.
PH: What inspires you?
Dara: This sounds trite because every parent says it, but, my kids. Children really do teach you to live in the moment and to be aware without the layer of judgment that we often automatically superimpose on our observations. They also open your heart to others by showing you just how much you can love, and by showing you that that love is endless. And you know what? They make me work harder, because I want them to be proud of me.