Sometimes the best wellness ideas come from everyday people’s struggles with diet and exercise. (It’s a journey of trial and error, after all.) From making healthy snacks to tracking hydration, these seven wellness brand founders decided to launch their products, based on their own very real get-fit experiences. Let their stories about making a living based on living well inspire you to chart your own course.
The Stories Behind 7 Wellness Brands
1. The Brand: BSX Technologies / LVL
The Goal: To help people live healthier by tracking hydration
Inspired by his physician father, Dustin Freckleton had wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon since he was 12 years old. He was on his way to making that dream come true, when suddenly, in his first year of medical school, Freckleton suffered a stroke — at the age of 24.
A rare experience for any twentysomething, let alone a healthy one, Freckleton was shocked to find out that dehydration was the cause. He couldn’t believe that his body hadn’t somehow warned him of his low hydration levels.
To prevent others from suffering the same fate, Freckleton rolled up his sleeves. Over the next three years, he spent what little free time he had between med-school studies, researching dehydration and collaborating with various engineers and mathematicians. He worked hard in hopes of developing a wearable to measure H2O levels in the body. In 2012, Freckleton and his team launched BSX Technologies.
BSX’s first product, known as Insight, is a calf sleeve that measures lactate levels to help endurance athletes perform at their peak. But the key product, a hydration band called LVL, will launch this summer. (It has already earned $1.2 million in preorders on Kickstarter.)
Freckleton’s excited that unlike the niche market for the Insight sleeve, LVL will appeal to a larger audience. “Hydration is exciting for us but it’s just the beginning,” he says. “Using our sensor package, we can measure hydration, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure and start to paint a total picture of the individual. I think what we’re doing it going to drive the next generation of wearables.”
2. The Brand: Curvy Yoga
The Goal: To create a space where people can practice yoga and celebrate their body
Anna Guest-Jelley hadn’t been looking to launch a business. She was an English teacher with a background in nonprofits who loved meeting new people. But as an avid yogi, she realized something was missing from the studios she went to.
“I believe that our bodies are incredible sources of wisdom.”
In her decades of practice, she was often the biggest person in the room and didn’t feel like she was on the same page as other class goers. It didn’t help that she had a pretty adverse relationship with her body, constantly dieting and striving to drop pounds. “I believe that our bodies are incredible sources of wisdom,” she says. “And that when we’re cut off from them due to constantly being told — by others and ourselves — that they’re not OK, we lose something essential.”
Instead of continuing the search for a place that promoted more body confidence, Guest-Jelley decided to make it a reality herself. The studio she now offers is “a space where we invite people to be with, listen to and learn from their bodies, exactly as they are,” she says. “Cultivating a body-affirming space means looking at every aspect of a student’s experience — from including diverse bodies in your promotional materials, to making sure we have a variety of yoga props available, to setting the tone at the beginning of class by letting everyone know that no two poses will be the same because no two bodies are the same.”
Today, the Nashville-based business boasts studios all over the world, as well as an online community. Guest-Jelley has also recently published a book, Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day, to further encourage body acceptance through yoga. “My hope for the brand is always that we continue to help people come back to themselves in an affirming and supportive environment,” she says, “regardless of their body shape or size.”
3. The Brand: The Fort
The Mission: To start a training center that hits the sweet spot between personal and group training
Dan Trink began his relationship with exercise soon after he set a wedding date. He went to the gym four to five times a week, spending most of his time on cardio machines. Though he lost more than 50 pounds in four months, he still felt like he had more to go. To keep the results coming, he tried new modes of activity, like boxing, jumping rope and what has become his greatest fitness love: lifting weights.
At the time, Trink enjoyed his job as creative director at an advertising agency. And his co-workers starting noticing his leaner physique. They’d ask him for training advice (which he happily provided) and he’d check on their food logs. As he started getting tired of selling people things they didn’t actually need, he began considering a leap to the wellness world. It was his ability to help people at his agency get healthy that gave him the confidence he needed to make a full-time switch.
After shadowing the owner of Peak Performance in New York City, Trink joined the team as a personal trainer. Eventually, he took over as director of fitness. Trink soon recognized that private sessions weren’t the most accessible way to work out, thanks to the hefty price tag and limited sessions. Boutique fitness studios with big classes didn’t feel quite right either, because instructors didn’t always focus on form and effort. To fill the gap, Trink and his business partner, Kyle Fields, decided to open Fortitude Strength Club. “We saw a void in the market and built this small-group, up to four people, training model that uses an evidence-based approach,” he says.
At the Fort, clients do progressive workouts and train closely with the staff. “We get them stronger, injury resistant, healthier, improve body composition, improve work capacity and improve movement quality,” Trink says. “We had to borrow money, dip into savings and sell our apartments to make this happen. But we were truly doing something that we believed in, that the industry and people needed and that did not exist.” Ever since opening the doors to the Fort, Trink has committed to lifting and teaching others how to lift right along with him.
