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Quarantined to quarantoned: How Bala Bangles became the internet’s weapon of choice over the pandemic

As makeshift gyms and offices show no immediate signs of moving out of our living rooms, it is of little surprise to witness the steady demand for office furniture and gym equipment well into 2021. But what if your Instagram feed, one fine day, decides to tell you that you could workout while baking a cake on your cheat day? And that the only equipment required to do so fits right into your cosy little jewellery drawer? Enter Bala, a Los-Angeles based movement company behind the Instagram-famous workout accessory, ‘Bala Bangles’. Screen Shot spoke to Bala’s co-founder, Natalie Holloway, to decode the brand’s success and bring you insights into managing a business in these uncertain times.

 

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Let’s start by getting our hands on and into these chic accessories. Bala Bangles are the world’s first wearable weights that are both functional and fashionable. The one-size-fits-all accessory is made from recycled stainless steel wrapped in soft silicone and features an elastic band with strong velcro to aid its customised fit. Simply slide the bars down the elastic, wrap around your ankles or wrists and fasten the velcro with the logo facing outside. Available in sets weighing ½, 1 and 2 pounds each, these weights work by adding a constant yet comfortable resistance to all types of workouts, helping burn fat and build muscle.

Launched in 2018, Bala’s hero product, Bala Bangles shot to fame after debuting on the popular reality series Shark Tank, with Maria Sharapova and Mark Cuban partnering as investors. They are now sold at major retailers including Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom and Goop apart from Bala’s own site.

A clear mission and vision

“Bala was conceived on a trip throughout Asia with my then-boyfriend Max, now husband and co-founder,” reminisces Holloway, “We were doing yoga and thought we wanted a way to push ourselves during the class and we thought added weight/resistance would do just that.” The problem, however, as Holloway mentions, was that “no cool weights existed back then.”

Now, let’s jog your memory a bit before we proceed. Do you recall spotting wearable weights anywhere before? Perhaps in a Jane Fonda workout VHS back in the 80s? Ankle and wrist weights doubled as a workout staple and a fashion statement back in the 1980s before they fell out of trend. Apart from numerous other benefits, these weights are scientifically proven to increase heart rate by 30 per cent and improve posture by strengthening upper-back muscles. “We wanted to bring them back as they are so beneficial to workouts!” Holloway admits.

 

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Bala, which translates to ‘strength’ in Sanskrit, is passionate about designing products that help users make the most of every workout. With a clear mission of “inspiring movement through design,” the co-founder describes the aesthetic guiding Bala’s design process as “anti-fitness fitness.” “This is because we will put someone in heels while they are lifting weights, for example.”

Bala stands out in the industry with this unique approach to fitness, “We like to think of it as the fashionable, fun side of fitness. In contrast to the utility-led products that dominate the fitness space,” Holloway claims. “We believe beautiful, functional fitness accessories will change the way people work out.”

Bala differentiates itself from its competitors, the sandbag old school weights themselves, by being “designed very differently, made to be more comfortable and sweat resistant.” According to Holloway, Bala’s world can be summed up as playful, inclusive and colourful. The brand loves to have fun with colour and print pairings with a total of twelve options currently available for their 1-pound weights.

 

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The rise of Bala Babes

The appreciation of health and well-being has somewhat been renewed over the lockdown. Yoga mats, resistance bands and workout weights are in the spotlight as Google searches for ankle weights have nearly tripled since last year. According to a report by Visual Capitalist, 60 per cent of gym members in the US enjoy their home workouts so much to a point where they plan to cancel their gym memberships.

This is where Bala Bangles come in. Bala portrays its hero product as the perfect pandemic lifestyle. The product realises the fact that there is more than one way to break a sweat. With Bala Bangles you can workout doing your daily laundry loads or grocery trips, a pandemic-accelerated market segment which the brand increasingly monopolises. This has also led to the creation of an entire community of Bala Babes eagerly awaiting special edition releases and higher weight options.

