Jessica Iclisoy - California Baby®
Michelle: Hello, hello. And welcome to From the Basement Up. If you're a mom, you've probably heard of California Baby. It was the first kid safe and pure plant based shampoo and body wash available to parents. And I was lucky enough to find it for my son 15 years ago. Today's guest is Jessica Iclisoy. She's the founder of California Baby. Jessica's journey started in the early 1990s in her kitchen with a$ 2, 000 loan from her mom. Through word of mouth, she grew her products and her following, even inspiring Whole Foods to create a baby care department. In every sense of the word, California Baby is a huge success. Still, I am more excited to have Jessica here today because of her passion for making clean and pure products for our little ones. So, hello, Jessica. Welcome to From the Basement Up.
Jessica Iclisoy: Hello. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm loving it.
Michelle: Great. It's great that you're here, and I would love for you to start off just really wanting to know, if you wouldn't mind sharing the very first and the most important ingredient in every California Baby product.
Jessica Iclisoy: Well, I like to say that the first ingredient is love in California Baby products. My first tagline was developed by a mother. California Baby has your child's best interest at heart. And so, we've used that heart logo from the beginning, and that's a thread that runs through our brand. Because as a mother, it's everything... Love goes into everything, doesn't it?
Michelle: It absolutely does. And actually, there's a nice little parallel here. On our printers, and I think I said this in my episode, I put hearts on every single printer that makes labels. And I really want those kids to know that they're so loved, that their parent went in and designed their label and made it for them very special out of love. So I love that. It's wonderful.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah.
Michelle: So I also was hoping you could introduce California Baby to our listeners and also why it means so much to you.
Jessica Iclisoy: Well, so when I started California Baby, I did not intend to start a business. I actually was a new mom. I was wanting to get pregnant. And as we do, we start cleaning up our lifestyle. We stop drinking coffee, no wine. And all of a sudden, we're paying attention to what we eat. And so I got pregnant, and I had my son. I was taking deep dives into living a natural lifestyle. I was not working at the time. I was breastfeeding him, and really just looking at everything in my life and trying to clean it up. So once you turn over one stone, you turn over another one. And then you're like," Oh my God, there's formaldehyde on my sheets?" And I did not know that. And then there's pesticides on our produce, and there's hormones in our milk. And so I became alarmed, and I was trying to live the best natural lifestyle that I could. And this was back over 30 years ago, when organic really wasn't even on the map. It was in its infancy. So, I lived in Los Angeles, California, so we did have organic farmers, and Whole Foods was just starting to come up or natural health food stores. And so I bought a shampoo at my local natural health food store, which is now Whole Foods, very quickly then was Whole Foods. And I thought I was buying the very best product that was available. Obviously it was more expensive, it was marketed as natural. And when I looked up the... When I compared the ingredients in the natural shampoo to the conventional one, I saw that they were exactly the same. So that really alarmed me. The only thing that was different was the marketing. And I happened to pick up a chemical dictionary at the library, and don't even ask me how that happened. I just saw it on a cart and went," Oh, this looks interesting."
Michelle: Oh my gosh.
Jessica Iclisoy: And so I started looking up ingredients. And the first ingredient, the cleanser sodium laureth sulfate, was listed as a potential carcinogen. The fragrance, synthetic fragrance, whether it was in the natural product or if it was in the conventional product, it was a synthetic fragrance, and they were just marketed differently. So the natural product said natural fragrance, and the conventional product said fragrance, but in the chemical dictionary, they were exactly the same ingredient. And they were both listed as carcinogens, known carcinogens. And so, I was just shocked that these products, first of all, were available to our children, but even more shocked because I was shopping at an alternative market. So I was purposely trying to not use those products. But when I went to my health food store, they were basically selling me the same thing. So I was really outraged. And when I would talk to people... Again, this was before we had all these luxury goods for babies. Right?
Jessica Iclisoy: You basically had one choice. And so when I would talk to people, they would say," Well, it's just a shampoo, or it's just a lotion. It's not a big deal." And I just really couldn't get it out of my head. And it was a big deal for me. And so, I took it on as a passion project. I thought, what would I do... And I had no intention of creating a company. I just thought, well, what would I do? How would I replace the sodium laureth sulfate? How would I replace the synthetic fragrances? And after three years of research and development, I actually had a product. As you said, I mixed in my kitchen, on my stove. And so now I had a product that I went back to that health food store and said," This is why this is so much better than what you have." And now all of a sudden, I was in business.
Michelle: Isn't that amazing? So you see this need, you dig in, you make it happen, and it's groundbreaking. You made an industry disruptor, you made a huge change. And now there's a division and there's a whole different line. And I'm sorry-
Emily: You completely catapulted the organic.
Emily: In my eyes, that is so crazy that it was marketed as organic, and then you're coming in like," Nothing about this is organic. What are you talking about?"
Jessica Iclisoy: Right.
Michelle: And thank you. I think we all have to-
Emily: Thank you.
Michelle: Thank you for this.
Michelle: So thank you for making this happen. So this is something that, reading your background and watching your videos and seeing that you worked with scientists to make sure that you were creating something that was... And I wanted to talk to you about this. I love that you did that to make these recipes. And it just was such a great idea. And I'm just curious, as far as those original recipes of working with the scientists, how long did those go for? How long did you work with those?