4. The Brand: Tutublue
The Mission: To create cool, sun-protective clothing to empower fit-minded people
Sarah Buxton was working as an actress and interior designer in LA when she had a brush with skin cancer in 2014. Luckily, her doctors could surgically remove the melanoma before it spread. But while recovering from the surgery, Buxton thought about how she could live more healthfully. “I love being active outside and needed a way to still enjoy outdoor activities,” Buxton says. Of course sunscreen was an option, but she often missed spots or forgot to reapply.
Then, she realized she could create sun-protective clothing, made from quick-drying fabric in fun, bright designs. Think: full-coverage swimsuits (arms and legs included) that make covering up at the beach surprisingly fashionable. Buxton made a few for herself and, on a trip to Hawaii, quickly realized they could have broader appeal. “People were coming up to me, saying they also needed a full bodysuit,” she says.
Since making her first UPF 50-rated outfit, Buxton receives requests from swimmers, surfers and stand-up paddleboarders. And it’s not just people worried about skin cancer who contact her. Buxton has also gotten feedback from women who need full coverage for religious reasons. As a result, she’s launching a hooded tank this spring, created based on a request from a Muslim woman looking for a sporty alternative to her hijab.
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5. The Brand: Nuttzo
The Mission: To promote healthy eating at home and around the world
Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi enjoyed the freedom and perks of her job in radio advertising, but it didn’t feel like her calling. “I had this nagging desire to share my passion of healthy eating, unique living, zest for adventure and helping neglected children thrive. But I couldn’t figure out how,” she says.
“I had this nagging desire to share my passion of healthy eating, unique living, zest for adventure and helping neglected children thrive.”
After years of coming up with ideas that didn’t seem quite right, that calling came to her when she and her husband adopted their son. Greg, then a three-year-old from the Ukraine, was a picky eater and wouldn’t eat animal protein. “I was stressed that he was very malnourished — Greg was in the fifth percentile in height and weight,” Dietz-LiVolsi recalls. “So I would rack my brain on how to super-boost his food.”
The answer was at the bottom of a nut butters jar. Dietz-LiVolsi loved mixing different flavors she bought from the store. She then started trying her own combinations in a food processor at home. When she gave her first batch to her son and he loved it, she knew she found a solution that would stick.
“Every nut and seed has different vitamins and minerals,” she says. Unlike other brands, her spreads include seven different nuts and seeds — and she plans to expand her line to include even more nutrient-dense and filling snacks. “NuttZo is going to continue to produce cutting-edge, nutrient-dense health snacks that taste amazing and share the zest for life,” she says.
6. The Brand: Priority Bicycles
The Goal: To find balance with easy-to-use, affordable bicycles
As CEO of an international software company in New York, David Weiner loved his job — except for the fact that it constantly kept him on the road. With weekly business trips, he felt burned out whenever he actually did get to hang at home. So he often daydreamed about becoming his own boss.
All that dreaming led him to the idea of developing a low-maintenance, accessible bicycle brand. He always loved riding and even worked in a bike shop when he was younger. Plus, he liked the idea of using his tech skills in a more interesting way. Though the thought of his own venture excited Wiener, he felt scared to take the leap. “It got to the point where I had to weigh the risks versus the rewards: the risk of losing money and starting over, versus the rewards of having something that was fully mine and that I believed in,” he says.
In 2014, staring down a long list of “pros”, he launched his brand, Priority Bicycles, on Kickstarter. Now, he has a line of six bikes — all high quality but not high maintenance. They each feature innovative designs and affordable price points.
Despite the growth and success, Weiner says the best part of his career shift just might be his ability to balance work and life. Even more importantly, he can focus on family as his top priority (hence the brand name!).
7. The Brand: The New Primal
The Mission: To make delicious protein-filled snacks that encourage healthy eating and responsible farming
Since graduating college, Jason Burke worked in sales, first in finances then software. His favorite part of each job: building relationships and having a positive influence on others’ lives. He didn’t realize he could find an even better way to do that.
“Healthy animals make healthy food, which in turn helps people live healthier lives.”
When Burke started working out at a local CrossFit gym eight years ago, it kicked off a new desire to explore health and nutrition. “I went on a journey to eliminate all added sugar from my diet and consume proteins from humanely raised sources, like grass-fed beef and pastured turkey and chicken,” Burke says. “But snacking at my desk during the day was a struggle. I couldn’t bear another almond!” He heard jerky packed a lot of protein but couldn’t find many without a ton of sugar — and none made from grass-fed beef. So he decided to make his own.
“The idea behind the New Primal has far-reaching implications, including the impact we’re making on people’s health, and the impact holistic farming practices have on the planet,” says Burke. He explains: “The confined animal feedlot operations where so much of the meat [in the U.S.] is raised are some of the biggest sources of pollution in our air, water and soil.”
Though he has global hopes for the New Primal, at the end of the day, Burke’s mission comes back to the individuals enjoying his snacks. “Healthy animals make healthy food, which in turn helps people live healthier lives,” he says.