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Early in the pandemic, a select assortment of designated items became must-haves — symbols of our collective efforts to survive quarantine. For some, it was a sourdough starter. For others, it was Bala’s bangles — velcro wrist/ankle weights reinvented for the Instagram age.
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For Bala’s founders, Natalie Holloway and Max Kislevitz (also husband and wife, and new parents), the product was initially intended to be something to bring to yoga class or on a trip. The duo didn’t plan on creating a product that would end up on Vogue’s “17 Items That Defined 2020.”
Bala first launched in March 2018. Holloway and Kislevitz were on vacation and went to a yoga class, which triggered a conversation about how dated fitness equipment, like ankle weights, had become. “Nobody uses them because they’re ugly,” Holloway said.
Kislevitz had an idea for a “bracelet,” which he started sketching on a napkin. The material would be another point of difference — the brand coats its recycled stainless steel in silicone, which was rarely used in fitness products. The material is soft to the touch, which the duo saw as another selling point. “It took a year to actually prototype, which is why it’s so annoying to see all of the fakes coming out now,” Holloway said. (If you search Bala bangles on Amazon, you’ll find them, followed by a dozen copycats.) Both came to entrepreneurship from advertising. “We knew a lot about branding and advertising from working on bigger brands, but nothing about supply chain, making a product or building a website,” Holloway said. In the early days, Holloway wore hers to fitness classes, hoping they’d serve as conversation starters that would help her get the word out.
Of course, when it comes to building a brand, knowing how to market it is half the battle, so the Bala team had a leg up. Holloway described the brand’s initial approach as “grassroots.”
“We didn’t spend money on digital advertising; my husband did our site,” she said. “We did all of our product photography, and we used resources that were free to us. So we used Instagram a lot; we posted as much as we could.” Holloway DMe’d Melissa Wood-Tepperberg, influencer and founder of Melissa Wood Health, and offered to send her the product. At the time, Holloway said, “I think we had 1,000 followers.” Nonetheless, Tepperberg accepted the gift and wore the bangles, and the product “spoke for itself,” Holloway said. Bala bangles are now seen in many Melissa Wood Health videos. Tepperberg has since launched her own fitness equipment. In a March 2019 post, Bala tagged an Instagram post with Free People Movement, which resulted in the brand getting picked up by the retailer, which also proved an early boost for brand recognition and sales, Holloway said.
Bala sought to position itself differently from traditional fitness brands by aligning with high heels versus spandex. “You’ll rarely see somebody in a true workout outfit on our Instagram or in our creative,” Holloway said. Her sister is responsible for the styling. “Early on, we were styling [models] in a business suit and ankle weights, Holloway said. She added that the brand is meant to be an antidote to the super-serious, hyper-masculine world of traditional fitness.
In February 2020, Holloway and Kislevitz appeared on Shark Tank. Impressively, the clip on ABC’s YouTube channel is called “All Five Sharks Want in on Bala Bangles.” They left having made a deal with Mark Cuban and Maria Sharapova for $900,000 for 30% of their company. Two weeks later, the world went into lockdown, creating a perfect storm that left Bala sold out, on and off, for about four months. Since then, celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, Reese Witherspoon, Adam Levine and Ashley Graham have all posted on social media wearing Bala. According to Tribe Dynamics, Sharapova drove $196,000 of EMV in the first half of 2021, while influencers Aubre Winters (@aubrewinters) and Natalie Lim Suarez (@natalieoffduty) drove $140,000 and $118,000, respectively. In 2020, the brand grew its earnings from $2 million to $20 million.
More recently, influencer Tinx (@itsmetinx) hosted a giveaway with the brand, asking her followers to comment on Bala’s post with their favorite place to take a “rich girl walk.” The post received the most comments of any by the brand, Holloway said.
Last year, Bala started to introduce new products. In June 2020, it launched bars, a reinvention of dumbbells. On its site, copy declares “dumbbells are dumb,” and explains that, unlike traditional dumbbells, weight is evenly distributed in Bala’s version. In April of this year, it launched Beam, which Holloway said is the current bestseller. The Beam is a $99, 15-pound objet d’art take on a barbell was designed to be left out in one’s home. This came in response to customers requesting heavier items. Those requests have continued even since the Beam launched.
Last week, Bala introduced its first co-branded kit, with Summer Fridays. Called The Pool Time Body Bundle, the kit came about in response to a fan comment on Instagram when Bala was launching its bangles in a sage color. Brittany Lopez (1048 followers) commented that the color reminded her of Summer Fridays and tagged Summer Fridays’ founder and influencer Marianna Hewitt. Hewitt responded, “I think that means we need to collab,” and the rest is history.
To match Summer Fridays’ upcoming launch — a golden shimmer body oil — Bala made bangles and bars in a custom, limited-edition gold shade.
“I love supporting brands that support and appreciate their community and content creators,” Lopez told Glossy.