Tamar and Asa McKee are the founders of Khala Cloths. Below: A sample of Khala Cloths. The product replaces plastic wraps and can preserve food longer. Courtesy Khala Cloths

Khala Cloths: from passion project to startup

BOULDER — Khala Cloths started with a terrible recipe from 100 years ago that didn’t work so well.

Asa McKee and his wife, Tamar, were looking for ways to reduce plastic waste and found a description of beeswax-covered plastic used to cover ceramic containers and seal them from outside contaminants when tied off with string.

The recipe didn’t work well: It didn’t seal and took too long to make.

But the idea gave the McKees the inspiration for a better version: one that used hemp-based cloth that was antimicrobial, that could be covered in a mixture of beeswax, tree resin and coconut oil to actually seal like Clingwrap.

It started as just a way the family could use less plastic wrap and Ziplock bags, but friends started to request the products.

Now, a year into being in business, the passion project-turned-thriving startup won $10,000 from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce’s Esprit Venture Challenge, which will go to moving into a new facility and expanding the business.

“It’s been a really cool ride,” McKee told BizWest. “We originally started as a way to try to get rid of plastic. Now it’s spiraled into many directions. We’re very big into positive food storage and honoring our food.”

Khala Cloths are made with a combination of natural products that are breathable, McKee said, which has led to food storage that is more effective than plastic. Because of its breathability, an avocado half wrapped in a Khala Cloth can stay green for a week.

The company’s mission has expanded into every aspect of its business. McKee said they pay extra to have the raw materials for the products, such as the cloth they use, wrapped in cardboard rather than plastic. It’s been difficult, but Khala Cloth is striving to be a zero-waste company. So far, McKee said this year’s waste could fit in a 5-gallon bucket.

The company also looks to have its materials come from ethical sources. Its fair trade organic coconut oil, for example, comes from human employees — he said some companies have actually been known to train chained monkeys to pick the coconuts — who are paid a living wage.

After forming the business, McKee said he and his wife were encouraged to join the Boulder Chamber by his wife’s 97-year-old grandmother. When Khala Cloth won the Chamber’s venture challenge, McKee went straight to her to show her the check.

Now, the funds will be used to invest in new equipment for the company, particularly equipment that will purify the beeswax and mix it with the tree resin and coconut oil.

It will also go to getting a larger space.

“We were essentially in a closet working,” McKee said. “Now we will have about 1,000 square feet. We’re quadrupling our space.”

What is more, McKee said the company will be able to hire its first employee to help him and his wife operate the business.

“We are growing rapidly,” he said. “It’s exciting. For a passion project for our own household we started six years ago, I never would have thought we would do this for a living.”

BOULDER — Khala Cloths started with a terrible recipe from 100 years ago that didn’t work so well.

Asa McKee and his wife, Tamar, were looking for ways to reduce plastic waste and found a description of beeswax-covered plastic used to cover ceramic containers and seal them from outside contaminants when tied off with string.

The recipe didn’t work well: It didn’t seal and took too long to make.

But the idea gave the McKees the inspiration for a better version: one that used hemp-based cloth that was antimicrobial, that could be covered in a mixture of beeswax, tree resin and coconut oil to actually seal like Clingwrap.

It started as just a way the family could use less plastic wrap and Ziplock bags, but friends started to request the products.

Now, a year into being in business, the passion project-turned-thriving startup won $10,000 from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce’s Esprit Venture Challenge, which will go to moving into a new facility and expanding the business.

“It’s been a really cool ride,” McKee told BizWest. “We originally started as a way to try to get rid of plastic. Now it’s spiraled into many directions. We’re very big into positive food storage and honoring our food.”

Khala Cloths are made with a combination of natural products that are breathable,…