Upon moving to New York City, Kate McLeod found herself feeling lost and low in the busy city. She found solace in business—accidentally.
In 2015, McLeod was living in a small Brooklyn apartment while engaged to her high school sweetheart. Yet, she was struggling in the city: the pace, the rush, the lack of meaningful human connection. It had left her in a depressive state. During this time, a visit to her sister-in-law gave her the spark for a new business idea that put her culinary skills and environmental ethos to work.
“I was just chatting with my sister-in-law while applying lotion, and she asked me what I was using. I hadn’t paid too much attention to ingredients in skincare at that point in my life,” she says. Her sister-in-law, though, swapped out the generic bottle of lotion for a tub of cocoa butter and told her to spend some time rubbing into her dry skin.
McLeod didn’t think much of it, but took home the jar and started applying it daily, taking a few minutes each day to tend after herself. “I don’t think I understood the deeper meaning of it all just then. But by looking after myself, I was beginning to feel a bit better. I had the courage to get out of my apartment, and motivation to do something meaningful with my day.”
McLeod, who had enjoyed cooking, worked as a pastry chef, and had taken courses on chocolate-making in Paris, started experimenting with the cocoa butter in her kitchen. For her wedding, she made canelés (small decorate cakes) of cocoa butter—the predecessor to the Body Stone, which would become the flagship product for her business.
“It had 5 ingredients and all of them were edible. I told the wedding guests they could eat it, though it may not taste great, but it was safe,” she jokes.
And that was the beginning of her personal care business, named after herself, Kate McLeod. She reshaped it from a canelé, which she felt was “too cutesy” to a minimalist ball that was easy to hold, and easy to apply.
Soon after she took the product to Shen, a popular skincare store in Brooklyn, she started getting orders and some unexpected attention. Actress Naomi Watts mentioned the Body Stone in a self-care video for Into The Gloss, and McLeod was receiving orders from around the world.
“I remember seeing orders from Japan, and Australia, and I’m not sure we were ready for it,” she recalls.
So she did something drastic: she turned off the website for a while. And in the meantime, she found a business partner: Nichola Gray who convinced McLeod that she had stop making the cocoa butter stones in her kitchen and scale up the operation.
Today, all the products are made in a workshop in upstate New York in Duchess County, which McLeod says has only deepened their environmental mission. “Not only are we waterless, and plastic-free, but we’re also locally-made, so our stuff is not being trucked all over the place. And during the pandemic, our lead times were in weeks, not months, because we were local.”
McLeod also landed big accounts by being persistent and tenacious. She recalls how she hunted down the QVC buyer to convince them to test our her product. Similarly, she got on the radar of Goop’s team, and began sending samples to employees at any interested retailers so they could understand how to use the product.
“You have to use it yourself to be able to explain it to a customer,” she notes. “Because it’s different than the usual lotion. So experiencing it is key.”
What started with $90,000 of investment, split equally between herself, her mom, and Gray, has allowed the company to grow steadily and slowly based on sales. And despite the success, McLeod is still as involved, and seen in the workshop regularly developing products.
“For me, the process of figuring out a recipe for the stone was a meditative and soulful process. Cocoa butter can be tempered just like chocolate, slowly, resulting in this silky, smooth texture that absorbs into the skin, instead of sitting on it,” she says.
Packaged in a bamboo container, McLeod hopes this simple balm not only replaces plastic bottles of lotion, but also infuses a bit of a calm into her customers’ lives, like it did for her.