Meet Gaye Straza of Kai Fragrance

Gaye Straza was a wanderlust woman in love with the sweet scent of the tropics. Nostalgic for the salty air and floral scents of tropical vacations, she created her own distinct fragrance. kai has since jumped from her bathroom vanity into the hands of men, women, and celebrities around the world. From boutique owner and boat dweller, Gaye talks us through her inspiration for the brand, its environmental impact, and her constant search for balanced beach-side living.

Kai has been described as a "Cult Fragrance" with A-List high profile celebrity devotees. What do you think it is about the simplicity and natural beauty of the product that has triggered such devotion from consumers around the world?

I wish I could put a finger on it. I'm going with the fact that most people feel it's fresh and not heady.  Surprisingly men love it, too, and that's not all that common.  I think people want something that smells like a real flower as opposed to the heaviness you find in most fragrance. People also tell me it reminds them of being on vacation. That's always a good feeling and is a huge compliment. 

Already a business owner, you managed to launch this scent in your boutique before devoting your career to it exclusively. How did you decide to take the leap and is there anything you would have done differently looking back?

I was really surprised that kai grew legs of its own along with the happiness it brought me every time I was complimented on the scent I was wearing and asked where they could buy it. No name. No box. Just a little bottle that I kept on the cash wrap of my boutique. There are no other words other than this was a complete surprise and absolute blessing. It was really not what I considered a leap of faith, but just something I knew I needed to do. A calling. 

Your business has grown into a global brand and yet you manage it alongside a small team beside the beach in Malibu. How have you managed such impressive growth while maintaining such an intimate and relaxed workplace?

It's all about having a great team with the same vision. I can't stress that enough. Also, I’ve always believed in slow, smart growth and not being a trend. 

Your signature scent evokes a scent of sand and sunshine and all things tropical, but it's so much more than that. What environmental impact can consumers expect to have when they purchase a Kai product?

That's exactly what I want to convey! kai consumers can expect the products they are using to be paraben, phthalate, phosphate, and sulfate free. kai products are never tested on animals, are vegan, and made in the United States using recyclable packaging.

Today, the Kai brand beautifully embodies the chill pace and natural beauty of coastal living. What does a day in the life of an internationally-acclaimed business owner and once-upon-a-time boat-dweller actually look like? How do you find your balance?

I work on balance everyday. I'm a Gemini through and through. Hot or cold. Stuffed or starving. We sold the boat a while ago although it was always a dream to live on the water...three years was enough. I am now back in Malibu full time and I love it. I just came through a bad accident so I’m getting back to exercise. Also, trying to make my beach walk every day is a top priority in finding and keeping balance. Eating right and practicing yoga are just a few other ways I find balance. 

The beauty industry is awash with labels and has become increasingly difficult for the average consumer to navigate responsibly. What do you look for when choosing products for your own personal application?

The same ingredients I look to for kai. I've recently heard the term "no nasties". To me that means non-nano sunscreen and non-toxic ingredients for beauty products. I look for products made with the finest quality ingredients, just like kai is.

From the shelves of your beach-side boutique to a coveted spot on Oprah's wish list, what is the one moment you'll never forget about the adventure thus far?

No question, making it to Oprah's Favorite Things list tops everything else. Hands down. Then again, getting emails or being told "thank you" for coming up with kai, brings absolute joy. 

Photography by Gather Mag