Health and Wellness Stephanie Morimoto Says Quitting Her Corporate Job Was the Best Decision She's Ever Made The Asutra CEO talks to InStyle about changing the conversation around mental health in the Asian community. By Audrey Noble Audrey Noble Twitter Audrey Noble is NYC-based contributing beauty commerce writer. She covers all things beauty, hair products, and makeup. InStyle's editorial guidelines Published on May 9, 2023 @ 03:14PM Pin Share Tweet Email Imagine finally reaching the top of the corporate ladder and feeling...terrible. In another era, one wouldn't dare admit that — or they'd find a way to push through it for the sake of success. These days, though, it's a common thought among many experiencing burnout as a result of hustle culture, and Asutra owner and CEO Stephanie Morimoto is one of them. "I spent a dozen years in fundraising and partnerships for national nonprofits in the education space and I honestly hit a burnout wall when I was working in the nonprofit arena," Morimoto tells InStyle. "I was working 18-hour days flying across the country [and] just responsible for a lot, and feeling like I was burning the candle at both ends." When Morimoto finally walked away from what others may deem a successful career, she discovered a path that was more meaningful. In a conversation with InStyle, Morimoto discusses partnering with Venus Williams for her brand, how the conversation around mental health is changing within the Asian community, and the importance of fulfilling an actual need in the wellness industry. InStyle: What inspired you to buy Asutra? Stephanie Morimoto: I was networking a lot to try to find the right business. Somebody said, "I just saw that this wellness business is for sale. It might be right up your alley." I looked at the name, Asutra, and realized that I'd been buying this product. I had their products in my apartment. The original product line was organic yoga mat cleaning sprays; I'm big into yoga and pilates and so I had been buying that on Amazon. Then, you know how they recommend other items for you? So I realized that they have a pain relief cream with magnesium in it — and they have a magnesium spray and all these other things. So I tried those and loved the products, and I thought, "Okay, this feels a little bit like destiny." I talked to the two brothers and their wives who founded it. They're serial entrepreneurs, so they were excited to sell the business to somebody who is a loyal customer and build their next thing. I thought, "Gosh, there's real potential here." It was really only being sold on Amazon, and I thought, "There's an opportunity to build a real brand, build a story and a community, and expand this brand into retail and other channels so that we can reach more people." So, long story short, that's the journey that led me to say I want to do something in wellness. I want to share what I've learned with other people. How has your definition of wellness changed? You don't see a lot of Asian American people talking about wellness and mental health, and I think we have to talk about it more. So I want my story to be an example that hopefully inspires people to do what they need to do. For me, the definition of self-care is not just about taking baths or doing yoga or whatever. It's about being very intentional about taking care of yourself. We call it taking care of yourself on purpose. What are the things you need to make sure that you're rested? Sleep, for example, is so important because it makes you more patient, more creative, and better at relating to other people. You have to really figure out where are you in your journey. Where are you in your life? What do you need to feel better holistically — mind, body, and soul? Create the space, and give yourself the grace and the time to do it. The other thing I would say is it's also really important to start with one thing. I think sometimes we can get inspired, like, "Oh, I'm going to be on this new regimen, New Year's resolutions, blah, blah, blah. "Then you try to do 17 things and that's not doable. What do you do to take care of your well-being now? Therapy was part of what I did in my 10-year wellness journey. I had to unlearn a lot of unhealthy practices about being a perfectionist, how my productivity was my worth, and that what I did was more important than who I was in the world. It was really life-changing for me to see that therapist. I didn't tell my parents about it at first. Eventually, I got to a point in the therapy where I mentioned it to them. I was like, "Yeah, I've been a workaholic and I've been a perfectionist, and I have to change those parts of me if I want to live a happier life." So I shared with them that therapy and how it helped, and they were actually very open-minded and I think very glad to see me happier. The conversation about mental health within the Asian community is changing, but for the longest time it was never spoken about. Was this something you've experienced growing up? My mom is Chinese-Indonesian [and] immigrated here; she actually had to flee her home country of Indonesia