Model, DJ and now medical start-up founder, Chelsea Leyland isn’t afraid to take on new challenges. In 2020, galvanised by her own tortuous journey to find effective treatments for her epilepsy and long-undiagnosed endometriosis, Chelsea and business partner Tatiana founded Looni, a female-led start-up with a science-backed holistic approach to women’s hormonal health. We caught up with Chelsea to talk career transitions, alternative medicine and why an endometriosis diagnosis still takes years…
Your company’s name, Looni, brilliantly suggests both ‘lunar’, as in the moon, and ‘loony’, as in the way women are often made to feel when reporting medical issues. How did you approach that side of the process, i.e. name, branding, aesthetic?
I think, first and foremost, it’s important to get your own vision down on paper before you start getting influenced by other brands on Pinterest and making mood boards. Branding is an iterative process; it often requires a lot of testing, which takes time. I found it helpful to imagine the brand as if it were a living organism—what would it smell like? What would it taste like?
We were fortunate enough to work with an exceptionally talented branding designer, who helped translate our creative vomit into something tangible and helped us boil our philosophy down to a simple ratio—50% science, 50% spirit—which remains integral to everything we do. The name Looni came to me intuitively but my business partner Tatiana Steel wasn’t sure at first. Then, one day, she asked me out of the blue what name I would choose if I had to choose that moment and I said Looni Looni Looni. So she said, Ok, let’s do it.
How does running your own business compare to your previous life as a model and DJ in terms of pace and pressure?
The pace feels softer, because I work from home and spend more time alone. I found the social nature of my work before really challenging at times, as it involved a lot of dressing up and all the pressure and insecurity that goes with wanting to look good. Plus, I’m not on an airplane three times a week, which was so taxing on my body, particularly as I have epilepsy.
However, running my own business is a huge responsibility, especially once you hire a team and have shareholders to answer to. Now, the pressure comes from a fear of letting other people down, not just myself, which can feel overwhelming at moments.
Has your relationship with music shifted since transitioning away from it as a profession?
Fortunately, I am still DJing (although not like before!) so I still get to play with that side of myself. I have a few gigs coming up and am DJing in Mexico on New Year’s eve, which I’m really looking forward to. We also put out bi-weekly Looni Radio playlists, which allows that creative energy to stay present. Link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1E4u2s2q6zRQW0
What have you been listening to recently?
Let me see what’s on my weekly playlist… I’ve been listening to my friend ELIZA’s new track ME vs. ME, Yes Sir I Can Boogie by Baccara, the amazing Jesse Boykins III, No Love Without You, and finally Richenel’s You’ve Got The Love.
You’ve suffered from epilepsy since your early teens. How did that impact the way you saw the world?
My sister Tamsin and I both suffer from epilepsy, although hers is far more severe than mine. It made me incredibly sensitive as I felt so vulnerable from such an early age, but I think it ended up being a gift as it turned me into an empath and gave me a strong desire to help others. It taught me that we all have the power to help other people, even through the smallest acts of kindness and compassion. After years of being fearful, I think it’s ultimately made me a stronger and more courageous person.
How and when did you first start treating your epilepsy with Cannabidiol(CBD)?
About seven years ago, I was introduced to the plant’s medicinal properties by an activist friend.
Have you always been interested in alternative medicine?
Well, my mother was dabbling in homoeopathy and taking me to acupuncturists and energy healers at the age of 15, so I guess it has always been in my world.
You also suffer from endometriosis. How long did it take for you to receive a diagnosis?
Unfortunately it took over ten years, which is pretty much on par with the average diagnosis time.
Why do you think it often takes so long for the condition to be recognised?
Because it’s massively underrepresented and under-researched, which I think this is due to the fact that this is a condition that solely affects women and the medical profession is inherently misogynist.
How and when did the idea for Looni come about?
Almost five years ago. After years of subjecting myself to hardcore pharmaceuticals and undergoing an unsuccessful surgery to try and reduce my pain, I started experimenting with alternative medicine and found tremendous relief. I couldn’t find anything specifically formulated for the menstrual symptoms I was trying to treat, so I was just combining botanically-derived ingredients that were completely unregulated but just seemed to work for me. At one point, I was taking so many different products that it was incredibly overwhelming.
Was it intimidating to present yourself and your ideas within an unfamiliar industry?
Yes, definitely. But I kept reminding myself that the brand’s story was my truth. I believe that authenticity and passion count for a lot in life.
As a founder, what lessons have you learned so far?
Hmmm, probably that mistakes can be a huge opportunity for growth. And that if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
What are your plans for Looni in the coming years?
My co-founder and I joke that we have such a truckload of ambitions that we often have to slow ourselves down because we get so excited about what we’re building. We live in a culture that’s so focused on what’s next, but it’s important not to jump ahead.
Our core mission, today and for the next five years, is to elevate the menstrual cycle and democratise body literacy. We want to create products that have been meticulously designed, formulated, and produced to enable people to live freely, without their menstrual cycles getting in the way.
Finally, we ask all of our Journal interviewees to complete the following phrase:
You Must Create… a world that’s worth getting out of bed for, every day