We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelly Kussman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelly, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?Throughout my nearly 20 years in retail, I have always been fascinated with how deeply personal fragrance is to an individual not only in its ability to evoke emotion but also to encourage a tangible connection to past experiences; the connection between scent and memory is so strong! How many times have you smelled something that can literally transport you back to a specific moment in time? How many times have you smelled something that reminds you of someone else? I wanted to bottle that feeling (literally) and build a brand that harnesses these memories so people are almost wearing more than a perfume – they’re really feeling something.
I relocated to Phoenix, Arizona from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to continue my career in retail. This is where I met my husband and we wanted to grow our family. In 2017, my husband and I faced the tragic loss of our first baby who we planned to call Cayla Gray. After struggling with another ectopic pregnancy, I really wanted to create a legacy that not only honored the beauty and heartbreak of this bittersweet experience, but also fueled my personal passion for fragrance. From this desire, the Cayla Gray collection was born. After personally experiencing a few years of heartbreak, I decided it was time to finally start my dream business and focus on putting my energy into creating something beautiful I could put into the world. With that, I set out to create a line of luxury, clean products that celebrates our most cherished memories while developing new ones that we can fondly look back on in the future.
Creating a brand during COVID was extremely challenging. The material and packaging delays, the increase prices due to shortages and rush shipping, etc. But through all of it, what really stood out to me was how strong the small business community is in Arizona. How many small business owners were so willing to step up and help teach and mentor others. It was really incredible.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
With Cayla Gray, we have stepped away from traditional perfume practices and returned to an artisan mentality to curate a line of clean perfumes and candles that are American-made, ethically-cultivated and fairly-priced for self and home. This thoughtful spirit is imbued in the brand, keeping the business as transparent as possible by designing products locally and collaborating with makers globally. “I was sitting on the dock with my dad one night, looking across the water after sunset, and thought to myself, times like this are exactly why I started Cayla Gray. To capture this moment in fragrance and create an instant connection to that experience every time you revisit the scent. I love fragrance, I love everything about it. They can truly elevate your lifestyle, evoking an emotion or memory that makes everything around you feel more beautiful. That’s the experience I want to share with people.”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many great cities in Arizona. In Tucson, we would spend a few days at Loews Ventana Canyon and go do a day pass to Miraval and hike Saguaro trails! Next day, head to Scottsdale for some shopping and great restaurant vibes like Maple & Ash or Malees Thai Bistro. Next up, would head to Civana resort for some rest and relaxation. and end the trip in Sedona at L’auberge, driving along the red rock scenic byway and hiking west fork trail.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There have been a ton of people that have helped me along my entrepreneurial journey. My husband Gabe is the one who has really supported my dream, listened to my endlessly rambling on about ideas, and has encouraged me to go for it!
Tracy Battaglia at Fullyalivephotography and Creative Label