These trailblazing women are innovating and disrupting the world of wellbeing. To mark International Women’s Day, we reveal the stories behind their success.
Any way you look at it, self-care is big business. The wellness industry is considered one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world, with the most recent Global Wellness Institute figures putting its value at about $6.8 trillion. But the new breed of Aussie ‘wellnesspreneurs’ are motivated by much more than a healthy bottom line.
“Our team shares the common goals of celebrating women, encouraging women to lead healthier and happier lives through movement, and doing what we can to make positive change in the community,” says Nimble Activewear co-founder Katia Santilli.
Grit, determination and a desire to solve real-life problems are key to success within the wellness world. “My advice to aspiring wellness disruptors is to believe wholeheartedly in what you’re doing and be prepared to work hard,” says Anna Lahey, the co-founder of ingestible beauty brand Vida Glow. “Be innovative and authentic. It’s too late to be following a trend.”
This new generation of women disrupting the self-care sector each share a passion for making life that little bit sweeter for everyday Australians. Accessibility, education, sustainability and research form the cornerstone of their offerings.
From sex education and reproductive health to skin care and fabric technology, each one shares a passion for empowering ordinary people to take control of their body, mind and wellbeing — and make a change for the better. Here’s our list of the Aussie women to watch in wellness in 2020 and beyond…
Fertility expert on a mission
Natural-fertility guru Nat Kringoudis isn’t afraid to ask questions — in fact she’s built an empire on it. The doctor of Chinese medicine and acupuncturist is the host of two podcasts — The Wellness Collective and The Period Party — as well as the healthtalks YouTube channel. She’s also the founder of Melbourne fertility and women’s clinic The Pagoda Tree and author of two wellness books.
“In the past, we’ve often had the fear of God put in us if we think outside the box or question our healthcare provider,” says Nat. But she’s made it her mission to change that.
Her motto, ‘your body is talking, it’s time to listen’, is the basis of that mission — helping women learn how to listen to our symptoms rather than drown out the vital messages our bodies are carrying about our health. And her message is getting through — her no-BS approach reaches more than 150,000 women daily and is changing our understanding of hormone health.
“Too often we look at our health as a very complex ‘problem’ or overcomplicate it completely mostly because we don’t really understand our own bodies well enough,” Nat says. “I love to simplify women’s health, to really allow women to understand themselves and their hormones, to allow them to make educated and informed choices or at least ask the right questions to get the answers they individually need.”
When asked what the best part of her job is, Nat is quick to answer that it’s the opportunity to share her knowledge. “My husband has told me that my face lights up when I’m tapping away on my computer, answering peoples questions and interacting on social media.
“That said, helping women with their fertility and having them announce their very secret and early pregnancy to me… that’s a pretty good feeling, too!”
Follow her @natkringoudis.
Osteopath on wheels
Osteopath Fiona Hooper has always been passionate about making health care accessible to everyone. The logistics of connecting with the people who need her most has proved challenging, though, so she’s taken matters into her own hands.
“I’ve created a pop-up clinic on wheels. I had a caravan purpose-built so I can take osteopathy to rural locations that have limited health services,” says Fiona.
Having suffered three miscarriages and adrenal burnout, Fiona knows just how important self-care is.
“Turning my personal misfortunes into a passion that I can now share with others on a larger scale is a huge inspiration … my two kids are a daily reminder of what health and happiness looks like.”
Follow her @fionahooper_osteo.
When Kristy Chong launched Modibodi in 2013, she didn’t just disrupt a category, she created a new one. After suffering from postnatal light bladder leakage, Kristy was inspired to find a more sustainable and empowering approach to period and incontinence products. Modibodi undies are made from a patented fabric that absorbs sweat, odours and up to 20 ml of liquid.
“When I launched, I underestimated how big a challenge it would be. Large retailers found the product too taboo, so we had to go direct to the customer and build this category awareness and education around our offering.”
While her business is built on innovation, Kristy is driven by a desire to reduce stigma and shame about our bodies. “The more able we are to speak openly about these topics, the more innovations in the worlds of Femtech and women’s health we’ll have.”
Follow her @modibodi.
Cate Lilja and Karissa Mather
Two unlikely shared passions — gut health and sustainability — led to friends Cate Lilja and Karissa Mather founding Optima Nutricosmetics two years ago. Years of research and development helped fine-tune the formula for their first product, Complete Skin Food Elixir.
The friends knew they wanted to take a disruptive approach and shake things up by letting science take precedence over marketing. Research informs every decision – from sourcing the most ethical suppliers to sustainable biodegradable packaging – a process that has proven trying on more than one occasion. “As we know better, we can do better. We learnt to be flexible and evolve as knowledge allows,” Karissa says.
Follow her @optima_nutricosmetics.
