It is so important to listen to other people’s stories, develop relationships, and follow up. Much like sharing your own story can benefit others, engaging with people, and listening to their stories can broaden your scope of knowledge and understanding. I often spend precious time reaching out and talking to our customers. Hearing what people are going through, what they have tried, what they have struggled with, plays such a crucial role in assessing their needs and finding the right solution for them. Insomnia can be so isolating, and communication is the key to tackling that loneliness.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Evita Kunke. Evita is a co-founder of Honeydew Sleep Company — a California-based family business that is dedicated to making the best pillows in the world. Learn more at HoneyDewSleep.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
It’s my pleasure! My backstory is a unique one — I work in an industry that I never imagined I would be interested in, and yet, looking back at my life so far, it seems as though I was destined for it.
I was born in Warsaw, Poland, and when I was just a year and a half old, my parents fled what was a communist country at the time to come to the United States. Their story, and my story, are not necessarily unique in that so many people have immigrated to the United States in much the same way. However, in talking to many children of immigrants, I have found that our parents’ experiences — their astounding courage, monumental risk, immense drive, unshakable faith, and unwavering pursuit of a better life — have instilled in us many of the same qualities. My parents gave me my drive, motivation, entrepreneurial spirit, tenacity, and enduring faith. I stand in awe of them, and I only hope that I can make them as proud as they make me.
I attended California Lutheran University where I majored in Theater Arts and graduated with my Bachelor of Arts. After I completed my degree, I moved from my small town in Ventura County to neighboring Los Angeles to pursue my acting career. Even though I threw myself into it, I found that the amount of time that I was actually getting to spend acting was painfully minimal, and the amount of rejection weighed heavily on my sensitive soul. As is often the outcome of such stories, after four years I just couldn’t make it work for me. Even though it became clear that this wasn’t the path for me, I learned so much about who I was and what I actually needed in order to have joy and fulfillment in my life. For instance, acting is a profession where you have to really focus on yourself and work to promote yourself in every possible way, but I found that I was always far happier when my focus was on other people. So I moved back home to have my very own fresh start. But first, I fell in love. Moving back home, I reconnected with a high school crush, Jonathan Kunke. This was a boy who took me to my very first high school dance. I wore elbow-length white gloves and a tiara, because how could I have passed up the opportunity to do so? As high school kids our flirtations were very innocent and our time spent together was limited. As adults, we fell in the kind of love you find in fairytales and romantic comedies. Our wedding was nothing short of a dream come true, and yes, we are still this sappy and in love to this day.
I worked in sales while my husband and I were dating, and he worked alongside his father running their family business, which consisted of four brick-and-mortar mattress stores. I loved to see my husband work, because I knew firsthand what a complete difference the right bed could make in a person’s life. When I was going to college, I developed crippling lower back pain. It came out of nowhere and in many ways immobilized me. I went to a myriad of doctors and was finally diagnosed with a bulging disk. For my condition I was prescribed copious amounts of pain medications and physical therapy. I hated how foggy the pain medicine made me feel, and despite going to physical therapy several days a week, relief always seemed just beyond my grasp. With invasive surgery being the only other option, I decided to seek yet another second opinion. Finally, upon explaining those experiences to the latest doctor, he paused and asked what kind of a mattress I slept on. This doctor recommended a certain kind of mattress to me. I was desperate, and willing to try anything to avoid surgery, so I got my new mattress, and climbed into it clinging to my last shred of hope. Much to my surprise, it worked. As the nights passed by, I found that I was holding my breath less and less, that the tingling had become milder, that my right foot was becoming reliable again — and then, one day, I just didn’t have any pain. That new mattress gave me my youth, health, and freedom back. In that moment, I saw firsthand the power of proper support and alignment while I slept. So when I found out that my future husband was a mattress salesman, it all made perfect sense. After we got married, I stepped in “temporarily” to help out in the family business. That was a little over five years ago, and here I am today. Over these years, I have taken a personal and vested interest in improving people’s sleep, hearing their stories, and working with them to find the best ways that I could improve their health and wellness. My husband and I, along with my father-in-law, have been wholeheartedly dedicated to providing our customers with the absolute best products and guidance available, and in doing so we began to notice which products were falling short of our very high standards. This is when we pooled all of our knowledge and passion into developing new and improved products that could bridge the gaps of our customer’s needs, and we became something new entirely: Honeydew Sleep Company. We now work tirelessly on creating and manufacturing the highest quality products that are able to further improve sleep, wellness, and quality of life for our customers.
