Women in Biz, XO Jessica

Why Jessica Iclisoy Started California Baby

by California Baby

Jessica Iclisoy, Founder & CEO of California Baby

A frustrated consumer and determined mother are a recipe for an industry-defining changemaker. With her first son on the way in 1990, Jessica Iclisoy took baby skincare matters into her own kitchen when her search for safe newborn products turned up chemical-laden formulas with potential and known carcinogens.

Five years later, California Baby made its debut at her local health foods store and has been the standard-bearer of plant-based skincare ever since. The long road that brought Jessica here — thirty years of mindful, steady and sustainable growth — is what makes California Baby the trusted leader in safe, gentle formulas for babies, kids and pets today.

Jessica with her 2 boys in the 90's

One baby step at a time

Health-focused years before “organic” became popular, Jessica’s first pregnancy prompted her to think more deeply about how to live a more natural lifestyle. When she discovered carcinogens in baby products, her shock and outrage turned to motivation. She started researching, experimenting and mixing her own baby shampoo and body wash from her kitchen, swapping out harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances for plant-based alternatives.

Over the next three years, Jessica became a regular at the UCLA library to research alternative solutions and source ingredients she trusted. Her lineup of homemade recipes grew to include bubble bath and hair de-tangler — and her reputation for plant-derived alternatives to the status quo for baby products spread by word of mouth. With $2,000 borrowed from her mom and no other investor support, Jessica launched California Baby in 1995. She designed her own packaging, photographed her son’s best girlfriend for her first labels and personally pitched her plant-based products to what is now Whole Foods, inspiring the creation of their baby care department — all without either a chemistry or business degree.

The first California Baby product: Calming Shampoo & Bodywash

Navigating the learning curves (and advantages) that come with being both a new mom and a new business owner set Jessica on a path of growth defined by integrity and perseverance. When no one else was talking about carcinogens in skincare, she took the time to educate consumers one-on-one with demos at Whole Foods. When she couldn’t find a reliable organic calendula source, she spent 10 years hunting for the perfect place to start California Baby’s own organic calendula farm. When her consumer base asked for pet products, too, she committed eight years to research and development to get it right. Jessica turned every challenge into innovation and created a trusted and time-tested clean skincare philosophy in the process.

Thirty years and growing strong

Today, with Jessica at the helm and her husband and youngest son Miles a part of the family business, California Baby manufactures 200 plant-based products for teens, kids, babies and fur babies for everything from bath time to diaper duty, fun in the sun to hand sanitizer. Our 100-acre certified organic farm supplies key ingredients like calendula and eucalyptus while providing a safe home and food source for endangered honeybees. Our own FDA-registered, certified organic and solar-powered manufacturing facility in Los Angeles guarantees quality control without the cross-contamination common in multi-brand factories. And our recyclable packaging includes 100-percent post-consumer recycled materials (PCR).

Decades of foresight, hard work and mindful growth established Jessica as a pioneer and positioned California Baby as one of the few that could meet (and create) the higher standard of baby skincare parents increasingly want today. She remains in constant dialogue with the ever-changing ecosystem on her organic farm, rich in wildlife, fruit trees, flowers and more. Her approach to skincare manifests just as much variety. California Baby’s products are also a diverse ecosystem of sorts, providing plant-based solutions for diaper rashes, eczema relief, sun care and bug spray — all with plant- and mineral-derived ingredients that have been quality tested for purity and efficacy.

And California Baby still has room to grow. Guided by our consumers and our commitment to creating meaningful products, adult skincare over ten years in the making is on the horizon, and we can’t wait to introduce it to you after every formula checks off all the boxes on Jessica’s list of quality and sustainability. In California Baby’s future Jessica envisions plant-based laundry detergent, dishwashing soap and eco-friendly textiles as pure, gentle and meaningful as everything else California Baby creates.

Jessica sitting with her growing collection of products

It’s not easy being green

Beginning in the ’70s the United States started thinking more green. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were introduced. Before then, companies dumped their waste into waterways and polluted the air with little oversight or accountability. The first Earth Day, celebrated in December of 1970, encouraged people to examine their own lives and incorporate more eco-friendly practices — a process that, for many, uncovered hundreds of years of harmful industrial practices that impacted them directly. That’s how the Green Movement began, with surprised and angry individuals making changes. Soon after, markets began to follow suit.

In the ‘90s Jessica witnessed the turn from small pockets of individuals at farmers’ markets selling their homemade skincare to wealthy investors and large companies buying out small businesses for control of the hot, new green skincare market. The increased exposure was a plus, but the downside grew in equal measure as the industry began adopting green lingo without actually going green, leading to the greenwashing that frustrates so many consumers today.

Now, green skincare is a mixed bag. For this reason, Jessica continues to put transparency at the forefront of California Baby’s ingredient standards and product development. We spend years, sometimes decades, developing new formulas and are honest with you about what is and is not in them. And we understand that being “green” means so much more than plant-based products — it’s reflected in our sustainability commitment, manufacturing process, organic farming methods and independent lab testing for quality assurance. Jessica even went so far as to become an EPA Green Power partner, surpassing EPA solar power minimums by 250%. Why? Because we believe companies should prove safety and sustainability to you, the consumer.

Jessica inspecting products in her manufacturing facility

The Takeaway

We’ve all heard stories of mothers suddenly acquiring superhuman strength great enough to single-handedly lift a car. Jessica’s one-ton car just so happened to be the creation of a safe, plant-based and eco-friendly baby skincare company in a space that predominantly rewarded business over health. Her pioneering spirit of perseverance continues to challenge the status quo of the personal care industry today with meaningful products, transparency and a time-tested commitment to your health and the planets.

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