Jessica Iclisoy: And the reason I did that is... So back when I started, the health food store situation was very crunchy. It was very crunchy granola. It was just about natural. And actually, I really loved that about it, but there were compromises. So you would see products that were separating or going bad. The people who are actually trying to do it, and then they would accept that. And I thought, no, my product has to compete with the best in the world. So it has to be efficacious. It has to be stable. It has to be as good as the Johnson& Johnsons of the world. And it has to be safe. And it has to be natural. It has to check all those boxes. So that was my goal in working... Because I could have just done something very easily in my kitchen, put it in a bottle, really not know what's going on inside that bottle, and take it to the store. And I probably could have gone to a farmer's market. I could have sold products that way, but I wanted it to function and perform. So that is why I was working with chemists. So, they were teaching me because I had no background in this. The only thing I had, what I brought to the table was curiosity, the willingness to take the chance and do it, and the vigilance to make sure it was right. And I was a pretty good cook, and making a shampoo is like cooking. So I was like, oh, I think I can work my way around this. So I think that's just really number one. And so, our products... It's interesting. My very first product was the Calming shampoo and body wash, so I replaced the sodium laureth sulfate with a material called a glucoside. It's a total different class of a cleanser. It was developed in Germany. California Baby was I think one of the first companies to use that material, especially 100%. And it's very biodegradable. It's not damaging to the skin. It's finicky to work with, and that's why a lot of companies didn't want to work with it.
Jessica Iclisoy: And then I used French lavender as the scent, so no synthetic fragrances, pure French lavender. So that Calming shampoo and body wash is still a best seller for us today, and it really hasn't changed too much. It's changed in that I wanted not to use parabens as a preservative, but really that was the only thing that was available at that time. So it took me over 20 years to develop our own plant preservative, because that was a big goal of mine.
Michelle: Good for you. That's amazing. Thank you for doing that.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Well, and that really, it came again from nobody really seemed to be interested. I would talk to the big companies and go," Hey, you should make a plant preservative because blah, blah, blah." And they were like," Oh, that's expensive." And I'm like," How much do you think it would be?" They're like," About a million dollars." I'm like," That's expensive for you? Big gigantic corporation. That's not expensive." So actually, and then I went, why am I giving them the great idea? I'll just R& D it. And it did, it took many, many, many, many years. And we finally were successful at it. So we've added that to our product. So the change to that Calming shampoo and body wash is that the preservative is now 100% plant based, and the product is completely plant based. And we test it, we have it third party tested. So we say, don't take our word for it. We send it to a third party. Then they send the results to the USDA, and then they're the ones who are certifying that it's 100% plant material. So the products... And that's what I love about working in skincare, in our products. It's not brand new every season, but I can perfect and refine the product, so that our products have remained the same, but they just have gotten better over the years.
Michelle: Well, also I want the listeners to know that you have over 100 products.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. We actually have over 200 SKUs. When I say SKUs, I'm meaning different sizes and things like that. Yeah. But 100 unique products. Yeah.
Michelle: Okay. So that must be fun. It has to be. I can tell you have a creative side to you too, but I love your integrity. You have so much integrity, and you're really helping us all out. But the 100 products, what inspires you to make a new product?
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Always our customers. So I never, ever bring in a product because the market is saying that this is trending right now. We never add those products. In fact, we are usually the company that makes the market trend. But we've never discontinued a product, and we don't add products arbitrarily. So it's because the mom or the consumer has said," I need this." For instance, it took us a long time to even come out with a diaper care system way back. We've had it for over probably 15 years, but until parents were telling us," We need diaper care, and we need it this way. And it needs to be gluten free because I have an allergy." California Baby was one of the first companies that had a gluten free products. And the reason was not because we thought it was a great idea, but it was because our customers were asking for it. So product development always comes from the customer. If mom doesn't need it, we're not going to bring it out. And then the other thing would be environmentally. For instance, we've taken a stand on not having diaper wipes because I find that they're just a problem. They're a problem for the sewer system, environmentally they're a problem. I don't even think they're very good products. They're basically just water, a lot of preservative, and a lot of fragrance. We have a diaper area wash, and we teach our parents how to just make your wipes at home with a reusable... Like a washcloth.
Jessica Iclisoy: So it's either the environment that dictates the new product or the customer.
Michelle: I love that. Yeah. That is so great. Looking at this, and you seem to be the ground breaker, you're making the change in the industry. The industry really has evolved, and it's really you. You started this, you started the process.
Jessica Iclisoy: Well, thank you. That is very sweet of you to say. I don't know if that's the case, but I think I did have a little bit of a hand in it.
Michelle: Absolutely. And I'm just curious, in some ways it's so refreshing, maybe just seeing it happen everywhere. And I was just hoping you might talk to that a little bit. Where do you see it now where you didn't see it before?
