Each time Steph Claire Smith looks in the mirror, she tries to remember her younger self.
“When I think about little Steph, I think, she didn’t give a shit about anything, what anyone would have thought,” Smith said.
“I was very confident, very loud, very comfortable with who I was.
“I only learned to hate my body… when someone told me I was missing (certain traits).”
Speaking at the Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus conference in Byron Bay last week, Smith, the co-founder of the global fitness and wellbeing app Keep It Cleaner (KIC), spoke about how her personal journey of redefining health has led her to where she is now: helping others redefine their own health as well.
“I think everyone can relate to that feeling of being your worst enemy when you look into the mirror. Unfortunately, that’s where we naturally go… (to) pick on ourselves,” Smith said.
“But we often have to remind ourselves that it is super important to be that cheerleader for ourselves.”
Finding passion and purpose
Steph Claire Smith has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, not to mention thousands of subscribers to the KIC app, which she co-founded with her business partner and best friend, Laura Henshaw.
But her messages of positivity and empowerment are a far cry from a decade ago when, after finishing high school, she embarked on her modelling career. It was 2013 when she met Henshaw at Melbourne Fashion Week.
“We were both feeling pretty lost – in ourselves and in our bodies,” Smith said.
“The relationship we had with food and exercise was horrible. I fell down into eating and restricting myself from foods I’ve always loved and enjoyed. I stopped seeing friends and I ended the day making myself sick from feeling so guilty about what I ate any day.”
Smith and Henshaw both travelled overseas for their modelling careers, but returned home to Australia at similar times and in similar mindsets – both at war with their bodies, a war they couldn’t seem to win.
A decade ago, Smith said the fitness industry on social media framed fitness in the idea of looking a certain way, and pushed unhealthy, toxic diets.
“There was nothing back in the basics, and just cooking real food and enjoying it that way – worrying about the nutrients and the ingredients rather than the numbers,” Smith said.
Ultimately, Smith and Henshaw’s personal experiences with this culture sparked their business idea.
Despite her passion for health and wellbeing, combined with her creative streak, Steph Claire Smith never saw herself as a business leader.
“There were a lot of people who looked down on me and gave me a ceiling to where I was gonna go in life, because I wasn’t academically intelligent in their eyes,” she said.
“It put a ceiling on me for a really long time… to this day, I get intimidated… I’m still trying to teach myself that the way that I am – my creative mind, I’m not super academic and regimented – that’s ok. I can still be a business leader – I just have a different personality.”
Steph Claire Smith and Laura Henshaw began building their business in 2015 with an e-book and subscription website, which would release one workout and three recipes a month. The pair also did some work with the company behind the Chris Hemsworth fitness app.
By this point, Smith had half a million followers on Instagram, and it was here that they realised it was time to do it on their own.
“We just became more and more passionate over the years,” Smith said.
“We wanted to be in every corner of the business.”
Smith, alongside Henshaw, took the “scariest and biggest risk” of her life in 2018. She broke that ceiling that was placed over her for all those years.
Keep It Cleaner (KIC)
The Keep It Cleaner (KIC) app was born in 2018, with workouts, recipes and wellbeing exercises available to subscribers.
Just two years later, in 2020, the KIC community grew to more than 250,000 members. And they’re just getting started.
“Our mission is to change the relationship people have with wellness and themselves,” Smith explained.
“But part of that is also helping people recognise that they need to be enough, and that they can define what their healthy routine is. But we can be the tool to help them do that.”
What makes the KIC app stand out is the role of the KIC community in driving almost every aspect of the business.
“A lot of our values… have been created by our community and by the responses from the community,” Smith said.
“We’re energetic, supportive, inclusive and flexible.”
Around 90 per cent of KIC members are Australian, and Smith said the plan is to expand the market first to the UK, where there are already 150,000 people “following the KIC journey” and 1,000 subscribers to the KIC app. Then, Smith and Henshaw plan to turn their attention to the US.
Intuition: ‘The most powerful resource’
Smith and Henshaw have built one of Australia’s most well-known apps, despite having little to no experience working in technology.
“It’s very rare that you find a tech company that was founded with two people with zero tech experience,” Smith admitted.
But the pair said their love for learning helped them make the right connections with the right expertise to build the KIC to where it is today.
“We just kept reaching out to help. We kept asking people, we kept getting people on board, who we believe might have had the experience that we lacked, who helped us identify what things were right or wrong,” Smith said.
But their most powerful resource in building their tech company? Intuition, Smith said.
“You just gotta trust yourself,” she said, “it gives the best results in business.
“If there’s anyone that’s feeling like maybe you didn’t fit in a mould of being able to be an entrepreneur or a business leader, because of something that someone has once told you… this is how you need to be. Just know that it can happen.”