Kimba Williams‘ energy and passion explode off the screen as she talks about the auspicious meeting of her co-founder on a boat. The chemistry was instant and created the spark that resulted in Kushae. With a broad range of products for feminine care, the company is focused on providing effective, natural, and non-toxic health and hygiene products. Kimba also launched the Foaming Feminine Wash, the gateway drug for female hygiene. It’s interesting what happens when the doctor and diva meet on a trip. Tune in and discover the revolutionary, all-natural, effective solutions for vulvar care.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
What Happens When A Doctor And A Diva Meet On A Girls’ Trip With Kimba Williams
All-Natural, Effective Solutions For Vulvar Care
We had so much fun talking to Kimba Williams who has a lot of great names, a lot of great expressions, and unbelievable energy. She’s talking to us about her brand and her company, Kushae, which is meant to be a portfolio of products with natural solutions to what you would describe as common female problems. Some of this stuff is controversial so I always love having your medical perspective. We talk a lot about the cleanliness of the female genital area. What’s the professional word on what, and how you need to do to clean your vulva, your vagina, and your entire genital area healthily and healthfully?
It’s first so important to realize that some people use anything and everything and they are fine with no complaints. Power to them. However, the people who show up in my office are often having symptoms or problems as a result of irritating chemicals and concerns about endocrine-disrupting chemicals and trying to break the mold of what they may have been taught to do generations ago. From a purely gynecologic perspective, we like to suggest that the vagina itself is self-cleaning and doesn’t need to be vigorously cleansed. The vulva needs to be treated with respect and avoidance of harsh chemicals if you’re sensitive. Soap and water sometimes are fine, and sometimes you need a little Kushae.
You will see that she makes talking about washing your private parts fun.
Here’s the Hot Flash. The vagina has a specific pH all thanks to some good bacteria called lactobacilli. The vagina lies in an acidic pH of 3.8 to 4.5.
We are so excited to talk to the CEO of Kushae, Kimba Williams. This is a person who takes after my heart. She has a lot of great names for herself and other things. She’s referred to as the Natural Diva and a naturalista. Welcome, Kimba. We’re so excited to hear about the Kushae story.
Thank you so much for having me, ladies. I am super excited. I’m pumped. Let’s get the show on the road.
You have an interesting origin story. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you met your cofounder who is busy taking care of patients so at the last minute wasn’t able to make it. Tell us a little bit about your journey.
That’s what happens when you have a physician cofounder. She’s fancy, and then all of a sudden, she has surgery to do. We miss her. We are going to represent Dr. Barb to the fullest, which we normally do. As you have heard, I’m Kimba, the CEO of Kushae. Kushae didn’t exist years ago until Dr. Barb and I met on a girls’ trip. It was a super random cruise for moms who were sick and tired of being sick and tired. We were like, “We need to get the hell out of Dodge. We need to get away from our kids, husbands, exes, or whatever the situation was.”
Barbara was one of the people who wanted to flake on the cruise. I was in charge of getting everybody on the boat. I harassed her for days and was like, “I know you don’t know me. Give me your credit card and make it happen.” She finally buckled. She’s like, “Who is this lady?” I’m like, “Don’t worry. We will be friends. It will be fine.” We get on this boat. I was a pharmaceutical sales executive for about over fifteen years. Many of my friends, clients, and customers were physicians.
I was very familiar with being chummy and charming to physicians but what I found was that on the road of pharmaceuticals, you realize that there are some lifestyles that you would rather not have, which are super dependent on Western medicine. Even though I was providing solutions for people who didn’t have choices otherwise, I decided that I wanted to be much more proactive in my healthcare journey. It’s a healthy lifestyle living. It was detoxifying my house. I went to cloth diapering for my kids. I went granola. I use that term lovingly because I feel like that’s where the Natural Diva came from.
The area that I found that I struggled with when it came to detoxifying products was feminine health. I could find shampoos, lotions, and face products but I couldn’t find natural things for down there, particularly as it related to me being an active person who loved to sweat and detox. Who wants the crazy stuff that comes with that? Who wants the funk with the odors? We don’t want that. I loved Zumba at the time. I was like, “There has to be something that we can do about that.”