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. And so, you are correct in that I really knew that I had to be the one to do it, to show that it can be done. Because when I would talk about... First of all, my product, that Calming shampoo and body wash that I mentioned, it debuted at 15.75. So$15. 75 for a shampoo over 26 years ago is really... Now it's like, okay, yeah, things are so expensive and that's luxury or whatever, but the next product that was that a consumer could buy was probably double the quantity and 4. 99. So that was a big jump. And I got a lot of no's. People would go," No, no, no. Nobody's going to pay for that. That's too expensive." So I just realized that I had to show it. I had to prove that it could be done. And that's the same thing with our general philosophy with California Baby, is that I thought I'm not going to change the big companies. I'm not going to change the way they do business. I'm just going to have to show them how to do it. And actually, that's what I'm proud of. I know that when we first went into the big box, when we went into Target, we did change the market because the buyers and the consumer would say," Well, if California Baby can do it, you have no more excuses." Because they can sell in a mass market at those prices. Consumers do care about the ingredients. So, the big companies no longer had... They couldn't hide behind oh, it really can't be done. It's a fantasy. No, you can do it. California Baby's showing you that you can do well and you can do good, and that there is consumer demand for it. So I don't remember what the original question was.
Michelle: No, no, that's fine. It was actually just talking about the changes. And I actually found you in Target. And that was how I started using... It was the Calming bath for my son, and it was great. So he had really sensitive skin. So it was perfect. And when Emily and I started, you were one of the first people I wanted to talk to.
Emily: I think you were one of the first people we reached out to because-
Jessica Iclisoy: Oh, wonderful.
Emily: Yeah. Just because your stuff has always been Michelle's go- to brand. And she's from California. I don't know if she mentioned that, but she is a West Coast girl.
Jessica Iclisoy: Okay.
Michelle: I just really appreciated that again, the level of integrity that you create your product with and the research. And I want... We're going to be posting videos of the things that you have... You've been on the Today Show, you've been on a number of interviews, but your manufacturing site is state of the art. It's beautiful.
Jessica Iclisoy: It is. It is. I'm so proud of that. And actually, so it is pharmaceutical grade, and I've actually had... It's an FDA registered facility, meaning we can make drugs. We make OTC. Sunscreen is an OTC, eczema is an OTC, diaper rash is an OTC, and it's also certified organic. And a really proud moment was when the FDA came for their inspection, and they complimented us and said," This is a really beautiful facility. It's higher quality than any of the pharmaceutical facilities that I've been to." And the inspector said," And I only do pharmaceutical inspections. And not only that, but you guys go beyond what you need to do." And the inspector said," Usually I'm looking for where they're cutting corners, where they're hiding, where they're trying not to follow the regulations. And you guys are going beyond it, and you want to go beyond it." And I just thought, oh my God. And I was like,"Can you please just record that?"
Michelle: Oh, absolutely. And I'm curious about this, and we'll get to this part, but I don't want to forget it. You're such a stickler on ingredients that you want the best possible ingredients, that you actually now grow your own ingredients.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Yeah.
Michelle: And this is giant. This is a huge leap. Not only are you a manufacturer, you're now a farmer. How did you make that happen?
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Yeah. It's pretty next level. And to be honest, I didn't really realize it at the time. Again, it was just solving a problem. I was trying to solve a problem. I was working with an organic farmer who was growing... It started growing our calendula. So the calendula flower is something that we use in a lot of that, and we use it in every product. And so I wanted it to be organically grown. And so this farmer, he was doing it for me, but I wanted him to follow certain quality control steps, and he just didn't want to do it. And he was just like," Here's the flowers. I grow them, they're organic." And he couldn't grow enough for us. So I was trying to work with him to do that. And then I just, again, I just have to do this myself. And I had been looking for years to find the perfect farm. And I did. I found a really beautiful farm in the central coast. So we're in the town of Los Alamos, which is by Los Olivos, if you know that area. It's a very hopping, very chic, up and coming area about 40 minutes north of Santa Barbara. We're in an agricultural area. And I think I just did an internet search and saw this property for sale. And I said to my husband," Let's go. We got to go see this property." And we had no idea. And so we're driving, and it's this... there's a one lane in the town and had never really... I had never been there before, actually. And so we get up to the property, and I was blown away because it's on a hilltop.
Jessica Iclisoy: It's just perfectly situated, a west southwest exposure, rolling hills. And it was actually vineyard when we bought it. They were growing it for winemakers. And I just said," This is it." You have those moments where you just go... Because I had seen quite a few properties. That wasn't right, this wasn't right. And I was like," This is it. This is the property." And I said to my husband," We're buying this property. And if you give me a problem, I will divorce you. And I will never... Or I will never let you forget that we did not buy this property." Because he wants to get a good deal. Okay, now we've got to negotiate. I was like," No. We're buying inaudible."
Emily: I don't even care. I want it.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. It was just, I was so passionate about it. Because normally, I'd be okay with all the negotiating, but I was like," This is it. We have to do it." And he just looked at me, and he just walked away, and he said," Do whatever you want."
Emily: I love it.
Jessica Iclisoy: So we snapped it up. And then it becomes the work of we had to convert it to organic. So it wasn't immediate that we could start growing because there was maintenance that needed to be done, and I did not know how to grow organically. And I looked at my team and I was like," Okay, we're going to grow calendula. It needs to be organic." And they're like," How do we do that?" I was like,"I don't know."
Jessica Iclisoy: I don't know.
Michelle: Fascinating. So, so interesting. And so that's not the only ingredient you're growing, as well.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Right.
Michelle: Do you see yourself growing all your ingredients someday?
