Kitsch Founder & CEO Cassandra Thurswell Talks Delivering Value to Consumers From Morning to Night

Taylor Masket
Taylor Masket
Feb 27, 2024

From heatless curling sets and satin pillowcases to the most aesthetic shampoo and conditioner bars you’ve ever seen, Kitsch has dominated the haircare space on social. The brand powered $32.6M EMV in 2023, marking an 85% year-over-year growth. In today’s episode of Earned, we meet the mastermind behind the brand—Cassandra Thurswell, founder and CEO—and learn the keys to Kitsch’s rapid growth. Oh, and to top it off, the Kitsch team is giving our listeners a 20% off coupon code! Just use “EARNED20” at checkout. Thanks Kitsch! 


We start by hearing Cassandra’s journey to launching Kitsch, including the sacrifices she had to make to fund the business. Cassandra explains how building the brand was like “building the plane in the air,” and why she listened to her customers’ feedback to continue to improve her products. Next, we learn Kitsch’s strategies for entering the retail space, starting with specialty stores before launching in Ulta. Cassandra emphasizes how the product should be able to sell itself on the shelf with educational, tactile, and aesthetic packaging. We then hear how the pandemic forced Kitsch to build up its digital channels and communities, before unpacking the factors behind the brand’s 2023 surge in EMV. Cassandra shares the success of Kitsch’s expansive product line, which supports consumers throughout their entire day, and how the brand’s licensing collaborations have helped Kitsch reach a new audience through common interests, like Harry Potter. We then dig into Kitsch’s thriving Facebook community of over 40k members, and hear why the platform has been so valuable in connecting with the brand’s passionate fans. To close the show, Cassandra reveals why she was born to be an entrepreneur, and how she deals with the pressures of having to have great hair. 

We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts!

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The following interview has been lightly edited for concision. 

“The product should really be able to sell itself”: Cassandra Thurswell on Kitsch’s Retail Journey and Strategy


Conor Begley: It seemed like Ulta was one of the really big moments for Kitsch. Was that the one that really took you guys to the next level? Talk a little bit about what your retail journey was. I think people think that the big part is getting in [to a retailer], but no, the big part is staying in and growing with them. So what was that journey like? And what would you recommend to others that are trying to be successful with these kinds of big retail rollouts?

Cassandra Thurswell: That is such a great question, because I think everybody could probably have a different answer. Like if you speak to a career CEO that has years of retail experience, they're going to have a very different answer. And I suppose it also depends on the category that you're selling as well. For us, we took a really interesting approach and very slow build. Specialty is where we wanted to enter first. 

The specialty stores provided us a chance for real-time feedback. We would make edits to the product, the purchase orders were robust enough to keep us in business and help us grow, but we had years of that before we got into any major retailer. When we got into Ulta, we had enough experience, even from a small mom-and-pop shop in Wisconsin. These small stores would say things like, “Oh, you need shelf-talkers to go along with your product.” And I would be like, “What's a shelf-talker?” And they'd be like, “It needs to be a sales associate from your brand in a picture on a shelf that talks, essentially, to the customer.” So I started taking some of these strategies of visual merchandising, making things as if somebody who's never seen this product before in their life could understand what it was with the snap of a finger. 

Granted, it was me on Photoshop doing all of this work. The key learnings that we had from it were so valuable for when we finally did launch in retail, and it wasn't like how people do launches these days where they do an in-store event, or have some big rollout. We had one shelf at Ulta, and our main mission for this launch was to ensure the goods were shipped and delivered in the store and set up, and that was our launch. 

But what we did beyond that, because we had no marketing dollars, was making sure that if someone's walking by our shelf, our one shelf, this is a product that they couldn't find anywhere else—they knew what it was, it was a great price point, and it was so easy to understand that they could just pick it up and leave the store with it. And we did it. We delivered on time. It looked great. Visuals were fine. The price point was good. And that's how the relationship blossomed.

I think that's been one of our keys to success still today: the product should really be able to sell itself. And It should be very, very easy for anybody to understand what it is that they're buying. That was our strategy.

Conor Begley: “Talk to you on the shelf,” I love that term. You need to be able to see it and know what's happening very, very quickly. I either want to try that or I don't, but I understand it. Because there's not a lot of time, right? You don't have a lot of time to get somebody's attention. I think about that a lot with packaging. There's just so much color on the shelf now, how do you think about talking on the shelf today? What do you guys do that you think gets people's attention?

Cassandra Thurswell: It drives our whole graphics team absolutely crazy, but I put so much text on the box, because I want to make sure that no one is intimidated by our product. We do everything from ensuring that if the fabric is soft, the customer can touch the fabric. If it's a scrunchie, we craft the packaging in a way where consumers can put their hands through the hole. All these little things that nobody would ever think that we thought about, we’re thinking about it. Just the little tilts on how we card our products, too, to make it seem like it’s really a gift rather than a commoditized purchase. Sometimes our category can kind of feel that way—it's like, oh, I have to go get another bottle of shampoo, I have to go get another hair elastic. So we want to make it just a little more special. We keep the specialty store roots and we do it on a larger scale now.

“You like Harry Potter? We like Harry Potter, too”: How Kitsch Builds Relationships With New Consumers Through Licensing Deals


Conor Begley: Kitsch is the No. 21 ranked haircare brand for us in 2023, and you're growing 66% year-over-year. In the last four or five months though, you're growing over 100% year-over-year. You're up to No. 15 in our rankings. You're ahead of L'Oreal, Aveda, Briogeo—some big names. What is it that's happening right now? Is it a viral product? What's working?

Cassandra Thurswell: Well, I would like to think that Kitsch is a really unique brand. Someone can come to our website, and it's more than just buying the shampoo and conditioner, which are incredible, but it's buying that routine. It's not just one part of your day. We're here supporting you from the second you wake up until the moment you go to sleep in all these different Kitsch moments throughout the day. Whether you’re going to the gym or you're washing your hair or washing your face, we're supporting a healthy haircare routine through all of those moments. 

And so, it's fun to shop on our website. And then it gets to the point where the customer is out and about in their day and they're thinking, “Oh, I wonder if Kitsch has a product like that,” and then they come back to our website. So there's a lot of reasons to come and shop with us, number one.

Number two, I think one of the things that we've done [in 2023] that's been amazing is our licensing. I think that one of the reasons why this has been so beneficial for the brand is, these are customers that we know would love the brand no matter what, and we’re finding a common ground. It's like, do you like Harry Potter? We like Harry Potter, too. The combination of the two not only bonds us by a similar interest, but it's that introduction to a brand new audience that we know will love and be devoted for the brand going forward, and that we may not have had without that introduction of Harry Potter. So the licensing aspect has given us an opportunity to have a brand new relationship with a customer who may not have ever met us, and it's been really successful.

Keep up with new episodes of Earned by following the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, or subscribing to our YouTube channel. To catch up on our previous episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Revolve, K18, Instagram, and Roblox, visit our Earned Podcast page.