Its mission is to bring transparency, sustainability, ‘clean’ ingredients and a sense of community to the outdoor product space.
Have you ever considered snapping a photo of your bug spray for an Instagram flatlay? Probably not. Unless, of course, your bug spray happens to be Kinfield‘s, which comes in an aesthetically pleasing bottle primed for social media sharing. While its packaging and branding are some of the main initial draws for its fans, it’s the brand’s attention to detail and transparency that seems to really be driving the buzz as it carves out a space for itself in the outdoor personal-care market.
The “clean” personal-care startup launched in July, and as of Thursday, it has officially been blessed by Goop, with which it will launch its first major retail partnership (it has primarily operated as a direct-to-consumer business in its first several months). Kinfield’s product portfolio includes just three products: Golden Hour, a citronella-based insect repellent; Sunday Spray, a moisturizing aloe mist; and Waterbalm, a solid moisturizing stick, with prices ranging form $18 to $22. (There are also some pretty solid merch items on offer.) That tight lineup speaks to the mindset of the company’s founder, Nichole Powell, whose priority is not just to build a successful brand, but an intentional one. With Kinfield, nothing is superfluous, and nothing is done without consideration for the bigger picture.
“I’m really proud that to have Kinfield be a part of this greater consumer movement towards holding brands more accountable for creating products that are made with safe ingredients and actually developing that level of transparency,” Powell tells Fashionista. “We’re certainly not the first, but I love that movement. I think it really is empowering to customers to have the sense that they can ask brands to be all of these things that align with their values. It seems to me like that’s the direction that the world is moving and that gives me a lot of hope.” Ahead, the founder shares more about how the company came to be — and what we can expect from it in the future.
Tell me about your own background and how Kinfield came to be.
I grew up in Minnesota in a really outdoorsy family and so all of the products that we’re making right now or thinking about for future are things that I’ve used since I was, like, five. After school, I went and moved out to California, which is obviously also a very outdoorsy environment. I was living in San Francisco and spending a lot of time on the weekends, taking friends out to Yosemite and that kind of trip. I originally went there to work in tech; I started working at Intuit, which does TurboTax, and ultimately realized that small business financial software was not what was getting me out of bed in the morning.
I was young and I was hungry and I wanted to figure out what I did want to be doing. I took a little bit of a mini-sabbatical, I did six months traveling. It was actually on that trip that I found the strain of citronella that now powers our insect repellent, although I didn’t actually know it at the time because I was freelancing and I was traveling and I was writing and I was doing photography and just, you know, finding myself doing all that. When I got back to the Bay Area, I knew at some point I would want to start my own company. And in lieu of starting that right away, I thought, well, I’m going to go and learn from someone else who’s built something like this from the ground up.
And so I ended up meeting the team at Modern Citizen, a women’s fashion e-commerce company and was really inspired by them. They’re incredible role models, for what business leaders can look like, especially as women navigating the San Francisco tech scene.
I ended up joining Modern Citizen and was then tasked with building the brand. It was a lot about finding and celebrating your community, which I think is something that really speaks to me very deeply on a personal level.
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And so how did that lead to Kinfield?
That [community building] is very much something that we’re doing now with Kinfield. Our vision is: How do we get more people out there in ways that, sure, it might involve trekking to the top of Mount Everest, but really it’s about how do we get you out there for a walk or to do dinner outside? I want it to be this very inclusive community that speaks to the way that real people get outdoors. So in service of that, how Kinfield actually came to be was I was getting ready to take a group of friends on this casual weekend out to Yosemite. We were going to go camping, and it was some people’s first time going. I’m packing in all of these like beautifully designed, thoughtfully graded, sustainably sourced skin-care products and then realize all the outdoor products that I was bringing along with the exact same things that I had grown up with in Minnesota: Bug spray, sunscreen, an aloe gel. So I’m packing for this trip and I’m looking at this like, ‘Okay, wait: My face wash is coming from this amazing online brand, but then the insect repellent is this green aerosol container that I don’t even know what’s in it — why am I putting that on my body?’ I really wanted to try to understand why we’re still using these same products.
