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Planet-Conscious Sun Protection

An Interview with Ty McLaren, Hiro Shinn and Kapono Chun Founders, Koa
Jana Pijak
June 11th, 2024
Koa co-founders Ty McLaren, Hiro Shinn and Kapono Chun were raised under the relentless Hawaiian sun, where the outdoors became a playground and the sun, a constant companion. They soon came to understand the sun's dual nature— warmth and vitality paired with unforgiving intensity.

Witnessing firsthand the effects of inadequate sun protection among friends and family, they were inspired to create Koa.

Koa’s mission is to deliver clean, high-performance suncare for the modern explorer. Their advanced botanical-infused products protect and nourish the face and body before, during and after sun exposure, empowering customers to step outside with confidence and curiosity.

As they launch in the Canadian market, they are excited to share more than just sun protection. They’re here to reignite the innate connection to the outdoors that lives within us all – exploring further, together.

1. What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation to us is the intersection of human-centric and planet-conscious design. Meaning, striving to exceed the expectations of customers while also ensuring that the tools and systems we use to create that amazing experience are in harmony with good environmental stewardship. It’s a constant balancing act but we love rising to the challenge every day!

2. How did the idea for Koa come about?

We first envisioned Koa as a conduit to share the deep respect we have for the sun with our friends and communities. Growing up in Hawaii we learned the importance of suncare from an early age, but we didn’t see that knowledge being taught widely in the mainland US. For us, making a great clean, high-performance sunscreen and sharing alongside that product, other tools to enable customers to enjoy the sun and the outdoors safely is a privilege we’re grateful for.

3. How do you and your team generate new ideas? What rituals do you rely on to reset creativity?

We draw inspiration from our own experiences pursuing various outdoors passions, including running, cycling and surfing. What’s more, the community of endurance-sport athletes and outdoor enthusiasts we’ve built over these last few years, is bursting with new ideas and suggestions on how to improve the products that we already make.

There is no shortage of natural inspiration all around us in the Hawaiian Islands and in New York City – the two locations we are fortunate to call home. Finding creativity is often simply stepping outside into nature or buzzing city streets.

4. How does Koa's commitment to Hawaiian, Japanese, and Korean healing traditions influence the formulation of its reef-safe sunscreen products?

Our Asian-Pacific heritage dictates our ingredient selection, as well as our overarching product philosophy. The Hawaiian idea of ‘pono’, which means to be in righteous harmony with oneself and nature, is the guiding principle behind our reef-safe sunscreen.

It is a cruel irony to use chemical sunscreen when swimming in the ocean – the very product you use to get closer to nature harms and ultimately destroys what you’re trying to get close to. This runs counter to the idea of living pono. We only make reef-safe sunscreen, which allows our customers to immerse themselves in nature without simultaneously detracting from the health of our precious marine ecosystems.

5. Can you speak more about Koa's design and field-testing process in the diverse climate zones of Hawaii?

Hawaii hosts 10 of the world’s 14 recognized climate zones so it is uniquely suited as a testing ground to see if something is going to work for a wide range of situations. We rigorously field-test new products to ensure they meet skin’s unique demands across climates, from lush rainforests to arid deserts to the unique microclimates of cities.

6. How does Koa ensure that its sunscreen products cater to individuals living in different environments, from rainforests to arid deserts, while maintaining their efficacy and safety for both users and the environment?

We’re so proud of our mineral sunscreen for its unique performance versatility. While there are many innovations tucked into our formula, the main thing to highlight is the specific UV filter we use. We developed a high-homogeneity emulsion using an optimal arrangement of UV-blocking particles, enabling us to make a thinner, less viscous formula. A thinner formula allows skin to breathe and naturally regulate better than when it’s smothered with thicker sunscreens. In short, we’re able to offer a high level of clean, broad-spectrum UV protection while simultaneously allowing skin to operate normally and adapt to whatever climate conditions our customers may find themselves in.

Our dedication to only using 100% reef-safe, non-nano mineral UV filters and adhering to Hawaii's Reef Compliance Act 104 – the most stringent test for sunscreen safety in the world – ensures that Koa sunscreen is always at the forefront of safety for users and the environment.
References: livingkoa