From side hustle to success story: Meet the ladies of That’s So Retrograde.

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In our new editorial series More Than Just A…, we’re taking a beneath-the-surface look at women we admire, starting with the ladies behind the podcast That’s So Retrograde.

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“What’s the business plan, Elizabeth?” asks Steph Simbari, one half of the duo behind the wildly popular–and explicitly-rated–wellness podcast That’s So Retrograde.

Elizabeth (Kott, that is–the other half of TSR) pauses and takes a sip from her smoothie before matter-of-factly stating, “Take over.”

That pretty much sums up the success of That’s So Retrograde. Less plan, more passion. Not so much structure, a whole lotta spirit.

Being a longtime fan of their podcast, I can’t say I was surprised to hear it. The friends have been broadcasting their raw, real, irreverent conversations about everything from yoga to yoni eggs for two years; their openness and go-with-the-flow style making listeners feel like they truly know Elizabeth and Steph. And while that vulnerability may not be a bullet point on a business plan, it’s definitely the X-factor in the ladies’ wellness world domination.

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The Mason Top (left), The Stephania Skirt

Elizabeth and Steph’s version of vulnerability is not the kind you’re used to. It has none of the fragile undertones that the word often carries, and it doesn’t maintain that overly-personal, soul-spilling quality popularized by the Instagram captions of hashtag-wellness leaders. Instead, it’s defined by unapologetic curiosity and peppered with an almost-vulgar level of honesty (I mean, pooping comes up multiple times during our brief interview). In short, these women are real. And in an industry as critiqued and called-out as the wellness industry (Goop scandals, anyone?), their radical realness has sparked a self-care revolution.

It’s also attracted a prestigious lineup of podcast guests: every episode introduces an expert to explore a new frontier in the world of wellness. One week, TSR’s in-house astrologer, Ambi Sitham, sheds light on the meaning behind the month’s new moon; the next, Emma Roberts dishes on her favorite form of self-care (a good book, FYI). As hosts and interviewers, Elizabeth and Steph know how to work together: Steph pushes the envelope ‘til it’s almost over the edge and Elizabeth digs deeper, all in the name of educating–and entertaining–themselves (and their listeners, of course).

 

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The Mason Top

Heading into what they call “Season Two” of That’s So Retrograde–including a summer-long residency at the Ra Ma Institute in Venice, California–the wellness gurus are sharing conscious business advice (“Know your why”), self-love style philosophies (“Keeping ‘goal weight’ clothes is a really mean thing to do to yourself”), and how they propelled That’s So Retrograde from side hustle to success story.

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FAME: Before you were wellness podcasters/spiritual gurus, you both were focusing on other careers. Can you talk a little bit about what you originally wanted to pursue for work?
STEPH: I was–and still am–pursuing acting and comedy.

I started comedy as a journey to myself in kind of a spiritual way. I want to be myself and express myself and talk about things that I care about, and be vulnerable and be truthful, and you can do that in comedy. I was teaching yoga at the Comedy Store–I was trying to bring [mindfulness] there because the comedy world is so dark. In that world, there’s a pride in suffering, and I’ve never believed that to be true. I know there’s “paying your dues,” and I know it definitely has made me better to be in those situations…but there comes a point where it just hurts.

You go into an audition, and it’s 15 people that look exactly like you, and it always felt to me like I had something to say and it was more than waiting for someone to approve of me.

ELIZABETH: I had this vision of doing something that would merge entertainment, fashion, and new media but I didn’t know what that would be. I had a friend whose website, Texts From Last Night, blew up overnight, so I was helping them manage all the press. All of a sudden, I had tech startup business experience and I got hired by Rachel Zoe to launch The Zoe Report. After being in this specific creative/digital/fashion space for two years, I was inspire to create Closet Rich, which was an outlet for women to sell and donate things in their closet they no longer wanted.

It was an amazing opportunity but fashion wasn’t where my heart was. [Fashion] was something that I loved so much when I was younger, and I had had such a vision of exploring that world–and I feel like I did it in such a beautiful, accomplished way. But I wasn’t satisfied anymore.

I grew up with the notion that you can’t carry a designer bag and be a conscious individual, it was one or the other. It’s like, no, you can be all of those things. That’s So Retrograde weirdly has a similar message: you can be mindful and conscious in your life and care about the universe around–but also tell dick jokes.

