Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña
With the excitement of Adopt-A-Dog’s annual Puttin-On-the-Dog fundraiser and adoption event upon us on September 26th, LOOK visited with honoree, Cathy Kangas, animal advocate and founder of PRAI Beauty. Cathy has lived in New Canaan with her husband for 27 years, accompanied by a wonderful collection of rescue dogs. Cathy grew up in Surrey, England with two parents who were very successful in the retail business. She began her life after college in New York City with a job at Revlon and followed that as Director of Sales at Cartier, where she trained the staff in their retail stores all over the world. Cathy met her husband in New Canaan and around that time was recruited to the Tova Corporation, a beauty company that sold fragrance and skincare lines on TV. Cathy thrived on learning about women’s skin care and marketing via TV. In the meantime, her father introduced her to a research team who were working with PRAI, an extract from the ginger family that comes from Thailand. Native women were using the liquid from this plant to remove their stretch marks. Cathy knew this was kismet! It was an opportunity to combine her retail and marketing savvy with her knowledge of skin care and the beauty industry. She also knew that she would make her product cruelty-free and affordable and loved the idea of marketing it on television. She is a dynamic go-getter, as you will see from our interview.
Was growing up with two parents in the luxury retail business a catalyst to your working with brands, like Cartier and Revlon and eventually starting your own company?
I was lucky that while growing up my father was the Managing Director of Selfridges in London. He instilled in me a love of retail, marketing and sales. Both of my parents encouraged me to do whatever I wanted and told me I was capable of anything. My mom ran a fabulous chocolate company. I was inspired that they were both hard working and were excited about their careers. I went to work for Revlon because I had actually wanted to be a lawyer and they hired me to start in their legal department. I soon got very bored of the legal side and switched gears to the more fun stuff!
What lessons have you taken and used throughout your career – thanks to your parents?
Certainly, a lot of what gave me confidence and the ability to tackle problems and have a “can do” attitude and to never give up came from them. I am a true entrepreneur. There is a difference between a good executive and an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur will take risks and when knocked down will pick themselves back up, dust themselves off, and move on.
We love a great couple’s story! Tell us about meeting your husband.
I had arrived on a flight from LA when I was working at Cartier. I was very tired and headed up to New Canaan to dog sit for my parents’ dog, Max. A friend of mine invited me to come along to a dinner and said that a friend of hers was joining the dinner and that he was definitely not date material and to come and be comfortable. So I showed up in jeans with no makeup and that is when I met Ed. That night he invited me to join him as his guest at a dinner in London. Our 27th wedding anniversary is this week!
It sounds like Ed has been supportive with PRAI Beauty (or you wouldn’t be running it from your living room!)
My husband has been super supportive, and has very different skills than I do. I am the entrepreneur and good at sales, marketing and product development. Ed is an amazing executive. He was the global CEO and chairman of Deloitte for years and has been on some major boards, United Technologies, Hovnanian Home Builders and Tenet Healthcare. He is now the chairman of Deutsche Bank. Though his favorite board, he announced when interviewed at a big Wall Street dinner recently – is PRAI Beauty!
How did you begin PRAI Beauty? They say “necessity is the mother of invention” – is that how you launched your brand?
I felt that the beauty industry had left women over 40 behind. They only cared about the youthful young woman and dedicated marketing toward her. Every magazine made me furious when I would see a wrinkle cream next to a 16 year old model. The beauty industry was dominated by men and I wondered why women were not at the forefront of a product that is for women. I also realized that no one had carved out a niche for the aging on the neck with neck creams. As a beauty consumer, I wanted to see a brand that spoke to real women of all ages and celebrated the art of aging. So, I created that brand! I’m proud to say PRAI Beauty champions midlife women and provides them with affordable, effective skincare solutions that help them feel confident and seen!
Tell us about your products and how your brand has expanded over 10 years.
We’ve experienced phenomenal growth over the past ten years. What started out as idea has blossomed into a global beauty revolution! We have cutting edge technology, cruelty-free, the top beauty ingredients. We have won dozens of beauty awards. We made beauty approachable and affordable and carved out that very clever niche of being the neck authority. Ten years ago, we launched on HSN with our hero Ageless Throat & Decolletage Creme. When women saw how impressive their results were after only 7 days, it took off beyond our wildest expectations! We now sell one jar every sixty seconds worldwide and are credited as The Neck-Xperts in the beauty industry. We’ve since expanded the brand to include three core collections; Ageless, Gold and Platinum, each help address specific signs of aging. We launched in Mark & Spencer in the UK in 2019. Within a year, we were their #1 Beauty Brand. It’s been an incredible partnership that has helped catapult us into the UK market. We are fortunate that during the pandemic we’ve still seen amazing sales and support from our customers and retailers. In fact, we’re launching a new collection later this year that I’m very excited to reveal. It’s been an absolute joy to watch our brand evolve and grow!