Jessica Iclisoy: Yes. That's the goal. That's the goal, is that at least the bulk of the ones... Or the ones that we can grow. So some ingredients just are not conducive to grow in that area, like arnica montana. That's an herb that's great for bumps and bruises, but it likes to grow in very high altitude. So for us to grow it would be a fool's chore, but anything that we can grow there. So, we've been developing and hybridizing our own French lavender eucalyptus, which we use in our Eucalyptus Ease products. I planted a bunch of roses. That's a little experimental, to see how we can extract that. We've grown... So we're just growing everything that we can and not trying to... Olive oil. So I planted a lot of olive oil trees. We got some beautiful harvests, so eventually maybe we'll be using that in the products. That would be new. So everything that we can grow, we are going to grow.
Michelle: So this is off topic, but isn't Chanel... There's a 100- year- old rose farm in France that Chanel gets its perfume from.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Yeah.
Michelle: Oh wow.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. And now it actually is... look, that's an inspiration for me. And that's why I share my story because I want people to say," Well, if she can do it, I can do it." Because when I look, I think I saw documentary on Chanel making their perfume. And I'm thinking," That doesn't look that hard. And I think I can do that too." So sometimes just seeing somebody else do it is really all you need to get the inspiration to do it.
Emily: I've been thinking throughout this whole conversation, you entered an industry as an organic product before organic was even a thing. And then you came in and you said," That's not organic. This is organic." And you're setting the pace for what organic is. Even with you going and telling us now how you want to get farms for all of your products, organic industries are hearing that and shaking in their boots.
Jessica Iclisoy: I don't know why, because it's so funny. People are always bringing up mountains, and they'll say... Even some smaller farmers, and I encourage them and I'll say," Why don't you get certified organic?" And they're like," No, no, no, no, that's too hard. It's too much paperwork." I'm like," Really, it's not." And actually, the USDA will refund your fees. It's basically free. You just have to do the work. And I think there's misinformation out there. And I don't know. I just don't know why. I think they should. I want everybody to go organic. It's only good for the planet and it's only good for us as people not to be ingesting all those pesticides.
Michelle: Sure. Well, it wouldn't surprise me if there's misinformation out there.
Emily: Because up to this point, it's been a marketing strategy. It hasn't been... You led the trail of this is for my child, this is for me, this is for my loved ones. But everyone beforehand was like, this is just something that people want to hear.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. You're right. They do it just as a marketing, and I think that's unfortunate because... Listen, it's a great marketing, but if you're... I use it for marketing as well, but you first have to believe in it. You have to walk the walk.
Jessica Iclisoy: You have to talk the talk, and it's not just marketing. That's false. I think people misunderstand that in the naturals industry and the natural food industry, that's a big disappointment for me, that the natural foods market has gone south. When I was young, I loved the natural food store. It was so inspiring for me. I could take my health into my own hands. You had real companies making vitamins and who, like I say I came up with the hippies, and the hippies really believed this. They were changing things. And then the suits come in, and then they turn it into marketing. And my attitude is, well, why can't we have both? Why can't you keep the integrity, and there are some companies that have kept the integrity. But by and large, you walk into Whole Foods now, and all you see is junk food with an organic label on it. And that's not health food. So I don't know. I think people sometimes are lazy. I think they just don't want to do it. They want to take the easy road.
Emily: Yeah. And you went and you did the research, and you are planting your own roses to take test trials. That is a lot of extra work that you're doing that of course people won't want to do. They just want to label it organic and slide on by.
Jessica Iclisoy: But it's fun. It's actually really fun to do that. I think that dovetails into the idea of you do what you love. And I actually... People who are doing things for marketing, they're not really doing it because they love it. They're doing it because they want to make a buck. And you have to make money as a business, you know that, in order to keep your business going, but you also can love what you do and have integrity while doing it.
Michelle: It shows, it definitely shows. You don't create 100 products or 200 products without loving what you do. And I saw a podcast that you did. You have a bee farm, and I am so... I want Emily to take-
Emily: We're taking bee classes in March.
Jessica Iclisoy: Please do. That's fantastic. I love it.
Michelle: I'm obsessed because I know that they're in trouble. So when I saw the bee farm or you have beehives on your farm, I had to talk to you about this.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yes, yes. Okay. So I'm very passionate about it, and I'm really happy that you're doing it because the bees need you. The bees need all of us. And so, here's the thing, is we brought bees onto our farm, and we were working with the people who provide the hives and the queen, and they're basically experts. Primarily, I think they provide the bees for the almond groves in California. Because if you know the situation with almonds, they need the bees to pollinate them. So the unfortunate thing is that bees have been used as tissue in this country. And they've been bred down to be very docile, so the beekeepers can handle them and do their work. But they've lost a lot of vigor in their... They can't fight back in their immunity. So they have the mites that attach to them. And so I would say to you, look for to create diversity in your bees, because I will say that we have had failures in with our bees. We have lost every single beehive that we have placed on our farm. And we've approached it very mindfully, and we thought, okay, it's an organic farm. We've got 100 acres of organic farm. We have a pond, we have a water source, we have food, we've got the flowers, we've got an orchard. And it happens really overnight. So when we check on our bees, they're looking great. They're looking... Everything's great. And then the next day you come, and they're gone. And then it's... And people know that this happens. It's a bee collapse, and this is what we're fighting against. And I was talking to another farmer, and I asked him, because I shop exclusively at the farmer's market. And there was a farmer, and he has honey. And I said," Hey, how are your bees doing?" And I said," Because my bees collapsed this year again after the second time." And he said," Mine do too. They do every year." And he said," I have a hive of Africanized honey bees that do really well. I leave them alone. They're much stronger. They're the only bees that really produce honey for me." And so I was talking to him about how do we make the honey bee that's commercial here, that you probably might be using, get them vigorous? How do we get their immune system, how can they fight back? How can they fend for themselves? So I think the more people... And I would encourage everybody in the country to have a beehive if you can, because we need... It's just been so commercialized that they're very weak, and so they need us to... Backyard honey beekeepers, go for it.
