Unplug — Founding a Startup means there’s always too much to do. And, I can do most things right from my phone if I have to, so I have a hard time unplugging from all my devices — for example it is a Sunday at 8:30 PM and I am writing this ☺ . Which means I can work as long as I am awake, and that is not a good lifestyle choice! In March of 2018 I was completely burned out — so my daughter and I went to the Azores for a week for her Spring Break. We stayed in Furnas on Sao Miquel in a spa hotel. I made a pact with myself that I would not check Slack or email for the entire week. And I didn’t! Even though I like reading books on my phone and playing Words with Friends, I never once tapped those icons. End result — I read 3 awesome books, made beautiful memories with Clare including daily trips to the spa, and hikes around the gorgeous lush island. When I returned, I felt as if I had been gone for a month.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Costa-Walston.
Susan Costa-Walston, Founder & Designer of Lily Trotters Compression is a dedicated design professional whose mission is to leverage her creative talents towards the advancement of products, services and causes that ultimately improve the lives of others. She self-funded and brought to market Lily Trotters compression to help people live better, in style, by simply changing the socks they wear. Lily Trotters has received accolades from mainstream press outlets including Forbes, Runner’s World, Trail Runner Magazine, InStyle, SELF, Travel Weekly, LIVESTRONG, Women’s Running and The Baltimore Sun.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Sure! B.L. — before Lily Trotters, I had a long career as a designer, a creative director and a Principal in a DC design studio. After my husband passed away in 2006, I exited that profession and dedicated myself to raising our five-year old daughter, while soul-searching for my second career. The inspiration came in an unexpected way!
In 2011, my BFF Anne Haskins and I traveled to Africa for a dream safari vacation with our daughters Clare and Rachel. To prep for Africa, we needed to get a slew of shots. As I was checking out at Passport Health in Baltimore, the nurse said “you know, you really should wear a compression sock on that 17 hour direct flight”. My answer…”what’s a compression sock?”
Well, I bought the ugly beige grandma socks and had them in my carry-on. I almost forgot to put them on, but I did. And then I didn’t realize that for the next 16 hours I wasn’t getting up and down and wiggling my legs as I typically would. I just sat there. When we landed, we were exhausted. But when I stood up, my legs were energized and ready for a run! The feeling was so dramatic I actually bent down and looked at my legs. I was amazed at how invigorated my legs felt and knew that I would never put anything else on my legs again. I couldn’t wait to come back to the US and find pretty ones!
Well, that didn’t happen. I found a few new fashion/medical brands trying to offer style, but I found the designs unoriginal and the compression and quality questionable. I was doing a lot of running and started noticing some athletic compression socks. So, I tried every one, but stylish choices were non-existent, except for the rare ‘pink’ sock for women. Additionally, I found the athletic compression brands too thick and so very uncomfortable, I couldn’t wait to wrestle them off after a long run. I couldn’t understand why no one was making beautiful designer compression socks that women could wear with both their fashion and their fitness wardrobes. So, I decided to try doing this myself and to have them made in the USA. Lily Trotters was born!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Just one? There have been so many! But I don’t look at them as mistakes, I look at them as learning opportunities. Lily Trotters was tough starting out as I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had no background in textiles or manufacturing. And as a designer, I wanted everything unique and different and perfect. I made the beginning process way more complicated than it had to be. So my biggest epic fail was insisting on custom yarns which had to be made for me with long lead times, which in turn created massive delays in our initial production. Lesson learned — keep it simple, stupid.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without question, it is my BFF Anne Haskins. Anne has been by my side every step of the way. In the very beginning she actively worked as part of Lily Trotters around her ‘real job’ schedule. When that was no longer sustainable for her, she slipped into the role of my biggest cheerleader and most ardent defender. Anne knows everything. Every up. Every down. She has talked me off the cliff of many a ‘tell me again why I did this?’ rant. And she is forever badgering me for not giving myself credit for what I have achieved. I am always looking forward, seeing all that needs to be done. Anne is like my tether. She will bring me down to earth and every now and then she breaks through to me and I can see that what I have created is pretty damn cool. And on those rare occasions, she’ll exclaim “thank you”. It’s Anne who is the wind beneath Lily’s wings.
Ok perfect. Now 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?
