The wife of Forest Whitaker and mother of their three daughters, Autumn, 15, Sonnet, 10, and True, 9, is driving to the Los Angeles Airport, about to get on a plane to do The Oprah Winfrey Show. During our phone chat, her call waiting clicks three times, but she politely ignores it while she talks about Kissable Couture, the new luxury cosmetics line she started with makeup artist A.J. Crimson. For two years, they worked on developing a collection of seven perfect lip glosses, which debuted last September, and now they're on a roll: For Valentine's Day, they've come out with three new, limited edition shades. Keisha shares some of what she's learned so far:
Why she decided to start a business:
I've always been very ambitious. When my kids were younger, I tried to start a clothing line for children. But you have to be really committed to a new business, and at that time I was more focused on being a mother. Now, with Forest's success and my kids being older, I can set and achieve higher goals.
She felt compelled to make lip gloss because:
I was on a set, working as a host on a party-planning television show, and a makeup artist offered me a new product she had created. I thought it was just okay. Two days later, I had lunch with A.J., who'd been given the same product. I realized then that we could design a much better, more successful line.
One of the obstacles she had to overcome:
It was hard to find the right cosmetic chemist to help us develop the formula we wanted.
But once she found the chemist:
A.J. and I showed him samples of glosses we liked and asked a lot of questions about ingredients: What makes the gloss smooth? What can we omit so it won't have a perfume taste? What can we add so that it will moisturize?
What she insisted on:
The right texture. I always kept in mind exactly how I wanted the result to feel—it couldn't be sticky.
What she left out:
Flavor. Because men always complain about weird-tasting gloss.
How she made it a family affair:
My three daughters became lip gloss guinea pigs.
How she uses all the prototypes:
I attach them to the top of birthday presents.
How she did her research:
We went to Sephora to test out glosses; we took notes on what we liked, what we didn't, and what we'd do differently. We spent a lot of time on the phone with manufacturers, asking what kinds of ingredients they use.
Her determination paid off when:
We called up a manufacturer who said that she would take orders only for quantities of 500 or more; based on our finances, we didn't want to make that many. We continued to call her, presented our business plan, and asked smart questions—we even flew to the plant. Eventually, she said that because we seemed serious and seemed to know what we were doing, she'd bend the rules and produce 200 for us.
Why she created a second collection:
I wanted to do something special for Valentine's Day and offer a great gift option, so I created three new glosses called Dreams, Bliss, and Fantasies.
How she does it all:
I pull over and reply to e-mails on my BlackBerry when I'm in the car, and I work in my home office before the girls are awake and after I drop them off at school.
Her advice for other self-starters:
Take your time. Don't settle until everything looks and feels exactly the way you want it.
Why she named the first collection First Kiss:
I wanted to call it something everyone can relate to. Each shade is named after a man who gave someone I know her first kiss. I called one shade Forest, because I was never really kissed until I met him.