Michelle: Okay. I will.
Jessica Iclisoy: But I do think... I'm hopeful that if people like you and other people... Home beekeepers, I think, will be the ones that will... The commercial will not. They are the problem. And unfortunately, we have to go and clean up their mess. But I think people like us will be the ones that will contribute to saving them.
Michelle: Thank you for sharing that. I'm glad that you did because I was scared. I know that you have to check them every day and be very diligent. And I was just worried I wouldn't be able to handle it, or wouldn't be able to-
Jessica Iclisoy: Well, just be prepared because it's very disappointing, and I was very disappointed. I thought," What did we do wrong?" We tried to do everything right. And then I thought," Well, maybe we're inexperienced. Okay, next time we're going to approach this different." We were having weekly phone calls with an expert. And so just be prepared that it will happen. And I think just with time, you're just going to have to keep at it. And so, don't take it personally.
Michelle: No, that's good to know. So I noticed that the Natural Advisory Council is it has a pretty prominent space on your website, and it looks like you're really involved with them. And that was something I wanted to ask you about.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yes. Well, so just like everything else, I think we have to advocate for ourselves. So the Natural Advisory Council was created to create some legislation around skincare, natural and organic skincare. Because I don't think people understand... Organic food is well regulated in this country. So you can rest assured that the broccoli, if it's organic broccoli that you buy at the grocery store, has been produced organically, because it's a federal regulation, and there's real penalties if farmers don't follow them. But in skincare, there is no regulation. So you hear organic skincare, you hear natural skincare, you hear clean skincare. These are marketing terms. They're not regulated. It really means nothing. Some people can make skincare from organic food ingredients like oil, right? You can... Almond oil, you can do that, but you can't make functional skincare. You wouldn't be able to make a sunscreen. You probably wouldn't be able to really make a shampoo or a lotion. It's just... So that, again, I go to DC, I go to Washington DC, and I don't know that... I don't know with this... I haven't been lately, since COVID, but what I always found was fascinating is you really could just walk in and talk to your congressman or your senator, and just walk into their office and tell them... If they're not in, then you can talk to their aides, and I just thought," This is incredible that we can actually..." But most people don't do it. We complain. We sit home and we complain. And when I went there, I went there with a group to talk about chemical regulation reform. And so I realized if I just put in the effort, I can probably make a difference. It can be really frustrating because legislation, it starts out incredible. And then the very companies that are saying that they're working towards this legislation or that they're clean and all that stuff are the ones that are whittling it down because they can't meet those regulations, so they have to dilute them. So that for me was a little disappointing because you go there with such high hopes. But you just keep going at it. And so right now there is no regulation, unfortunately. But that is an organized group to get some regulation on the books federally.
Emily: And if anything, if we all know about California, you guys will be there first, hopefully leading the legislation.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah.
Michelle: And just so the listeners know, you're close to 30 years in business. Because do you add on the R& D ahead of time, or are you right at 30 years?
Jessica Iclisoy: I just started counting when we incorporated. And when we incorporated was in 1995, and that was... Our first sale, actually, I had to incorporate. I didn't even know really what... I remember I went, it's now Whole Foods, but it was called Mrs. Gooch's. I don't know if you remember Mrs. Gooch's.
Jessica Iclisoy: It was a natural health food store, and they asked me for an invoice because they were carrying my product. I was like,"Well, here it is." And they were like," No, that's an order form." I was like," Well, what's an invoice?" And they're like," Well, it looks just like that but it says invoice." So I crossed out order form and wrote invoice. I was like," Okay, here you go." And then I realized, okay, you got to get incorporated. Now you've got to do all these things to start a business. So again, I was not intending to start a business. For those three years of R&D, I was just keeping myself busy. You know how you have that new mom energy, and you're like, I got to do all the... You got those hormones running.
Emily: That's so funny when you're saying you're keeping yourself busy. I'm like, this is a 30 year business.
Jessica Iclisoy: Keeping myself busy. Maybe that'll be the name of my memoir, keeping myself busy.
Emily: Oh my gosh. That's such a great title.
Michelle: Yes. So, and I'm looking at this, and I'm wondering... And I was trying to figure out how to ask certain questions because it's a huge amount of time, and what an accomplishment, amazing success. But when you look at your child or your kids growing up and you can cut things up in stages, can you do that with California Baby?
Jessica Iclisoy: It is a long time, but it's not a long time to me. Actually, I feel like even today that we're still just getting going, even after all this time, because there's so much groundwork that needed to happen. And there were certainly milestones. The first, I would say the first five years, and I think statistics bear this out, which is the vulnerable time for businesses, from zero to five years. If you can... and I remember this one lady who was in business, and she was actually in the skincare business, and I was just talking to her, and she asked me," How long have you been in business?" And I said," Yeah, five years now." She was like," Okay, you're going to be fine. You made it."
