Melissa KielingFounder of PackitWESTLAKE, CAPhotography by Lauri LevenfeldStory by Lauri Levenfeld
Melissa is truly the mom story you hear about on Oprah and the success story we have all dreamed of. A mom dedicated to providing healthy and safe lunches for her kids, Melissa invented PackIt one day in her kitchen out of necessity. And five years later, her company is a multi-million dollar success. And not only that, Melissa is the sweetest person, whip smart, and a do-it-or-die mom. PackIt came at a crucial time for her family, and Melissa’s drive and work ethic made the company into what it is today, while giving her family stability and security. From the moment we sat down, I knew I would have a friend in Melissa for life. She’s that kind of gal. And I am proud and honored that she chose Style Army to help style and photograph the latest PackIt campaign.
I grew up in a very small town in Iowa. I went to high school with pretty much the same 82 kids I started kindergarten with. My first job was in my grandfather’s fields at age 12. At age 92, my grandparents still live on the farm. We celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago and my grandfather says he knew the first day of kindergarten he would marry my grandmother.
My parents were also high school sweethearts and they just celebrated 40 years of marriage. I am so impressed by their longevity and commitment, especially in this day and age.
Ed and I got engaged last year (after four years together). He is an amazing man with a heart of gold. He adores my kids and we are all blessed to have him in our lives. When I met him, Ed was living life at the beach, kite surfing every day. I am amazed at how he has embraced family life like a champion.
My work ethic definitely comes from my family. Growing up in the midwest in a farming community hard work and handshake values are instilled in you from the time you are young. My grandmother was still mowing the ditches on the farm and sanding and staining the deck at 90 years old. I see how hard work kept them young.
I started PackIt after going through a devastating divorce 6 years ago that left me in extreme financial hardship with no real job experience on my resume’ other than carpool, homework tutor, and administrator of all family matters. I had to get serious about finding a career. I explored many conventional job opportunities, but nothing excited me. I knew that I had to go out on a limb, and with my entrepreneurial spirit it was time to try something new. My inspiration hit me one morning and I wasted no time getting started.
PackIt started as an idea in my kitchen, after trying to find a product in the market that would keep foods cold. It did not exist. I began researching materials online. Soon my dining room table was covered with materials that I then cut up and pinned together as the first prototype. Once I had my assembly, I took it to my dry cleaners and begged them to sew it together for me. The first prototype was born and I was off to the races.
I learned so much along the way. Bootstrapping a startup means you have a hand in all aspects of the business, product design and development, manufacturing, importing, and sales and marketing. And this was my first rodeo! The learning curve was enormous and I had to trust my gut.
I have learned that some things you try fail and some work. You have to reflect on both and be ready to embrace the challenges and change the course in order to be better the next time around. My business has been blessed with amazing people. Those who have been willing to mentor, help set me in the right direction, and shorten my learning curve. The power of paying it forward is alive and well. I try to do the same every chance I get.
My inspiration for my company originally came from my family and they continue to inspire me daily. We see new needs for the PackIt concept constantly and this pushes me to keep expanding the line of cooling products we offer.
I have been given opportunity to travel to some amazing places; London, Paris, Shanghai and Germany. I constantly look for new fashion trends, materials, and silhouettes for our products. With distributors in almost 15 countries across the world now, we really have to look at the diversity of product we are providing. Wallpaper is also a huge inspiration.
I am also inspired by my children’s laughter. I love to see the world through their eyes. Nothing is more of a reminder to enjoy the little things in life than a good belly laugh from my kids. We treasure our Saturday mornings at home after a crazy week. Crepes are a Saturday morning staple at our house and nutella makes everything perfect.
Kids: Brennan-age 16, Garrett-age 14, Emma-age 10
My kids are the epitome of the Southern California lifestyle. My boys will get up at the crack of dawn to be at the beach for the best waves of the morning. Their style reflects that.
My daughter, on the other hand, has embraced the city. Her room is a great reflection of her personality, very Hollywood Regency glam. She has a very girly side and she has been asking for lip gloss since she was a baby. However with two older brothers, she is one tough cookie and not afraid to get down and dirty!
I believe beauty exists from the inside out. And you have to nourish it accordingly.
However life gets in the way a lot and I find myself skipping breakfast to race out the door (Emma has to be at school by 7:45). Come lunch I am starving. I try and pack healthy lunches in my PackIt so I am prepared, and hopefully, avoid making bad food choices.
And with all of my traveling and the stress of running my own business, there are a couple of staples in my daily regime, including this amazing detox tea I found in Paris called Kusmi. It makes me feel like I am taking charge of the toxins in my body. I also love a food delivery service called Paleta. Fresh meals show up on my doorstep and help me prepare for my day, which takes a lot of the guess work out of eating healthy.
My favorite night would be at a night in with a glass of wine, a long bath, and my ipad browsing on One Kings Lane. I am addicted!
My beauty faves…
1. Neutrogena Healthy Defense sunscreen. Recommended by my dermatologist, she told me to make sure that whatever sunscreen I use should have an ingredient called Avobenzone in it.
2. Jane Iredale Foundation. Love this! It hides as many flaws as possible without looking like you have a lot of makeup on.
3. Nars The Happening all in one compact. Makes packing for my trips so easy!
6. Loreal mascara It is a great thickening mascara that comes off with water in string like tubes. Sounds crazy, but you never have to worry about smudged mascara under your eyes and you don’t have to use makeup remover.
7. Sultra curling rod This curling rod gives you those great beachy waves that you see on the runway. Love.
Why PackIt works…
1. Chills out the competition. Freezable gel packs last up to 10 hours.
2. Saves space and time. The bags fold up to the size of a paperback book and shake out to pack on the run.
3. Safer for both you and the environment. Reusable bags are free of harmful PVC, BPA, phthalates and lead. They are made with non-toxic, food-safe materials.
4. Lifts a burden off your budget. You can save at least $1500 in one year by packing lunch just three times a week.
5. Keeps your family healthy. Nine out of ten kids and adults fail to meet their daily fruit and vegetable targets.
Its the simple things that can alter our world. Knowing you are providing a safe and nutritious meal each day for your child is one of them. I will forever be in awe of the people who think of these life sustaining ideas and products, who create them for their community, and then, make profit. It’s the American dream. And Melissa is living it. …And there is no better lady to be doing it!