By Bailey Beckett
For Lyss Stern, this one is personal. A well-known, parent-focused entrepreneur on the Upper East Side, the forty-something mother contracted COVID last spring and has spent the last year recovering from its effects. As a long hauler, she still suffers symptoms even though she’s technically recovered. Days are filled with exhaustion. Headaches. Long-windedness. And her sense of taste has still not returned.
But rather than wallow in grief, Stern has used her experience as inspiration to start two new business ventures with roots in COVID. The first is a mask design set for children called Kadoodle Kids. Her latest is a gift box set for people still suffering from an illness called Chamama.
“Contracting COVID was a life-changing experience, which I’m still experiencing,” said Stern. “It showed me how fragile life is. And not just health-wise, but how you live your day to day: routines, habits, obligations. Everything went out the window. There’s no aspect of my business and industry that hasn’t been affected.”
Not only was she suffering, but her three kids were too. Slave to phones, video games, computers, and television, children across the nation also dealt with social isolation and lethargy. Determined to shake things up, Stern and two friends—Pam Mandell and Jodi Okun—joined together to create Kadoodle Kids, a series of mask design sets for kids that provide a tactile, hands-on activity unplugged from technology. Box sets come with masks, markers, stamps, stickers, and other goodies to inspire out-of-the-box (literally!) thinking.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to put down their phones and gadgets and go back to playing,” said Stern, who also runs her marketing firm DivaMoms from her home. “Kadoodle Kids’ masks allow children to use their brains, creativity, fine motor skills, and express their emotions through decoration and design. Plus, as kids get more engrossed in playing with the kits, mom and dad get rest and peace of mind that their children are engaged in something meaningful.”
Her other venture, Chamama, is set to debut this spring. It’s a gift box rooted in health, wellness, and self-care. Each one includes such items as Wisdom Essentials’ Dream CBD oils and bath products, Declaré’s Skin Meditation Masks and Bath Soaks, Halodin’s antiseptic nose swabs and mouth rinse, Kusami’s fragrant teas, VitaFive’s gummy vitamins. These highly curated items bring a smile to the face of anyone battling illness pandemic—or not. Stern launched it with Liza Maltz, a New York City birth doula and founder of Have A Nanny (haveananny.com), who helped Stern take care of the family during her bout with COVID. “Chamama is a true passion project for me,” said Stern. “It was important for me to be able to bring some comfort and cheer those suffering from the virus.”
And because of its popularity, brands have been lining up to have their products included. “We jumped at the chance to put Wisdom Essentials’ Dream Oil into Chamama NYC boxes,” said the brand’s founder Tom Lamb. “Our supplements are all natural and infused with CBD, which is known to help people with calm, focus, sleep, and relieve pain and anxiety. We know from working with Lyss and Liza those are their goals which makes including our Dream oil a perfect collaboration.” Adds co-founder Denis Keane: “Like Lyss, I suffered COVID last year, and we both still struggle with some of the symptoms as long haulers. Chamama NYC appealed to me instantly. These are incredibly thoughtful, curated gift sets. Wisdom Essentials’ Dream Oil is a perfect addition.”
For Stern, these projects are more than businesses. “It’s an appreciation for community and the communal experience, and that’s what I’ve focused on my whole career. Bringing people together, sharing opinions, thoughts, suggestions, anecdotes, advice. Creating a network where we can enjoy the common experience. COVID showed us and the world we’re not alone. We’re in this together. I’ve always believed that when things get out of control, focus on something you can control. And if it doesn’t exist, create it.”