CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Karen Tan, Founder & CEO at ohGiGi

Karen Tan is the founder & CEO at ohGiGi, an organic sugar free tooth powder brand she launched in 2021.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’d love to! I moved to Melbourne when I was 17 from Malaysia after earning a scholarship to study Year 12 at a private college then went on to complete my Bachelor of Architecture at The University of Melbourne.

I joined a medium sized Melbourne architecture practice soon after and predominantly made my career with them from architectural graduate to associate over the next 15 years along with a couple of years practising as an architect in London. 

At the time in the early 2000’s, designs were all about developing cutting edge environmental sustainable design solutions. After ESD solutions became more commonly integrated within building designs, I came across building biology which is a study of the science and holistic relationships between people and their built environments.

What I learnt about it blew my mind and I knew it was going to be the next big thing for architects to consider, designing for wellness.

This was seven years ago. I decided to take on the studies of building biology and ironically, whilst learning about how the built environment can affect our health, I personally got sick from an unhealthy built environment and experienced first hand the impact of health hazards in the built environment.

It took me six months to heal and the experience was the turning point in my career. I left architecture to pursue my passion in educating others about the impacts our built environment can have on our health and became a wellness coach and integrative health practitioner as The Wellness Keeper.

My personal health journey led me down the path of supporting others whilst also continuing to learn and train in as much as I could about gut health, mitochondria and anything related to supporting my own health. 

Last year, whilst learning more about oral microbiome and the effects of dopamine released when our brains detect sweetness, I did another audit of what I thought was already a very clean low tox home and to my surprised found that my healthy toothpaste still had some chemicals in it that were not good and sugar!

This led me to make my own tooth powder as I could not find a toothpaste or tooth powder in the market that did not have sugar or sweeteners in their ingredients list. I’m really proud of building my natural tooth powder brand, ohGiGi over the last year. It is a cumulation of my personal journey and combines my passions for health, people and our planet. 

As a solo entrepreneur, I’ve learnt heaps over the years and I’m really excited about the opportunities that are ahead for me and the brand as I get to shape it into a purposeful, conscious, and impactful brand that helps people feel great and reduce chemicals and toxins in their everyday products by creating a truly healthy personal care product range that is actually good for us and the planet.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My days generally follow a routine that is based on Ayurvedic times of day. As maintaining and managing my health is very important to me, over the years I have created an early morning practice (it’s my ‘me time’) which includes meditation, breathwork, morning walks, exercise and a session in my sauna (for detoxing!) before my two school aged kids wake!

After the kids are off to school, it’s deep focus work tasks for me for a couple of hours before lunch after which it’s emails or meetings, or simpler tasks. The late afternoons are back to family time with the kids and or being involved with their after school activities and also another meditation time slot for me as learning the ‘art of resting’ has been key for me over the last couple of years. 

I then might spend an hour towards the end of the day catching up on a few more work tasks and the end of my day is always bookended with time spent with my hubby and or reading to wind down.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Yes! It was one of the main reasons to run my own business, to have the flexibility not just to be there for my kids but also for my health. If anything I have built my work around my life and my daily routines, as my routines support my health and wellness and give me the energy to do what I love to do! Besides that, working for myself has allowed me to create a home office that is healthy!

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work life balance I think over the last couple of years have changed dramatically for many of us.  For me, it really is around balancing and conserving my energy through managing my energy. It has taken me a long time to realise this, and it’s still something I continue to learn on a daily basis.

Understanding what supports and nourishes me (being creative, quiet time, time in nature, connecting with others) and what drains me (stress, saying yes to too many things, unhealthy indoor environments, certain foods) is really important to me as this helps me be my best self.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

I’m always tweaking my morning practice, sometimes it’s more time for meditation, sometimes it’s more walking time, it just depends on where I’m at with managing my health so I can be in the best state at that time.

One thing I have added that I am really enjoying is open water swimming! I love cold water therapy and swimming in the ocean especially in winter takes cold water therapy to the next level along with being out in nature. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

There are too many good books to recommend! If I had to pick a few, it would be Loving What Is by Byron Katie, Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Universe Has Got Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein, and Healthy Homes Healthy Family by Nicole Bijlsma.

Can’t go past The Goop Podcast too!

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

It’s a no-brainer, my tooth powder! But to be honest, I couldn’t live without my infrared sauna, my Google Calendar and my to-do list!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

So hard to pick! I loved reading Michelle Obama’s biography, it gave me insight into how she prioritised her work life balance in the years supporting her husband when he was president and their family.

I’d love to read about Arianna Huffington, the founder of Thrive, and someone that advocates changing the way we work and live. I’d love to know more about how she has achieved her work life balance.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

For someone that really has had to work on a work life balance over the years especially as I need to manage my health, I’ve realised that it comes down to what is important to you and what you choose to prioritise. And be intentional in everything you do!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.