California self-care brand Flexpower is flexing its muscles, expanding its product range and retail presence into luxury stores Gorsuch, Intermix and McMullen and hospitality destinations Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, California, Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California, and Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado.
Flexpower was founded in 2000 by former Cal Berkeley athlete Rasheen Smith, who created the scent-free, botanically sourced pain relief cream Flexpower Warm, with glucosamine and trolamine salicylate, which has been used for decades by the NBA, NFL and U.S. Olympic programs.
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The effort to expand it into a full wellness brand has been spearheaded by chief executive officer Heather Vandenberghe who, when she took the job last year, brought with her a background in luxury branding from Louis Vuitton, Westfield and Tommy Hilfiger.
Vandenberghe stumbled on the product when she threw out her back in mid-2018. Her boyfriend knew Smith, and recommended she try Flexpower. Where other remedies didn’t work, it did, and Vandenberghe wanted to buy more, but discovered it was only sold through distributors to pro-athletes, and not a consumer product.
She reached out to the founder for a meeting, and shared her ideas, starting with a packaging rebrand. She was so convincing, Smith offered her the CEO role.
“I have a passion for designing and creating products but Heather knows how to bring them to life. Her amazing résumé speaks for itself but our partnership works because she understands me and shares the same goal of helping others,” he said.
“Heather inspired me to place more value in my product creations and, as a result, rethink brand positioning. She has led the charge in taking the Flexpower brand to a whole new level and we are just getting started.”
“I know the players in the space and I could see what was happening,” she said of the booming wellness landscape. “I had this luxury background from my 10 years at Vuitton, so I know how to launch a premium brand, design it and how to get it in front of a premium customer. So I said yes, but I can’t come on board to create a sports brand that I have no idea how to do because I am the least active person you probably know,” she laughed. “If I’m going to create a lifestyle brand, it’s going to be designed to help people feel good.”
Under her leadership, the brand has developed three new products so far — Flexpower Soothe with arnica, eucalyptus and a touch of CBD to relieve pain (the only formulation that uses CBD); Cool, and Soothe bath salts with Epsom mixed with arnica to erase tension and vitamin E to moisturize the skin. Prices are $58 to $72.
Sun care and lip balm are next.
Jodi Sandman, CEO at Crescala Fashion Development, has been consulting on sales.
“Jodi’s mission was to do the impossible, which is to take this to the luxury category that had never before really looked at a product like this, and convince them that they need to sell apothecary and that Flexpower is the key to that sale. She came up with the idea of ‘if you don’t feel good, you don’t look good,’ said Vandenberghe of the positioning. “You can be wearing a $10,000 dress and those beautiful shoes, but if your feet hurt, if your back hurts, if something is making you uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, you’re not going to look your best. In that context, adding Flexpower made sense.”
All the products are cruelty-free and made in L.A. from locally sourced ingredients. Packaging is recyclable and reusable.
“Flexpower is a game changer for our clientele and for me,” said Sherri McMullen, owner of the influential McMullen boutique in Oakland, and stylist to Golden State Warriors player Steph Curry. “It’s on my back, on a flight to Paris, right now.”
Vandenberghe has big ambitions, including getting Flexpower into more country clubs, spas and luxury department stores. “We’re going to be a $100 million business,” she said of the start-up, which currently has six employees in its Santa Monica office.
“There is no competitor to this product right now because you’re either in the drugstore category, or you’re in the CBD category, which the FDA is not regulating right now. We’ve got an all-natural product that’s made with proven ingredients…And as I meet people and tell them about what we’re doing, I’m amazed how many are walking around in pain. It’s about ‘what do I need to feel good?’ It started with pain relief, but it’s also going into other categories.”