By: Words & Direction: Susannah Jaffer, Photography: Michael Bernabe, Hair & Makeup: Kelly Bilimoria, Location: Grand Hyatt Singapore
Empowering others to achieve their personal fitness goals (and not just in the gym!) entrepreneurs Natalie Dau and Holleigh Mason are the co-founders of new wellness platform Urban Remedy Asia. We met up with two women to find out more about their latest venture.
There’s just something about Holleigh and Natalie as a duo that gives off good vibes. A genuine enthusiasm for their new business is infectious, as is their desire to encourage others to achieve their health goals.
But what sets them apart is a wonderful lack of pretension. Motivated by a genuine wish to help others with their personal wellness journeys, these ladies talk the talk, put in the work and have truly invested in living healthily.
Natalie has always been a sports fanatic – she’s known for her “rock star arms”: they’re one of the first things you’ll notice when you meet her, and also the basis for her Instagram handle. Holleigh has struggled with her weight in the past, but has turned her health around; she is now on a mission to get people off their couches and moving.
I can tell by the way they interact that the pair are best friends, but I can’t help wondering: how easy is it to tackle the bad times when working with a close pal? And how about navigating tricky creative differences? One thing’s for sure: if anyone can do it, these two can!
How did the two of you first meet?
Natalie: We met through our little girls, four years ago.
Holleigh: They were in the same class at EtonHouse Orchard!
Describe each other in three words.
N: Holleigh is generous, charismatic and inspirational.
H: Nat is loyal, determined and no-nonsense. My daughter calls her “fierce” (and loves her to death!).
Tell us a bit about your individual fitness journeys.
N: I grew up playing competitive sport – it’s always been a part of my life. I enjoy running and have dabbled over the past 15 years in everything from CrossFit to triathlons. I hit a rough spot after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and then deep vein thrombosis a few years ago, but since then it’s been onwards and upwards! My fitness goals are to constantly challenge myself and try new things; I’ve found some great coaches and training groups and have met amazing people along the way.
H: I was a very sporty kid, playing tennis and netball and doing gymnastics; I tend to throw myself hard into anything I’m passionate about. In my later teens, that passion turned to boys and then my career; fitness took a back seat and I became an emotional eater. My husband of 20 years is not a small guy either, plus he works in the wine industry which means a lot of entertaining. We grew larger together over the years, becoming each other’s yardstick of what size was acceptable.
Bring on our Singapore adventure: not a lot of clothes required, but we had a lot of flesh to cover! We’d spent the previous six years in chilly Melbourne and New Zealand, and our head-to-toe black uniforms weren’t going to cut it in this heat and humidity. We realised the damage we’d done to our bodies when we had to peel back the layers of clothing! Our health had really started to decline too. It was around this time that I met Natalie.
Holleigh, how big a role has Natalie played in your health journey?
H: Back when our daughters were at school together, she intimidated the hell out of me. She was a fit and glamorous career woman. Our daughters looked alike, so I thought: why didn’t we? What had happened to me, and how had I let myself get to 128kg? Nat was my mirror, and I hated what I saw. I couldn’t talk to her, be next to her or socialise with her. Then our daughters became best friends, so I had no choice!
One afternoon she approached me to arrange a playdate. At that point, I apologised for being so stand-offish and explained how I’d been feeling. That’s when she boldly told me I needed to lose weight. My friends and family had never “gone there” but this glamazon had the cajunas to tell it to me straight! She was right, of course. I asked for her help, and everything went from there.
First off, she introduced me to a friend who had just started a juicing company, so I started juicing three times a week, every other week, over a period of six months. During month number three, I realised that I wasn’t keeping off the weight I was losing on the cleanses, because I hadn’t changed my eating habits in between. So I cut out fried foods, gluten and my new Singapore love, char kway teow, and I adopted a passion for interesting salads instead.
Nat has always pushed me to the next level when I have become too comfortable; next, it was time to start a regular fitness routine. I discovered zumba, and it quickly became my new vice. I found a great teacher and within six months I was doing a combination of both zumba and body combat classes. Fast forward 12 months, and I’d lost another 30kg.
Then she wanted to introduce weights into my regime. As much as I kicked and screamed inside my head, I gritted my teeth, smiled and obliged. Everything she had introduced to me so far had given me great results; by this stage I had a bull ring through my nose and was happy to let her lead me anywhere! It was at around this 12-month mark that Singapore Slim – now Urban Remedy Asia – was born.
Urban Remedy Asia first started out on Facebook. Where did the idea for the community spring from?