Jessica Iclisoy: And I was like," Oh, really? Have I? Thank you." I did not know, but it's nice to hear it from somebody else who has experience. So that was a milestone. Certainly, I think ma making the jump from Whole Foods into Target was a big deal because that's a different customer. Although really, it was the same customer. I remember the reason we went into Target, Target was after us to come... They wanted to carry our products for a couple of years, and we kept them at bay because we just didn't think the customer was ready for us until we had... And this is when you would answer the phone, when you'd have the number on the back of your label. And you'd actually answer the phone and take orders and do all that, and people would call us and say," We really wish that you can sell in Target because I have to drive an hour. My nearest Whole Foods is an hour away. And then when I get there, they're sold out, but I have two Targets in my neighborhood. So if you could..." So I said, okay, the timing is right. So that's when we made that jump, and then we were successful there. So not a lot of companies were successful. There were a lot of natural food small businesses that went into Target, but they didn't sell. And we were there for about eight years, and it was our decision to exit Target just because the marketplace changed, and we're focusing online. So the marketplace changes, and we saw that our customer was buying a lot online. And so we thought, well, let's put our resources into online. And my son Miles is working with us and out of school. It's great to have a young, fresh person who has all the skills. And so he developed our website and our subscription program and our newsletter and online, all of that stuff.
Michelle: Wow. So I have to tell Miles he did an amazing job. I was looking through your website, your subscription page is beautiful. I love it.
Jessica Iclisoy: Oh, good. He will love to hear that. He worked so hard on that, and that was really his baby. So thank you. He'll love to hear that. I will let him know.
Emily: And the little, sorry, the little heart in the tab, that you said the heart is carried through. I see it even in the top tab of my computer, where I type in California Baby, the little heart pops up. So the attention to detail.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yes, yes.
Emily: Really great.
Jessica Iclisoy: It's called brainwashing.
Michelle: So just really quickly, when did you know you would be wildly successful?
Jessica Iclisoy: Oh gosh, I did not know that at all. Absolutely. And I did not... I remember saying something that I thought was silly, and I didn't actually believe it would happen, but it was my goal. And I said," I want California Baby to be the new Johnson& Johnson." And I didn't mean it in size and scale, but I meant it that... Because everybody, all parents just used Johnson& Johnson as a default. So I wanted, I thought if they could use California Baby as a default, that's success. But I had no idea what that meant. And I think I'm a little suspicious, in the sense that I don't want to think about success. I just feel like if you do the work, the success follows. So I never, ever... Even when I'm developing a product, I don't know what the price is. I don't even... I'm just like, I don't care. Let me just think about the product first and we'll deal with the prices and with the cost of the bottle and the label. Because once you start restricting yourself, then you start making compromises. So I never think about money. Money doesn't drive me, but I know I need it. I know I need the money to R& D and to buy the ingredients, because we work with a lot of small suppliers, and we have to many times place our order and pay for it in advance. So we need to make sure that they're healthy so they can supply us with the ingredients. But I actually really don't even feel like we've... We haven't really seen our full potential. We still have a long ways to go.
Michelle: Isn't that nice?
Jessica Iclisoy: I think it's great.
Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. So, just hearing you, your vision, that big, hairy, audacious goal, you hear people say that, I see that. I can definitely see it, and you put it out there, and you made it happen. And following through with integrity in your supply chain. And that was something I actually do want to ask you. Obviously you're growing a lot of your things too, but we just went through some craziness with COVID. Did you have a rough patch with that, with dealing with the suppliers?
Jessica Iclisoy: Well, we did and we didn't. I'm also a bit of a hoarder when it comes to ingredients. So my philosophy is I would rather have it in my warehouse than your warehouse. And so I always give at least one to two year projections. So usually, and I want to make sure that my suppliers are... They have the materials for us. And then I'll pay for it, and it'll be in our warehouse. So we did have material when we did go... We ran through alcohol like crazy because we make a hand sanitizer. And we made it before COVID, and I think we went through a year's worth of material in four weeks, and then we were scrambling like everybody else, trying to get alcohol. Yeah. Bottles... here's the other thing that was good for us is we try to source as much in the United States as possible. So for instance our bottles, surprisingly they're made in California by a family manufacturer. And then the other thing that I'm really proud of too, is we converted our bottles to 100% post- consumer plastic.
Michelle: Oh, good for you. That's fantastic.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. And that converter is in Los Angeles also. And so, it's basically taking HDPE... What we use only HDPE. And they take it, and they convert the used material and make new bottles. And it's actually a cleaner process than virgin plastic. It goes through so many steps of purification that at the end, it's actually a cleaner product. But we did liners for the... these little things that you take for granted, we have had to find alternate suppliers. But for the most part, I would say we fared pretty well.
Michelle: Okay. Well, good. Again, you seem to have the long game well in hand. You inaudible
Jessica Iclisoy: It's the long game. You're exactly right. I believe in the long game, not the short game.
Michelle: Definitely. So I did see here, I saw you in an interview, and I just loved this, that encouraging women to have a sense of entitlement. And I thought that was amazing. And I know for me personally, it really took me a while to own my space. I tend to be a softer personality, and I just love that you have this confidence and this wisdom. And I was curious, did you always have that, or did you develop it over time?
