Workout With Form | Lauren Armes
The calendar entry is Mortimer House, 8.30 am. It’s in the Fitzrovian art deco building where Lauren Armes has chosen to base her business. To name a few of its functions, Welltodo is a resource for news, insights, trends, networking, events and careers within the wellness space. It’s perfectly fitting when Armes describes it as this industry’s answer to Business of Fashion.
When it came to finding an office for her company, Mortimer House was a no-brainer. The concept of the W1 club is based upon American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”, a theory that human motivation and happiness is based on a lower order of needs which must be fulfilled before a higher order is satisfied.
On its upper floors is an immaculately-designed coworking space. On the ground, a restaurant serves Instagram-friendly plates and adaptogen-filled smoothies. Thursday evening cocktails in the office are repeating on the Welltodo social schedule, as are lunch-time visits to Mortimer House’s pristine basement gym, a small but efficient space complete with yoga and pilates studio.
Alas, it is not Thursday evening. It is 8.30 on a rainy Friday morning, and Armes and I have met in aforementioned basement gym – quiet but for two PT sessions in motion.
“As a start-up, you want to be able to offer your staff something special and different. This space really allows that,” says Armes as she shows me around.
“This whole area is a bit of a wellness hub,” she adds. “Detox Kitchen is across the road, just around the corner is Rathbone Boxing Club, the latest in a long line of boutique fitness studios in this area.”
Armes tries as many of them as she can fit into her schedule, but it’s between the gym we’re in now and one closer to her home in Surrey where she spends the bulk of her training time. Given that when we meet in early August she’s just a month away from her Tuscan wedding, her personal efforts have intensified.
“There’s nothing like a wedding to knock you into shape,” she laughs.
“I’d just come across Business of Fashion and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if wellness had something like this?’ Somewhere to read content, get insights around things like investment, hear the stories behind all these new and interesting brands”
We take to the treadmills and begin a slow jog. It’s been six years since Armes moved to the UK from Australia’s Gold Coast, where she’d been working in business development and marketing. On arriving in London, it didn’t take long before she’d started thinking about running her own business. What was the process?
“When you start thinking about what your business is going to be, you typically start to think ‘what am I passionate about?’ For me, it was entrepreneurship and wellness.”
So what specifically interested you about wellness?
“It’s interesting because growing up in Australia, I didn’t ever think of myself as being ‘into’ wellness. It’s a part of life. Everything you can possibly do outside, you do outside – it naturally yields a more active lifestyle.”
Did you come to London feeling it was lacking that?
“In a lot of ways, for sure, but I could see it was developing. A lot of trends I’d seen doing well in Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, were beginning to arrive in the UK, whether that was the Psycle down the road from here on Mortimer Street – the first SoulCycle-style spin class I’d come across – cold-pressed juice bars, or simple things like almond milk on coffee shop menus.”
These little shifts helped Armes realise that 1/ she was into wellness and 2/ there was something in that to build a business. After spending some time writing about the industry, an aha moment led to her hosting an event that invited entrepreneurs in the space to come together and have a conversation about the business side of wellness.
“At that time, I’d just come across Business of Fashion and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if wellness had something like this?’ Somewhere you could go to read content, get insights around things like investment, hear the stories behind all these new and interesting brands.”
And so, Welltodo was born.
Setting the Pace
Armes turns up the speed on her treadmill and I follow her lead. Today is Friday, and Friday is a day Armes sets aside for creativity. On Mondays and Wednesdays, she takes clients from home (Armes is also a personal business coach and mentor for women building their own companies). Tuesdays are for external meetings in London and Thursdays are for team meetings. This rigid weekly structure has become very important to Armes ever since she got a virtual assistant.
“No, not like Alexa,” she chuckles when I ask. “My virtual assistant is called Kat, and she’s a real person.”
Kat set up our meeting.
“Yes! Kat used to be an assistant to senior execs at Virgin. She had two kids and wanted a more flexible business, so she’s virtual because she works from home. We catch up every couple of months for a coffee, but remotely she runs my calendar, does our office administration, and so on. She’s teaching me how I work most efficiently.”
On that note, treadmill time is up – it’s been 25 minutes. We dismount and head for the free weights. Armes has been taking notes from the circuit class she does regularly in her home gym to incorporate into her solo routines here. She takes two 12kg dumbells and initiates a set of backwards lunges, 10 on each side.