Katia Santilli and Vera Yan
Katia and Vera disproved the adage ‘never go into business with friends or flatmates’ when they launched Nimble Activewear in 2013. Spotting a gap in the market for fashion-forward gym gear, they launched the brand from their Bondi apartment and quickly gained a cult following for their luxe fabrics and stylish cuts.
In 2015 the company developed its own high-performance materials made from recycled bottles. “One of the biggest challenges has been how fast we’ve grown, which sounds like a humble brag but it’s not!” says Vera. “With the rapid growth we’ve had big growing pains. We’re a completely self-funded business so we’ve had to be strategic and calculated with our funds, but it’s helped us to become better business owners and that can only be a great thing.”
Follow them @nimbleactivewear.
Georgia Van Tiel
Georgia Van Tiel made a name for herself when she launched and sold fitness concept Bodypass, but it’s her work with non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip that’s having a serious cultural impact. “Since launching, our aim has been to encourage venues and drinkers alike to forget the fruity, sweet and childish mocktails, and experience a sophisticated adult alternative,” Georgia says.
As the health and wellness ambassador and head of marketing for Seedlip, Georgia is at the forefront of the mindful-drinking movement, challenging cultural norms around how and why we drink. “Australians are becoming increasingly focused on moderation and taking note in how best to balance health and lifestyle factors, and overall are actually drinking less!” says Georgia. “I’m really proud to be part of a company that’s helping to buck the mentality that not drinking is boring and championing the mindful drinker.”
Seedlip is indeed spearheading a revolution. “We’re seeing whole pages in the cocktail menus of top bars and restaurants now being devoted to non-alcoholic drinking options, so the change is definitely coming!”
Follow her @georgiavantiel.
The intimacy educator has a very clear mission — to help women live a more pleasurable life. And so she created Yoni Mapping Therapy, a guided tour of the female pelvic area, to give women practical tools and approaches to help them find more pleasure, overcome patterns of sexual shame and feel more confident in their bodies — and in the bedroom.
“Sexual wellness is absolutely essential to our overall health,” says Bonnie, who not only runs workshops for women and/or their partners to help them map their vaginas for maximum pleasure, but also trains other professionals in her method to help as many women as possible. “One of my favourite things is when I get women coming up to me on the street saying: ‘I have no idea what you taught my partner, but oh my God, thank you!’”
Follow her @yonimappingtherapy.
In a world full of self-ordained online ‘experts’, Ellie is a nutritional authority who can walk the talk. The dietitian and nutritionist is one of the most famous plant-based food influencers, with an Instagram following of more 700,000.
Her popularity has translated to two bestselling cookbooks tapping into the zeitgeist for all things plant-based. Now Ellie is rapidly following in the footsteps of her personal hero Jamie Oliver to become a global food superstar. So what is her secret sauce? “I believe I have a more gentle approach to veganism. I like to encourage all people to try out a plant-based diet, even if it’s only once a week rather that an all or nothing approach.”
Follow her @elsas_wholesomelife.
Australia’s fitness queen
Global success was never a #lifegoal for Adelaide-based fitness mogul Kayla Itsines. But her instinct for understanding women’s bodies and incredible track record to get amazing results meant that when she created her first online program with then-boyfriend (now fiancé) Tobi Pearce in 2014, an empire was born. The downloadable ebook evolved into an app, Sweat with Kayla and grew a global audience of more than 30 million women. Sweat is considered to be the largest fitness community on the planet, with Kayla being named one of TIME’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2018, and her and Tobi estimated to be worth $486 million.
Kayla says the secret of her success (which includes 12.2 million followers on Instagram and 28 million on Facebook) is not really about her as a personality, but rather her approach to her followers. “Some people say community,” she says. “I say family. It’s like a big group of sisters. It’s a community of women who just want to support each other and see each other do well. They talk to each other and they do meet-ups, they go on boat cruises with each other. It’s just this amazing community of friends who are healthy and fit and support each other through it.”
Kayla, who gave birth to a baby girl last year, regularly posts photos of her close-knit family who she maintains are her number-one inspiration. “[Mum] said ‘don’t give other people the right to talk about you’, and that was huge for me,” she says. “So I just make sure that everything that surrounds me is positive.”
Follow her @kayla_itsines.
She’s the founder of Vida Glow, one of the most popular ingestible beauty brands in the world, with a devoted customer base in Australia and across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Her brilliant business idea came from solving a real-life problem. “In my late teens and early 20s I really struggled with growing my hair and nails,” Anna recalls. While visiting a friend in Japan, Anna tried marine-collagen supplements and became a convert when she saw results almost immediately.
With the help of backers, Anna launched Vida Glow internationally in 2014 and hasn’t looked back. “In order to be successful, you cannot worry too much about what people are doing to the left or the right of you. I’ve learnt to stay in my lane, focusing on how we can offer our customers the best products,” Anna says. “It’s always a ‘pinch me’ moment when I hear about the positive impact our products are having on people’s health and beauty.”
Follow her @vida_glow and @anna.lahey.