Holloway admits she didn’t expect this level of reception for workout weights back in 2018 with Bala’s launch. “We are still blown away on a daily basis. We just believed wrist and ankle weights were an 80s trend that went away but was one that should not have gone away because weights can be so beneficial to many workouts. We wanted to bring them back in a way that inspired people so we focused heavily on the design of the product.”

Bala Bangles are meticulously designed not to pinch, slide or restrict movement in any way. Wildly versatile, they can be used for training and recreational activities alike. Holloway recommends using these weights for slower-paced, lower-impact activities like walking, pilates and yoga. “Many trainers say you can use them for anything but those are some of our favourite ways to move with them!”

 

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Digital mantras for success

Bala has achieved various digital feats of success over the pandemic. Apart from bringing back a forgotten 80s trend in one of the most uncertain times, Bala Bangles are dubbed ‘Instagram-famous’ and ‘internet-recommended’ fitness accessories.

When asked about the digital marketing strategies Bala invested in to achieve this, Holloway enlightens us with some insights, “We have partnered with several aspirational retailers, which has definitely helped. We also have a gifting strategy where we send press kits and products to celebrities and editors. This has really helped us because they try the product and if they love it, they share it with their community.”

Bala has also been in the news for being an active part of give-back programs. “My passion is giving back to rescue animal organisations. We have a colour called Pibble Purple where 100% of the proceeds go to animal rescue organisations. To date, we have donated $44,000 and counting.” The co-founder also plans on continuing give-backs, admitting that Bala’s success means a huge give-back programme one day.

“Our ambition is to overhaul the at-home and studio fitness experience with design-led accessories and equipment,” Holloway states when asked about Bala’s itinerary in the 10 years. “I hope Bala is more than just a brand, but we are a lifestyle and make people feel good about themselves. There will also be a huge give back component in 10 years from now!”

 

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Good things come to those who sweat

At Bala, every movement matters. From hand-shipping each order back in 2018 to Bala Bangles presently flying off shelves moments after they are back in stock, Holloway reflects on some of her biggest struggles and learnings along the way: “I learn so much each day about running a business and growing a brand. I think the biggest thing I have learned is to roll with the punches, stay positive and just keep moving. My partner and I often joke that running a business seems to be mostly about solving difficult problems on a daily basis. And it’s true. With each day comes another problem or challenge so I have really learned to calm down, solve it, and move onward. All with a positive outlook.”

Bala prides itself on having a strong grip on every Bala Babe’s heart: “We understand that your life includes exercise but is not exclusively defined by it,” its website reads. The ‘small-but-mighty’ workout accessory has managed to redefine the fitness industry in a time where other brands employ survival tactics to outlive the pandemic.

And if you are thinking about establishing your own business soon, Holloway has the perfect advice: “Just start. So often ideas just stay ideas because it is so hard to know the first, second, or third move and it can feel extremely overwhelming to just take that first step. I think it is important to take baby steps every single day until you have something real. If you promise yourself to just take baby steps daily even if you don’t know the next step, eventually you will figure it out.”

“No business was built in a day. So keep moving and move daily towards your goal!”

‘Beautiful vaginas’ are on the rise and so is the vaginal beauty industry

The wellness industry is thriving, for better or for worse, and with it, various vaginal products are appearing on the market. While some products are used to ease menstrual pain or increase sexual healing through pleasure, others are sold purely for the purpose of ‘finessing’ our genitals. Why is this trend happening now and how much of a problem is it?

Of course, this is not the first time that women are being targeted with false and unnecessary health advice. Gwyneth Paltrow, also known as the mastermind behind GOOP, recommended vagina steaming in order to balance hormone levels and cleanse the uterus, which gynaecologists strongly advise against.

A few years ago a new trend appeared that advised women to peel a full cucumber and penetrate themselves with it—not for the purpose of pleasure, but to ‘reduce odour’ and add ‘moisture’. Health professionals were quick to point out that this practice can actually lead to a number of diseases. In other words, your vagina does not need a ‘cleanse’, and unless a medical professional examined you and told you otherwise, basic hygiene should be enough.