What is your “secret sauce?”
We have our PRAI extract which was actually reserved for the royal household of Thailand for many thousands of years! It was used to remove stretch marks. In fact, we use that in conjunction with a secret sauce that gives our neck creams an amazing elasticized liquid tape technology that instantly works, and all results are in seven days. We include PRAI extract in most of our products for its nourishing and soothing properties. It also provides the most fabulous glow! We can’t reveal too much about our “secret sauce” but we can say that we use only the best, clinically proven ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and Retinol along with our proprietary technologies to deliver products that work. It was very important to me to be able to give women results-driven skincare at an affordable price! Plus, our products are paraben-free, vegan and never tested on animals. We are Leaping Beauty Certified which is the highest-grade cruelty-free certification available. As an animal lover, that is something I’m very proud of!
Where do you make your products?
We have two key laboratories in New Jersey, our warehouses in Stamford and our headquarters is in New Canaan. We keep a small village going where we harvest the PRAI extract in Thailand!
PRAI’s packaging is gorgeous. Do you design it yourself or do you have a team?
Thank you! We have an incredible product development and packaging team that help design our special limited-edition jars. I love a little glam! We often gear the beautiful crystallized designs to a theme. For example, we created a jar that had Cecil, the Lion when he was poached and killed in Africa, and the sale of that gave back to lions. We produce fun, glamorous packaging that makes people feel good. It is sustainable – our larger jars can be upcycled and used as a makeup brush or jewelry holder. Women become very excited to see what the next jar will be. Many of them write to us to say they love seeing our products on their vanity and it warms my heart! Some of them have been fashioned as swans, polar bears, dogs, pawprints, orchids and flowers. We have an amazing young woman, Caitlin Ryan, who works with me one-on-one to design these gorgeous containers.
Explain your launch on Home Shopping Network and QVC and the benefits of marketing through that vehicle.
Many years ago, we wanted to launch on television because being a small entrepreneurial brand we did not have the millions and millions that the big beauty giants have. So we had to bootstrap to make things work. I have always been a huge fan of going on television because you can actually talk to your customer. Nowhere else does the consumer get to talk to a founder of a brand, get up close and personal and interact the way that she can with shopping TV. I was given my big break on HSN by a wonderful woman, their CEO at the time, Mindy Grossman. She is still a close friend. She is now the CEO of Weight Watchers international – it’s been renamed WW. I was also invited to launch on QVC UK and the rest is history. We are now on television in the US, UK, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and Australia. Now more than ever women are shopping from the comfort of their home and looking for products at an amazing value. It provides an incredible opportunity for us to demonstrate how our products work and share real life testimonials from the women who love our brand! We have so much fun on air and they are a part of it!
Do you appear live from your home? Or do you record your segments?
Yes, my shows are all aired live from my downstairs office in my home in New Canaan. In the last few months, it has been several times a day! People love to get a glimpse into my house and into my living room and feel as if they are talking with me at home.
How do you and PRAI give back to help animals?
At the core of our brand is our love for animals! Since I was a young girl, I was always passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless and speaking up against animal cruelty. That’s why I wanted to use PRAI Beauty as a force for good. We donate proceeds every year from every PRAI purchase. We created PRAI for Paws which helps sponsor free pet adoptions at shelters across the nation. Through this initiative, we’ve helped save thousands of animals from senseless euthanasia by finding them safe and loving homes. I also created The Cathy Kangas Foundation for Animals which helps a range of animal causes from rescuing kittens in our local neighborhood to supporting international animal welfare organizations like Nowzad in Afghanistan, where I recently helped our good friend Pen Farthing evacuate his animal sanctuary and clinic staff out of Kabul. Our animal work is far reaching all over the world. Never is there a day in the office where some animal need doesn’t pop up and we stop everything to help.
How did you get involved with Adopt A Dog?
Many years ago. I have often been a judge for them at their Puttin’ on the Dog event and many of my rescue dogs have come from them, so it is a very personal connection. I have probably had more than a dozen dogs from Adopt A Dog in the last 30 years.
I believe strongly that it is not just about saying you love animals and writing a check. It is about being on the frontline and fighting for all animals. They are the most vulnerable. I believe how we treat animals shows who we are. We as humans have all the power and it’s how we use that power that truly shows our character.
Who will you be bringing with you to Puttin’ on the Dog?
My whole family and inviting friends, neighbors and our PRAI team!