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“Where the climate is cool and the fires are warm and clean;” finding the future with Khala & Co.

Kindhumans Profile

“Where the climate is cool and the fires are warm and clean;” finding the future with Khala & Co.

Kindhumans profiles highlight people, businesses, and brands that are making the world a better place, every day. What could be kinder than that?

Khala & Co. offer natural alternatives to help people go plastic-free, from sustainably sourced beeswax food wraps and cotton/hemp coffee filters to all-natural Mechaks, or hempwick firestarters. They envision a world where “the climate is cool and the fires are warm and clean.” We tracked down Tamar and Asa McKee, the dynamic duo behind this cool company, to learn more about sustainable living, anthropology, and a vision for the future we can be proud to pass on. – KH

 

Who are Tamar and Asa?

We are partners in life and business, brought together first by the mountains of Colorado and then by the continuous blessing (and challenges!) of our children and our company.

  

Why did you start Khala & Co.?

We never meant to. When we realized that having a family meant doubling each other’s environmental impact on this planet, we got committed to finding ways to lessen our footprint and reduce the exposure of our children to pollution and toxins. Classic new parent move in the 21st century, right? Replacing plastic with a reusable food wrap we made at home, where we could better control the quality of the product, was actually just one measure we took…but one that really stood out to family and friends when they saw us using them and requested some for themselves. They also encouraged us to sell at farmer’s markets and the like.

As luck had it, our first market was a yoga festival in Squamish, B.C. where we lived at the time, and where attendees gave us the idea of having a vegan version of the wax wraps (which we then debuted on Earth Day 2018 as the first North American-made, 100% plant-based wax wraps).

Then our second market was the 2016 Green America Festival in Portland, Oregon, where we ended up winning the festival award for “Most Exciting Brand.” Suddenly, our family-based solution proved resonant with many others; so from humble beginnings came a sense that we could provision and serve people and communities well beyond what we could ever imagine!

 

 

Tell us about Khala & Co.

“Khala” (pronounced Kah-lah) means “food” in Tibetan, and is in homage to Tamar’s background as an anthropologist of Tibet. Whether traveling in the Chinese occupied homeland of Tibet, or in Tibetan diasporic communities worldwide, food was such a strong and meaningful way to form bonds and show compassion.

It was also alliterative to “Cloths” and thus the first name of our company, Khala Cloths, was born. We especially chose “Cloths” to identify our reusable food wrap lines (beeswax and vegan) because we wanted immediate recognition away from anything connected to plastic and more towards the natural and compostable nature of organic cloth. “Wraps” as a name in a product line just seemed still too much to be in the paradigm we were seeking to break (even though “reusable food wrap” still is the easiest way to describe the functionality of Khala Cloths to a larger market!). Then, as our following grew and people really began to appreciate the print design aspect behind our Khala Cloths, we started getting asked if we could make bags and the like. Realizing that we could provision people with so many more zero waste options in addition to our Khala Cloths, we expanded into Khala & Company last year so we could better encompass and present all of our zero waste provisions and solutions such as produce/bulk bags, reusable cloth coffee filters, eKo Twists and more.

We also like “Company” because it too is alliterative to “Khala” and speaks to the values of our business. We strive to be in, and create, good “company” through our products and the purpose they serve and inspire at a community – not just consumer – level.

 

 Why do you think it is important for people to reduce their plastic consumption and choose alternatives?

The effects on human health when it comes to ingestion/exposure to plastics cannot be underscored enough. But at Khala & Company we are committed to seeing how the individual human is in relationship to the greater-human world (that’s Tamar’s anthropology at work) – and that’s where we also gain a lot of concern and inspiration.

The effects of plastic in the environment also cannot be underscored enough – from microplastics in rain falling in our beloved Rocky Mountain National Park to the stomach contents of “problem” bears euthanized in Boulder’s foothills, Khala & Company provides non-plastic alternatives and solutions to these problems and more. And where our zero waste provisions leave off, we collaborate and promote other businesses, companies, organizations, and individuals that then pick up with solutions like reusable bottles and cups, straws, cutlery, tiffins, and so much more.

We are all about educating people and communities about the alternative resources, choices, and practices out there to reduce their plastic consumption…as well as food waste too, but that is a different question!

