An interview with Jessica Iclisoy of California Baby.
Smart. Stunning. Savvy. Gutsy. These were my impressions of Jessica Iclisoy when we first met. I was an advocate for women’s health and the environment, she a fashionista-turned-mother-turned-eco-entrepreneur. We shared a commitment to promoting non-toxic health and beauty products. We were co-crusaders. Mamaloders, let me introduce you to a curious girl from the golden coast who became a pioneer in the $50 billion beauty industry—a mom, just like you and me.
Mamalode: Tell us about your childhood. Where you grew up. Your family.
Jessica: I’m a california girl. I spent my summers at the beach, body surfing until my skin was shriveled and I was completely exhausted. I learned a lot of life lessons in the throes of the ocean. I learned not to fight the waves, to go with the flow, hold my breath, close my eyes and wait for the wave to be done with me. I learned I could survive if I didn’t panic. It was a good business lesson too. My childhood and family life were pretty unstructured; I was given the space to roam, dream and fantasize. I was a pretty independent kid.
Mamalode: Your career began in the fashion industry. Let us live vicariously.
Jessica: I got a job in a shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills with the goal of going to school and working part-time, but fashion quickly took over my life. At 18, I was appointed manager of the store and buyer for VIP customers. Paris fashion shows were quite the scene: lots of posing, power plays and an element of spectacle. Everyone dressed exquisitely, and many outrageously. I remember walking down the street in Paris seeing people that looked like they just walked off a vogue fashion shoot—I was in awe. The fashion world was fun, but exhausting and one has to love and thrive on the need for all things constantly new and changing. After a couple of years, I was done. Soaked up as much as I felt I needed.
Mamalode: As a mother-to-be, you initiated a quest for a healthier lifestyle. This included using your kitchen as a chemistry lab. Do tell.
Jessica: Not one to do things halfway, in my quest for the perfect pregnancy, I immersed myself in preparing my body to grow a child without any contamination from the outside world… I was seeking purity. I started with food and decided to become a vegetarian to avoid the added hormones (organic was in its infancy then), then I moved onto purifying household living, like sheets, synthetic carpeting, anything that would off-gas, etc. The last thing I scrutinized was baby shampoo. This alarmed me the most! Upon researching I found that several ingredients were considered carcinogens, like synthetic fragrance, and as we now know—dioxanes, but what I found really insulting was that baby shampoo was basically the same as adult shampoo. The only real difference was in marketing! Manufacturers simply changed the fragrance and label and called it baby shampoo. Aesthetically, I didn’t like the smell or the packaging and found it very condescending.
I realized I had a clear vision and understanding of what a great baby shampoo could be, so I challenged myself to take action and create an alternative. I mixed and blended in my kitchen using pots and pans, no special equipment really. With no formal training, I simply had an intense curiosity and the drive to come up with a workable formula. I picked the brains of cosmetic chemists and found a few that mentored me along the way.
Mamalode: You run California Baby® with your husband. What is it like to be in business together? Honestly.
Jessica: My husband and I are very well matched to do business together, so working with him isn’t hard at all. The hard part is working and living together, which means work is 24/7 and it’s hard to turn it off. There came a time when the only conversations we had were about work—we simply couldn’t come up with another subject at the dinner table. That’s when we knew we had to branch out, take up hobbies, learn a new skill and consciously plan to spend some time apart to develop as individuals. It’s very easy to become intertwined as one instead of two forces coming together in a mindful manner.
Mamalode: Your commitment to healthy living goes beyond your natural baby products. Tell us about the extent of your sustainable business practices.
Jessica: The great thing about having your own company is you get to do business the way you want. I believe in putting my money where my mouth is. In my case, I truly believe in a sustainable lifestyle, and at home that means composting, buying organic from local farmers, using eco-friendly cleaning products—basically taking responsibility for my consumption and working to offset it and being as non-toxic to the environment as possible.
At work, we try to do the same thing. For instance, since we use big machines to make and fill our products, we installed the largest solar array possible [on our roof] to offset our electrical consumption. Packaging is also a huge consideration, and we don’t believe in adding anything beyond basic functionality, so we avoid boxes and clamshells. I try to make all ancillary packaging reusable, easily recyclable or biodegradable. I want to run a business that can affect change and show other companies it can be done. I don’t mind going first.
Mamalode: Outside of work, what is life like in SoCal?
Jessica: The more I travel, the more I love Southern California. We’ve come a long way in terms of food, art, music and fashion. Los Angeles (and really all of California) is world class and pretty perfect. In L.A. everyone wants to be an actor, so we get to see the young, beautiful and something’s gone horribly wrong. Californians are a unique breed; we have an openness and curiosity and the audacity to do things differently. That’s why I called my brand California Baby. I wanted all the wonderful creative nuttiness and righteousness to be reflected in my company and to remind us to stay true to our roots while pushing ahead.
Mamalode: What’s next? For you personally. For your company.
Jessica: What’s next is, more of the same—but more! Meaning I want to dig deeper into what we can do as a company and a brand—to push the quality standard to the highest level and then, make our standard the norm. I think we’ve accomplished several goals in that regard. We recently purchased agricultural land in Santa Barbara county to grow our own organic herbs and flowers so we can control the quality cycle 360°. We currently contract with wonderful organic farmers for our botanicals and will continue to do so. California Baby’s organic growing fields are intended to fit into our sustainable business model and be experimental at the same time.
Mamalode: You have two grown sons. Is there anything you want to say about the intersection of motherhood and work?
Jessica: Being a mother and running a business can work. I took my kids with me everywhere I went. If I was meeting a buyer, my sons had a seat at the conference table and read while my husband and I went over the line with the buyer. I really think it’s a lifestyle choice; how are you going to run your business and live your life? If you believe passionately, like I do, in what you are doing, everything finds its place. I think when you are not a true believer, conflicts come into play.
Mamalode: As a mother, entrepreneur and advocate, is there anything you want other moms to know?
Jessica: Well, we all have full plates, but as givers of life, I feel, we are obligated to also affect change—no matter how small. We can do it because we have power. I hope all moms use their power to make positive change in the world. My motto is baby steps. If we all play our small part, change is inevitable—and we can be proud of that!
This piece was originally published in Mamalode Magazine's print issue CAPACITY.