N: It started as a closed group to help support a few people in their wellness journey, and to provide a space to give each other proper encouragement; we’d witnessed a fair bit of weight-related bullying on other Facebook groups. Honestly, we thought only around ten people would join at most, and never expected it to grow so fast.
H: I second that. On a personal level, it has helped me immensely. At the time, this support group community of like-minded people was 100 percent my reason for pushing towards my long-term goal: to lose half my bodyweight. I literally owe this community my life.
At what stage did you decide to transform the concept into a dedicated website?
N: Within just a few months, 3,000 people had joined the group, so we knew we needed to create something bigger. Keeping Facebook trolls at bay was a problem, even though the group had a closed setting. So, we decided to move on to a dedicated web platform which we could scale and make safer, and generally offer much more helpful content to the Singapore community. Our mantra is to provide wellness information and help, no matter age, budget or ethnicity.
Tell us some cool features of the new platform.
N: We publish five articles daily written by our journalists, so there is constantly new and interesting information on the site. We also have our own wellness directory which contains the details of 17,000 professionals and resources. If you’re in the member space there are private community groups too. Oh, and of course we have a $500 sign-up goodie bag!
H: We’re one of the largest publishers of wellness content in Singapore and the articles are the powerhouse of the site, but the special sauce for me is our dashboard, where you can create your own e-vision board, much like Pinterest. It’s a space where you can organise your to-do’s for the week, with everything from online ordering of specialist foods to recording your training, fitness and nutrition goals. Your ultimate wellness goal sits at the top of your dashboard so that you never lose sight of it.
I do all my planning for the following week on the site every Sunday evening, and I feel so inspired and empowered about all of the great things I will be achieving in order to reach my long-term goals. It’s where I come every morning with my coffee! You can also receive specific articles and event news from the Urban Remedy main pages, tailored to the tastes you indicated when you signed up. It’s a really smart space. I also love our calendar tab, which lists fitness events and activities across Singapore (and sometimes beyond!). We wanted to compile everything in one easy spot.
When it comes to staying motivated, what are your tips for fellow entrepreneurs?
N: Allow yourself to be a “business creative” and make your own rules! This approach has permitted us to shape deals that a larger corporate could never do; being nimble and creative can pay big dividends. Finding unique, flexible ways to add value to our partner relationships and corporate customers has also been a real strength and has helped to attract large brands to our platform. I’ve discovered you should never discount the worth that great energy or a fresh approach can bring to a partner or customer.
H: The power of two is my number one tip. I’ve owned a couple of businesses as a sole proprietor in the past, and it’s tough. Diversified skills sets are the obvious benefit of a partnership; another is having someone else there on those tough days, or to prop you up at meetings, or to know when it’s time to pop the champagne cork! Victories are always much more enjoyable when they’re shared. Read biographies of successful people who you admire; success rarely happens overnight or without covering some seriously rocky terrain. You need to have an unwavering belief in your product, service and intentions – and in our case, in each other!
How has it been to go from being friends to being friends and business partners?
N: As Holleigh says, it has been the power of two. Any startup needs as many hands on deck as it can get; we have clearly defined roles that play to our individual strengths. As a plus point, we’re still the best of friends.
H: That was my biggest fear. Ninety-five percent of the journey has been surprisingly brilliant. Nat has the patience of a saint; organising me is like herding cats! We’ve had a couple of disagreements regarding what would be best for Urban Remedy, but we’ve sorted those out with love and respect for each other.
How do you spend your leisure time?
N: After my work day, there isn’t much time for anything else! I really look forward to skiing holidays and spending time with family.
H: The business takes up much of our time, seven days a week. Work often overlaps into family time, so it’s lucky that our partners and kids also love being fit and active. It’s not all kale and burpees, however – we do love our treat nights! Life is all about balance.
Any exciting plans ahead that you can share?
N: We pinch ourselves every day when we see how fast things are moving. We recently announced an amazing partnership with Under Armour to work with them on their Armour@TheBay events. We’re also getting requests from corporate companies to be their staff wellness platform, which is very exciting. Watch this space!
Psst! Reader offer!
You can now jump start your own wellness journey with an exclusive Expat Living reader offer of 50 percent off a $48 Urban Remedy membership. This entitles you to a welcome goodie bag with approximately $500 worth of wellness goods and services, including a free month of access to over 100 gyms and studio’s in Singapore. Simply enter promo code “EXPATLIV” upon sign up.
Like this? Read more at our health and fitness section.