This is part of our ongoing series, Real Talk, where we feature real folks and real convos that are important, inspiring and true to us. Today, our founder does a bite-sized Q&A on wellness, starting a business and Traditional Chinese Medicine with The Inside Outside founder Anne Zhou.
Goldune: Hi Anne! First of all, obsessed with The Inside Outside. Everything looks amazing. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey as a founder and what pushed you to start the business? We know you have an awesome origin story and spent a lot of time in your family's herbal shop growing up, but would love to learn more and get a little deeper into what got you to where you are now.
Anne: I’ve always wanted to launch a brand rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) because it’s so near and dear to my family and I. During the height of the pandemic, I started noticing TCM ingredients in wellness products and realized that Chinese herbs are kind of having a moment in the wellness space (I have been taking adaptogenic herbs since I was a kid and only recently did I learned what adaptogens are!).
Seeing this surge of recognition of adaptogens and the usage of TCM pushed me to start my own business. I consulted with my family on the different formulations and once we locked down the ingredients for each herbal tea, it was a matter of getting the operational pieces together. I worked within my network to find people or resources to help me with what I lack knowledge and experience in. I worked with two awesome women -- Ayaka Terakawa, the brand designer, who set the look and feel of the brand (including designing the packaging label as well as print and digital assets), and Cynthia Yeung, who art directed and photographed the final products. I have a background in front-end engineering so I managed to develop our website. All in all, it took about 4 months to get everything together to launch (we launched in October)!
Goldune: Love it! Kindred spirits-- we launched in October and took about three or four months from conception to launch too. How has your launch journey been?
Anne: I wanted to start small to get a sense of organic interest in the product. We developed a pretty small, but active and engaged community on Instagram that are interested in learning more about different TCM ingredients and how our products can help with their wellness concerns. Since launching, we had a great opportunity to retail at Canal Street Market and got a chance to meet with customers in person who were able to try out the herbal teas and talk to them about all things TCM, as well!
Goldune: Growing up in your family business and close to Traditional Chinese Medicine practices, you must have had a wealth of knowledge even before you founded The Inside Outside. What's your take on some of the more zeitgeist-y wellness trends we've been seeing take off in the US lately? (Or even just the advent of a whole industry built around "wellness"?) We're curious what makes you shake your head, or on the flipside, if there are ingredients or herbs you're happy are getting more attention on Instagram than they were in years past.
Anne: I’ve always wanted to launch a brand rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine because it’s so near and dear to my family and I. During the height of the pandemic, I started noticing TCM ingredients in wellness products and realized that Chinese herbs are kind of having a moment in the wellness space (I have been taking adaptogenic herbs since I was a kid and only recently did I hear about them as "adaptogens!").
It’s so great to see that TCM is getting more recognition and acceptance in the mainstream wellness space, but at the same time, it didn’t sit right with me when brands try to obscure the origins of these herbal ingredients with marketing terms like “ancient healing rituals.” For me and many others, TCM is not a new age trend, it’s just medicine, whether through food or herbal drinks, that have been used and passed along for thousands of years.
I wanted to build a brand that fully honors and respects the ancestral origins and heritage from which the herbs come, and that embraces the principles of taking a holistic approach to physical, mental and spiritual balance. Inspired by my parents, who are small business owners themselves, promoting, educating, and normalizing TCM, I wanted to proudly own the fact that the brand is all about TCM. My goal is to share the transformative health benefits of the diverse herbs that have supported my well-being and make them accessible to the modern consumer.
What makes The Inside Outside unique is that we are proudly a TCM-wellness company, using only TCM ingredients in our herbal blends. We strive to keep our formulation blend simple, oftentimes with 4-10 ingredients, and provide transparency and education everywhere we can on our website (like this herbal glossary!) and on social media. We provide pictures of the dried herb, the common English name, the Chinese pinyin, the Chinese characters, and a short description of each ingredient function so that customers know exactly what they are consuming and are confident in the efficacy of the herbs to deliver tangible results. I love that herbs like Angelica Root (Dang Gui) and Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen) are gaining more recognition!
Goldune: The representation of Chinatown feels like an important motif in your work and your brand. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Anne: Aside from individual self-care, I believe that wellness is also about your community. Chinatown, where my roots are, is one of the neighborhoods in NYC that was largely affected by the impact of the pandemic and anti-Asian sentiment. Whenever I have the opportunity, I advocate for organizations like Welcome To Chinatown to help support small businesses and my community. They are a grassroots initiative to support Chinatown businesses and amplify community voices to preserve one of New York's most vibrant neighborhoods.
Goldune: Best part and worst part of starting your own business in this topsy turvy year?
Anne: I think the best way to answer this is there are so many challenges in starting your own business no matter when you do it, especially doing it for the first time. Personally, I don't think there's a "worst" part -- there's always risk with starting your own business. The hardest part is getting started! Being inspired by an idea is one thing, researching, executing, and taking action is another. I see challenges as learning opportunities, and from the beginning, set realistic expectations about customer demand, and learned a lot about e-commerce and retail as a whole. The best part though is definitely meeting and hearing from customers on how they incorporate our herbal tea blends into their daily lives. From friends and family to new customers and other small business owners, I sincerely thank them for trying out our herbal blends, giving feedback, and sharing our TCM products to the larger community.
Goldune: Dream customer for The Inside Outside?
Anne: Chrissy Teigen!
Goldune: Dream retailer?
Anne: Whole Foods :)