When an autoimmune disease unexpectedly struck Pilates instructor Elaine Morrison down, the cure changed her life. It inspired her to launch a collagen-based wellness business to help others. Here, she shares the lessons she has learned from doing it differently.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
My journey from certified Pilates instructor to wellness and beauty entrepreneur started in 2013 when I had to rebuild my health after it suddenly nosedived. I was managing two Pilates studios for a private club in Los Angeles, working six days a week teaching and burning the candle at both ends.
I first noticed my symptoms when I couldn’t zip up a new pair of pants, even though my fitness and diet program was unchanged. Then came extreme fatigue, which wouldn’t go away even after sleeping for ten hours. My skin became dry and lacklustre, losing its glow. I developed Guttate psoriasis all over my body, from scalp to ankles. I was alarmed when my hair stylist pointed out that my hair was breaking and falling out.
I read everything I could about how to reverse autoimmunity through diet. It was not a route endorsed by my doctors, but I had nothing to lose. I had been a vegetarian and vegan for 24 years, but I started an autoimmune Paleo diet. Initially, I eliminated gluten, grains and dairy, then slowly added fish to my repertoire.
Collagen kept coming up again and again as an essential hair, skin and nail supplement, so I took that, too. Within months, my Hashimoto’s had wholly reversed. My psoriasis faded, and my hair stylist told me that small baby hairs had reappeared, to my extreme relief and delight.
The experience left me with an unshakeable belief that health and beauty were interconnected. So, I launched Elaine Wellness with collagen because it played an essential role in my healing and because it serves as a critical reminder that small dietary changes can be life-changing.
Starting a business takes courage. What obstacles did you have to overcome?
There have been so many obstacles that I’ve overcome in starting and running my business. Entrepreneurship is often glamorised and made to seem like it’s so simple just to wake up, start a business and be an overnight success. But it takes grit, determination, problem solving and tenacity.
I often say that entrepreneurship is a spiritual journey. It will take you so far out on a limb of discomfort, but that’s where your personal growth begins. Impostor syndrome creeps in, self-doubt, not feeling capable, and fear of being seen have all triggered me as I’ve grown my business, but I’m grateful for the lessons and the opportunity to grow and change.
What challenges have you faced running your business, and how did you resolve them?
The challenges come daily, and entrepreneurship requires daily problem solving and troubleshooting. Everything from supply chain issues last year, when I couldn’t source collagen from my supplier and had to start over, to Amazon losing my inventory for four months. The way I resolve everything is by buckling down and figuring it out over and over again.
What achievement/s you are most proud of and why?
I had a high school teacher shame me in front of the class by telling me I was pretty but stupid and that I wouldn’t ever amount to anything. That really impacted me for a long time. I’m proud of graduating from UC Santa Barbara and making the dean’s list. I’m proud of following my dream to start my own business to help support women’s health and wellbeing.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you address it?
I often feel impostor syndrome. Who I am to start a business in an industry in which I have no experience? Who am I to talk about healing autoimmunity when I don’t have a fancy degree? I push, show up, and offer value to my customers and audience.
Life experiences create wisdom that’s worth sharing. I think being an entrepreneur in midlife, having worked in various industries from fitness to fashion to finance, gives me a lot of different perspectives and experiences to draw on as I build my business.
Who has been your biggest champion on your journey, and how did they help you?
I was introduced to Reza Mirza, CEO of Icelandic Glacial. His kindness struck me in our brief phone call and his willingness to give suggestions and ideas. He’s spent his career in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) and taught me so much about knowing and managing my numbers. I tend to be much more interested in the creative side and sales, and he kept me accountable for knowing my financials inside and out. I’m grateful for Reza’s encouragement and belief in my ability to succeed when I doubted myself. He’s been a great sounding board, has answered so many questions for me, and introduced me to his contacts. He’s also kept me accountable and pushed me when I needed it.
What skills do you believe women must have to succeed as a leader?
I believe successful leaders listen, collaborate, build consensus and take action. It also means learning from mistakes, taking those learnings, and growing from them. Women have a very powerful sense of inner knowing or intuition. Often we’re talked out it from a very young age. I learned some very hard lessons by overriding my intuition at the beginning of starting my brand. Always trust your intuition. It never lies.
Work/life balance can be difficult. What are your ‘tricks of the trade’?
I’m not always good at work-life balance. I recently started wearing an Oura ring which monitors sleep, activity, heart rate, temperature, etc. I never ever nap or take a full day off to just do nothing. There was a Sunday that I was so exhausted and ended up taking a two-hour nap. My Oura ring was over the moon with excitement that I rested. It gave me extra points. It was a much-needed lesson that resting is indeed productive!
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
There is a tonne of things I would have done differently. Listening to my intuition even when supposed experts were telling me otherwise. Not outsourcing jobs to other people before I fully understood them myself. During the early days of COVID and staying at home, I spent weeks learning all aspects of e-commerce so that I could do them myself, and when I do hire help, I know the lingo and what the job requires.
Elaine Morrison’s Top 3 Leadership Lessons Learned
1. Listen to your intuition.
2. Don’t outsource before you understand the job requirements you are outsourcing.
3. Find a community of other entrepreneurs that you can learn from, bounce ideas off, and find resources. Together we go further.
By Laini Bennett, MBA