When I met Barbara, I go, “I know you’re a doctor and all.” I’m all highfalutin with this attitude I got. I’m a New Yorker. What can I say? I said, “I know you’re a doctor. You’re an OB-GYN. I’m looking for natural solutions. If I were your patient, what would you tell me about how I can take care of the things that don’t require medication like BV, yeast infections, odors from sweat, or things that no one else is thinking about but that women are struggling with every day?”
She says, “To be honest with you, I don’t have any recommendations. I find that most of the products are not those that I would particularly use myself, but I am also looking.” I was like, “What’s your story?” That’s when she began to tell me how devastating she was when at the age of 38, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in both breasts. She underwent treatment and ended up going through a double mastectomy to save her life.
I was in tears at this point. She talked about the fact that she had no idea what it was like on the other side of the examination table. She realized that women don’t have the support that they need, particularly those going through a breast cancer diagnosis. She wanted to do more for them and herself and if she ever came out of this thing, she would use that epiphany moment for doing more than she even felt like she was doing on an everyday basis as an OB-GYN.
She says, “I would love to come up with products. I have no idea where to start.” I said, “I happen to be a businesswoman. I am in the pharmaceutical space. I have a little bit of an idea about products.” That’s how we got started. A year later, we went on the same boat with little rinky-dink bottles, spray pumps and what you know now as Kushae. That’s how we started. We have been going ever since. 2023 is our fifth anniversary. Happy birthday, Kushae.
I’m so curious. Do you have a dirty 10 or a dirty 5 of the ingredients that you wanted to stay away from that are potential health problems?
Women ask us all the time, “What are we supposed to be looking for?” Most women aren’t looking for anything. They’re not turning the bottle around. They will read the quick messaging on the front and call it a day. Let’s make it quick. The top five that you want to look out for are anything that starts with PEG and a number. PEGs are super dangerous.
PEG stands for Polyethylene Glycol.
A lot of times, they’re hormone disruptors. They can wreak havoc on women and their overall wellness. You want to stay away from anything with PEG. There are phthalates. You want to stay from that artificial anything, particularly scents. Artificial scents are chemically made and tend to be disruptors as it relates to irritation and inflammation of the skin. You want to stay away from that. You want to stay away from parabens. Everybody is talking that anti-paraben talk. They’re all right. Let’s keep that same energy when it comes to parabens.Artificial scents are chemically made and tend to be disruptors when it comes to irritation and inflammation of the skin. You want to stay away from that. You want to stay away from parabens. Click To Tweet
There are so many more. The other one would be dioxins, which tend to be a byproduct of when feminine health companies, particularly those who have pads and tampons, are bleaching their cotton to make them super clean white. Those dioxins are known carcinogens. There are so many others. We have a page on our website about medical evidence that points to specific industries and/or ingredients that you need to stay away from. Hopefully, you can check that out on Kushae.com.
I did check it out. I wanted to get your top five because this is such a moment for education about label reading, knowing your ingredients, and that type of thing.
Whenever we have this discussion, I always think I’m listening inside Alyssa’s head. One of the things you said early on was that you wanted to deal with things that didn’t need to be treated with medication. I wanted to toss it over to Alyssa to say I know that there’s no total consensus on what does and does not need to be treated.
I’m interested in having your perspective. You love the natural ingredient approach but are there particular conditions that you are concerned people are treating themselves with Eastern medicine solutions or natural solutions when Western medicine is required from your medical perspective? Are there things that you find that people are making a mistake about?
Keep in mind that I see a skewed population of people who either have tried things on their own that are not working. They remain symptomatic and uncomfortable. I’m going to turn toward diagnosis and treatment in a more traditional way. As a traditionally medically trained physician, I treat yeast and BV with medication but I also recommend adjuvant maintenance or preventative measures, especially for those who are having recurrent infections. People coming to me for treatment are usually symptomatic enough that they want something quickly.
