How Ashley Piszek of MISS SWISS Tackles The Extreme Work Life Balance Of Being A Woman
Business Leader During Covid-19
The pandemic caused a slow down for MISS SWISS production. At the same time MISS SWISS needed to find a bigger space to ship all of the makeup cases and hold the MISS SWISS assembly parts for future inventory. Because of the pandemic, I was able to negotiate a great warehouse space at an advantageous price. The pandemic has provided us with time to make informed decisions. As we are now mostly home, we have gained the time we normally use traveling to and from work. This “found time” can be used to research and capitalize on opportunities. Whether it is finding a great deal on a new car, computer, household item or a new home, the pandemic has opened the door to negotiations and opportunity.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Piszek.
Ashley Piszek is a 24-year-old entrepreneur best known for inventing MISS SWISS®, a revolutionary makeup case that solved a significant problem in the makeup industry. After makeup destroyed her purse at a concert, Piszek developed a patented travel size makeup case resembling the utility of a Swiss Army Knife® with custom holders that prevent friction between commonly used makeup products. Piszek was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2013 and pulls inspiration from Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, and Daymond John — all renowned entrepreneurs who also overcame the same diagnosis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Since an early age, I have had a desire to be a businesswoman. From lemonade stands to crafting doll furniture, I have been eager to launch a business. Education has always been really important to me. I majored in accounting and marketing in college and knew that I didn’t want to go the traditional route of getting my CPA. I took every class I could so I would have as much information as possible about starting a business.
The idea for my company, MISS SWISS, occurred to me while attending a concert during college. I brought only the essentials in my purse, including makeup, keys, phone, and wallet. The friction between my makeup and the other items inside my bag caused the lid to come off of my eyeliner, which ultimately destroyed my new purse. When I shared this experience with my friends, they remarked that they also had similar problems, even when using traditional makeup cases. While researching this issue, I came across many makeup wearers who additionally had the problem of applying their makeup on the go. I knew there had to be a way to solve both of these problems. Once my “purse catastrophe” occurred, I knew I had a great idea to solve it!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Only a few months before we officially launched to the public, I was able to have MISS SWISS be a part of my wedding day on Aug. 19, 2020. It was extra special because my husband is the one who purchased the purse that was destroyed in the “purse catastrophe”. He told me that he couldn’t afford to keep buying me new bags, if I was only going to ruin them. We worked hard engineering MISS SWISS to prevent friction from occurring between the items it holds, which is a major reason for makeup spillage. The “something blue” on my big day was my blue MISS SWISS and it was so helpful touching up my makeup before and after the ceremony.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The pandemic, and the delays which came along with it, have given me a lot of time to work on new adaptations of MISS SWISS and to figure out how to stand out in the beauty industry. After watching many “PR Unboxing Videos,” I noticed they all had one thing in common: there is a lot of excessive packaging. While planning my own influencer marketing campaign, it was paramount to distinguish MISS SWISS from other beauty brands. During the holidays, my personal go to gift is donations to my friends and family’s favorite charities and I decided to share that tradition with influencers. I took the money that I would have spent on fancy excess packaging and used it to make donations to each influencer’s favorite charity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who have helped guide me to where I am today. I could probably write a whole article just listing people to whom I am grateful, but MISS SWISS would not exist without the help from my mother, Beth. When I came up with the idea for MISS SWISS, I made a rough drawing of how I envisioned the perfect makeup case. After researching what next steps I would have to take to bring my vision into a reality, I realized that this is something I couldn’t afford, especially while still paying for college. I tried to think of every possible way to raise enough money to procure prototype development, two injection molds, and all the other expenses that go into starting a business. We bounced around ideas and settled on flipping a house. My mother is retired and worked most of her life in the fashion industry. She could have easily watched from the sidelines, but instead she helped me through every aspect of the flip. We did most of the work ourselves — demolition, tiling, grouting, landscaping, designing, and painting. I was still in college full time, so while I was in class, she assisted managing the skilled laborers and making sure things moved forward.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
The biggest family related challenge during the pandemic has to be supporting my family while trying to launch a business. Both of my parents are over sixty and are at increased risk if they contract COVID. This meant that I had to do all the shopping not only for my husband and myself, but also my parents. My husband works full time as an engineer, and I work full time on MISS SWISS. After the workday, we continue to work on MISS SWISS, so there isn’t much free time to handle daily tasks.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
To limit my parents’ risk to COVID, I handle the grocery shopping and other responsibilities for two households. It has taken a while to find work-life balance while running a new business. But I have finally figured out a strategy that works for us. Communication is key. For example, I don’t go to the grocery store if there isn’t a list. I now go to the grocery store once a week with my husband and we each have our own cart, one for my parents, and one for us. I am really lucky that this is my greatest family related pandemic challenge.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge I have been facing during the pandemic is communication issues. I learned that I am the only person who will follow up on expected deliveries and maintain quality control on assembly parts for MISS SWISS. Being organized as a woman in business is key — especially during a pandemic. Having multiple suppliers and shipping delays makes things challenging at times. I have a plastic manufacturer who also assembles the makeup cases, but I am required to supply all of the assembly parts. Although it seems easy to purchase mirrors, screws, nuts, packaging, and hinge pins, I have learned the hard way that it isn’t. Even if you explicitly state product requirements, it does not always result in the correct outcome. For instance, I have gone through three hinge pin suppliers before I found the perfect partner to provide that one component.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have learned that I am the only person who will advocate for MISS SWISS 24/7. Other businesses are not as concerned about me getting my parts on time or sending me faulty product. I have learned the hard way to test a large sample of assembly parts as we receive them to make sure they are within the required tolerances that are agreed upon. I make sure to have at least three back up plans for every assembly part needed for MISS SWISS. I think this lesson can translate to many aspects of everyone’s lives, especially during the pandemic.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I made sure to set up a home office that is exclusively for work. This way, I can be 100% focused on MISS SWISS while I am running the business. It is so easy to get distracted when working from home, especially because I am in the middle of renovations, so I have one room that is explicitly for working and everyone in my family knows that.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