We began with this laser focus on pillows, and after years of research, trial, error, testing, and pouring our hearts and souls into our work, we believe with utmost confidence that we have created a perfect pillow. Now we truly do sell and ship our pillows worldwide, and we have even more of a fire in our hearts to continue helping people, and bringing products like this to those who are in desperate need of them, even if they don’t know it yet.
Can you share an interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I have always dreamed of having a glamorous career — I was trying to be an actress, after all! I wanted to meet interesting, talented people with a passion for what they did. My career has allowed me to meet and befriend people that I have admired for their talents, and to speak out about something that I am passionate about. One of the many gifts that my job has given me, is that during an Academy Awards gifting suite where our pillows were featured, I was able to meet an actress that I had admired for a long time. She fell in love with our pillows, and I fell in love with her sparkling personality and incredible baking skills. We bonded over great sleep, and delicious s’mores macarons. She has now become a very dear and close friend of mine. I’ve enjoyed her company on many occasions, and I continue to be inspired by her! The lesson that all of this taught me is that if you go where your heart leads you, even if it isn’t the path that you originally imagined for yourself, you can still end up exactly where you wanted to be.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There is so much more to making pillows than I first imagined. When we first started, we were making all of our pillows by hand, one by one, for basically just our family members and friends. As our little batches began flying off our shelves, we realized we needed to streamline our manufacturing process a bit to make things more efficient. We had to think of a way to meet the sudden demand without compromising quality. We had this idea (which we thought was brilliant at the time) to buy the biggest Shop Vac that they make, and use it to combine the materials. We put our materials inside, and turned it on, hoping everything would swirl around and mix together perfectly. This sounds good on paper, right? Well, that’s what we thought. Instead, the Shop-Vac began spewing our pillow fill all over the place, and it began to snow little tufts of fill across the entire room. “Abort! Abort!” we yelled, but it was too late. The fiber covered everything, like we had been standing in the middle of a snowstorm. These white puffs clung to our hair, our eyelashes, and our clothes, not to mention every single object in the room. After assessing the mess that our “blizzard” had made, we spent hours trying to clean it all up. To be honest, to this day we sometimes find a stray piece of foam still clinging to the back of a sofa, or partially tucked into the rug. We call these little gifts because they always make us smile at the memory of our snow day.
This was a big moment for us. We were at that crossroads that every entrepreneur comes to where they have to decide if they are going to take the plunge and go all in on their idea. But we knew in our hearts that we had something special on our hands, and that we needed to share it with the world. So I guess what we learned from that is that half measures weren’t going to work. We needed to dive in head first. Of course, it was the best decision I ever made!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes, I am incredibly excited about Body by Honeydew, which we just launched. The benefits of Body pillows are huge because for someone who has a tough time turning off their mind at night (which I am), they actually aid in releasing oxytocin, which lowers your heart rate and helps you fall asleep more quickly.
We are also currently working on sheets made from the pillow case fabric we use. They are truly glorious as they help regulate body temperature and are made from a luxuriously soft, silky, organic fabric that will naturally help reduce those sneaky little sleep wrinkles. These are probably another four months away or so, but I just can’t wait to unveil this next beauty sleep secret!
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?
I have to mention my mom here. She is the cutest little lady you have ever seen, and someone who would give anything and everything she has to anyone in need, whether or not they asked for it. In fact, if they denied it, she would lovingly force it upon them, because (of course) she knows best. She has always been my biggest fan, no matter what my next wild idea or undertaking has been. She has always thrown herself into helping me with whatever project I am working on. With someone like me, this means she was always there gluing on my eyelashes for my beauty pageants, sewing my costumes for various theater productions, assisting me with event planning, or simply making me laugh and keeping me sane while I worked. She has been my best buddy, and we always make the best team. This project has been no exception. In fact, it was my mom, with her little sewing machine on her dining room table who was sewing all of our many (many, many, many, so many) prototypes, and helping us stuff them with the various fills we had created. She was the first one stitching together my dreams, and she continues to do.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?
1. Be your own lover (wink, wink). What I mean by this is to try to treat yourself like you would treat someone you love. When you find that you are being critical and hard on yourself, think of whether you would spew that negativity at your partner, your family members, or your friends. If you wouldn’t talk to them in that way, why is it okay to do it to yourself? My advice is to do something nice for yourself every day. Find little ways to treat yourself. Have a personal dance party to your favorite song, go and lay out in the warm sun, spend a moment in your garden, have some ice cream, snuggle with your pet. Just stop each day, and take a significant “me” moment. When you take the time to do something that makes your heart happy, even just for a few minutes, it relieves stress, fosters positivity, makes you more productive and hopeful, and brightens your day. Most importantly — you deserve it, you beautiful human, you!
