Cassandra Thurswell is a self-described serial entrepreneur who always dreamed of running her own business. After a leap of faith and over 15,000 hair ties that she crafted in her apartment, her dream has become a reality in her company Kitsch. Now, with 25 employees, Cassandra prides herself on having a flexible work environment that has a whole host of perks, including ”Fortunate Fridays” where employees all get together to do something fun and mindful for about an hour from egg hunts to welcoming guest speakers. We loved hearing about Cassandra’s beginnings from her living room to living her dream. Read on…
Congratulations on the success of KITSCH! We love your story about how you started your company with 2 maxed out credit cards, 134 Tupperware containers (of jewelry) and 15,983 hair ties you made yourself. Where did this idea come from?
Most of my experience has been in manufacturing. KITSCH started as a private label manufacturing company where I designed, produced and distributed accessories for larger chain stores like Forever21 and Anthropologie. It’s called private label manufacturing because a larger account will give a bit of direction and then outsource all the designing, production and distribution to companies like mine. It’s an amazing way to gain experience in manufacturing without the risk of inventory which was great because I didn’t have the space. I was doing this all out of my apartment! Ultimately, I knew I wanted to have a brand. I continually saw there were a lot of little brands that had amazing designs but had a hard time with production. I also realized there were a lot of manufacturers that had a hard time launching a brand as they didn’t know how to connect with a consumer emotionally. I knew if I could somehow find this sweet spot of manufacturing meets mindfulness it would be a success, and that is where KITSCH was born!
What was the tipping point that really took you from daydreaming to knowing you wanted to take action and turn your passion into a business? What was the first thing you did?
Before I started the company I took out a piece of paper and wrote out, “Why do I want to start a company?” and as I wrote out all of the reasons why, I started to feel more and more confident about my purpose. This was actually the closest thing to a business plan that I’ve had to date. Knowing the “why” behind what I was doing was all I needed. I really didn’t have a product in mind, but I knew if I just stuck to my “why” I would be on the right path.
You are a self-funded company with a multi-million dollar revenue. What advice do you give to other women starting out?
It’s too common where someone has an idea, they create a business plan, they share their idea with too many people for validation and they get talked out of moving forward. This might not be the best advice, but go with your gut. If you are going to share with someone, do it with another professional familiar with your field. Not friends and family. It becomes too emotional and you’ll waste time defending your brilliant idea rather than spending that time building it. You’ll find the flaws on your own and it may be challenging, but honestly, it’s what you need to do to be the best in your field. Even if everything fails there is so much to learn from failure! KITSCH is my 8th business, and I needed all 7 of those prior companies to fail to be where I am now.
Talk to us about finding the right support when growing a business. What do you look for? What are the key roles people should look to fill first?
Your first few hires are the most important, and you can only move forward if you ask for help. I think one of the biggest issues as a Mother and CEO is the “I’ll just do it myself” mentality. It’s admirable, but it’s not conducive to growth. In the beginning you need to hire a jack of all trades. Preferably someone who is stronger than you in areas that you can’t be weak. My weakness (and strength) was always saying, “yes” to deals. I was so broke I was a sucker for agreeing to anything if it meant a sale. It worked great sometimes, but I had a lot of orders I made for free. I was lucky enough to have a husband who believed in my dream as much as I did. He quit his career in entertainment and took over a lot of the back end and negotiating. My issue was knowing I was worth a discounted price and asking for it, and that’s where my husband took the reigns. It was really a turning point in my business.
You have a beautiful 3-year-old daughter named Tula. How has motherhood impacted your career?
The first year was the hardest. I had postpartum anxiety. I was constantly nervous about doing something wrong and it was all consuming. I remember nights where I had the baby monitor inches from my face at full volume jumping at every noise Tula made. It was unhealthy and put a lot of tension on work. It’s hard to function when you don’t sleep. I can laugh about it now, but during that time I made a small collection of jewelry that was slightly depressing. It was clear I was in need of some major TLC. I did some major work on myself. I am in complete gratitude for that experience as I feel like I found an authentic part of myself that I never knew was there.
What do you think is more difficult: being a good boss or a good mom? Do you use some of the same skills?
That’s a hard one. I feel like no matter your parenting style every mom is doing their best, so I feel like being a good boss is more difficult. Both give you the opportunity to become a better human, and make an impact on the world but in different ways. I feel as though the employee / employer relationship needs to be a bit more buttoned up as your choices affect the outlook on their future. I have 25 employees, which feels very close knit. It’s like having 25 relationships as both parties need to feel heard and valued in order to be healthy. I know every decision I make is critical to their well-being. It doesn’t matter if I have a sick toddler or a huge mess up on an order, I still need to lead with confidence and professionalism.
Heymama’s tagline is “The Juggle is Real.” Was there ever a time where this juggle got the best of you? What was that like?
Where do I begin? I’ve had so many fails! Besides the constant daily fails of spilling coffee on my shirt and wearing my underwear inside out I feel like date nights are usually where the juggle gets the best of me. I’ve been known to fall asleep at concerts and movie theatres. We make jokes that I should just bring a pillow. We’ve since dropped the movies and stick to more active dates.
What moment in the past week made your feel most powerful?
Mom moment: We took a family / work trip to Texas for a meeting and when we got in the hotel my daughter said, “Mama the TV is on, can you turn it off please?”.
Boss moment: on the same trip I was able to connect with 1,600 employees from Ulta to talk about my line. The second I said, “my name is Cassandra and I’m the owner of KITSCH” I immediately began to cry. It was so many people who not only knew who KITSCH was but loved the brand. It reminded me I’ve come a long way from my apartment!
What is your favorite thing to do to unplug?
I really love Pause Float studio and the Den Meditation for slowing down. I’m also a very big fan of Pilates and very lucky to have family that are the best in the biz. My sister owns Motivate Pilates and my cousin owns Pilates Platinum which IMO are the best studios in the LA area.
What’s your work style? Where do you like to shop?
I started responding with my work style which will give you an idea of how connected I am with my personal style! I’m assuming you mean fashion style? If so, I uniform dress with sneakers and leggings almost daily. Most of my day I’m on the move so my outfit choices can’t hold me back. The shopping question is funny because I probably have open carts on 50 websites but I never really press “buy.” Shopping just isn’t a priority for me. I do love skincare though. I’m a big fan of the Detox Market.
Do you have any life hacks (apps, programs, mantras) that help keep things flowing?
I love this wholesale calculator app it’s called W/R Calc. If you’re producing a product it’s a quick way to see where your retail price will be with your target margins. It’s not something to run your business with, but good for a quick point of reference.
I also live by Janet Lansbury’s podcast “Unruffled.” She changed my life and I’m forever grateful.
What’s next for KITSCH in the year ahead?
We just launched KITSCH PRO which is our new professional line of hair tools. It’s been very well received. We’re doing a collaboration with Anthropologie which will be coming out in May and a very exciting new range of beauty accessories coming out in August! Stay tuned as these are items every woman wants (and needs).
3 pearls of wisdom
The secret to having it all is knowing you already do.
It always works out.
You’re never going to “get it all done” so just enjoy the moment.