Vaginal Beauty Products

Recently, there has been a worrying increase in various products being sold for the purpose of ‘beautifying’ the genitalia. There are now serums, charcoal masks, various scented perfumes and even highlighters to make your beautiful vagina even more… well beautiful, and this market keeps on growing despite medical professionals’ disapproval of it. Not only are these products unnecessary, but they also promote a false idea that our genitals need to appear a certain way, which can create insecurities for women while also capitalising on them.

TWO L(I)PS is a skincare company dedicated entirely to the vulva, which specialises in selling products such as activated charcoal masks for $28 and brightening serums for $150. While all products are dermatologically tested, their necessity should be put under question. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good charcoal mask, but only for my face—never have I considered applying one to my vulva.

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The charcoal masks are said to “soothe, detoxify, brighten and moisturize the vulva,” and were in fact so popular that the company sold out of them two months after their initial launch (they are now back in stock). One of the brand’s serums, priced at $120, is made out of the skin whitening agent Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-36, and comes with the instruction to apply SPF 30 sunscreen the following days. Make your own judgement, but it sounds quite concerning to me that sunscreen would be needed in that area after using a serum.

Another company, The Perfect V, explains on its website that its products are “always for beauty’s sake. It is pure, indulgent pampering and love for your ‘V’. It is a multi-tasking luxury skincare formulated to rejuvenate, enhance and beautify the ‘V’.” Notice how the company never refers to the vulva or vagina by its name—instead, it is just the ‘V’, and if you buy their products, you can beautify your ‘V’ to become the perfect ‘V’!

It is certainly confusing that a company created by adults for adults won’t refer to genitalia by its real name, and should be taken as a warning sign. Perhaps it comes from the stigma surrounding women’s genitalia, but this only makes it all the more ironic that a brand entirely dedicated to selling products for our vulvas can’t even acknowledge that it is in fact called a vulva.

Among the products being sold by The Perfect V, which all claim to be both dermatologically and gynaecologically tested, there is a special $43 highlighting cream that promises to ‘illuminate’ your vulva and make it shimmer. This product can be compared to a highlighter you may apply to your face during your make up routine, only, in this case, it is meant for your vulva.

Everyone should be free to do whatever they want with their own bodies, so if you want to illuminate your vulva, please feel free to do so. My aim isn’t to judge customers, but more to highlight a bigger problem: the stigmatisation of the appearance of female genitalia. This is an increasing issue, and cosmetic surgeries, such as labiaplasty, have seen a 400 per cent increase in the last 15 years.

The stigma doesn’t just stop at the appearance of the vulva itself—it also touches upon other aspects, such as the vagina’s natural scent, its moisture or lack of such, or its pubic hair. One of The Perfect V’s best selling products is a beauty mist described as both “a natural skin conditioner and deodorizer,” that supposedly moisturises your skin and leaves your vulva smelling of roses. Another company called V Magic sells lipstick for your vagina, which supposedly moisturises and deodorises your vagina, too.

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Similarly, the ‘Clit Spritz’ is a product sold by The Tonic, a wellness company specialising in CBD products. The ‘Clit Spritz’ is described as a “sexily-silky, gorgeously-scented oil designed to stimulate, lubricate and rejuvenate your lady bits.” Using the expression ‘lady bits’ once again stigmatises genitals. It is important to note that the company is selling the ‘Clit Spritz’ as a lubricant—a product that is both necessary and great—but the product’s description is vague and implies that your clitoris needs a ‘gorgeous scent’, which it doesn’t.

Not only are some of these products beyond ridiculous, but many medical professionals advise against applying and using them as they can affect a healthy PH balance and lead to infection. Vaginas can naturally clean and moisturise themselves, so unless your doctor told you to use a specific product, you don’t need one.

That is not to say all products are useless—the company Fur, for example, sells a concentrate to help eradicate ingrown hairs while soothing irritation. Many wellness companies do focus on creating products that help, while others focus on beautifying your genitals. It is up to you to decide which product suits you best, but perhaps try to do some research on each product before buying any.