“They’re vile, they’re literally vile,” declared fitness guru Tracy Anderson, her words contrasting with the picturesque backdrop of luscious meandering gardens and clear blue skies reflected in the black framed window behind her.
Perched at a table on the porch of her home in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and just back from a work trip to Bozeman, Montanta, to shoot the cover of her namesake magazine, Anderson was discussing the materials commonly used to manufacture standard gym equipment.
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She has been on a push lately to kit out her studios with sustainably sourced equipment. The most recent example of this is her newest location in Sag Harbor in the ritzy Hamptons for which she bought cork hand weights, “probably the most expensive hand weights ever made.”
“They are thousands of dollars apiece, but I bought them for the entire studio,” she said, pushing back her bright blonde hair to reveal a fresh face with barely any makeup. “The fitness industry just needs need to wake up and realize that if they’re truly about wellness, all the products have to change.”
For her fitness empire, which includes seven studios that she cofounded with Gwyneth Paltrow, but now owns outright (a spokesman for Anderson said that Paltrow remains a “dear friend and dedicated client”), she has teamed up with The 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on reducing plastics pollution.
“They’re going to help us because when we first started looking into it, a lot of companies are just buying carbon offsets. That’s not the solution at all. In fact, that’s a form of greenwashing,” said Anderson. “So we will be absolutely incrementally changing the entire way that we do everything. And we’ll make those changes to minimize the impact of how we run as a business on the environment.”
Anderson’s studios, where unlimited membership begins at $900 a month in the U.S., are just one part of her business universe, which also includes a quarterly magazine launched during the global pandemic, numerous DVDs and books. Another is TA Online, her virtual fitness classes, which was already active prior to the start of the global pandemic, but skyrocketed in popularity as large swathes of the population were stuck at home. Despite a move by many companies to get their workers to return to offices and gyms and fitness studios having reopened, at-home workouts remain popular.
Enter the entrepreneur’s latest project: MyMode, a sustainably sourced fitness box made predominantly of wood that includes a workout platform, several weights, staffs, bands, disks, and a landing platform that is designed to be used alongside custom-made content.
The box, offered at four different levels, also gives access to a one-year subscription to TA Online Studio and exclusive MyMode content, as well as MyCoach, the personalized training program that comes with a MyMode purchase, for six months and two group Zoom sessions with Anderson per month. The content side, she believes, is important because “people are used to buying an expensive machine, and having no idea what to do with [it].”
Each box is hand-made in Ohio by wood craftsmen “who work in harmony with nature. We are replanting as many trees as it takes to build the box with every purchase of every MyMode,” Anderson said of the apparatus, launching in the same week as Zero Emissions Day, held to raise awareness on the impact of our daily emissions. “It is not like making it with a big electronics company. It is making it with an actual Amish community of makers.”
According to a lengthy, detailed description on its website, MyMode is 95 percent plastic-free by weight, and free from PVC, formaldehyde, phthalates, and azodicarbonamide — all of which are common in exercise equipment. Less than 5 percent of MyMode materials include neoprene, food safe santoprene and silicone, ABS, PU and nitrile.
The packaging, meanwhile, is recycled cardboard and tape, burlap bags and cotton twine, while the packaging pads are 100 percent starch and are biodegradable, dissolving in water.
The boxes, complete with subscriptions to content, come in at a pricey $4,500, which Anderson is well aware is a lot money, especially at a time of soaring inflation in the U.S. from the gas station to the grocery store to the home. With this in consideration, there is a financing option for $126 per month with payment network Affirm.
“It’s a huge education for people, because people look at this and they think, ‘well, that should be less expensive than metal and plastic connected fitness machines,’” said Anderson. “And it’s not. It’s more expensive to make something out of wood and honor craftsmen and pay them respectably and honor their community and how they’re doing things.”
So far, though, the high price point hasn’t appeared to turn off potential customers, selling out in a few days for the first shipment, which takes place this week.