“I’m the kind of person who takes my nootropic supplement one morning, and the next I’ll skip breakfast and grab a coffee on the go. I don’t get it right all the time, but I don’t beat myself up about it.”
If the realisation that she was indeed interested in wellness began with simple things like cold-pressed juice and almond milk, what are the wellness trends currently capturing her attention? It’s not surprising that she doesn’t have to think for very long to answer this.
“I’m fascinated by how technology is changing the landscape from one-size-fits-all to hyper-personalised,” she beams. “I’ve never been someone who’s worn a fitness tracker until recently.”
As she clutches one of her dumbbells close to her chest to begin a set of 20 squats, I catch a glimpse at the stylish white-strapped, rose-gold faced smartwatch on her wrist. “You can use the data recorded on these for something more meaningful. My trainer can see the calories I burn via this watch and map out a training plan that’s personalised to my goals.
“Then there’s this supplement I’ve been taking recently where they actually send someone to your home or workplace to take a blood sample. That gets sent to a lab, analysed, and from it, they personalise a supplement based on where I actually have deficiencies.”
Interestingly, the other trend that Armes is fascinated by is, in many respects, the very opposite of personalisation.
“The other thing that’s exciting to me is this shift away from the individualistic pursuit of wellness. You don’t need an expensive gym to be ‘well’ – that’s just one lens that maybe you and I see it through right this second. On the environmental side, as an example, brands are recognising that while a green juice may be good for you, if it comes in a single-use plastic bottle it’ll end up in landfills, that isn’t so good. The evolution of the conscious consumer is hugely affecting this industry.”
As you might imagine, Armes is plugged into every facet of the wellness world, bombarded by its many fads. A month ago, when I saw her host the annual Welltodo Summit at the Chancery Lane offices of law firm Bird & Bird, she admitted to never having tried CBD as she introduced the founder of a drinks brand incorporating it into their ingredients list.
Is it hard to pick and choose which parts of the wellness industry you adopt, and which you don’t?
“If I take myself too seriously, I think it’d be easy to get caught up in the extremes,” she admits. “With regards to diet, at least, my other half is a burger and fries kind of guy. Being with him is good for me in the respect that although I’m quite healthy and conscious of what is good, I haven’t lost the enjoyment of going out to a restaurant and having a massive bowl of pasta. I’m the kind of person who takes my nootropic supplement one morning, and the next I’ll skip breakfast and grab a coffee on the go. I don’t get it right all the time, but I don’t beat myself up about it.”
The End Goal
We return to a new set of lunges. Friday being the day Armes sets aside for creative pursuits, on her schedule after we finish are two podcast recordings (she is the interviewee), plus the onboarding of Welltodo’s new social media freelancer. Longer-term, she’s gearing up for the launch of an eight-week online course called Work in Wellness. Longer still is Welltodo’s move into Asia.
“We ran three events there last year which were really successful, and we’re just taking our time getting to know the market, building relationships, and seeing if we could also move into Australia.”
Could you ever see yourself moving back?
“People often ask this question. My feeling is that I don’t want to choose. I want to be in both. Jamie [Armes’ fiance, who works with her at Welltodo] and I have a personal goal to spend at least three months of every year there.”
It’s an ambitious goal to pile onto her fast-growing business. Even in the wellness industry, companies are not immune from burnt-out CEOs and staff, especially at start-ups. I have to ask. Living and working with your fiance, what’s your work/life balance like… Do you work on weekends?
“I feel like if I did that, my business would grow faster,” she concedes as we move onto our final set of squats. “I’ve had to almost be OK with it not growing as fast as it could in order for me to enjoy my life. When you’re self-employed, you could work every hour under the sun, and people do! I have no judgement towards the people who decide to do that, but I’m 31 and I just feel what’s the point of having a successful business and being busy all the time. Being busy is very glorified in our society – you often hear people lament how busy they are – I just feel like saying ‘it’s your choice!’
“Because I work with my fiance there’s always a temptation there – to bring work home, to work on the weekend,” she continues. “But we choose to do fun things instead. I consider myself calm, relaxed; I don’t stress easily, even though I know I could.”
This weekend, she’ll plan her wedding. Monday: clients from home. Tuesday: external meetings. Wednesday: clients from home. Thursday: internal meetings. Friday: be creative. The word balance is bandied about a lot in the wellness industry, but few are getting it quite as right as Armes.