Women In Wellness: Ashley Southard of Mushroom Design On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Keep your refrigerator stocked with fresh fruit. It’s easy, requires no preparation, and is a lot better to reach for than a snack. Fruit is natural sugar balanced with excellent fiber content to ensure long-term daily energy. I’m someone that can work the whole day and forget to eat, so having everything on hand makes it a lot easier. Oh, and, for everything else — get an air fryer. It’s a life changer.
As a part of my series about women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Southard.
Ashley Southard is the founder and CEO of Mushroom Design — an innovative nutraceutical mushroom brand that inspires a better quality of life for humans. She’s been an avid believer in seeking natural, alternative healing remedies for years. Prior to Mushroom Design, she cofounded a nonprofit bringing awareness to ibogaine (a psychedelic) as a solution to opiate addiction, as well as a health-niche marketing and strategy agency, Healer Collective.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My background is in business management, operations, and marketing, and my heart has always been in health and wellness. I was a dancer in high school, but due to continual injuries, I was instructed, basically, to “switch to Pilates or yoga, or you’re going to screw your back up.” It was this that really set me on my path to a holistic view of health and wellness, which was more of a personal journey than professional.
In my early 20s, I ran a company in the service industry, which taught me more than any college class ever did! However, I reached a point where I could no longer keep my passion for health/wellness on the personal backburner. I met my cofounder (online, funny enough — before COVID times, when it wasn’t the “norm”) and we started Healer Collective, a niche marketing and business consulting agency for healing-based business, individual, and nonprofits/B-corps. At that same time, we began a nonprofit to raise awareness for iboga as a solution to opiate addiction (iboga is a psychedelic plant that is not legal in the US). As my path carried me further into the realms of plant medicines (psychedelic and functional), I felt inspired to create a brand of supplements that is not only the highest quality, but is also scientifically backed and solves for a lot of problems we see in supplements today, such as poor quality ingredients, wasteful packaging, and improper dosing.
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
We started Mushroom Design with a desire to do more, but with less — less carbon output, less waste, and less filler. I’ve always believed that the onus of conscious consumerism and sustainable practices lies in the hands of the corporations creating products, not the buyers, so sustainability was a non-negotiable in our products. We use compostable and/or biodegradable packaging for all of our shipments, and when we need to use boxes, they’re 100% recycled (whereas most recycled boxes are 20–30% recycled, with the remainder being virgin cardboard, as it’s cheaper to produce) and printed with carbon-negative algae ink.
And when it comes to our actual product, we’ve dosed it based on decades’ worth of research, and it’s a bit different from most products on the market. Most mushrooms products on the market are drastically “overdosed” for daily mushroom consumption — I discovered this on my own with a blood scare. Long story short, I was taking another mushroom product daily, and the excess dosage increased inflammatory markers in my blood to levels only seen in cancer. My doctor, after trial and error, finally had me cut the mushroom powder out of my routine — and 2 weeks later, everything was back to normal. Perhaps what was most terrifying of the experience was that I didn’t feel bad; if I wasn’t someone constantly up on my bloodwork, I’d truly have never noticed this, and I would have been consuming those same mushrooms for months and months upon years and years. What this translates to in the body is an eventual degradation that, before age 30–40, I’d probably never notice — but at age 55+, the body’s immune system would degrade at a faster rate due to a weakened immune system (ironic, given the goal was to strengthen it!)
The truth is that excess provocation of the immune system actually defeats its ability to function, and it’s directly related to decreased longevity. So, it’s all about balance. Just as it’s not good to workout 4 hours a day every single day, it’s also not good to never exercise at all. Just as it’s not great to consumer so many mushrooms that your immune system thinks it’s always under attack, it’s also not great to hinder your body from the benefits of the right amount of mushrooms.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Meditate for 5 minutes every day before starting your day — or simply set your timer and take deep breaths for 5 minutes if meditation seems intimidating. To take it further, I cannot recommend The Artist’s Way process enough, which includes daily “morning pages” and weekly exercises. I complete The Artist’s Way every couple of years and always experience amazing results (no, it’s not just for artists!).
