Leading the Way: Women Pioneering Asia’s Health & Wellness Industry

Leading the Way: Women Pioneering Asia’s Health & Wellness Industry

As the global wellness space continues to expand, with a large proportion of businesses being founded and run by female entrepreneurs, we take a look at Asia’s continuing growth in the sector. 
The global wellness industry is undergoing a remarkable surge, propelled by the dynamism of female entrepreneurs who are making significant strides in the business landscape. According to data from American Express, women-owned businesses constitute a substantial 42% of all U.S. businesses, with Asian American women contributing 1.2 million or 9% to this figure. 

This trend is mirrored in Asia, where female entrepreneurship is steadily on the rise. Based on findings from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2019/2020 report, in China, 9.3% of women are delving into entrepreneurship, while in India and Korea, the rates stand at 8.7% and 12.2% respectively. Noteworthy spikes are observed in countries like Thailand and Malaysia, with figures soaring to 19.3% and 20.1% respectively, underscoring a robust inclination towards entrepreneurship among women. Additionally, in Vietnam and Indonesia, female entrepreneurial activity surpasses that of men, indicating a significant shift in the traditional business landscape. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this March, we sat down with some of Asia’s most influential female entrepreneurs, delving into the driving forces behind their remarkable success. 

Inspirational beginnings 
In the world of entrepreneurship, stories of inspiration often lead the way for those looking to forge their own paths. This rings true in sectors like wellness and hospitality, where individuals are driven by a commitment to personal growth and well-being.  

Lindsay Jang

For Lindsay Jang, a luminary in the wellness and hospitality domain, the journey began with a profound encounter with yoga. "My teacher, Yogananth Andiappan, was like no one I'd ever met," she reflects. "He gave me the opportunity to teach alongside him and at his studio, and it all just serendipitously fell into place." Jang's path to wellness was deeply intertwined with her passion for yoga, leading her to make the leap to Asia in 2009 to pursue her dreams. 

Tania Maria Aguila, co-founder of ONELIFE in San Juan City, Philippines, found herself at a crossroads after a decade in the corporate world. "In my last three years in that company, I found myself neglecting my overall health – mental, physical, spiritual, and social – and so I took action," she shares. Aguila's personal journey of self-care and renewal ignited a desire to share the transformative power of wellness with others. "When I found myself renewed and feeling my best again, that’s when I decided I wanted to share and to motivate others to go and give some time and care back to themselves," she says. Aguila's decision to embark on a sabbatical led her to discover yoga teacher training, laying the groundwork for ONELIFE – a sanctuary dedicated to holistic well-being. 

For Martha Waslen, the impetus for entering the wellness arena emerged during the height of the pandemic. "Unable to travel due to Covid restrictions, I was looking for an outlet to prioritise a little self-care and 'me' time," she recounts. Disappointed by the limited options for local escapes and experiences, Waslen recognised an untapped market waiting to be harnessed. "There seemed to be an obvious opportunity to connect an abundance of supply (facilities at hotels) to a growing demand for local escapes and experiences from people like me," she explains. Thus, her entrepreneurial journey in wellness began – a testament to the resilience and adaptability of female founders. “And so, like so many founders in the wellness industry, my journey was very much a personal one.” 

Solène Verrot, managing director of EstheClinic Hong Kong, found her calling in the convergence of beauty and technology. "I am from a very different background. I did law studies to finally end up in advertising but when I got the opportunity in 2019 to be a part of the EstheClinic family adventure I jumped in immediately," she reveals. Verrot's fascination with beauty products evolved into a passion for machine-related beauty treatments – a paradigm shift in the pursuit of holistic well-being. "Machine-related beauty is, for me, by far the most efficient and natural option to meet our beauty expectations and needs," she asserts. Embracing this new frontier in beauty, Verrot's journey underscores the transformative potential of innovation in wellness. 

Belinda Koo, founder of XYZ, a studio that offers spin, movement and mindfulness classes, draws inspiration from personal tragedy and academic pursuit. "The passing of my father from a heart attack when I was young made me realise the vital importance of cardiovascular movement," she shares. Koo's journey took a transformative turn as she pursued an MBA, ultimately crafting a thesis on launching a wellness brand. Motivated by her own health issues and passion for spinning, she founded XYZ. "It's about nurturing both the body and the mind, because true intelligence goes beyond the mind alone," Koo asserts, emphasising the holistic approach to wellness embodied by her brand. 

Diane van Zwanenberg, founder of Coconut Matter, found her calling in motherhood. "My daughter Jade! After she was born, I started to really look at what goes into our everyday personal care products," she reveals. Inspired by the desire to provide safe and natural products for her child, she embarked on a mission to create Coconut Matter – a brand dedicated to clean, worry-free skincare solutions. 

Lucid Moment's Melisa Fu O'Connor's journey into wellness began with a convergence of academic expertise and personal struggle. "With a strong academic background in nutritional sciences and genetics, my approach to wellness was heavily based on science and research-based knowledge," she explains. However, it was her battle with postnatal depression that sparked a profound transformation. Embracing ancient practices like Kundalini yoga and sound therapy, O'Connor experienced a shift in her well-being that defied conventional medical interventions. "Inspired by my own healing journey, I felt compelled to integrate these ancient practices with my academic knowledge," she reflects, underscoring the fusion of modern science and ancient wisdom that defines her approach to wellness. 