“I was so nervous the night before we launched at the price point,” she continued. “I grew up in Noblesville, Indiana, with a mom that worked three jobs to put me through school. We couldn’t afford my cheerleading uniforms some years. So I’m very aware of how hard people work in this country, and what’s affordable and what’s not. I worked really hard to make sure that we had financing. I wish that there was a way to finance even something as inexpensive as a sneaker when I was in high school. It would have really helped my family out.”
She’s also of the mind that if the people who can afford to put their money to good places do, “then they will make the entire system switch to be more affordable for all.”
“It’s the same thing with clean or supporting local farmers,” she explained. “Organic really just means clean, but supporting local farmers who are investing in regenerative soil, that’s something major that can really move the needle to our health. But it’s expensive to do that.”
In particular, she has been inspired by the work of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and designer Stella McCartney. Chouinard made headlines last week when he and his family transferred ownership of the firm to two new entities set up to use its $100 million in annual profits to fight climate change, stating that every dollar that is not reinvested back into Patagonia will be distributed as dividends to protect the planet.
McCartney recently launched a clean skin care line called Stella, ticking as many eco-boxes as possible, with the fewest number of products and ingredients, telling Beauty Inc, “I want less, and I want it to work. I want it to be honest and to complement my way of thinking, and of living life.” She has also been at the forefront of using alternative leather products, such as “mushroom” leather, hosting a panel of mushroom innovators alongside biotech firm Bolt Threads in her SoHo store during New York Fashion Week.
“Stella McCartney just made a beautiful, strong statement with her skin care line that ‘if other people were doing it, I’d happily not have to do it.’ But they’re not and no one is in fitness,” said Anderson. “No one is looking at fitness right now like they look at fast fashion. And it’s worse. We need to understand that while we’re trying to prove our health, we shouldn’t be harming our health at the same exact time.”
All of this comes at a critical time for the environment, with numerous major organizations urging governments and society to take action on climate change before it is too late to reverse some of the environmental damage that has already been caused.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body, issued a stark warning earlier this year that human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks.
It found that increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and coral. It cautioned that in order to avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
As for the persistent problem of plastic, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only around 9 percent is recycled in the U.S. and according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, some plastic objects can remain in marine environments for hundreds of years. Plastic bottles, for example, last 450 years.
“We’re at a very pivotal point,” said Anderson. “We see the potential to literally lose the capacity for human organisms in 60 years. Pretty close, right? I’m a mom. It’s like my grandkids.
“I also think that the fitness industry has become so confusing and completely disconnected from our nature, past exercising or looking a certain way,” she continued. “We don’t even realize that most of the tools from something as simple as a mat, a weight, an ankle weight, a yoga block, a pair of yoga pants, how much they’re contributing to the harm of our actual nature, and the environment.”
At the same time, consumers are also becoming more attuned to purchasing sustainable goods. According to research by global strategy and pricing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners, sustainability is becoming increasingly important in consumers’ purchasing decisions. Globally, 85 percent of people surveyed indicated that they had shifted their purchase behavior toward being more sustainable in the past five years, although there was a generational gap with younger consumers more actively taking steps toward being more sustainable.
The study cited that one third of consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, recommending that companies should prepare for sustainability to become the expectation and not the exception in the future.
In addition to increased interest in sustainability, a separate report by The NPD Group and Civic Science showed that 44 percent of U.S. consumers are placing more focus on their overall health and wellness today than they did before the pandemic.
The boxes also arrive at a pivotal time for home fitness apparatus. While Peloton continues to struggle, it is forging ahead with plans to release its first ever at-home rowing machine priced at $3,195. Lululemon has also lowered its full-year revenue projections for the Mirror, which it acquired in 2021 for $500 million.
As for what’s next for Anderson, who began her career as a dancer before moving into the fitness space and honing her craft with a number of high-profile celebrity clients, she is opening another studio in a yet to be named European country (she already has a studio in Madrid in addition to a private training facility in London) in early 2023 and launching TA TV as part of TA Online, which will offer more content on nutrition and advice from experts. In addition to this, she will also be revamping her apparel offering.
“We’re redoing our apparel to make sure that we’re only offering things that are not just these buzzwords that actually don’t really mean anything, but we’re really going to be working with brands and on our own brand on creating workout wear that isn’t harmful to your body or the planet,” she said.