I started talking to friends and realized that a lot of people were really disappointed with the products that they were using and sort of falling into this space of ‘Well, I don’t feel like I need to go to REI and buy 100% DEET when I’m just trying to play with my kids in the backyard or you know, do rosé in the park with my friends. What do I do in between?’
At what point did you go from identifying this category as a problem that you wanted to solve to actually starting the company?
First I asked myself three questions: Is this something that the world needs? Is this a viable business? And do I need to be the person to build this? I just realized that I was obsessed with the problem, brainstorming different products and thinking about events that we could do to try to get more people outside.
And it just got to the point where I realized I had to pursue it. So I ended up leaving Modern Citizen and the first thing that I did when I started the company was fly to Indonesia to source our citronella.
Why was that your starting off point?
I know that’s an unusual place to start. But for us, better products have to be the baseline and they have to be made with safe ingredients that you know you can trust, that we can support with scientific research. We needed the best possible plant active that we could find. I had found a strain of citronella in Indonesia years before when I was traveling there, and as I was looking at what was on the market, I realized that most of the other nontoxic brands were using a different strain of citronella that’s more readily available. But better products begin with better ingredients.
Honestly, this was naiveté. I had never made products before. I didn’t know. But I had a laundry list of requirements: I wanted the ingredients to be grown without pesticides, to be sourced in a sustainable way that wasn’t going to damage the environment or the communities that are assisting in growing it. I wanted there to be opportunities for women at all levels. People thought I was crazy. They literally were like, ‘There’s no way.’ But I wanted to go and see the fields and actually understand where this was coming from.
Where did you start in terms of building the company itself?
We really started with the products and then the actual building of like the brand and the backend of things. One of our initial hurdles was that I felt really strongly about incorporating as a benefit corporation; we are a public benefit corporation and what that means is we are acknowledging legally our desire to have, and to inspire, responsible environmental stewardship. I believe that that’s really important because as a brand and as a company we can’t in good faith be making products that are inspired to get people outdoors without also considering the impact that our products and our company and our team and our actions are going to be having on the environment at the same time. I wanted that to be something that was so paramount to our foundation and our ethos as a company.
The initial process was finding a legal team who could help me incorporate as a benefit corporation and build that in. Fortunately I was doing all of this while I was in San Francisco, and a lot of friends of mine started companies, so I was able to get some recommendations there, which was helpful.
What about securing funding?
I had done a lot of work around creating a business plan. I’m literally Googling, ‘How do you create a business plan?’ Honestly, thank goodness for Google because I feel like there’s so much I didn’t know. Being a founder, you have to learn to check your ego at the door really, really quickly. If anyone ever tells you that they know exactly what they’re doing, they’re probably lying. As a founder, you’re always doing things that are new to you, and you have to get comfortable with that discomfort real early.
I then went out and decided to do basically what everyone tells you not to do, which is that as a solo female founder I went out to fundraise ahead of our launch. I know we see in the tech world a lot of people being like, ‘I have an idea and I got $3 million for it,’ but in a product space it’s really hard when you’re telling them an idea for something that you’re like, ‘Trust me, it’s going to smell great,’ but you don’t have sales. You don’t have a product to show them yet. But fortunately I was able to find people who believed in our vision of creating this happier, healthier world. I was able to then go and do our pre-Seed round and that was what really set us up to then be able to go and build the site, build the brand and do a lot of early marketing, hire our team.
What are some other brands that inspire you and that you maybe see as aligned with the type of company you are hoping Kinfield can and will be?
I love Patagonia. I think they’re doing a lot of incredible things right now. And Rose Marcario, the CEO, is a genius. She puts her money and the company’s money where her mouth is and puts that desire to save the planet ahead of profits, which I think is really powerful and inspiring. Patagonia and other companies like Cotopaxi are demonstrating that you really can build a business with sustainability as a foundational element and see your community resonate with that.