 

 What is the motivation and inspiration behind Khala & Co.?

Wanting our kids to know that we fought hard and threw our hat in the ring of planetary preservation and protection. Wanting folks who “buy” our products – a.k.a. provision themselves with the resources and knowledge Khala & Company proffers – to know that in sending their monetary pledge our way, they signal to up-and-coming generations that they did something for planetary preservation and protection.

 

What does sustainability mean to you and what role does it have in your life and your company?

Sustainability is such a choice word these days. Simultaneously loaded and empty. Yes, in everything we do as a company we seek sustainability – from the solutions we offer in our zero waste provisions, to the way we conduct business; from product sourcing to production/by-production. But we are also interested in a deeper sense of sustainability – how can we balance an almost social-venture-like business model with the necessary bottom line? What would a collaborative model of business look like over a competitive capitalist one? How far will we go to prioritize more expensive but more ethical, organic, consciously-sourced base materials over cheaper but more problematic ones? Sustainability is asking hard questions conventional business models would steer you away from, sticking around for the answer, and paying heed.

 

 “Sustainability is asking hard questions conventional business models would steer you away from, sticking around for the answer, and paying heed.”

 

 Can you share one of the biggest challenges you have come up against?

Honestly, being straight-up copied. Seeing our idea for connecting print designs on our Khala Cloths with supporting environmental causes through profit and product donations co-opted was a gut punch. We do not have corporate backing. We do not have a deep legal bench to tackle intellectual property rights challenges. We could only accept that we are participating in a capitalist system (until it changes), all is fair in love and business war, and keep on with our vision and do it better than anyone else could.

 

Can you share a moment you are most proud of?

(Tamar’s answer): The moment I am most proud of is when I finished painting the last animal in our “Windows into the Still-Wild” print dedicated to supporting the Centennial Year of the National Parks Conservation Association. I stayed up all night painting the fox, which represents the western slope/southwestern part of Colorado with its mesas and canyons; where my mom is from. Just as the fox on this print is a window into that Colorado landscape, portrayed as the sun begins to rise, I finished this painting as dawn broke last early summer. I got to listen to at least three different stages of bird song from my studio as I brought the fox and this print line to a close. This communion of nature, family, landscape, art, and liminal sense of personal time was the perfect way to complete this project.

Those are the stories and intentions behind our products that I am most proud of, but rarely get a chance to tell as most folks (appropriately) just want to know how to care for and clean our products! Khala & Company has gone on to donate thousands of dollars in product and money to the NPCA, not to mention the visibility we’ve raised for them in the co-branded packaging of the “Windows into the Still-Wild,” in addition to the heartfelt story-art I created.

 

 How do you educate and inspire others?

See above answer! Being able to share these intimate stories of how we came to be and are continuously becoming. Whether it is in-person from festivals to fundraisers, in social media or newsletter dispatches, or in profile opportunities such as this one presented by KindHumans, we are tellers with stories to touch and inspire people. We want the purchase of our zero waste products to feel more like a provisioning of mind, body, spirit, and planet above anything else. And we don’t just say that for marketing purposes. We really intend that.

 

 What’s in the books for 2020 for Khala & Co.?

More amazing prints aligned with incredible causes. Stay tuned in March…

 

 Why do you like collaborating with other brands? What was your most fun collab?

We like collaborating because it seems like the elixir to the unsustainable model of capitalism and competition that we are questioning. We are all in this together, so let’s do this together! Our most fun collab? While NPCA has been amazing for the epic scope, Changing Tides Foundation has been incredible to work with. We’ve done two co-branded print designs with them now, and the latest one with the mandala art is so beautiful and we know there is more prosperity and good heart to come from that one. The co-brand with Kindhumans also still waits in the wings; we really broke a mold when we went for a more text-heavy and super colorful design. It took a few more tries than other prints, but the end result is heart-swelling every time we see it – here’s hoping others feel that poignancy and importance too!

 

 If you could spend time with any kind human in history, who would that be and what would you do together? 