Jessica Iclisoy: I think a little bit of both. I think I was born a little bit of a wild child, and just didn't have that... I wasn't as well socialized as most people, let's put it that way. And then I learned it, and I... Because I would see men, and I always would observe them, the way they do business, and they have a sense of entitlement. And even if they're very nice and they're very good about it, they just do business differently. And I would always see women deferring to men because we've been socialized. And I realized we were socialized to behave that way. And I guess maybe in your family life, maybe in your social life, that might be a good thing, but in business, it's not a good thing because I realized we're not speaking the same language as men. This is why we're ships passing in the night. And I realized that there is a language, there is a neutral language called business. If we just speak the language of business, then we can all... We don't have to bring our... Whether we're male or we're female, it doesn't really matter anymore because business is a neutral playing field. But at the same time, business is a very male playing field. So if you look at it... And I would look at football, so I grew up having to watch sports, not because I wanted to, but because my family would watch sports. And if I wanted to participate, I had to watch football and basketball. And then I would see a pattern of how sports related to business, and men did business in the way that they did sports. And so I would start relating to men really more on a sports level, and I saw that they would respond well to that. And I didn't find that men would discriminate because I was a woman. They were discriminating because I wasn't speaking their language. And so, that's when I said, look, as long as I can speak the language, and I don't have to ask for permission to speak. Men don't ask for permission to speak. They just raise their hand and speak. And so that's why I said, just have this sense of entitlement. Have this sense that yeah, you can speak. You don't have to... You're sitting at the table, you were invited to this table for some reason, either you have the education or you have the skill set. So you are invited to the party. Now let's participate in the party. You don't have to wait. And also, you don't have to go and get the coffee. We can all get up and get the coffee together. But I think women need to be trained that because we've been trained so much the opposite. And that's not my personality. And I remember, people were trying to get me to act like a lady or act... I was like, no. I'm going to act like everybody else here. So that's what I try to say to women in business. And yeah, just have that sense of entitlement. You don't have to be a jerk about it, but you just have to have that confidence.
Michelle: Right. Thank you for sharing that because I think that's really valuable for everyone.
Emily: Especially for women my age hearing that. I have yet to enter the career field in which I'll be working, but I love hearing things like that, and I need to hear things like that because all I know is what I've been trained... How I've been trained in school and how school has been going. And people are... It's more level, but I understand that's not reality yet.
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like we have to open a school for young people, young women in particular. I would say... I have two boys, so I would say the same thing to my boys, but I think you almost need to have a finishing school on how to do business. Women are... We're different. We're different. We're superpowers. And that's the other thing I want to say to especially young women. Being a woman is your superpower. It's not a deficit. Who else can make a baby? I'm like," Can you make a baby? Because I can."
Jessica Iclisoy: And I could keep them alive with these things for a year and a half. And I don't see you being able to do that. Women are incredible. And as soon as we just go, we are incredible and we don't have to be snobs about it... I want women to really, and young women especially, to really understand how incredible we are.
Emily: Thank you.
Michelle: Really fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. I feel very lucky being able to work with Emily and having young people here at the office and just watching them grow and expand. And it's really amazing. I feel in general, I'm in my early 50s, and I see a change happening, and I can feel a change. I can. And it's fantastic.
Jessica Iclisoy: Saying that it's really nice for the different generations to mix, so to share that knowledge and maybe not just hang around with only your age group. Talk to older women, older men. They can be incredibly helpful too. So I think that's wonderful.
Emily: Thank you.
Michelle: And I hope this is okay to ask because I feel like you're just getting started, but I'm assuming you've had many requests for people wanting to buy California Baby. And so you are the industry maker, and I'm just... It's a family business. What do you see happening in your future?
Jessica Iclisoy: Yeah, so it is a family business, so California Baby is certified woman owned. So, there's a company that... WeBank that can certify, and also it's family run. So my husband works in the business. He helped me grow the business from the beginning, and then my son Miles has joined us. So, the idea is that... And so going back from the beginning, I've had so many people who have wanted to buy the company, and I did talk to them in the beginning because I needed to understand the marketplace. I didn't even know what private equity did, what investment bankers did. I didn't know what strategics were, strategic is the end, like a Proctor& Gamble or a J& J who would, they're the ones who would end up with it. So I entertained those things and had those conversations, and I say I got my MBA, just having those conversations. And because I was always told you have to sell your company. That's the trajectory of most small businesses. You're not going to be able to survive. And so that in the beginning, I was a little bit scared, and I thought," Oh gosh, maybe that's what I have to do." But then, when I actually took those meetings and I talked to them, I realized they did not understand my company. And some of them even had the gall to tell me how they would change it, and they would change it fundamentally, like in the sense that they would say," We would strip the lavender and just give it..." Because lavender has over thousands of little different chemical components... Plant chemicals, plant chemicals. And big business likes to do is they like to zero in on the functional part, or if there's something that might be an allergen, they'll remove that. And I remember sitting down with a company, and their scientists telling me like they would change the French lavender. And I said," But that's fundamental to the brand. The Calming French lavender, that is what it's about. And you're telling me that's what you're going to..." I was like," You're not that bright, that you're telling me exactly how you're going to change my company." And then on the flip side, I had customers saying," Please don't ever sell because we need your product. Your product is the only one that works for me." And so I did realize, and I said to myself, well, first of all, we don't have to sell. We are a very viable, sustainable business, and I don't need that money. I don't... What am I going to do with this jackpot of money? I'm perfectly comfortable. And we just are getting started in the business, and I just thought they were going to ruin it. And I've also heard so many companies that have talked about they regretted that they sold it afterwards. And so, I came up with this philosophy for myself. I said to myself, if you ever feel like you want to sell the business, take a vacation. Because really, what you need is a break. And you don't need to sell your company. You actually just need to take a vacation. And so that's what I did. And then I would come back with energy, like, okay, let's get going. Would that be something in the future? I don't think so. And I've looked at other companies and I thought... I looked at Estee Lauder. And I know their structure's a little different, they're public, but it's still family controlled. I was like, well, why can't I do that? What makes them any different than me? That's the other thing, entitlement, the sense of entitlement is like, you're not that much smarter than I am. Why is it that you can do something that I can't do it. And our products are very difficult to make, I have to say. And so it's almost like we need to do it. And I'm hoping, we're working with our son Miles, that he will one day take over the company. And what I really want him to understand is quality control because that's the lifeblood of our company. If you don't have a brand, you can always get sales. But if you ruin your brand, it's hard to recover from that.
