Her loyalty, can-do spirit keep KalaStyle humming

Kate Smith, co-founder and co-owner of KalaStyle in Cranston, and her business have been through tough times in recent years due to the recession and then the spring floods of 2010. What saved her company were her domestic suppliers, all in Rhode Island – a turn of events that illustrates the often-hidden benefits of buying local. More

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Her loyalty, can-do spirit keep KalaStyle humming

PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
STYLE AND GRACE: Kate Smith, co-founder of KalaStyle, uses materials both made locally and produced in Europe in her company’s soaps.
Posted 5/16/11

Kate Smith, co-founder and co-owner of KalaStyle in Cranston, and her business have been through tough times in recent years due to the recession and then the spring floods of 2010. What saved her company were her domestic suppliers, all in Rhode Island – a turn of events that illustrates the often-hidden benefits of buying local.

“I would not be here talking to you right now without my domestic manufacturers,” Smith told Providence Business News in a recent interview. “They gave me an enormous amount of time to pay the bills.”

European suppliers were patient as well, but it is the local suppliers that Smith has been working with for more than 22 years that really saved the day for her and her business, a company that began in a Cranston chicken coop and today provides soap and toiletries to approximately 7,000 retailers in the United States, Canada and Australia. Today, Smith said, the company does more than $1 million worth of business annually.

Most of her products are imported from such European countries as Spain, Italy, Portugal and France, but other products are locally made, such as her line of “statement soaps” whose brightly decorated boxes offer messages of support for peace, hope, faith, love and – particularly important to a conservationist like Smith – saving water.

Bradford Soap Works, in West Warwick, which bills itself as the largest manufacturer of specialty soap in the world, makes the “statement soaps” for her.

Smith, a former Hasbro Inc. employee and New York native, makes a point of working with other Rhode Island businesses as much as she can, obtaining her boxes and other packaging materials from such established Ocean State businesses as C.J. Fox Company in Providence and Hope Buffinton Packaging Group in Central Falls. All of her printing needs are met by Rhode Island printers.

Before Smith started KalaStyle, she and her husband, Lance Gershenoff, ran a business in Rhode Island specializing in orthopedic shoes from Portugal (Arcopedico Health Shoes), but when they discovered a whole range of specialty soaps from Lisbon and Oporto, Portugal, they sold the shoe business and began importing soaps from Europe.

At the time, the late 1980s, Kalastyle’s operations were situated in a chicken coop in Cranston on such a tight budget that when Lance and Kate could not afford to buy a professional shipping scale, they stood on a bathroom scale with their products, subtracting their own weights to get an accurate reading.

Located on Valley Street in Olneyville for many years, Kalastyle about eight years ago moved to a three-story factory, on Wellington Road in Cranston, which had housed a longtime box manufacturer. The building is a three-story, brick structure with 30,000 square feet of space, just a stone’s throw from the Pawtuxet River.

Cranston-area residents perhaps best know Smith as co-founder (with Katie King) of the West Bay Land Trust in 1999 that successfully worked to preserve 320 acres of farmland in western Cranston that had been scheduled for residential development. The state wound up buying development rights to the property, now known as the Historic Scenic Farm Route.

“When I see how much money I’ve made and the number of pieces I’ve sold, because of ideas that came out of my head, I’m shocked,” she said. •

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