“If people aren’t in the arena getting their butt kicked with you, then their opinions aren’t valuable.”
This is one of Laura Henshaw’s favourite mantras, a famous quote from author, podcast host and all-round life guru Brené Brown. I’m sitting across from her and her best friend-cum-business co-founder, Steph Claire Smith, on a surprisingly gorgeous day in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The weather matches their sunny dispositions and warm energy perfectly, but our conversation has quickly turned deep and meaningful, with the wellness entrepreneurs openly offering insights that go far beyond fitness chat.
While many will know Smith and Henshaw as the two radiantly beautiful models-turned-influencers who are the face of health app Kic (formerly Keep it Cleaner), few may actually realise that these two women are also the brains behind the hugely successful business.
“People have said to us, ‘They’re just the social media girls, they’re just influencers,’” explains Henshaw. “Or they’ll often say to us, maybe after a meeting, ‘I actually thought that you were just the talent but you really know how to run the business.’
“We just let it go, because we’ll show them. If they don’t want to take us seriously, if they don’t want to come on our journey, then we don’t want them on our journey.”
It's a skill, you have to be able to connect with people and to be able to grow a community
It’s true that these two Melbourne locals do have a staggering number of social media followers between them (1.8 million on their personal Instagram pages alone), a trait that can force them into the influencer box.
Henshaw offers an astute insight on why she and Smith are so often underestimated and stereotyped: “If you look at the success of people who build brands and communities, it's mainly on social media and it's more weighted to women. I think women are very good at building personal brands and communities.
“It’s not as easy as getting a high Instagram follower count… It's a skill, you have to be able to connect with people and to be able to grow a community. I do think that if it was more evenly weighted from a gender perspective, social media would be taken more seriously.”
If they don’t want to take us seriously, if they don’t want to come on our journey, then we don’t want them on our journey
Their business didn’t spring up on social media overnight though, as is customary nowadays. These women have been in the game for several years, long before Instagram or TikTok were considered lucrative platforms for a career.
Many high-profile women’s social media pages are often battered with barrages of criticism, but Smith and Henshaw speak very fondly of the online community fostered by their Kic business – and it's one that extends beyond digital screens and social media, too. Just last month, Henshaw and Smith partnered with New Balance to meet and jog alongside more than 150 of their community members on a group run around the Tan Track.
“The best part is our community is the most supportive and open-minded community ever,” says Smith.
“For so long, we were trying to put our best versions of ourselves out [online]... We realised that when we do open up about things we’re just inundated with support and it becomes a much more welcoming space.”
Both women have been increasingly candid and open about their personal lives over the years, discussing everything from mental health to marriage. This vulnerability was the foundation on which Kic was built, as an antidote to the battles they faced during their intense stints as international models.
“It started when we began opening up about our relationships with our body and with food, that was really daunting for us,” says Smith. “Over the years we’ve gotten more and more comfortable with it.”
The best part is our community is the most supportive and open-minded community ever
“That’s a huge testament to the [Kic] community, because when we’ve opened up it’s not like we’ve been attacked,” adds Henshaw.
The close bond between the two women was forged many years ago, and blossomed from sharing their mutual pain around body image and harmful diet culture, which they in turn shared publicly to form a close-knit community of like-minded women. This grew into a safe space and support system centred around healthy living, without the toxicity that often infiltrates the wellness world.
Earlier this year, they even changed their business name from Keep It Cleaner to Kic, to really hammer the point home and send a clear message: diet culture is not welcome here.
After years in the public eye, they brazenly share anything and everything with their adoring audiences, from shamelessly gross habits to sex toys chats. They’ve grown to broaden their image from being solely tied to the fitness realm, and they’ve been unapologetically genuine along the way.
“That's one of the most beautiful things, in all that we do, we're able to show up as our true selves on a platform that for a lot of people is built on a facade of them,” says Henshaw. “The fact that we can show up, be ourselves, we're accepted and we're able to have this business… we're so lucky to have that.”
But it’s not a perfect science – it can be hard to strike a balance, even for these two women who have built a brand on it. Both admit that they’re often unsure with how much of their lives they should share online.
“We both try to find that balance of sharing enough of our hardships and not just the glossy, good stuff that’s happening,” says Smith.
We're able to show up as our true selves on a platform that for a lot of people is built on a facade of them
“We’re just normal people – obviously with different opportunities – we deal with stuff with our families, or with work-life balance, like all of that stuff still exists.”
I ask whether they’ve found strategies to help with common conundrums like maintaining a work-life balance, but this is met with immediate shakes of their heads.
“The only strategy is accepting that it’s not going to be perfect,” says Smith.
“100 per cent,” chimes Henshaw.
“We're really lucky in that when your business partner is your best friend, you can communicate really honestly about when you might need some time [off] – most of the time we can pick up on it with each other before we even need to have that conversation,” says Smith.
“It's just accepting that there is no perfect split and no perfect work-life balance, every week is going to be different and you just take what you can get when you can and take those opportunities for quality time with people that you love, and ‘you time’. When you can't, just know that it's not forever.”
“It's just doing what you can with what you have, and making sure that you find time for you when you can, but that looks different based on what life is throwing at you,” adds Henshaw, before asking: “What’s your Dr Seuss quote, Steph? I love it.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind,” replies Smith.
It’s another mantra that rings true to who they are and why they’re loved by so many. Behind the photoshoots and aesthetic activewear, they’re not unlike the thousands of women they’ve helped to live happier and healthier lives.
Photographer: Carmen Zammit
Lead designer: Conor Mitchell
Design: Jack Puglielli
Hair and make-up: Monica Gingold
Location: The Terrace/Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
Steph Claire Smith and Laura Henshaw wear New Balance. With thanks to Mango Communications and OneTwo Agency.