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FAME: When did wellness fit into the picture for each of you?
STEPH: I had a weird health thing when I was younger, and I took this medication called Protonix that fucked up my stomach–destroyed me basically. So at 19 I had to start giving myself B12 shots, eating differently. I stopped eating gluten in 2005 because my stomach didn’t break down that food anymore. Really, instead of medication, it was all about changing my diet. I was forced to start cultivating consciousness about what I put in my body.

ELIZABETH: I was fired from two jobs and that was like a really pivotal moment for me to figure out who I was without the relationship to what I did for a living.

I was let go from my job at Rachel Zoe and that was a really cushy, exciting job for someone in their early twenties, so when that was gone I had an “Oh, shit” moment of, What am I supposed to do now? For a few months, I didn’t have a job so it was like, You better figure out who you are, Elizabeth, because if you don’t know, how do you expect anyone else to know?

Having the rug pulled out from under me at 25 was the best thing that ever happened to me, and gave me a lot of skills in terms of aligning with what I was supposed to be doing and allowing myself to define it.

STEPH: Not being defined by what we do is something we talk about a lot. “What do you do?”– that’s an anxiety-provoking question. I would always feel a big lump in my throat when I was doing comedy for the first five years because I was like, “I can’t define myself as a comic.” I didn’t feel like I earned it. Then, when I felt like I earned it, I didn’t want it anymore. You work so hard to craft this identity, and that’s why I feel like it’s so hard for people to stop and change their path. You feel a level of divorce from yourself if you can no longer say, “This is what I do.”

FAME: When you started the podcast, did you see it as a business opportunity?
ELIZABETH: It was purely a heart vision that manifested itself. Literally, Let’s do this cool thing because we’re selfish and we want to talk about things we’re curious about and we don’t think anyone else is talking about in a way that’s speaking to us. There was zero foresight. If I look back on it in my heart, it felt important. It felt pivotal.

STEPH: There was a moment less than a year in when we had a lot of major conversations saying, We’re really gonna do this. And then a level of seriousness started to take form. We realized it was possible for it to be a thing–because people were listening to it, that’s really what it was.

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FAME: You were friends first. How does that friendship affect your working relationship?
STEPH: It’s really difficult to be in a partnership that’s a relationship–you can end up getting frustrated, but because of that we’re very conscious of each other’s strengths. It’s really helped us to know where to push each other and how to give each other space to be individuals.

FAME: You’ve talked about the importance of having “multiple income streams” before. What are the pros and cons of that multiple income streams lifestyle?
ELIZABETH: For me, the idea of a traditional sitting-at-a-desk 9 to 5 is like death of the soul. Pre-internet, that was the norm. Now, there’s been an opening up of pathways. I don’t know one industry that hasn’t been completely shape-shifted by media and the internet and technology. And because of that, the opportunity to be out of that traditional box has grown. “Multiple income streams” means that idea of the traditional 9 to 5 doesn’t have to be the only option.

For me, I like doing work on Saturday or Sunday when I have space. Finding your natural working rhythm is huge.

STEPH: Aside from when I first graduated college and was a secretary, I’m an odd-job haver. Waitressing, babysitting, comedy, acting jobs–it’s always been my whole goal in life was to do stuff that I loved. There were times in my twenties when it was really stressful–you’re barely making it and want to have time for yourself, too. But now, “multiple income streams” is much more focused. Have multiple income streams, but don’t do so much that you can’t do anything 100%.

FAME: Do you use any apps to stay organized?
ELIZABETH: Google Calendar is the jam. Dropbox is the key to life. Dropbox it like it’s hot, as they say.

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The Mislin Coat (left), The Hanne Dress

FAME: You’ve gotten to a point where guests are pitching you constantly to be on the show. Can you talk about the transition from convincing guests to come on the show, to handpicking who you want to work with?
ELIZABETH: Every time we get an email with someone pitching us, it’s so exciting–but we’ve never been at a lack of guests. Stephanie meets people at the Farmer’s Market, or I sit next to someone at dinner, and that’s the guest. People just flow in.

We love when people reach out to us, but we rarely will have them on unless we’ve met with them and felt the vibe, because so much of our show is deeply personal. If it’s someone who is just pitched to us, it’s not as connected and not only do we feel that, the audience can feel it too.

STEPH: It’s super important that we have integrity with who we’re talking to, because that’s really all we have.