- Drink at least 12 oz of water in the morning when you wake up before consuming anything else (yes, including coffee). We lose anywhere from 10–30 oz of water when we sleep through the night simply from breathing.
- Limit the time you spend on IG/TikTok/etc to only when you are on walks outside (or on a treadmill, something of the sort). This pairs a somewhat “unhealthy” activity with a time-limited “healthy” activity. Personally, I don’t allow myself to check my phone (even emails) until I’ve gotten out of bed and started my morning walk.
- Learn to say “no” to things that aren’t truly fulfilling your purpose. One of my mantras is a Bruce Lee quote: it is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away the unessential. This is in both personal and professional life. For example, when I was building Mushroom Design, I had limited bandwidth (time and resources) to allocate to all sales channels, so instead of exploring retail and DTC strategy, we nixed retail (in perfect timing, given COVID’s development).
- Keep your refrigerator stocked with fresh fruit. It’s easy, requires no preparation, and is a lot better to reach for than a snack. Fruit is natural sugar balanced with excellent fiber content to ensure long-term daily energy. I’m someone that can work the whole day and forget to eat, so having everything on hand makes it a lot easier. Oh, and, for everything else — get an air fryer. It’s a life changer.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This was #1 above, but it really is that important. Meditate for 5 minutes per day upon waking up, no matter what. And if meditating feels weird, then simply breathe — count “1, 2, 3, 4” on an inhale, and then count “1, 2, 3, 4” on an exhale. It sounds simple, yet seems impossible for many, but the reality is, you probably wake up and scroll through IG for 5 minutes every morning anyway. The impact is remarkable and noticeable in just a week.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Everything will take at least double the amount of time you think it will when other parties are involved, whether that’s ordering packaging for your product or getting a website live. Always, always pad your timelines.
- (Specifically for DTC brands), don’t use agencies when you’re first starting. Hire someone in-house (even if just part time) who is directly accountable to you. Unfortunately, most agencies really only pay attention to you approximately 15 minutes before their weekly check-in call with you. They’re not on your accounts monitoring daily, nor are they making swift changes for testing. It’s just wasted ad money.
- Learn to love “no.” Learn to love hearing it and learn to love saying it. Say no unapologetically if something doesn’t inspire you, whether that’s saying no to friends going to dinner after a long day of work or saying no to yourself when you’re thinking of turning Netflix on instead of going to sleep. Learn to love the no you get from an investor you’re pitching, knowing that it’s either an opportunity for you to improve your pitch or for the better-fit investor to come along.
- Failure may feel icky, but success is uncomfortable too. It will require changing your processes, putting in more hours, changing perspectives, and even letting go of people who don’t share the vision as it grows — and that’s OK. Your comfort zone will kill you, and success is uncomfortable because it’s growth — growth is always a bit painful.
- There’s (probably) someone on Fiverr for that. Before I had a team, I always thought I had to do it all, and the only option other than that was to hire someone who was really great at things. The reality is, when you’re lean and just starting, you probably can’t afford a full-time or high-quality contractor, but you also can’t do it all. The solution is Upwork or Fiverr — you can find people who will take the job 50–75% of the way at a very low cost, and take the rest of the task to completion yourself. I recommend this for: graphics, videos, product design, presentations, and general writing.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mushroom Design was literally built on the trifecta of sustainability, mental health, and environmental change, so I’d say those 3 are the dearest. I’d say that ever since I began practicing yoga over a decade ago, I started recognizing the fact that we, as humans are in communion with this earth and all of its inhabitants; we are not upon the earth, but rather of the earth.
When you think about it, humans have been on this earth for about 6–7 million years. We’ve only been sitting, working, and living these artificially-lit boxes holding digital devices for 0.01% of our entire human history — there simply hasn’t been enough time for our brains to evolve at the speed of technology to adapt (nor can, at this rate, the earth keep up with the waste we’re producing).
Couple that with the massive increase in mental health disorders that have been heightened by the recent pandemic, it’s increasingly clear that we need to create a better model for living on this planet. It can certainly seem daunting, but it’s little steps that add up, from reducing carbon output to simply becoming a kinder person through introspective practices. When you are better able to show up for yourself, you’re able to be better for others.
What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.