Meet wellness entrepreneur, Steph Elswood

'I've always aimed for authenticity in everything I put out there'

In this interview our Editor Mike Piggott speaks to wellness entrepreneur, Steph Elswood. Steph is a health and wellness advocate, ex-professional dancer, co-founder of app, ENOUGH, Director of non-profit female empowerment workshops Stay Sassy and Founder of ethical ecommerce store, Sasstainable. They discuss how she got into the wellness business, finding herself as a business leader and whether she had a plan, building communities and collaborating, and avoiding burnout.

Hi Steph. You were a dancer for most of your life, what prompted you to completely change careers and move into the wellness space? You’ve talked before (in a LinkedIn post) about how dancing was making you miserable

Steph Elswood

I started my journey as a dancer when I was really young, and I went on to pursue it professionally from the age of 14 until I was 20. Like many others in the industry, I faced various mental health and body image challenges during that time.

After struggling with an eating disorder for about five years, I decided to seek professional help when I was 19. During this period I created an Instagram page, initially meant to be a food diary for my therapist. Surprisingly, it evolved into a significant passion project for me, allowing me to rediscover my love for food and cooking, document my recovery journey, and connect with a growing audience.

While I was still working as a professional dancer, I realised that the industry wasn’t conducive to my mental well-being. An opportunity arose to collaborate with Nike and JD Women, as the face of their brand. This chance was too good to pass up, and became the turning point in my transition into the wellness space.

Did you have a plan in mind, as in, did you know the first thing you wanted to launch? Because if we look at the last few years, you’ve launched a dance empowerment series, a sustainable ecommerce brand, a wellness app, an alcohol free spirit, and organised an alcohol free day festival

I’ve always been excited by the world of social media. I actually started in this space a long time ago, well before I could even imagine the incredible possibilities it would offer. Believe it or not, I didn’t set out with a master plan to become an influencer. I sort of stumbled into it, and along the way I found myself involved in growing businesses, launching event series, and even developing product ranges.

Every project that has emerged from my Instagram platform has been a labour of love, something I genuinely cared about at the time. I’ve always aimed for authenticity in everything I put out there. This journey has been nothing short of thrilling.

Instead of following a strict game plan, I’ve embraced each opportunity that’s come my way and tried to make the most of it. It’s been a wild ride, full of excitement and unexpected turns!

With Stay Sassy, the one-off dance event in 2017, did that give you a taste in terms of what you wanted to be as a business leader, and what you wanted to do career wise?

The journey with Stay Sassy has been a real game-changer for me, but it wasn’t ever intended to be a full-fledged business venture per se. It all began as a heartfelt, one-off charity event in memory of my nan ‘Betty, Queen of Sass’, who was cared for by St Christopher’s hospice before she passed away. The first event held a special place in my heart, and exceeded all expectations in terms of success. That’s when we decided to turn it into a series, growing from 20 attendees to 100 amazing women per event.

Steph and the Stay Sassy movement

Our primary goal has always been to channel the profits back into charitable causes. We wanted to maintain the authenticity of the event and the incredible vulnerability shared by the women who attend. It just didn’t feel right to turn it into a money-making venture. Instead, we ask the wonderful ladies who come to recommend charities that are dear to their hearts. This way, as our events flourish, so do the organisations that are out there doing remarkable work.

While Stay Sassy wasn’t a calculated business move on my part, it did open my eyes to the potential of how I could use my platform and find ways to monetise it beyond simply promoting products.

Do you see the things you’ve launched and built as part of the same offering? Is it fair to say that, in a way, they’re all extensions of your true self, of the positivity you want to put out into the world?

You know, I’ve never quite looked at it from that perspective but I think you’re absolutely right! When I reflect on it, every venture I’ve pursued has been a natural extension of where I am in that particular stage of my life, and it’s become a significant part of my personal journey. I’d like to think that I approach every opportunity with a positive outlook, and my aim is to share that positivity with those who are watching. 

Looking back on the last seven years, what project most surprised you in terms of how it turned out versus your original vision? Which did you find most challenging and why?

Oh goodness, there have been so many moments that have truly taken me by surprise. Some of the opportunities I’ve been fortunate to receive have been beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and I’m committed to cherishing every single one of them.

Steph and Dry Disco

But, if I were to pick one recent moment that really left me in awe, it would have to be the incredible success of Dry Disco.

