Kamiakin High athletic star shines as engineer, entrepreneur
Editor’s note: This Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business feature, Tri-City Connections, is part of a series of occasional profiles of Tri-City natives and former Tri-Citians who have excelled in the world of business. If you have one in mind, let us know at email@example.com.
Khadidja Toure shines on so many fronts that it’s only natural her battle with acne would inspire the Tri-City native to launch a skin care line.
Toure, 26, was an unquestioned standout at Kennewick’s Kamiakin High School – in the classroom, on the basketball court and on the track. The 5-foot-9 point guard and her younger sister, Sira, attracted attention for their fast moves and competitive play.
As a basketball player, Toure averaged 21.2 points per game and shattered Kamiakin’s 27-year scoring record when she scored 48 points in a lopsided win against Yakima’s West Valley High in 2012, the year she graduated.
She racked up player-of-the-year awards and was named to countless all-star teams, including the Tri-City Herald’s All Area Girls Basketball Most Valuable Player in 2012 and the Columbia Basin Big Nine 3A Player of the Year for both 2011 and 2012.
Toure, the daughter of Bourama Toure and Aissata Sidibe, excelled off the court too, said Don Schumacher, Kamiakin’s now-retired athletic director.
“She was a wonderful girl. She was an outstanding student. She was an outstanding all-state basketball player,” he recalled.
Kamiakin’s former basketball coach, Tammy Hutchison, agreed.
“Whatever she does, she goes all out to do her best,” said Hutchison, who is now assistant principal at Kennewick’s Desert Hills Middle School.
For all the admiration she inspired, Toure agonized in private about the persistent acne she would conceal under makeup.
Not that she didn’t try to clear her skin. She used the traditional African creams her mother and aunts prepared in their kitchen. The remedies left their home smelling pleasantly of cocoa butter and shea butter, but the acne persisted.
She worried her classmates were looking at her acne, not her. Peers matured into acne-free adults. She didn’t.
Her skin problems persisted through college. She lays at least part of the blame on her athletic career, first at Oregon State University and then following a transfer, at East Carolina University.
She played Division 1 basketball through college. Her punishing schedule started with pre-class practice and left little time for a skin care regimen. High-quality skin care products were beyond her college student means.
Her woes persisted after she graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering, following the family’s engineering tradition.
She began a job that required flying two to three times a week, often overseas. If anything, the constant travel worsened her acne, even as she experimented with promising products and treatments.
She remembers coming home and looking at her mother’s unblemished face.
“We’re going to start investing in my skin,” she recalled thinking.
She learned that a big price usually did not translate into performance when it comes to skin care products, which are unregulated. Commercial brands contain the same ingredients as household cleaners.
“Marketing isn’t your friend,” she said.
She focused her academic skills on researching how different ingredients affected the skin. She used her globe-trotting career to conduct on-the-ground research into traditional African and Asian skin care practices.
She traveled regularly to India, often spending weeks at a time in the country. She used weekends to explore the region, taking cheap flights to far flung quarters in search of the kinds of local information she’d learned from her mother and aunts in their Kennewick kitchen.
She said she would just ask about local expertise at hotels and invariably found people were eager to talk about local practices.
She learned about African cocoa butter and how Sri Lankans use cinnamon. In China, she learned that cupping — using heated glasses to create a vacuum that draws toxins out of skin — isn’t just for bodies. It can be used on faces too.
Her journey led her to create her own skin care line in partnership with a contract manufacturer in Los Angeles, where she lives and works as a senior business analyst for Cognizant.
The vegan, cruelty-free Kubra Kay Skin Care line launched in July 2019. Toure specified the mix of ingredients she wanted and worked with a chemist to produce the textures she wanted. The manufacturer sources ingredients, with instructions from Toure to follow fair trade practices to ensure vendors are not taken advantage of.
Her mission and passion are to give men and women products that are natural and give confidence.
Her young brand has been featured in national media, with write-ups in popular magazines. Yahoo Lifestyle touted her as a biomedical engineer turned entrepreneur “whose beauty products will make your skin glow.”
She wrote a first-person account of her journey for Women’s Health.
Kubra Kay is as small as it is young. Toure and her newly hired assistant are the lone employees.
She contracts with the Los Angeles manufacturer and with a marketing agency and a graphics firm. She is more interested, she said, in formulas and performance, than in designing packages. She is committed to using recycled materials.
For that, she imports bottles from China.
She hopes to add a retail to her business and dreams of making it a full-time occupation. But for now, she’s keeping her engineering job.
She’s mindful that the acne that once tortured her as a girl inspired her to become an entrepreneur.
“I am very shocked that I would go into skin care. For some reason, I thought I would go into fashion. But everything I did led me to this point,” she said.
If she could speak to her younger self, she would encourage her to hold on.
“Keep on going girl!” is what she would say.
Her product line includes creams as well as skin care tools such as face-friendly cupping devices, a facial massager and a dermal roller and are available at kubrakayskincare.com.
Hutchison, her high school coach, isn’t surprised that the hard work is paying off.
“I’m very proud of Khadidja and the line she put out there,” she said. “I knew she would succeed at whatever she tried.”