The pandemic brought about change unlike anything the world has witnessed in some time — and as a result, companies have seen an increase in consumer interest around living a healthy, active life.
“Wellness has been gaining some major traction for the past decade, but this pandemic really brought ‘in-home’ wellness to the forefront of our everyday life,” said Aaron Azzarito, president of Telic. “The travel restrictions and overall limited mobility this past year gave us the opportunity to look inside our own homes to create a healthy living environment where we can not just survive, but where we can thrive.”
Beyond recognizing the importance of individual wellness, this trend extended to families and as part of a greater society.
“It was clearer than ever during a global pandemic that our well-being was interconnected, and that required us to think about how our behavior could affect the health of ourselves and others,” said Hy Rosario, director of product, outdoor at Hoka One One.
Here, seven executives offer up their thoughts on how the definition of wellness has changed, the opportunities ahead and what it will take to make the wellness industry more diverse.
Rethinking the Category
Many insiders agree that consumers aren’t rushing back to the frenetic pre-pandemic lifestyle.
Dr. Taryn Rose, CEO and co-founder of Enrico Cuini, noted that the lockdown allowed for introspection and the absence of FOMO (the fear of missing out) because no one else was doing anything either.
“The release from that pressure was very healing,” the longtime designer said. “There was time to focus on our well-being instead of just pushing through the early signs of burnout. Having learned how important it is to focus on self-care, people will not want to give that up, and I think that will reflect in many aspects of their lives, including their shopping habits.”
At Vionic, “wellness from the ground up” has always been central in the company’s messaging. “We believe foot health is foundational to overall wellness, and we’ve really seen that play out over this past year and a half,” said Angela Caltagirone, SVP and GM. “The benefit we all got from walking when it was one of the only things we could turn to for exercise, or to clear our minds, or both. It’s all connected. Our definition wasn’t changed as much as it was affirmed.”
“For me, wellness is rooted in the idea of taking care of yourself to reach your full potential,” said Kane CEO John Gagliardi. With Kane Footwear — which launched this spring — the executive said he wanted to create something that encouraged wellness on an individual level through an active recovery design. But he also wanted to make a difference on a broader scale, and that’s why sustainability is an integral part of the brand.
“My definition of wellness has evolved beyond the context of individual, physical well-being, especially in light of a global pandemic that left many of us mentally tired,” Gagliardi said. “The environment that you’re in — and the planet you’re on — play a large part in your well-being.”
Hoka’s Rosario echoed this sentiment, noting that the idea of wellness has shifted away from a narrow definition — an individual fitness routine, for example. Now it includes “several forms of indoor or outdoor movement that we can keep up for the long term, as well as how we can work together toward a collective sense of well-being,” Rosario said.
How to Make Wellness More Diverse
But even as executives talk about their vision for wellness to be inclusive, there is still a notable lack of diversity in the space.
“[Some] women and people of color don’t have the time for much self care because all their time and energy is spent on just surviving, whether it is to keep the family schedule and needs running or to keep enough money coming in to pay the bills,” said Rose. “Self-care is still considered an indulgence rather than a necessary part of healthy living, like exercise.”
She believes more representation would require companies to listen to the reality of what people face instead of prescribing what they should do. “There should be role models who can speak about their authentic struggle to find wellness in their lives,” Rose added.
Tracey McLeod, founder of fitness footwear label Tiem, believes in inspiring action to make change. “We will continue to hold ourselves accountable and support organizations that take actions towards equality, justice and diversity,” she said. For Tiem, that means donating to organizations like Black Girl Ventures, NAACP and Girl Up and partnering with advocates in the fitness community who shine a light on important issues.
Azzarito asserted that employment practices, work culture and environment should be continuously evaluated and adjusted to understand inclusivity (or lack thereof), since it has a direct linkage with wellbeing.
“If we learned anything from 2020, it’s that we are all in this together. Health and wellness is something that should transcend race, gender, sexuality and social class,” he said.
Along with recognizing the barriers people face in terms of fitness or any form of movement, messaging can also strive to be more inclusive, executives said.
“One place to start is in representation: making it clear through our marketing and storytelling that running, walking, fitness and the outdoors are for everyone,” said Rosario.
The company features a minimum of 60% representation of BIPOC athletes and diverse body types in all of its marketing, and amplifies diverse voices through its storytelling mechanisms, such as Humans of Hoka or the “Time to Fly” films. “Hoka also recognizes that our own brand needs to represent the diversity of our consumers in order to authentically speak to and empower them.”
The Big Product Opportunities
The wellness community has long focused on what it takes to achieve or maintain a healthy body, but a new opportunity has opened up in recovery.
“What comes after constant years of running or lifting? What injuries or changes in our bodies will we have to live with?” said Azzarito. Since 2012, the company has been in the recovery footwear space — something he sees as the missing piece to many consumers’ healthy lifestyle.
Steve Gallo, president of Oofos, believes that the recovery segment has great potential right now. “Recovery is being seen as a much more important component to consumer’s overall wellness and their health and fitness regimens.”
Caltagirone said Vionic has seen more focus on active shoes as people are walking more than ever and resuming other physical activities.
“There’s a wellness tie-in to the comfort and casualization trend that’s grown out of all the time we’ve spent at home. We’re embracing it visually within our style and delivering it through the footbed technology that’s in all of our footwear — including slippers, heels and booties,” she said.
The footwear industry can provide solutions for consumers looking to be more active, and bring wellness-driven solutions, noted Rosario. “We’re in a position to bring that movement and activity, and the form of wellness that accompanies it, to more people than ever before.”
Hoka is a brand that seeks to be as inclusive, welcoming and empowering as possible, providing access to athletes of every level and enticing those who may have previously felt that running, walking, hiking or fitness wasn’t for them.
“Our products are designed in a way that will enhance people’s experiences and make them more empowering, even fun — and encourage them to continue doing it and change their lives for the better.”
To be sure, there’s work to be done to emphasize how important recovery and healing is for people who are used to pushing their limits, Gagliardi said. “The more we can talk about wellness as part of peak performance, the more we can work to change that mindset.”
Oofos’ Gallo said another challenge is educating consumers on a legitimate benefit.
Most performance shoe foams provide energy return to enhance a person’s workout or run. OOfoam, the brand’s proprietary compound that it says reduces impact 37% more than traditional foams, does the exact opposite. “It provides a slow rebound requiring less ankle power when walking around, thus relieving stress on the wearer’s joints and helping them recover faster,” he said.