We often talk about how KUSSHI was founded by women for women—but you might not be familiar with the woman who started it all, our intrepid founder, Jessica Parker.
An avid traveler who prefers hiking and sleeping under the stars to luxuriating in a five-star resort, Jessica’s ah-ha moment for creating KUSSHI came when she relocated to Germany in 2015. Weekend excursions throughout Europe led to Jessica’s growing frustration with schlepping around her makeup and cosmetic brushes in Ziploc bags—which she used because existing makeup bags weren’t washable and didn’t let you see all your products at once.
As her budding idea for creating a better makeup bag evolved into the thriving business that she runs today, Jessica and her husband made Munich their permanent home, started a family (she is mom to a two-year-old daughter), and cultivated a vibrant, culturally diverse lifestyle that inspires the wanderlust world of KUSSHI.
In celebration of her birthday, we’re shining the spotlight on Jessica to share what makes her tick (hint: it’s not being a lady who lunches), her favorite finds (like a hidden source for amazing, affordable dining in every city), and how she’s become such a force in the beauty industry.
What was your life like growing up?
I grew up in Westchester, New York, a suburb outside New York City. My dad worked in insurance and my mom was a teaching assistant. There weren’t any entrepreneurs in our family, but we had friends who were—for instance, my mom’s best friend’s husband started NetJets—and I looked up to those people.
That said, I had no aspirations whatsoever to become an entrepreneur. I dreamt of having a corner office in someone else’s company, not my own.
But I always had a passion for work. When I was 15 years old, I began working at a catering hall. I absolutely loved doing events. You’re always moving and interacting with people and trying to make their day better, even if it’s just serving them a cup of soup. I really enjoyed that, and now KUSSHI allows me to channel that passion for making people’s days better into our products.
What kind of work did you do before starting Kusshi?
I went to college at the University of Vermont, which was perfect for me because I’m a secret hippie who just wanted to hike every weekend and be outside in nature. I felt so at home in Vermont and lived in Burlington throughout my 20s working in hospitality, first at the New England Culinary Institute where I worked during college, then at Marriott hotels after I graduated. I was with Marriott for close to 8 years, working my way up to assistant general manager.
When the owners of Marriott opened a luxury boutique hotel in Burlington, I handled all their small goods purchasing and design. That was my first taste of working in beauty: I developed the hotel’s beauty products with the local apothecary, along with many other items for the property. I had an eye for design, so I would suggest ideas to the design team, then we’d work to get the items made locally.
How did you end up living in Germany?
When my husband, who at the time was my Fiance, had to move to Munich for work, we thought it would be for only a year, so I went with him. At that point I’d been working nonstop since I was 15, so I figured why not be a lady who lunches for a year?
Well, that lasted about two months before I was bored to tears and itching to do something. We’d been traveling every weekend to explore different parts of Europe, and I was sick of carting around my makeup and cosmetic brushes in Ziploc bags, so that’s when the idea for KUSSHI began to take shape—no pun intended!
What convinced you, after not wanting to be an entrepreneur, to start your own company?
Well, I created the first KUSSHI bag just for myself—I had no intention of selling it. I simply wanted a luxury-style cosmetics bag that was washable and that had an organization component, a bright interior—because it’s pretty and helps me see my stuff—and that could open all the way to show all my products. I found a Master Tailor in Munich who spoke English, which made it easy to go back and forth with her on the design.
At the time, I was planning my wedding and frequently flying back to New York and Vermont. On each trip, I’d ask my friends’ opinions on the latest iteration of the bag design and eventually they started asking me, “When will we be able to get this bag?” I remember saying, “Oh, this is just for me!”
But as I showed the design to more people and everyone wanted it, I realized this was something that people would buy. No one at the time made a washable makeup bag, so there was a real need for it. And so, in early 2016, KUSSHI the brand was born.
Where did the name KUSSHI come from?
It’s a nod to my previous career working in food, and to being a foodie in general. When I was designing the bag, a friend remarked that it looked like a mollusca, so I started researching species and stumbled upon KUSSHI, which is an oyster from British Columbia. And in Hindi,kushi orkhushi means “happiness,” which I like because our bags are meant to spark joy.
For anyone wondering, the name is pronounced “cushy,” which you could also interpret as the bag cushioning all your precious makeup and brushes. The name works on numerous levels!
Now that we know your backstory, a few rapid-fire questions…
Female entrepreneurs who inspire you: Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx—her success story is awe-inspiring, but I also love that she’s so real and not trying to be anyone other than herself. And Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. She is the ultimate champion for women, and she does so much for girls’ education and confidence to help them succeed in business.
Travel destinations on your bucket list: Japan, South Africa, and Poland. I’ve been to Warsaw and loved it, so I want to explore more of Poland and Eastern Europe where some of my ancestors are from. I’d also like to go as far north as you can in Norway.
Best travel resource: The Michelin Bib Gourmand lists of restaurants. They have them for different cities all around the world, and they’re compiled by the people who review Michelin-star restaurants, but Bib Gourmand shares the hidden gems that they go to on their nights off. I’ve found some of the best restaurants through these lists, and they’re affordable places with a local flair, so you really feel immersed in the culture where you’re visiting.
5 makeup items always in your KUSSHI bag: I’m a total minimalist, so my go-to’s are my Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler, Ilia Limitless Lash and Maybelline Sky High mascara, concealer—my holy grails are the ones by Givenchy and Kosas— Weleda Skin Food Lip Butter, and Jamie Makeup The Blighlighter, which is from makeup artist Jamie Greenberg’s cosmetics line and is blush and highlighter blended into one. The nude shade I use everywhere, on my cheeks, eyes, and lips. It’s genius!
Advice to women who want to start their own company: Be highly resourceful. When I started KUSSHI, I was literally googling, “How to find a manufacturer” and asking friends if anyone knew someone who could sew. You have to dig and track down the people who can bring your concept to life. And spend as little money as possible, especially in the beginning. You can do a lot on very little money by educating yourself on the basics of PR and marketing—then when you can afford to hire people, you’ll know whether they’re the right fit for your brand. And immerse your whole self and mind into your idea. If you’re going to launch a business, really do it and just go all in.
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