2. Always have a project in the pipeline. And no, I don’t mean a work-related project! Think of something new you would like to try, or a creative outlet that you have already tapped into, and set some goals. You can have one, or many, and they can be short or long-term; the possibilities are endless! This way, in those moments when we obsess about the stresses of work, and our minds begin to swim with the worries of the future, we can instead occupy our minds with the next fun thing we will be working on. Get excited, make plans, carve out time to work on these projects, and then revel in your accomplishments. For instance, I love taking photographs, so I will decide on a subject matter and find time to create a series of photos on it. So whether you like painting, glass blowing, building things, or crocheting cats, have at it! Do whatever it is that floats your feline-obsessed boat! You do you!
3. Celebrate your victories. Even small ones. I mean it!! Life is all about the small victories, and if we waited around to only celebrate the big ones, we wouldn’t be spending nearly enough time celebrating! Share your accomplishments with your loved ones and strangers alike, learn to take compliments and praise, give yourself a pat on the back and treat yourself to a glass of your favorite wine. You deserve it! For instance, you need to clean your whole house, and you’ve just finished one drawer. Yes, the amount of work you still have left to do is daunting, but you are that much closer to completion! Woohoo! Go you! When you focus on what you have already achieved, it grows your confidence in your ability to keep achieving more. Celebrating just makes us want to create more reasons to celebrate! So put on your metaphorical party hat, and get down with your bad self. You rock!
Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?
Recently a dear friend of mine recommended that I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I was definitely curious because I am someone who has a deep love of order and organization — in large part because I have so much chaos going on in my restless mind. I picked up the book and devoured it right away. First of all, I loved the author’s firm but positive, encouraging voice; it reminded me of my mother and often made me laugh out loud. Second of all, this woman is an absolute genius and once I had completed her method in its full glory, I stepped back to admire the fruits of my labor. You guys! My house is immaculately organized! This makes me deliriously happy. However, this is only one of so many gifts that this book gave me. Another lesson I learned is that sometimes all you need to do is to shift your perspective. Instead of looking at something as a chore, you need to look at it with positivity and excitement. Furthermore, Marie says to “Surround yourself only with the things you love.” She says to hold everything you own in your hands and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, discard it. I found that this particular lesson applied not only to the material things that I was able to move on from and discard, but all aspects of my life. If something does not bring me joy, I do my best to move on from it.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to start a movement where we could develop Sleep Education comprised of seminars, networks, and therapies all focused around sleep. There are so many ways that you can get guidance and support when it comes to other health-related topics, yet for some reason sleep seems to be less of a priority. There needs to be a massive change in bringing knowledge, awareness, and support about sleep to every single human being. Often people are living their lives in a fog, yet it doesn’t even occur to them that poor sleep could be the issue behind it. Others know that lack of sleep and sleep quality is the very thing that plagues them and they are desperate for answers, but find they have no place to turn. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I would love for people to become more mindful of the impact of sleep on their wellness, and literally every aspect of their waking lives. This sort of focus and care when it comes to sleep could make a colossal impact on health and wellness worldwide.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Mattresses and pillows are typically not a frivolous purchase. Most often, when people reach the decision that they need a new mattress or pillow, it is not because they are looking for a luxury item, but because they have been sleeping and living in pain. I think that the way I bring goodness into the world is by taking the time to ask questions of my customers, gaining their trust and drawing them out so that they can share what often feel like intimate details of their lives and sleep. Then I work really closely with them, sharing my knowledge and experience to empower and educate them to make better choices regarding their sleep. I try to show them another way, a brighter future, and inspire hope and faith that everyone can improve their sleep. Pairing people with the right products, and sending them home with a renewed emphasis on the power of sleep, has a wide ripple effect. When people are sleeping better, and witnessing firsthand the absolutely priceless benefits of that sleep, they are eager to share their stories and spread that awareness to their loved ones, in turn helping them find their own way to more restful sleep. We like to say at Honeydew that helping people wake up happy is our passion, one dream at a time. What we mean by that is that often times the best way to help spread goodness to the world is by helping one person at a time find their good night’s sleep, and you can see the effects of that naturally end up reaching many, many more people.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. There is no one perfect formula to getting a good night’s sleep. Like many things in life, sleep falls on a spectrum. It is fluid and fluctuates, often unpredictably. There are so many factors that contribute to a good night’s sleep, and we can’t control all of them. The only thing we can do is make sleep a priority, listen to our bodies, share our stories, and keep striving for better sleep every single day. Everyone seems to be on the search for a way to sleep well, all night, every single night. Unfortunately, there is no such solution. Understanding this can free us in a way. Each day is different, so how can we expect each night to be the same? Having the knowledge that sleep will naturally ebb and flow can help take some of the pressure off of the pursuit of perfection. The truth is that there is no easy fix here, but despite that, there are still many things we can do to set ourselves up for success.