Michelle: The manufacturing-
Jessica Iclisoy: In manufacturing. And if you have some... That's why we manufacture ourselves. Most companies don't manufacture themselves because they have somebody else stirring the stew, and it's not really their fingerprint on it.
Emily: And that's a level of trust you've created with your customers that for them is probably irreplaceable.
Jessica Iclisoy: It is irreplaceable. And I feel like businesses used to be that way, and then it became... And I think it came with the internet age. I've been through a few boom and busts. I remember the first internet boom and bust, where everybody had a website, and everybody was online, and then everybody's out of business. And even today, I'm like, what ever happened to this company? They were so dominant and then now they're gone. Yeah. I don't know. I think having a business is a great thing. I love having a business, and I want people to have businesses. And we don't all have to be gazillionaires, we don't all have to be Bill Gates and all of that. We can just do the things we love every day and make our living. And I hope things go back to that at some point.
Michelle: So what you just said there is exactly what I'm hoping From the Basement Up does. It excites and inspires people to start... Because you're living your passion. And so you find your passion, and you create a business with it. And it really does create happiness. I feel so lucky that every day I get to come here and built something where I love the people I work with. And it's just really a wonderful thing. And you're even becoming an influencer. You're creating something beyond what I'm doing. It's a whole industry.
Emily: Influencing legislation.
Michelle: Yes. It's fascinating. So I just thank you.
Jessica Iclisoy: Here's the other thing, not everybody is cut out to have their own business. Sometimes I feel like people feel this pressure that they need to have a business and they need to do this. And I want to say it's okay if you don't. Everybody's built for it. We didn't get into the stress and we didn't get into all that stuff. And so this all sounds really good and fun and all of that stuff, but there's a lot of hard work and stress that comes with it as well. And I do feel like sometimes people feel like they do... There's this pressure that they need to become Elon Musk and start Tesla and they have to... And it's okay to have a job. It's a wonderful, beautiful thing to have a job as well. And everybody can contribute in their own way.
Michelle: I just wanted to say thank you. And thank you for joining us today. This was such a treat.
Jessica Iclisoy: It was my pleasure. It was my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. I'm really impressed with your podcast, and I'm looking forward to listening to many more episodes.
Michelle: Oh, great.
Emily: Thank you.
Michelle: Great. Thank you, Jessica. Have a great day.
Jessica Iclisoy: You too.
Michelle: Thank you.
Jessica Iclisoy: Bye- bye.
Emily: Thank you so much for joining us today on From the Basement Up. Please be sure to check namebubbles. com for our blog on the podcast and all of the show notes, resources, and links for our guests every Thursday. And please be sure to leave us a five star review wherever you get your podcast. See you next week and thank you.
This episode of From the Basement Up is a special one. We are joined by entrepreneur and business powerhouse, Jessica Iclisoy. Learn how Jessica started her 100% plant-based business, when plant-based products really didn't exist. Today's guest is a trailblazer, and definitely inspires us to go for it.
About 30 years ago, Jessica Iclisoy embarked on a journey to create a non-toxic environment for her family. In 1995, launching in her kitchen with ingredients she had sourced, Jessica began to create the beloved formulas for what is today, the industry-standard in natural skincare, California Baby.
Since then, Jessica has built California Baby into a globally recognized brand, with more than 200 products available at retailers nationwide and through a global distribution network. California Baby is a recognized Women-Owned Business, with its own certified organic and FDA-registered manufacturing operation and organic farm. A nationally recognized business leader and entrepreneur, Jessica has been featured in NBC’s Today Show, Forbes, Fortune, the New York Times, Fast Company, Inc., and Entrepreneur, among many others.
Recognized by Forbes magazine for her achievements in building California Baby, Jessica was recognized on the magazine’s annual Richest Self-Made Women list in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Jessica is the host of the California Natural Living Podcast which breaks down healthy living challenges to apply problem-solving tactics.
In this episode, topics are as varied as beekeeping, Chinese integrative medicine, organic textile production, and tips for living a healthy vibrant lifestyle. Michelle and Jessica really cover it all!