I’m curious. If I missed it, tell me. What was the catalyst for your delving into all this natural exploration, which sounds like had a huge and positive impact on your life?
It was the antithesis of my career and the direction that I was going in. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. Hospitals were my clients. Trumping up and down those hallways every single day was an eye-opener for me. There are so many things that people are not doing or not paying attention to when it comes to preventative medicine.
When you’re at the point where you’ve got an acute heart attack, acute TIA, or acute stroke going on, you need support and help but for me, it’s about becoming more proactive. It’s maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise and the appropriate diet for you, maintaining mental health and all of the things, being more holistic and not waiting until you are in dire straits and have to depend on pharmaceutical therapies.
Being in the pharmaceutical industry, they also come with their long list of things that they whisper on commercials that you also don’t want to subject yourself to if you can help it. Proactivity is always the way but that’s not to say that you’re going to avoid anything. You’re going to mitigate your chances of coming into contact with something that may be very life-threatening but to me, the more you do for yourself proactively, the better. We should all begin to look at life in that way if we haven’t already.
I don’t think those commercials whisper anything. They say them so fast. It’s a little frightening.
Except for Viagra where this side-effect became a great marketing tool.
It sounds like this is at least a five-year journey with Kushae. How did you get your product visible when there are so many other big promises out there from big brands? Are you affiliated with doctors’ offices? Is it strictly direct-to-consumer? What was your secret sauce?
What worked years ago doesn’t necessarily work now. We started with face-to-face expos. We knew that it would be difficult to demonstrate Kushae because we were not going to drop our pants and be like, “Look what I can do with this product.” We said, “Instead of going door-to-door, how can we go woman-to-woman?” I come from a sales background. I said, “We have to get in front of the consumer but how do we demonstrate it and catch their attention quickly? Where are the audiences? Where can we find women that are already very aligned with the natural cadence around products and lifestyle?”
We used to go to women’s events but we would find that 5 out of 10 women weren’t even into natural products. We were wasting time trying to filter through, “Don’t you think natural products make sense?” We said, “We have to cut through the noise.” We end up going to natural product expositions. We said, “If they’re already into natural products, we have to get them to lower the bar and start talking about what we call the space below the waist.” I and my kitschiness came up with this little line. We used to do a lot of natural hair expos, particularly for Black women who are moving from relaxers to natural hair spaces. We would say, “You’ve got natural hair but what about down there?” They would be like, “What?”
It’s so funny that you already said, “We’re not going to try to change two pieces of behavior. We’re going to take people already interested in a natural product and see if we can get them interested in a new category.” It reminded me of when I was raising venture capital for a sexual health business that I was running. It got to the point where we said, “Can you or can’t you say the word vagina without laughing? If you can’t, we don’t need to do the rest of the presentation because this probably isn’t for you.”
I love the pre-screen and going to people, which is what we used to be able to do online with Google and Facebook, who are already predisposed to be interested in your approach. Where is the business in terms of distribution and response? What are you hearing from customers? What big plans do you have for expansion? We’re interested in everything. Your energy is so palpable.
I’m having a blast. I enjoy these things if you can tell. Kushae has grown by leaps and bounds. COVID was a blockbuster year for us because we were primarily eCommerce. Thank goodness. We were doing the face-to-face and in the meantime, building the email list and our D2C business. When people had to defect to being online, we were ready. That was fantastic. That was only two years since we had launched. We launched in 2018 and then here comes COVID. We think we’re going one way and then we blast out of the ceiling the other way, which was fantastic.
It was that same year that I harassed Whole Foods Market to the point where they were sick and tired of hearing from me. They said, “You can launch.” I said, “It’s COVID.” They were like, “Do you want to launch or not?” I was like, “Maybe. Do you even have stores?” I quickly thought that this would be probably the best time to launch because in case we didn’t do well, we could always blame it on COVID, “We launched in Whole Foods but it didn’t work out. It was COVID.” Thankfully, three years later, we’re still going strong with Whole Foods Market as a fantastic partner of ours.