It all started with a simple outreach to the fantastic Millie Gooch (a prominent figure in the sobriety space and the founder of Sober Girl Society). I suggested a collaboration event with her and Stay Sassy and, after a brief phone call, what began as a small idea blossomed into an alcohol-free day festival held at one of London’s most iconic clubs. We welcomed over 300 amazing women into different rooms filled with panel talks, dance classes, breath workshops, pamper lounges, a ‘Boozeless Bar’, and sponsors galore. It was pure magic! The event far exceeded expectations, and because of its success we’re already planning another one for December.

Is it difficult to juggle so many products and services? How do you avoid creator/leader burnout? Looking at your websites (ENOUGH, Sasstainable, CAROUSE) I’d say each of them looks enough to keep any sane person pretty busy (not that I’m saying you’re crazy!)

To be honest I’ve had my fair share of lessons when it comes to burnout, and it was a real struggle during the lockdown period. However, I’ve learned from those tough times, and I’ve taken steps to make things more manageable. One significant change I made was hiring a full time Executive Assistant. Having that extra pair of hands, a brilliant brain, and another heart to assist me with all these passion projects has been a game-changer. Yes, it can be quite the juggling act but I thrive under pressure, and because I have such a personal connection to each venture I find immense satisfaction in all of them. So I’m willing to put in the work to make them succeed.

I’ve also become incredibly disciplined when it comes to routines and boundaries. I make sure I set aside at least one full day off each week, and even though I’m self-employed, I’ve established a set allowance of annual leave that I must take each year. After experiencing burnout in 2020, I’ve come to realise that nothing works unless I make time to rest. And now I prioritise that, above all else.

Tell me about your latest venture, CAROUSE, the alcohol-free spirit. The alcohol-free market has been rapidly growing the last few years, in what way does your spirit stand out?

CAROUSE was actually born during the lockdown! At the time, I had been sober for about a year, and while everyone around me was busy doing Zoom quizzes, mixing cocktails, and having a great time, I couldn’t help but feel a serious case of FOMO. I started looking into other alcohol-free spirits on the market and tried them all. Many of them had these really intense botanical flavours, ones which required multiple mixers and fruit juices just to make them palatable.

Steph with CAROUSE

What I was truly craving was a premium alcohol-free alternative, that didn’t try to mimic gin or vodka. I wanted something that tasted delightful on its own, or with a simple mixer like soda water, but I couldn’t find anything to hit this brief.

That’s when I stumbled upon the fascinating world of adaptogens and nootropics. These ingredients were gaining popularity in the energy drink and gaming industries, so I thought, ‘Why not bring that kind of innovation to the alcohol-free space?’ I realised I’d much rather pay for a delicious alcohol-free drink that not only tasted great but also featured natural, organic ingredients and even offered cognitive benefits.

That’s how CAROUSE came to be — a spirit that can be savoured on the rocks, with a simple mixer or as part of a cocktail. We put in a lot of time perfecting the recipe, and I’m truly proud of the flavour profile and the premium quality we’ve achieved. 

I’ve noticed with each of your ventures you put yourself front and centre, often with a smiling picture of you alongside a heartfelt message. It makes the things you do seem warm and personable, and not just a faceless product on the internet. Was that intentional? Do you find that people buy into you as much as they buy into your products and services?

Absolutely, this was very intentional. I’ve always aimed to build a truly authentic relationship and a great rapport with my audience. There’s a famous quote by Simon Sinek that goes, ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ I’ve taken that to heart, and I hope that by sharing my personal experiences and the stories behind these brands, consumers can see the genuine passion I have for each one.

It’s important to me that they understand these are all startup businesses that originate from a place of authenticity and care.

While I love sharing my story, my aspirations go beyond simply boosting my own profile. What I really hope for is that these brands continue to grow and reach a much wider audience. The ultimate goal is for them to become household names, where their quality and mission speak for themselves. 

I somehow think CAROUSE isn’t going to be the last thing you launch. What’s next for you? You strike me as someone that has a million ideas on the back burner

Ha ha, yes. I constantly have a million ideas at once. I think my goal for now is to grow CAROUSE and Dry Disco as the sobriety/sober curious space is really exciting to me. 

Thanks, Steph, for talking to MediaCat Magazine.