In Refinery29's Talking Shop series, we're chatting with owners of up-and-coming small businesses about their experiences launching, the big challenges and wins they've faced, and of course, their products and services.
For the uninitiated, Traditional Chinese Medicine (also known as TCM) is an ancient wellness system from China. It can encompass anything from taking herbal mixtures as medicine to participating in natural health practices like cupping and acupuncture to incorporating mind-body activities like tai chi into your daily life. When it comes to TCM, it's inevitable that (predominantly) Western doctors are quick to debunk ideas that it actually works — but considering that these TCM practices have been employed by the Chinese to improve their health for thousands of years, it's rather ignorant to dismiss it altogether. As an ethnically Korean person who was also partially raised in a Chinese household, I've always found TCM to be a more thoughtful preventative option to certain misalignments in the body than, say, taking a bunch of pills made from chemical compounds I know very little about. The main takeaway is that TCM is an ongoing lifestyle and not a one-time cure for diseases.
For Hong Kong-based Stephanie Tan, founder and CEO of wellness brand Nooci (pronounced noo-chee, which means "women energy" in Mandarin), distilling the ancient concepts of TCM into ready-to-consume products has been a challenging but rewarding endeavor. Her entrepreneurial journey began while searching for alternative medicines while dealing with pregnancy-related allergies. Through her deep-dive research into the practice, Tan was inspired to bring TCM to the masses. "I thought I could create a brand that could demystify TCM and make it more approachable and understandable for women like myself who don't have time to boil herbs. I wanted to make it easier for people to take it in their daily lives," she says. In April 2022, with a scientific advisory board comprised of women backing up the brand, Nooci made its debut with three products: a "longevity" powder, nasal relief capsules, and menstrual support capsules. Each of these products is meant to be taken on a consistent, daily basis as a means to bring long-term balance into the body. Refinery29 recently chatted with Tan about creating products that balance TCM's traditional wisdoms with our modern lifestyles.
Can you give us a rundown of each of your products?
"ReNoo is just so easy to integrate into your life. I love starting my day with that. It has a really pleasant green-tea-meets-barley taste that smells a little like cinnamon. The powder is an incredible format that makes it easy for people to mix it in their water or tea. It gives me positive energy in the morning. It's for the woman on the go — I always keep extras in my purse. I had these crazy sugar cravings and ReNoo has really helped me with regulating my cravings. We recommend people take it once a day, but you can take it up to three times a day.
"For menstrual support and nasal relief, taking two capsules a day of Noo Air and Noo Moon is so easy. So it was just two capsules a day. When I formulated the products, I wanted to make sure the capsules weren't too big. We really wanted to make sure these were easy to swallow for women and that they smell nice [and not so] herbal or medicinal that they're hard for people to take."
Before launching Nooci, you had worked in the culinary arts. How did your experience in the food space help you develop your products?
"You know, going to culinary school really made me think about what we eat. It really made me think about where our ingredients are coming from so I was a big advocate for making all our products' ingredients very transparent. We work closely with our manufacturing partner to [ensure that]. If you go to our website, you can see exactly where each ingredient is sourced — in some cases, we can source down to the forest as well. So we want to make sure that people understand where ingredients are really originating from."
Right, like looking at the ingredients for Noo Moon, it's rose, ginseng, ginger, jujube, and cinnamon. That's it.
"A lot of times I look at ingredients for [other wellness] products and there's a lot in them and I can't even pronounce the names. For us, the formulation is all about picking the essentials. It's not that less is more; it's about the potency of each ingredient, how it's been extracted, and the synergies of the ingredients and how they work together.
"[These are natural ingredients] to take every day. And that's the philosophy of TCM. It's about the long-term maintenance, the long-term regulation, and the long-term restoration of that balance in your body."
It's kind of like setting your body up for long-term success. That said, how would you recommend people who are interested in TCM be introduced to Nooci? As you mentioned, in the Western world, people expect immediate results, whereas TCM is about being slow and steady. When do people start seeing the positive effects of TCM?
"For me, TCM really should be working complementary to your Western medicine. My background has always been East meets West. So we're not saying you have to pick one — TCM should be used synergistically and integrative in your life. It takes a different amount of time for everybody. For some, it can take two weeks. For others, it can take two months. It's about where your body is. But having that ritual and taking it every day will make a difference. It's a cumulative effect that will eventually help restore your body to balance."
For the TCM curious, what product is best for newbies? What's your overall best seller and what can you tell us about it?
"ReNoo is our best seller. I think it's just so easy and anybody can take it. It's like TCM 101. Good for everything, easy to incorporate into your life. You can take it anywhere — on the plane, on the go. I've even seen people put it in their oatmeal like a breakfast pudding."
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