during civil unrest in the '60s and came to the US. My dad is second-generation Japanese-American, but his parents, unfortunately, were a part of the group of Japanese-Americans that were incarcerated during World War II. So there are all these experiences that I think led to exactly what you're talking about of this hustle culture: We've got to work hard, got to prove ourselves in a variety of ways, and got to make it here in America. We didn't talk about mental health. We didn't talk about feelings. It was: "Work hard, be your best, get all As" — all that stuff. If you do all those things, things will work out, but you have to keep your head down and work hard. On the flip side, I got to see these really cool examples of entrepreneurship. My mom's mom is the one who had to be the breadwinner in the family. The skill she had was sewing, so she started as a seamstress in Los Angeles, and then she built her own pattern-making business designing patterns for big fashion brands. She worked super hard, but she still made time for the things that brought her joy in life; she loved cooking and eating and spending time with her grandkids. On my dad's side, my paternal grandfather worked his way through college and med school and became a doctor, and built his own practice in Joliet, Illinois. He was really committed to giving back to the community. So he created great jobs for people in a town where those were hard to come by. So, there was this hustle culture, but then I saw these cool examples of how you could be your own person by building your own business or practice. How did Venus Williams get involved with Asutra? The Venus story is wild because her team cold-emailed us. I was like, "I don't know. Maybe this is a sales call." But it turns out, we had some friends in common, and I thought, "I'll take the call." So I take the call and they're asking me all these questions about our story. Finally, I said, "Well, how did you find out about us?" And they said, "Well, you're probably not going to believe this, but Venus Williams uses your pain relief creams. Her trainer found them on Amazon, and she loves them. They work really well for her, but she'd never heard of your brand. So she said, 'Hey, can you guys look into this brand? I'm curious about it.' That's why we called you." Of course, my jaw dropped. That's amazing. So what's it like working with her? She's so awesome and down to earth, and she's like, "I love what you stand for. I love the natural ingredients. I love that you're women-owned. I love this idea of intentional self-care. I'd love to join the team." So she joined us in 2019 as a part owner and chief brand officer. So she'll make announcements for us, press interviews, that kind of thing. It's been great. For us, it's been really cool. She was diagnosed with Sjogren's, an autoimmune disease, so she's obviously been on her own wellness journey, which put a real cramp in her tennis performance. She didn't know for so long why she felt fatigued, and she had to make pretty radical changes. She's a big proponent of our magnesium products and our sleep aids. We also have a lavender chamomile sleep spray that you can put on your pillow and a weighted lavender silk mask. She's like, "I love these things. I have to sleep. Sleep is so important to my health and performance." So it's been kind of cool to see how she's incorporated different things into her lifestyle to feel better. What's the biggest challenge you faced launching the brand? The biggest challenge is cutting through the noise; there are so many new brands and so many products. We haven't raised outside capital, so we're bootstrapped. With a limited marketing budget, there's only so much you can do. We have been able to grow organically without a huge marketing budget, but I think raising awareness about who we are and what we're offering is really the biggest challenge. What advice do you have for others wanting to break into the wellness space? This was actually a piece of advice that a different entrepreneur, the guy who started Rx Bar, gave to me when I first bought Asutra. He was so generous with his advice and said, "You've got to make sure you've got product-market fit." A lot of founders kid themselves because they're so in love with their idea — but you've really got to look at the data and make sure you're paying attention to the key metrics to see and ask, "Are you really growing this organically? Are there people who need this solution? And then are they coming back and repeat purchasing it?" It's such a simple piece of advice, but I think it's so key. The other thing I would say is always be driven by purpose. It's not just about making money. It's about whether are we doing something to make the world a better place. If you're not adding to that, I think especially in wellness, then maybe it's not the right thing to do. Beauty Boss profiles the brains behind the brands making waves in the beauty industry. From the ideas that first inspire brands to how best-selling hair, makeup, and skincare products are made, find out how these leaders get it done.