In terms of other like-minded brands, I think that what Outdoor Voices has done for activewear is amazing. What they’ve done that in terms of saying, ‘You can wear this stuff when you’re running a marathon, but you can also wear it when you’re walking your dog,’ is really aligned with what we’re doing with personal care products. I think that the inclusivity that Glossier has put forth as well, that anyone can wear these as products, is also aligned with what we want to do. It’s about highlighting what makes you feel good, that’s a common thread for those companies. And that’s something that very much resonates with us as well.
Do you consider Kinfield a beauty company? Do you consider it a wellness company?
We think of it as being skin care and personal care. So sure, we’re a beauty company. But we’re not going into color cosmetics. All of the products go on my skin during our R and D process, and I have super sensitive skin. So yeah, I would think of this as a skin-care company.
Tell me a little bit more about your sales and the retail setup. Is the company expanding beyond its own direct-to-consumer model?
Yes, we’re beginning some retail pilots. We had a great opportunity earlier this summer to work with the Surf Lodge out in Montauk, which we love. And then we launched with Neighborhood Goods — when I think about my own buying patterns for these kinds of products, they’re oftentimes products that I need at the last minute. When you’re packing for that trip you realize you need them, so hotels and Neighborhood Goods have been an amazing partner for us to see how the products translate in person.
We’re launching with Goop, which is great because it has that blessing and checklist of all of the things that Goop looks for in a brand and in products. And we want our community to let us know as well, where do they want to see us? Where are they trying to buy these products?
Can you tell me more about the meaning behind the brand name?
Naming anything is inevitably a top task. We had gone through a lot of soul searching about the kind of team and community we wanted to build and we landed on the name Kinfield, which was something that I come up with quite literally because it represents your kin in a field. It’s about this love of shared outdoor gatherings.
It’s about grabbing your friend. It’s about going on tours. It’s about celebrating those little moments that remind us that we’re human and remind us that we’re a part of this bigger world around us. Kinfield just felt like it hit that all of those things. And it was brief and memorable and easy to spell and all of those good things that my marketing brain also needed to see.
What about the packaging?
We landed on the transparent path that you see through all of our packaging because it felt a little nature inspired, like you’re looking at the topographic map and you can see the river kind of winding through that. We wanted the rest of the packaging to be transparent because we’re being transparent about the ingredients that we’re using.
We had a big internal debate as about using glass versus plastic. I initially thought that we would use glass, because plastic gets a really bad rap, understandably so. But the thing is that we’re shipping these products because we’re an online company, and if they’re glass, we’re going to then have to wrap them more carefully, and that means using a ton of excess packaging. Then we also thought about the use case of when people are using these products; they’re throwing them into their backpack when they’re going out on a hike. They’re chucking them into the bottom of a cooler; it’s precious environment. You have to make packaging that’s going to withstand both of those things. We ended up working with a PET bottle, and what that allows us to do is ship without any excess waste. When you order from us online, you get the packages, you get our products in biodegradable cotton mesh produce bag and there is nothing to throw away. We ultimately felt like that enabled us to have a smaller footprint.
What does the future look like for Kinfield?
From a product perspective, we want to be thinking about every product that you use from the minute you step outside your door. From a company perspective and the kind of community that we want to make, we’re really excited about some of the content things that we have coming up. We’ve been trying to be really thoughtful about what we’re creating, not just adding to the noise. I think being able to spend more time building our community is a priority and getting to do more things in urban parks, take people outdoors. I’m really just excited for us to be able to continue to grow into that space.
We are planning on growing the team. Then from there it’s really thinking about expansion into next year, both in terms of product lines that we’re developing and about form factor as well. So if you love this spray repellent, great, but there are definitely other ways of deploying the actives, so I’m feeling some things around that as well.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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