Jessica Iclisoy of California Baby.
Courtesy of California Baby
By Jessica Iclisoy
May 9, 2018

In The Boss, women share how they became successful and the lessons they learned along the way.

When I worked for the designer Azzedine Alaïa many years ago, the most valuable lesson I learned is that “product is queen.” He rarely adhered to the traditional fashion show calendar – only releasing his collection when he deemed it ready. I’ve carried his uncompromising approach with me from when I was a young fashion buyer to now, the founder and CEO of a global natural skincare business: California Baby.

I launched my company 22 years ago out of shock. During my first pregnancy, I was surprised to find questionable ingredients, such as sulfates and synthetic fragrances, in my future son’s baby shampoo — a shampoo that was labeled “natural.” Determined to improve what I saw as complacency in the personal care industry, I cold-called all the chemists I could, eventually finding one who agreed to mentor and help me find an alternative. Many chemistry lessons later — along with a $2,000 loan from my mother, a BPA-free bottle and a casual photoshoot with a few of my son’s little friends for the label — the first California Baby product was born: a gentle, safe shampoo and body wash, scented with essential oils.

For the first eight years, I drove to store after store, introducing the product to the buyers. We signed our first significant account with Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Market, which was acquired by Whole Foods, shortly after requesting a meeting with their regional body care buyer. Although initially skeptical, they eventually became interested in the concept and were willing to carry it if I agreed to do weekly demos to engage and educate customers about the product.

As I expected, my product, free of harsh additives, was an instant hit with moms. They were as shocked as I was to discover that no pre-market regulations existed for skincare products marketed towards infants. They instantly became California Baby’s biggest evangelists.

California Baby product.
Courtesy of California Baby

As word spread, we knew we had to pour every dollar of profit into what was most important: research and development. I built my team with roles that contributed to the creation of a great product, over those that focused on marketing and sales. One of our first employees was our quality assurance manager, and she still works with us today. Everyone who works for us is careful and meticulous, and held to the same ideals as our products — from the manufacturing floor to the corporate offices.

As more retailers called, and our orders continued to grow, we sometimes had to say “no” to ensure we weren’t rushing our products to market. When Target came knocking, we took our time in deciding to launch our products in their stores. We waited until we saw that our customer service line was buzzing with shoppers who didn’t have a Whole Foods nearby, and were in search of a local store to shop for our products. With this high demand, I knew the time was right to launch the brand into 2,000 Target stores.

It took many years to grow California Baby into a global multi-million-dollar brand. And regardless of California Baby’s success, our mission is unchanged. We are dedicated to educating consumers on ingredient integrity in the naturals category. As the demand for natural products continues to grow, so has the proliferation of misleading packaging. Last year, we launched the Natural Advisory Council (NAC), a nonprofit that advocates, collaborates and educates consumers on the definition of the term “natural” on products. Working together with a strong coalition of natural and organic product formulators, retailers and non-profit organizations, NAC will create meaningful and lasting change in the naturals market and ensure that customers are armed with the information they need to make educated purchases.

I knew early on that we could only fulfill this mission with complete autonomy. This allowed us to solely focus on making a high-quality product that delivered on its promises. With this independence, my only obligation is to our customers. I truly believe that if the quality of your product is the focus, no matter how long it takes, success is sure to follow

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