For Shannon Chabaud, CEO of Thrive Wellness, the journey into wellness was shaped by familial influence and a quest for holistic healing. "My journey into the realm of wellness was deeply influenced by the remarkable example set by my mother, who dedicated her life to nursing," she shares. Inspired by her mother's compassion, Chabaud pursued nursing, eventually gravitating towards naturopathy. "Witnessing the transformative power of holistic practices further fuelled my passion for wellness," she affirms, highlighting her commitment to guiding others towards balance and vitality through natural means. 

Sonia Samtani's journey into wellness began with her own transformative experience. "Who I am today is an amalgamation of my own transformational journey," she reflects. Struggling with insecurity and anxiety in her twenties, Samtani embarked on a path of self-discovery, ultimately becoming a mental health advocate. Through various modalities of therapy and counselling, she found her calling in hypnotherapy. Today, she runs an institute where she teaches hypnotherapy, embodying her commitment to holistic well-being. 

A surge in women-owned wellness brands 
The surge in women-owned wellness brands across Asia speaks volumes about the evolving landscape of entrepreneurship in the region. As more women step into leadership roles, they're not just shaping industries but also driving significant social and economic change.  

Anna Wong

Anna Wong of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW), an international business platform dedicated to broadening female fellows' access to resources and support, sheds light on this phenomenon. "There is an increasing number of wellness brands in Asia," she affirms. Wong highlights a trend in which professional women are transitioning from corporate roles to pursue careers as yoga or meditation instructors or to establish fitness studios. Additionally, she notes that women entrepreneurs across various sectors – such as food and beverage, healthcare, and beauty – are integrating wellness elements into their branding and communications strategies. 

Wong attributes this rise to two significant factors. Firstly, she points to the growing demand for wellness, propelled by the influence of social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Reddit. "Many people post pictures and videos of workouts, nutrition plans, gym content, and mental health," Wong explains. This increased exposure to wellness content has led millennials and Gen Z to invest more in activities related to appearance, fitness, and overall health. 

Secondly, Wong suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened global awareness of health and wellness concerns. "Not only have Gen Z invested in wellness, but so have earlier generations," she observes. As higher-income individuals reassess their spending habits, there's a discernible shift towards prioritising expenditures on nutritious foods, gym memberships, or personal trainers – a reflection of self-care being viewed as a long-term investment. 

In this evolving landscape, women entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunity to cater to the growing demand for holistic well-being, contributing to the vibrant ecosystem of wellness brands in Asia. 

“With technology bridging more communities of women together as well as the availability of more women-centric health information (or actually the illumination of the lack of), women health leaders are taking charge of filling that gap in preventive, rehabilitative healthcare,” adds Aguila. 

Waslen points to three economic factors driving this trend. "First, the fundamental shift to flexible and remote working conditions has allowed me to balance the demands of running a startup with raising two young kids," she explains. 

"Second, the increase in capital being invested in female-founded businesses has greatly helped to support the growth of our business, and our 90% female team," she adds. 

“Third, my deep-rooted connection to a booming $1.5T wellness industry as part of its target audience,” Waslen emphasises. 

Waslen believes the digital revolution has lowered entry barriers. "Social media and e-commerce platforms enable us to reach a broad audience with minimal overhead," she observes.  

“It used to be all about bringing brands from the West to the East, and now you see brands from the East going West –- that is such an incredible shift and one I don't see slowing down anytime soon,” adds Jang. 

“Women's inherent qualities, such as intuition and nurturing, coupled with their deep understanding of their bodies and reproductive health, have driven them to create brands that cater to women's unique needs,” says Koo. 

Women supporting women 
In the competitive landscape of the wellness industry, women are banding together to support and uplift one another, as highlighted by Anna Wong of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW). "There are several things we can do to help women-owned wellness companies," she asserts. Wong emphasises the importance of consumer input and feedback, noting, "As consumers, we may help the business owners understand our requirements and health issues." This collaboration fosters the design of better products and services tailored to women's needs, ultimately enhancing business success. 

Furthermore, Wong highlights the significance of collaboration in content creation. "Today, doing business is largely about content," she explains. “We can collaborate to generate additional health and wellness materials that will help educate other women and, in turn, attract more female customers.” 

To stand out, she believes wellness brands must prioritise transparency and credibility. "If a wellness brand wants to differentiate itself, it must go beyond its own firm and focus on shaping the business ecosystem," Wong asserts. Providing scientific evidence and insights into the benefits of wellness not only sets brands apart but also fosters trust and credibility among consumers. In this way, women entrepreneurs are not only driving innovation in the wellness sector but also reshaping the industry's standards and practices for the better. 

In addition to Anna Wong's insights, Martha Waslen, founder of DayAway, emphasises the importance of mentorship and coaching in the wellness industry. “Seasoned professionals should be responsible for guiding and nurturing emerging women entrepreneurs,” she explains, “This mentorship is crucial for navigating the intricate paths of business development, skill enhancement, and strategic decision-making. It's about passing on knowledge, learnings, and strategies for success to the next generation of women leaders in wellness – but also about providing the encouragement and support needed to keep them going.” 

Women's networks like Prestige: Women of Power and Jessica Magazine's Jes Network offer opportunities for connection and collaboration in the industry and beyond, adds Koo. 

“We are more powerful together, and lifting each other up brings us all to a higher level,” shares Jang. 

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Faye Bradley


Faye Bradley
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