Little beta tests that we used for COVID worked out for us. A year later, we landed Wegmans in the Northeast. Northerners know Wegmans are in every store throughout the Wegmans chain, which is fantastic. That puts us in over 100-some-odd stores. We’re also in several mom-and-pops throughout the Northeast Corridor. We started there first. We’re working our way throughout the country in the Midwest and West.
We do have a nice viable footprint. We’re talking to a lot of big-box stores. I can’t name-drop yet but some are very popular or well-known stores and even drugstore chains as we launch our newest product, which will be our menstrual line free of the dioxins we have talked about. It’s fantastically 100% organic inside and out. There are none of the nasty plastic gel polymers that you will find in many pad brands. We’re looking to be truly and holistically organic.
I want to go back to something you said because we have a lot of entrepreneurs who read this. You don’t get out of bed and fall into distribution at Whole Foods. Can you give us a little bit of background on how that happened? That was a game-changer for the trajectory of the company. I know that our audiences are interested in finding out how you made it look so easy and what some of the steps are to get it done if they’re an appropriate product to be in that retailer or any other for that matter.
Whole Foods was always my goal for me. I said, “I would rather start from the top and work my way down.” Folks say, “What about Walmart?” No shade to anybody but we are a physician’s formula. We are a premier brand. We need to start there and then everybody else will come. It’s very important for product-based founders to understand it. You may diminish the brand inadvertently and not even know it by selecting retailers that are truly not the best fit for your ultimate vision and goal of the company. Be clear and patient about going after the bigger fish because they then will be the bait for smaller fish. When people hear Whole Foods, we’re automatically enticed. It might not necessarily work the other way around. Be mindful of that.Be clear and patient about going after the bigger fish because they will then be the bait for smaller fish. Click To Tweet
You keep making me think of all these analogies. There used to be this idea in advertising. You would go for the extreme case. If this deodorant is good enough for a firefighter, it’s certainly good enough for you when you’re carpooling. If Whole Foods likes this, then they have already done the validation.
Whole Foods has a stringent policy around ingredients and people know that. They’re like, “If you made it there, then you can probably make it anywhere from a retailer perspective.” There are a few other stores that are a little bit more than Whole Foods but they have set the bar some years ago and they’re highly respected. The secret to getting in front of them was stalking someone on LinkedIn. I found a buyer in my area. I stalked her and acted as if I knew her. I was like, “It was so nice to meet you at the last event.” I was making it up.
People will feel embarrassed and terrible if they don’t feel like they remember you. I leaned on human behavior of accepting what they feel is the truth. I told a little bit of a white lie but you have to know that there was an event that happened. There are a lot of natural product events that happened. If they post and said they were there, then you say, “It was great to meet you at the blank,” because she was there but maybe I wasn’t. You have to be creative and go for what you want. I wasn’t hurting anybody by saying that I might have been someplace that I wasn’t. I felt like it was very okay.You have to be creative and go for what you want. Click To Tweet
Other than the new things coming down the pipe for menstrual health, what would you say is the blockbuster product that got you on the map?
Our number one product, the queen of the castle, is our Foaming Feminine Wash. It’s because it’s considered the gateway drug for feminine hygiene. A lot of women don’t assume that they need specific pH balance products for anything. I said, “At the end of the day, hopefully, you’ve decided that you need to wash your Kushae with something that doesn’t irritate you or burn you or isn’t harmful to you. Let’s start there.”
By the time they start there with something that’s universally a truth, “I do want to be clean. Let’s start with this as opposed to regular soap,” then they begin to trust, know and like the branch and start creeping into, “What else do you have? I do have this one little issue but I’m not sure you can help me.” Lo and behold, we have every product that most companies and brands have never even thought of like things from chaffing to sweaty odors to even the BV yeast infection piece, internal solutions, ingrown hairs and prevention. There are so many things for that space below the wind.