I am really lucky that my family has been very helpful with supporting my dreams and launching my business, but too much time can really put a strain on any relationship. My first strategy is to find a hobby that you can do on your own when you need a little escape. My favorite way to stay sane is doing small renovation projects. I love the immediate gratification of adding a pop of color to an old table or reupholstering chairs. I have done many of these projects to stay sane during the pandemic and some of my treasures are actually used within the MISS SWISS warehouse. Another strategy is to find a space that is all yours even if it’s just for a minute. It can be your room, basement, or garage that you can have some alone time to blare your music, play your video games, or watch a movie. For me it is my MISS SWISS warehouse. If I need a minute to get away from the world or work on my computer with some loud music it is the perfect, safe getaway.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Giving us more time to spend with family — It is easy to think negatively about the pandemic and how it is making our lives more difficult. For instance, the pandemic ended up delaying my launch. During the pandemic, I have worked hard to make sure I get to spend quality time with my family. When the pandemic started, my husband and I decided to quarantine with my parents. Although we live in separate houses, we spend time with each other, work, and grocery shop, limiting our exposure to COVID. Having to shop for my parents allows me to spend time with them even if it’s only an hour or so. This is time I typically wouldn’t have with my parents and has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Our visits include taking walks together, watching movies and reorganizing storage spaces. I am happy we used this time to create these lasting memories.
- For MISS SWISS specifically, there has been a lag in assembly parts available from my initial suppliers. The delay in production has given me the time to find all of the mistakes that could have potentially derailed my business and find new suppliers that are not only better quality, but also more cost effective. Use the time the pandemic has given you to examine your business or life with a fresh perspective. You may discover something that could be improved or a new opportunity may unfold.
- The pandemic caused a slow down for MISS SWISS production. At the same time MISS SWISS needed to find a bigger space to ship all of the makeup cases and hold the MISS SWISS assembly parts for future inventory. Because of the pandemic, I was able to negotiate a great warehouse space at an advantageous price. The pandemic has provided us with time to make informed decisions. As we are now mostly home, we have gained the time we normally use traveling to and from work. This “found time” can be used to research and capitalize on opportunities. Whether it is finding a great deal on a new car, computer, household item or a new home, the pandemic has opened the door to negotiations and opportunity.
- Life in general has slowed due to the pandemic. People are unable to travel as they had previously. Personally, I used the slowdown to reach out to influencers and celebrities who might not be typically reachable and was rewarded with positive feedback from the celebrities I targeted.
- The pandemic has given me a new perspective on how fortunate I am. I am lucky that I was able to work from home or alone in my warehouse but not everyone has that luxury. My “guilty pleasure” is the strawberry acai lemonade from Starbucks. I treat myself to one a day and use the drive-thru-window to be safe and socially distanced. It made me realize how many people have to work in public businesses every day and I appreciate the challenges they have to deal with. On every visit to Starbucks, I try to make the barista smile or feel appreciated, as I truly do appreciate them working in the pandemic. Once a week, I leave an overly generous tip or secretly pay for the order of the car behind me. It is a small way in which I pay it forward. The pandemic has given me perspective and has made me appreciate the efforts of others.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- My family has quarantined together. This provided us with three locations to travel to safely: my home, my parent’s home, and my warehouse. This provided all of us the feeling of “getting out” as we travel between the three locations even though we are remaining in our safe space. Consider establishing similar “additional safe spaces.”
- If you are able to Zoom or Facetime family, it reassures them you are well and allows them an opportunity to share experiences with you. My brother is away at college, so using facetime with him once or twice a week helps let me know that he is okay and gives me another person to socialize with in a time where that is limited.
- Be creative. Although the pandemic is making it difficult to go out, I am always looking for something fun to do with my family. For instance, my family and I always go to our community pool in the summer. This was something we all really missed because of the pandemic. I drive a truck, and I decided to purchase a truck bed pool for my family and I to enjoy. Although it wasn’t what we were used to, it was still a great experience that we will remember forever.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” — John Wooden
This quote acts as a lesson for me on a regular basis, as I am a person who likes to micromanage every aspect of my business. The pandemic caused our injection mold to have many delays in both production and shipping. Wooden’s quote reminds me that there is nothing I can do to fix the situation and worrying about it won’t resolve the issue. I have chosen to focus on aspects of my business I can improve upon and center my attention on them. This quote has been relevant in my home life as well. It has made me understand that dwelling on an issue or delay in our home renovation won’t help move other aspects of the project forward.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Karina Michel Feld is the Owner and Executive Producer of Tallulah Films. Karina has 20+ years of experience in TV, film, and print and is a respected member of The Producers Guild of America. The mission of Tallulah Films is to bring together directors, entrepreneurs, film investors, and screenwriters to produce award-winning TV and film projects. Tallulah Films continues to be drawn towards films that are meaningful, influential, and uplifting. Karina is also Co-Owner and CFO of Fresh Patch LLC (as seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).