Vanessa + Todd, Komuso Founders
The Komuso Shift has changed my life. As someone living with anxiety, I was always looking for something, anything that would make a difference. And wah-la! I discovered my breath in a beautiful, gold necklace. But something - actually someone else I discovered was an enchanted soul, Vanessa. She is the creator of the Komuso shift and I was lucky enough to catch her in NYC after a delayed flight. Some coffees and giggles later- Vanessa gave me the low down on Todd, her husband, co-creator and most importantly, her biggest support system. They are the true definition of a power couple #relationshipsgoals.
I left the coffee shop that night in total euphoria. They get me. And I promise, they get YOU. See for yourself...
Vanessa and Todd, what were you up to before creating Komuso?
Todd: I always wanted to travel when I was younger but never had the budget, so after college I started a student travel company focused on College Spring Break called Xtreme Trips. In 10 years we organized party trips to Mexico, Punta Cana, and the Bahamas for over 50,000 students. The experience of managing thousands of crazy spring breakers in foreign country was chaos, but it opened a new door to the practice of mindfulness. I attribute my success to the art of achieving peace of mind; a skillset I wanted to expand.
Vanessa: After changing my major four times and suffering through years of anxiety about my profession, I finally found my calling . In 2010, I won the BRIDES Operation Dream Dress which was awarded on Good Morning America, featured on the cover of Brides Magazine and sold nationwide in David Bridal’s Stores. Soon after, I became the lead designer of a new athleisure brand called ‘Peony and Me’ with Perry Ellis which paved the way for me to learn how to build a new brand. It was exciting to develop my professional career but my heart wasn’t full yet. When I met Todd, a serendipitous opportunity was born.
Then boom, Komuso was born. Can you describe the moment where it just “clicked” for you both?
Being more mindful in our everyday routines helped us enjoy life more, but something was still missing because anxiety kept stealing from us. Moments that could have been awesome, drifted into regret and fear. We kept hearing that meditation was an amazing way to feel calm be present through slowing breath so we gave it a shot. We came, we tried, and we quit. For us, it just wasn’t realistic to stop, drop, and sit like a monk for 20 minutes whenever we needed to chill out. We needed something more tangible.
One night during a local art walk in the neighborhood, we noticed a man selling old wooden flutes. He explained how ancient monks would use them to slow breath and meditate. A “holy shit” moment ensued. We realized that all we needed was a tool. A tool that ended up becoming the world’s first meditational accessory.
Now it took several years to get the product off the ground due to production issues. Can you share the importance of making your product in the US and why it was so worth the wait?
We enlisted the help our friend. a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, to research and test the ideal exhale to induce calm, which is 10 seconds. We then developed the blueprint for what we call ‘The Shift’ using calibrated measurements from the testing. What should’ve been an easy manufacturing process took us to the brink after two years of dead ends. We thought about producing overseas, but “made in the USA” was our priority because we wanted to be a brand who prioritizes quality over margin.
Now time to dig a bit deeper. Vanessa, you are very open to discussing your anxiety and how it was sparked by a negative relationship. What's your best advice to our women readers who feel sort of “stuck” or dragged down by others’ influence, resulting in mental health issues?
I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m so grateful for the worst relationship of my life. My self-image was destroyed by someone else and it changed my relationship with my thoughts. Naively, I thought I was actually helping myself become stronger by being more self-critical. It was having the opposite effect. My thoughts were my own worst enemy.
I learned that I might not be able to control how people treat me, but I had power over how I treated myself. Take a moment every day and examine how you talk to yourself. Are you nice or are you mean? Would you say those same things to a friend? Your thoughts aren’t facts and how you interpret those thoughts have real consequences. Be nice to yourself!
I spent years of my life thinking I was never good enough because I let another person dictate my inner voice. When you have a good relationship with yourself, you become more attractive to others because confidence is sexy. I like to think peace of mind is the new swag. When you rep that feeling, nobody can take it away from you.
Todd, you sparked Vanessa’s road to self-awareness and acceptance. The way she talks about you just screams “LOVE!” Can you give advice / feedback for those who have a partner with anxiety and best practices of support and encouragement?
The first step in helping someone with anxiety is trust. You can’t change someone’s relationship with their own thoughts unless they trust your intentions. This might seem somewhat basic, but it’s tricky. When you coach a significant other through something psychological, they could interpret your intentions as manipulative. Vanessa and I had to build a safe place first. Once our relationship was solidified, she opened herself up to mindfulness.
Anxiety disguises itself as normal. As a partner, you are the “anti-virus software” they need to alert them when their thoughts are destructive. When you see something, say something. I would notice that Vanessa would be triggered by a seemingly innocent thought which spiraled into catastrophic thinking. Instead of pre-qualifying the thought, her natural reaction was to protect herself by thinking of the worst possible scenario and preparing for that. That’s when we installed a new system of thinking. I call it “courtroom thinking.”
The next time you or your significant other is experiencing anxiety, first make sure they’re breathing long slow exhales (use the Shift, eh-hem) so the cortisol in their brain doesn’t block rational thinking. Then it’s safe to enter the courtroom drama in your mind. Since your mind is trying to make a decision about something; you should hear from BOTH the defense attorney and prosecutor; NOT just one side of the story because the mind plays a game where you only hear one side. That’s not how cases are decided and not how you should make decisions either. Case and point; when the prosecutor makes his case, you have to argue the other side to gain perspective. Once your brain starts to hear the other side, you become balanced. You learn how to see both sides of an issue.
It’s a long road, but once you adopt a new way of thinking and breathing, it all becomes easier. All you need is a willing partner, trusting relationship, and a little courtroom drama.
The both of you are very big teaching the discovery of “breath” at a young age. Why is this so important?
Since we’re fierce believers in power of breath, we want to invest in the future of mindfulness. Our goal is to install Komuso Wellness programs at pediatric hospitals and specialized schools where kids can start to harness their breath to gain better control of their emotions. We want to especially target children who are experiencing high levels of stress so we can offer them a pharma-free solution. We think the Shift is like training wheels for mindfulness. We get chills just thinking about being able to give these kids peace of mind.
What’s next for you, both personally and professionally?
As for what comes next, we follow a simple philosophy promoted by Einstein who said “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.” We just try to get a little better every day by setting small achievable goals which give us momentum.
We’re determined to build Komuso Design into a household name which is incredibly intimidating considering we’re creating a new category of fashion wellness. Sometimes we feel a little crazy for taking such a big professional leap of faith but there’s a force that pushes us to keep paddling up stream. At the end of the day though, what gives us peace of mind is that we’re dedicating our time to change lives, one breath at a time.
Interview by Emily