The Wellness Industry Stories That Shaped 2020

From shock step-downs and head-to-head battles to pioneering partnerships and multi-million dollar deals, in 2020, the wellness industry continued to demonstrate growth, resilience and new opportunities. And as usual, we tracked and reported all of the breaking news, insights and intelligence that fed into your decision making and enabled you to chart your own course for success.

Here we revisit the 10 most popular stories published on Welltodo over the past year, including Crossfit’s demise, the explosion of mental wellness, the battle of the at-home fitness brands and of course the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic……….

Outdoor Voices founder Tyler Haney found herself the latest victim of the female founder ‘takedown’

At the turn of the year, Tyler Haney, the founder of US athleisure brand Outdoor Voices stepped down as CEO amid rumours of spiralling losses.

Despite raising over $60 million from various investors, including Forerunner and General Catalyst, and generating annual sales of approximately $40 million, the business is said to have suffered losses of $2 million per month in 2019, according to Business Of Fashion. And as rumours of a toxic work culture, as well as Haney’s frayed relationship with investors, began to swirl, the face of the brand was forced to defend herself.

Haney has since returned to the business, following fresh investment and the addition of a new chairwoman. Read more

As COVID-19 first took hold gyms and fitness studios demonstrated their agility and resilience

With the coronavirus pandemic prompting the closure of gyms and fitness clubs across the world, leading brands such as SoulCycle, Equinox, Barry’s, Life Time Fitness, Orangetheory and more turned their attention towards digital offerings.

Initially launching free fitness classes on Instagram, Facebook and Zoom, as the pandemic raged on, operators began to establish more concrete, subscription-based platforms, based on a longer-term approach. 

As we have since seen, the consensus from industry voices is that an omnichannel model that blends both physical and digital offerings will be key in effectively catering to consumers in the post-pandemic landscape. Read more

F&B brands also pivoted and adapted at lightning speed

For F&B brands, quick and innovative pivots were also the favoured approach. Healthy cafes offered take-out and delivery options, while more established chains such as Leon and Pret A Manger also developed retail offerings.

Detox Kitchen and Leon teamed up with other providers to launch essential grocery deliveries, while US chain Sweetgreen deployed a range of emerging technologies and new digital models, including the launch of delivery via its own app, featuring a digital-only menu aimed at innovating off-premise, personalised experiences.

By enabling customers to engage with their services either in person, digitally or via a mix of both, these brands were able to keep them within their brand ecosystem, despite changes in circumstance or lifestyle. Read more

The Wellness Industry Stories That Shaped 2020
Image: Allbirds
Allbirds and Adidas linked up in an industry-disrupting move 

In May, sportswear giant Adidas teamed up with sustainable footwear brand Allbirds in a pioneering move placing purpose over profit.

The collaborative project, which aims to accelerate solutions to reduce the 700m metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by the footwear industry annually, saw the two brands coming together to innovate on manufacturing and supply chain processes in addition to exploring renewable material resources. 

The goal at the time was to create the lowest carbon footprint ever recorded for a sports performance shoe and in the process, unlock the opportunity to set a new industry standard in the fight against climate change. Read more

The initiative, which is still ongoing, also highlighted the growing shift towards new values associated with business purpose and collective consciousness — a trend we explore further in our 2021 Consumer Wellness Trends Report.

Sustainable athleisure brand TALA continued disrupting the athleisure sector

In a $167 billion market, standing out from the crowd could appear to be an impossible task. Athleisure brand TALA, however, rose to the challenge.

In 2020, its ‘on-trend, affordable, high-performance activewear, that is 100% up-cycled and honest’ struck a chord with a cohort that’s notoriously hard to connect with.

For founder Grace Beverley’s 1 million-plus followers (most of whom fall into the millennial and Gen Z demographic) the brand’s ability to understand their motivations, and in response disrupt the status quo of a category that on the whole, hasn’t been listening to their needs, captured their attention and transformed it into sales. Read more

Wellness Brands responded en masse to the Black Lives Matter movement

As US citizens and people around the world protested the long history of police brutality and systematic racism, including the unlawful deaths of black Americans including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, wellness brands scrambled to communicate their own responses.

In a show of solidarity and shared values, posts of support and empathy flooded social media timelines and the hashtag #blacklivesmatter became a common signifier for the cause. 

However, industry voices such as Sarah Greenidge, founder of Wellspoken — an accreditation scheme, aimed at putting credible content at the forefront of wellness — was one of a growing collective demanding action beyond the superficial and performative demonstrations of support that have become commonplace in modern marketing.

She argued that the time was now to “proactively shake the table” and “start addressing the problems that are in our own front yard”. To drive the industry forward, she launched a charter for racial diversity, inclusion and access, as part of a groundbreaking initiative aimed at driving real systemic change. Read more

The Wellness Industry Stories That Shaped 2020

CrossFit’s CEO Stood Down & Brands Cut Ties Amid Global Backlash

In June, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman stepped down amid global backlash for comments he made about George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The decision came after a growing number of fitness brands, operators and athletes publicly parted ways with the $4bn fitness company, in response to the controversy.

Following the move, Glassman sold the fitness company to new owner Eric Roza, a tech executive and co-founder of a successful CrossFit gym. At the time, Roza said he was committed to leading positive change and would be “working hard to build bridges to those whose trust we have lost”. Read more

Gymshark became a unicorn following $1billion valuation

Athleisure brand Gymshark hit £1.3 billion in valuation, and became one of 2020’s wellness unicorns, after raising capital from growth equity investor General Atlantic.

The investment, which was rumoured to be in the region of £300 million, saw General Atlantic take a 21 percent stake in the fast-growing startup.

In his mission to grow Gymshark into the most successful British fitness brand in the world, founder Ben Francis, who launched the business back in 2012 at the age of 19, said he would leverage the partnership to facilitate further growth in North America where Gymshark already boasts its largest customer base.

“Is this going to change the business? Absolutely not,” Francis argued. “If anything you’ll see Gymshark even more agile than ever, I’m going to have even more input and control over the future of the business. And ultimately it’s all about making sure Gymshark continues on its rocketship growth trajectory, continues to build out what we believe the future of brands and fitness communities should look like, and end up becoming a truly global brand.” Read more

The Wellness Industry Stories That Shaped 2020
Image: Mirror
Lululemon acquired at home fitness brand Mirror, as the mass migration to digital continued

As the battle of the at-home fitness brands intensified, athleisure powerhouse lululemon announced it was set to acquire fitness startup Mirror in a deal worth $500 million.

Having invested $1 million in Mirror in 2019, lululemon decided to double down on its foray into the at-home fitness space, as the fitness industry navigated an inflection point accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting shifts in consumer behaviour. 

Joining the likes of other at-home fitness brands such as Hydrow, Tempo, Future, Tonal and Peloton, lululemon hopes that as consumers continue to get comfortable with new ways of working out, it can anchor itself within the evolving fitness landscape. Read more

The mental wellness category hit $121 billion in value

In November, the global wellness economy added mental wellness, a rapidly expanding $121 billion market, to its $4.5 trillion overall valuation, following the release of new data from the Global Wellness Institute

The nonprofit global research resource for the wellness industry, revealed the new “industry bubble” at its annual Global Wellness Summit in Florida, categorising the sector as distinct from mental health. It defined mental wellness, its 11th industry bubble, as “an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect, and function” and “an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow and flourish”. 

“A stronger focus on mental wellness has been a cultural mega-shift these last few years: people awakening to the importance of integrative solutions including meditation, sleep and brain health, with businesses rushing in to offer all kinds of solutions,” said Ophelia Yeung, GWI senior research fellow. Read more