Alumna Kamala Kirk (BA, communications, ’11) reporting from her home office in South Pasadena for the spa and beauty website she co-founded.
Photo courtesy of: Kamala Kirk

Covering beauty and wellness during a pandemic

Sitting at her 25-inch iMac computer in her home office in South Pasadena, Kamala Kirk enjoyed an iceberg wedge salad coupled with smoked sausage, BBQ brick chicken and a sweet tea. The meal came compliments of SeneGence, whose newest skincare launch Kirk was attending online that same day. Prior to the virtual event, the brand also sent ahead beauty products, allowing the 40 editors and influencers in attendance via Zoom to participate in the demonstration.

Photo courtesy of: Kamala Kirk
“Before the pandemic, we’d be traveling to at least 20 spa and beauty events a month,” said Kirk, co-founder of the website The Spa Insider. “In early March that all stopped.” Kirk, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication in 2011, launched the modern lifestyle website in 2018 with Lizzy Sherman. The friends and business partners started by profiling spas; earlier this year, they expanded their focus to include more beauty coverage as well. They were about to launch their rebrand in early March — which included a name change to Spa & Beauty Today — when the pandemic hit.

“We decided to wait and reassess,” Kirk said.  “We didn’t want to be tone-deaf and post content about all these beautiful places that nobody could go to.” Instead, they shared stories that swung more towards DIY beauty suggestions, at home self-care ideas and recipes.

This ability to shift course quickly came easily to Kirk. She was born in South Korea; up until she turned 14, her parents traveled with her throughout Asia, where they taught English and linguistics. “We lived in China, Korea, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand,” she said. “Every year or two we would move someplace different and I would have to start all over, make new friends, learn a new language. I think that has really defined who I am today.”

When they returned to the United States, the family settled in Hermosa Beach where her grandmother lived. After attending Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes, she transferred to USC in her junior year as a communication major. “In my communication classes, I discovered writing was one of my strengths,” she said. “It was something I’d always been passionate about my entire life. I decided I wanted to be a journalist and write for magazines and websites.”

Kirk took advantage of a variety of internships, including one for legendary KISS-FM radio personality Rick Dees, where she wrote for his website and created digital content. She also served as an editorial intern for totalbeauty.com. “This was sort of my first step to become a beauty editor,” she said.

One of her classes got her thinking about an entrepreneurial approach to communication. Dan Durbin, clinical professor of communication, would invite guest lecturers who had started their own businesses — including alumna Paige Adams-Geller (BA, communication ’90) who started Paige, a California lifestyle collection in 2004. “Paige talked about how she got her start, and that really inspired and stuck with me,” Kirk said.

Upon graduation, Kirk wrote for a number of travel, beauty and lifestyle publications, often covering spa and beauty content, until she and Sherman — who both got laid off from their magazine jobs — decided to make the jump to their own publication. “I’m thinking, ‘Hey, you’ve done scarier things. Like starting the first day of school in China, not knowing a word of the language,’” Kirk said.

Now, with the new site launched but the invitations that would take them to cities throughout the country to visit spas and wellness and beauty launches on hold, Kirk and Sherman continue to find ways to bring fresh, newly relevant content to their viewers.

In early April, Kirk participated on a virtual one-on-one deskside with celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean to learn more about the newest launches from his skincare line, Bella Spirit. On June 2, she will join a virtual workout with Alder New York to celebrate their upcoming summer product launch.

“Even though I didn’t set out to start a business, I’ve always had an independent spirit and wanted to kind of do things my own way,” Kirk said. “I feel like sometimes in life you don’t necessarily know exactly what you’re going to be doing. You may have an idea, but as time goes by, different opportunities present themselves that end up being better than the one you originally imagined. It feels so right what I’m doing now and I’m really glad to be in this place.”