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Asian American Entrepreneurs: Overcoming Hate – “Have the courage to stand up.” An interview with Shizu Okusa.

Today I had the opportunity to chat with Shizu Okusa, the founder and Chief “Wellth” Advisor at Apothékary, a plant-based “farmacy” providing natural alternatives to synthetic skincare and healthcare products. Formerly, Shizu was the founder and CEO of JRINK, a cold-pressed juice company bootstrapped in 2013 and later scaled and sold to a strategic buyer […]

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Today I had the opportunity to chat with Shizu Okusa, the founder and Chief “Wellth” Advisor at Apothékary, a plant-based “farmacy” providing natural alternatives to synthetic skincare and healthcare products. Formerly, Shizu was the founder and CEO of JRINK, a cold-pressed juice company bootstrapped in 2013 and later scaled and sold to a strategic buyer in 2019.

First, tell me a bit about your business, and what kind of work you do. 

Apothékary is an online herbal apothecary that uses science and plant-based medicine to heal modern-day ailments and whose mission is to be the “farmacy” of the future. Every blend is 100% natural, sustainably sourced, fairly priced, and, most importantly, efficacious. 

We offer a wide range of 60+ herbs sourced from around the world that promote inward and outward wellness and target a variety of pain points from low energy, concentration, stress, poor sleep and low libido to immunity, inflammation, and acne. Every herb is also used in a variety of ancient healing systems including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Japanese Kampo and Western Herbalism.

I launched the brand with a deeply rooted passion in viewing food as medicine and with the goal of offering natural alternatives to over-the-counter drugs and beauty products, which comes from my upbringing. Growing up, whenever I felt unwell, instead of giving me pills, my very traditional Japanese mother would make me these black and oozy drinks that were broths of mushrooms and herbs, which instilled in me a lifelong belief in the power of natural healing and that we are what we eat. My goal with Apothékary is to make this lifestyle as accessible as possible to the masses.

What unique challenges have you experienced as an Asian-American in business?

It’s been a wild year since COVID happened (and not just because of my ethnicity). 

First off, let’s start with the wins. I sold my first company, a 7-year endeavor, filmed for ABC’s Shark Tank (yes we made it!), and made some significant life changes that I’ve always wanted to do personally, such as angel investing, mentoring more female founders, and moving back to the west coast!  

With growth and change always comes new challenges, which I gladly accept. For me, personally, those challenges are usually managing my own psyche and time. I’m naturally a “yes” person but have found myself often overcommitting too much. So, I’m working on having much clearer emotional, mental, and physical boundaries and never apologizing for who I am today, including how my name is pronounced, the food I grew up eating, and how I look as an Asian American woman.

Have you experienced a noticeable difference in discrimination since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Honestly, I have not. I think there’s a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity for sure but I wouldn’t say that I’ve had any personal acts of discrimination or noticeable differences in how people interact with me personally.  On the other hand, I also try to always operate from a place of personal experience, rather than assuming everyone is out to “get you”, and focusing on action and things in my control. 

How do you cope with discrimination, and what might you suggest to other Asian-American professionals who might be facing the same discrimination?

The way I am coping with all of the news is by listening, and acting from the other side of anger, which in my mind is compassion.  

Here are a few things to consider: 

  • The moment we start seeing free speech as hate speech, the conversation stops.
  • The loudest or largest following does not have it all right. Conversations and change don’t happen online but offline and in real life.
  • Just because one doesn’t know something, doesn’t mean they’re racist. They might really just not know and thus there is an opportunity for constructive and open dialogue – not cancel culture. 

What are some of the key factors in overcoming acts of discrimination?

Most definitely having a strong inner core and social circle. Something I learned during COVID was that while the world may feel like it’s falling apart, and everything is far from controllable, there’s one thing you can always count on and that’s yourself. Showing up for yourself allows you to show up for others.

With that said, I am so proud to have a team, community, and founder support that allows me to show up as my whole self– mostly happy, decisive, mission-driven, but sometimes in tears too. I stand by all of my AAPI brothers and sisters that have spoken up, and encourage people to continue engaging, listening, and acting. Don’t leave it to big tech to show us that reel or square they think we need to see.

What can non-Asian Americans do to support their Asian American friends and colleagues who are facing discrimination in the workplace or on the street?

First off, say or do something! It’s moments like that that can change the course of one’s life forever– be it a complete stranger, colleague, or friend. Sometimes we don’t have the strength or courage to stand up for ourselves, especially when it comes to acts of vocal and physical abuse. I’d also encourage everyone to share their experiences and ensure acts of discrimination like this do not happen again. 

Lastly, I’d say to engage and listen with a diversity of thought communities.

To connect with Shizu, you can follow her on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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