This is not necessarily coming from me but to all the naysayers out there or the people trained to expect that this is a self-cleaning zone and that products are not needed. I’m going to go out there and say the inside of the vagina does not need to be cleaned. The external areas people wash with soap or what we generally do frown upon fragrances or strong chemicals. How does Kushae answer that issue?
The number one goal for Kushae was always to first educate. We always keep that in mind. We know that there are so many schools of thought based on what your mama told you, what your auntie shared with you, what you found on YouTube or what your sister said. There’s so much misinformation that we find that we’re having to uneducate and then truly reeducate. For those who say it’s a self-cleaning oven, we agree with them but what we find is that there’s an issue with understanding the nomenclature or what each anatomical bit is called. People don’t even know what a vulva is.
We go through this all the time. The vulva is not the vagina. You’re saying it again.
We have to explain it like we’re talking to third-graders sometimes, which is fine because most marketing is geared toward 3rd to 8th-grade understanding. We say, “Typically what we mean when we talk about the vagina is it’s where the babies come from. It’s where the tampons go in and light bulbs go off but the vulva is the outer bits that anybody can see if your draw is dropped.”
“That’s the vulva, the bits you would be embarrassed about because your pants dropped down, the hair-bearing bits, and those types of things.” Once we educate and say, “You want to wash the bits that are hair-bearing and do have pores and oil glands like your underarms, the rest of your body, and your scalp. You do want to maintain a level of health and cleanliness with those.”
It’s a matter of, “What are you using? Are you using things with fragrances? Kushae is fragrance-free. Kushae would be appropriate. Are you using things that are pH balanced even for the surface of that skin? If not, Kushae certainly is.” Using step-by-step helpful tips about what is a vulva, why it needs to stay clean and what things you should be looking for to keep it healthy and keep that biome, whether it’s internal or external, safe is important. That’s where we are. That’s the work we continue to do.
Before we let you go, tell us the derivation or the meaning behind the word Kushae. You’ve used it as a name of a company. You’ve used it to describe a geographic area on the body. How did you come up with Kushae?
I’ll tell you the long story. Dr. Barb and I were tossing around names. I said, “It has to be quite indicative of what we’re doing because we need people to get it pretty quickly but without being crass.” We said, “Let’s throw some names on the board like vagina and other names that culturally people were throwing around.” I’m from the Caribbean. Some of us call it pum-pum and punani. You’ve got all sorts of names. I go, “There’s coochie. There are a whole bunch of things that women call it.” She goes, “What if we took coochie?” I go, “That’s not going to work.” She goes, “Hear me out. What if we did like they do target? What about Kushae?” I was like, “You got it.”
That’s how we came up with Kushae. We googled our heads off. Back in 2017 when we first started the company, we had one page of Google results and nine results were returned. These days, there are millions of results. We found a spelling that could work. It’s a little tricky if you don’t know. We were a little too clever with the spelling but once you know, you know. That’s where Kushae came from. For those of you in the back of the room that didn’t get it, it’s coochie made fancy. That’s all.
It is so fun talking to you. You have to end with the word coochie. We wish you continued success. That sounds like you are off to the races. Congratulations and regards to Dr. Barb. We hope we get a chance to meet her in the future.
She sends her regards as well. Thank you so much for having me. This was a blast. I look forward to doing it again. We will launch something new and you will have to have us back on.
That’s fantastic. We will.
Thank you. Take care.
About Kimba Williams
Kimba Williams is an award-winning pharmaceutical sales executive turned best-selling author, national speaker, and successful entrepreneur as the CEO/Co-founder of Kushae (koo-SHAY) – a line of doctor-developed, natural, and non-toxic feminine health and hygiene products, which are currently sold online and in stores nationwide, including Whole Foods Market. Kimba’s entrepreneurial prowess and skill at pitching for millions has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, Vogue, NBC News, and more. A native New Yorker of Jamaican heritage, Kimba now resides in Florida, and enjoys international traveling, reggae and afrobeats music, and being a wife and mother to her 3 beautiful boys.