Lily Trotters are way more than a pair of socks. They are garments ‘built to perform’ for people — to make them feel better, look beautiful, have more energy, feel more comfortable and ultimately live more abundantly. What’s cool to me is how many younger people have embraced wearing compression socks as one of the many actions they can take to be as healthy as possible — whether for running, muscle recovery, travel or just to maintain their vascular health. And, with most of them active on social media, our brand awareness has grown in a very authentic and organic way. As we move forward and continue to expand our product offerings and scale, I expect Lily Trotters to be accessible on more continents. Presently, we are for sale in the US, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
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.
- Wear compression — of course this is my #1. We have always said ‘to wear us is to love us’ and that was, indeed, my first (life-changing) experience wearing compression. No matter how tired I might be, my legs are always ready for anything if I am wearing compression.
- Move your body — If you can, you’ve got to move! The body was built for motion. You will feel better the more you move. Being physically fit keeps me mentally fit, too. It’s a win/win. My best fitness cocktail is mix of cardio, Pilates, horseback riding and weights.
- Unplug — Founding a Startup means there’s always too much to do. And, I can do most things right from my phone if I have to, so I have a hard time unplugging from all my devices — for example it is a Sunday at 8:30 PM and I am writing this ☺ . Which means I can work as long as I am awake, and that is not a good lifestyle choice! In March of 2018 I was completely burned out — so my daughter and I went to the Azores for a week for her Spring Break. We stayed in Furnas on Sao Miquel in a spa hotel. I made a pact with myself that I would not check Slack or email for the entire week. And I didn’t! Even though I like reading books on my phone and playing Words with Friends, I never once tapped those icons. End result — I read 3 awesome books, made beautiful memories with Clare including daily trips to the spa, and hikes around the gorgeous lush island. When I returned, I felt as if I had been gone for a month.
- Go on adventures and if you can, travel. I was lucky enough to have lived in Italy for a year during college. That experience gave me the curiosity to see the world. I have been to lot of countries but still have many more to visit. I find experiencing new cultures exciting, enriching, and a great break from the daily grind. Plus, the more I travel the smaller the world gets and I always come back feeling that people are ultimately the same, everywhere.
- Do a cleanse — it will teach you how different foods really make you feel as you introduce them back into your diet. For me, I had no idea that my cheese addiction was causing so much inflammation. TMI?
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
For right now during COVID-19? Wear a mask!
Obviously, I think all people should wear compression, every day. The benefits are manifold, from improving your circulation, keeping fluids from pooling in your legs and feet, to abating muscle soreness and preventing life-threatening blood clots (DVTs). They cannot prevent varicose or spider veins if you are predisposed to get them, but they can help keep new ones at bay and your existing ones from getting worse.
Second — it’s hard to know what or how to eat these days with so much conflicting dietary information constantly bombarding us. I try to keep it simple and know what I’m eating. I eat whole foods. If there’s an ingredient I don’t understand, then I don’t ingest it. A goal for me is to grow my own food and until then to buy local. That supports our farmers and gets me fresher, cleaner food. And to quote Michael Pollan “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Trust yourself and stay focused on your initial goal — because you can waste a lot of time and money chasing other people’s visions.
- Get into the weeds with numbers — I am a creative and a big-picture person. Getting into the nitty gritty with numbers feels soul-sucking to me. BUT, it is so very important.
- How hard it was going to be — because I might not have embarked on this compression sock journey or at the very least, I would have approached it differently.
- Hire slow, fire fast. This one speaks for itself, whether it’s consultants, vendors, employees, anyone.
- ALWAYS trust your gut. Because it is your subconscious screaming at you and it is usually right.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
They ALL are, but honestly, if I have to pick one, it would have to be mental health. We all have some level of mental health, right? I never thought I ‘struggled’ with anxiety, but I now realize how prevalent it was throughout my family and my life. To me, it was just how I was wired and I managed it through running and exercise. And until recently, it was pretty hard for me to disclose freely that my husband struggled with alcohol addiction, depression and committed suicide. I am glad that talking about mental illness doesn’t carry the stigma it once did. Education and conversation are so very important with these illnesses we cannot see.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Ya know, I am a pretty private person which makes this stuff uncomfortable for me! I don’t like being the center of attention, never have. So, my personal social accounts are private, but Lily Trotters will be sharing more about me in the forthcoming months. You can follow us @lilytrotters on Instagram, and @LilyTrotters on Facebook and Twitter.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!