(Tamar’s answer…with which Asa wholeheartedly agrees): The human I’d like to spend time with is my paternal grandfather; neither I, nor his son (my father) ever met. He died in World War II on the first night patrol at Anzio for the First Special Service Force (a secret joint US-Canadian military unit) and his death cut short a promising archaeological career and traumatized my family into silence for decades. He was the first archaeologist to ethically excavate pre-historic cultural sites in Colorado, demonstrating that aboriginal inhabitation of the land was more long-lasting than the paradigm of the day would have people believe. In particular, his work in Dinosaur National Monument was done in the 1930s and ‘40s, believing that Echo Park would soon enough be damned/dammed in the name of Progress – it was salvage archaeology for both cultural and environmental reasons. But the Echo Park dam was ultimately defeated, and it was the archaeological record and significance of indigenous cultural heritage that he demonstrated that helped in this victory. I would like to meet him and ask him so much; but more than anything, I’d just like to know what a hug from him felt like – and for my dad to have that, too.

 

What role does kindness play in your life? And what does it mean to you?

Though we come from racially privileged backgrounds, both Asa and Tamar have experienced bullying and exploitation that makes us uncanny, humble allies. Though every human grapples with where they came from and what they are perceived to be, kindness is the great elixir and equalizer. Kindness helps us show people that we are interested in disrupting staid paradigms – whether it be leaning away from the sheer competition of capitalism, or leaning into business from an unusual relationship-first perspective. Kindness means this kind of disruption for the sake of reminding – and modeling for – humanity that we can have prosperity alongside common sense and a good heart.

 

 How do you show kindness?

We show kindness by listening to people when they seek more knowledge about our company and products. We show kindness by being transparent in our answers and how we choose to present our company and products. We show kindness by demonstrating to people the genuine value of what we do and how it benefits not only their human lives but the greater-than-human world. We show kindness by acting in opposition to the bullying and exploitation we the founders have been subjected to.

 

What role does kindness play in your life?

To stop the cycle of bullying and exploitation, from our personal lives to those voices and actions we can help amplify.

 

 What can we do to better ourselves?

Be kind to ourselves. Whatever perspective you can cultivate – and view from – that sees “you” and “me” both for the soul, as well as the social representation of self (and the combination all we humans are made up of); nourish that perspective every day. Read the great writers and thinkers that remind us of that soul-self relationship. Commune with nature/the environment/greater-than-human world that puts that soul-self into best perspective. Listen to the music, the podcasts; watch the videos and performances of those that honor the soul-self. Release these realizations of the soul-self in journaling, art, dance, authentic and vulnerable conversations – and watch the transformations and additional realizations roll in. Unfortunately, even at Khala & Company we totally get caught up in the “grind” and do not infuse it with enough soul-force from time to time. But whenever we do, whenever we choose to make time to re-cultivate perspective, that act of kindness ripples outward and we see the beneficial effects not only in ourselves, our relationships, but in the “business” we do.

 

What is a message you want to spread and leave with the Kindhumans community?

“Honor your food” is our slogan, but like everything we do, there is so much intended in this statement. Food means seed, water, sunshine, cultivation, harvest, sharing, blessing, nourishment, and the cycle to continue. When you honor your food, you honor everything – especially this still-precious planet that seems to be hanging by a determined and sacred thread.

 

Do you have a life lesson or kindness quote that you can share?

“Good luck is rather particular with whom she rides, and mostly prefers those with a good heart and common sense.”  – Anna Sewell, from Black Beauty.

Author Profile:

Tamar and Asa now live outside Boulder, Colorado (Tamar’s hometown). Asa was born outside Montreal, Québec, and raised in Vermont, and then chased his ski career out to Colorado where he and Tamar met. They began their family back in Canada in British Columbia, before continuing the journey back in Colorado.

Fun fact: Asa does all the sewing! You can thank his mom (who mentored him – and now the staff that he has taught in turn) for all those produce and bulk bags. He also regularly coats himself – and his clothing – in wax (sigh).

Tamar’s passion is learning and teaching about human relationships to nature, animals, and the greater-than-human world. Asa’s passion is outdoor recreation and the balance between human stoke and nature’s response.

“Our unique paths are forged by a mutual concern for how we live on this planet in environmental and social harmony.” – Tamar and Asa McKee

 

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“Where the climate is cool and the fires are warm and clean;” finding the future with Khala & Co.
https://kindhumans.com/kindhumans-blog/where-the-climate-is-cool-and-the-fires-are-warm-and-clean-finding-the-future-with-khala-co/