2. We need to personalize our sleep routines, because we are all different, and so are our needs. I am a long-suffering insomniac, and looking back, I have always been trying to find ways to catch those often elusive zzz’s. I remember being a small child at night, laying in the dark singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in my head to try to lull myself back to sleep. In High School, I would fall asleep to the musical stylings of Destiny’s Child. “Say My Name” could often be heard softly serenading me throughout the night. And in college I would have romantic comedies playing on TV all night long. Today, I sleep next to my husband who likes the room blackout dark and completely silent, so needless to say I have had to adjust! There is no one-size-fits-all mattress, and there is no one-size-fits-all sleep solution. We have to find what works for us individually. Figuring out and improving our sleep patterns is much like finding the right diet or exercise routine. It may take some trial and error, but if we keep trying, we will succeed.
3. I wish I had known how important it is to put ourselves and our stories out there. It took me some time to come out of my shell on this one. I can throw facts and figures at people all day, I can share new developments, technological advancements, and studies in the industry, and all of that is important — but often simply sharing our own stories, struggles, and successes can be the most enlightening and helpful thing for someone to hear. It is difficult to let others see the good, the bad, and the ugly in us, but this can actually be the best way to connect, find common ground, and reach solutions together.
4. It is so important to listen to other people’s stories, develop relationships, and follow up. Much like sharing your own story can benefit others, engaging with people, and listening to their stories can broaden your scope of knowledge and understanding. I often spend precious time reaching out and talking to our customers. Hearing what people are going through, what they have tried, what they have struggled with, plays such a crucial role in assessing their needs and finding the right solution for them. Insomnia can be so isolating, and communication is the key to tackling that loneliness.
5. I never knew, in my wildest dreams, how fulfilling a career in sleep and wellness could be. Like I have mentioned before, my aspirations were in a completely different field, and in a lot of ways I had to give up the life that I had grown up picturing for myself. My life looks dramatically different than what I always thought I wanted, and yet I am happier than I ever imagined I could be. What I have learned from this is that what feels like failure, can often just be a change of course that can lead you to your ultimate purpose in life. I have said it time and time again, but helping people is absolutely my purpose, and now I have a career that allows me to do that every day. We have also been able to donate pillows to people who have shared their stories with us but couldn’t afford to make the investment. One particular woman wrote in just asking some questions and in the process revealed to us that she had a very sick child, and a host of health problems of her own. Her challenges and will to keep moving forward and fighting touched our hearts and so we sent her some pillows on us. The heartfelt letter that we got in return was just so rewarding. We were able to directly deliver joy and relief to a person in need, and nothing fills up our hearts more than that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
One of my favorite life quotes has always been “We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another” by Luciano De Crescenzo, an Italian actor, writer, director and engineer. I believe that we need each other, and that lifting up others helps lift us up as well. I believe in collaboration and community. One of things that brings me the most joy and fulfillment in life is reaching out, connecting with people, and lending them a hand whenever possible. I am certain that loving each other, being kind to each other, and giving back to those in need, are the keys to a happy life.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
If I had the opportunity to have lunch with an influential person, I would choose RuPaul. This is a person who is a titan in their industry, someone who had a passion and faith in something that posed significant opposition and challenges, and despite that, they forged ahead toward their dreams — glitter, sequins, and all. She is someone that I have a deep respect and admiration for, not only for her spectacular success, but for her love of others. She has stood as a beacon of hope for people who have often felt lonely, displaced, and marginalized. Mama Ru constantly loves, supports, promotes, and shines the light on others. She believed in herself, and now she helps others believe in their own dreams and aspirations. She is such a positive influence in so many lives, and uses her platform to offer a family, and a place to belong, to those who sometimes are desperately in need of that. And of course, I believe she would make me laugh. Like side-splitting, happy-tears belly laughs. And who wouldn’t want to have lunch with someone that fabulous? Besides, I’m all about that fiery, blingy, sassy, sequin life! In my heart and soul, I truly believe I have a little bit of that drag queen spirit, and it’s one of the things I love about myself. As RuPaul would say, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?! Can I get an amen?”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow me and the rest of the Honeydew crew @honeydewsleep, my personal account @evits.be.cray, or via Jonny’s account @thatfunkykunke. Each of our accounts posts different things, so that is the best way to get a full picture of what is going on in our lives at any given moment.
Thank you for all of these great insights!