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FAME: Our #AntiFastFashion shop is taking a stand against fast fashion–we want to create clothing that is ethically produced and unique to each customer. Why were you interested in collaborating on this concept?
ELIZABETH: That idea of constant consumption hits close to home. I’ve been so lucky to work in an industry where there’s a lot of beautiful clothes that come my way. As I’ve gotten older, simplicity is key and the idea of overconsumption doesn’t really sit with me anymore. It doesn’t excite me to buy a bunch of things, I’m much more of a strategic shopper. In college, I was going to Forever 21 every weekend because I was bored and living in East Lansing. Now I’m more conscious about what I buy and when I buy it.

We had a zero waste advocate on our show, and that kind of changed my entire way of thinking. For instance, [we learned that] you have to rinse your hummus containers before they go into the recycling bin. When you put food waste in the recycling, it decomposes and it actually creates a really toxic environment. The consciousness of it is totally 360–it’s in clothes, it’s in food, it’s in the brands you buy.

You have to know where your money is going. In our country, that’s your power. You have to know what you’re supporting and that’s the bottom line.

FAME: What does personal style mean to you?
STEPH: As a woman, there’s something so beautiful and meditative and calming about getting ready and taking that time with yourself. If I blow dry my hair in the morning, I feel better. I feel like I’m doing something really positive! And to separate the two [spirituality and style]… I don’t like that. Taking care of your outside can inspire you to take care of your inside. And it’s fun! How I dress and what I do with my hair and face is full self-expression.

I don’t keep clothes in my house that are like “goal weight clothes.” That would torture me in my twenties–to know I had a pair of jeans that didn’t fit me. It’s such a low-key really mean thing to do to yourself. If you wear clothes that are uncomfortable, you won’t be carrying yourself in a way that’s freeing. You’ll feel like shit.

The most stylish people I know are people who are doing it for themselves, from themselves. It’s not necessarily anyone who’s really trendy–but the people I look to as fashionable and fun are people who are comfortable with themselves.

 

 

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The Mason Top (left), The Stephania Skirt

FAME: That’s So Retrograde has become a wellness business–two things that seem like natural opposites in today’s culture. American society’s business mindset in general is “go, go, go” with most workers constantly connected via their phones and working all hours of the day/night. Do either of you get caught up in that mindset, and how do you balance self-care and wellness with work?
ELIZABETH: The fun amazing, beautiful, thank-you-dear-Universe thing about it is that part of our work is exploring self-care. So it’s interesting, because self-care is part of the day-to-day. For me, I need to control my relationship with my phone and not be with my phone all the time.

STEPH: The business that we’re in is dedicated to self-care, so we’re in a unique situation where we’re constantly being checked. If we’re out of balance, we’ll find out. But I think the relationship to the phone is huge–I don’t let myself look at my phone in the first 10 minutes of being awake. I used to have a really sad relationship with my phone–you immediately feel like you’ve missed something or there’s something you need to catch up on.

I think that’s a major cause of sadness in today’s world. I obsessively refresh Instagram, and that’s where your own level of consciousness comes into play, where you’re like, OK, what am I looking for here? Having an awareness of that is huge. Your phone is not your lover. You’ll be OK without it for a little bit of time.

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The Stephania Skirt (left), The Tol Top

FAME: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
ELIZABETH: Know your why.
STEPH: Get new headshots.

FAME: What’s the best piece of wellness advice you can give our readers?
ELIZABETH: Breathe.
STEPH: Hydrate. They’re both free!

FAME: Who’s your dream guest?
ELIZABETH: Esther Perel or Ru Paul.
STEPH: Oprah – I just feel like she needs to come into our lives.
ELIZABETH: She’s going to, she’s on the manifesting board!

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FAME: What’s your morning ritual?
STEPH: Meditate, hydrate, tarot. In no particular order.
ELIZABETH: Meditate, write, hydrate, gratitude. Gratitude is number one–sometimes you’re in a hurry and you don’t feel like writing, but even if it’s just when I’m having my morning poop I’m like, OK, these are the 5 things I’m grateful for.

FAME: Do you have a power outfit that makes you feel amazing?
ELIZABETH: I have this YSL ring that’s like my power ring. But I’m more into white t-shirt, jeans, great shoes, great bag.
STEPH: I have these shoes that I wear, a chunky heeled Doc Marten boot. When I wear them I feel strong. Something about being a little bit taller makes me be like, “I’m a boss ass bitch.”

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For more from Elizabeth and Steph, listen to That’s So Retrograde and follow them on Instagram.