Meet the 2021 Changemakers: These Are the People Changing the Future of Wellness
Wellness has become even more of a focus for so many—particularly after this past year. From the pandemic shaking us to our core to a growing awareness of the barriers and disparities keeping many from being well, our interest in health and well-being has kicked into overdrive.
When we look ahead to the rest of 2021, the people below are at the forefront of the industry's next wave of innovation and advancement. From how we eat to the way we move to how we heal ourselves to the collective reckoning of who gets to truly be well, it’s a time of great change—and these wellness trailblazers are leading the way. Get to know them and their work below.
Founder and CEO, Ethel’s Club and Somewhere Good
After years of working at predominantly white real estate startups, Naj Austin was feeling depleted. She needed a space where she could meet like-minded people with whom she had similar lived experiences. She took it upon herself and founded Ethel’s Club, Brooklyn’s first social and wellness club designed to celebrate people of color. Ethel’s Club opened its doors in November 2019, but like most businesses it was forced to shut down four months later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Now, Ethel’s Club has pivoted to a new digital model, hosting classes, workshops, and events online. The experience prompted Austin to found Somewhere Good, a social platform designed for people of color to discuss their interests. Once Somewhere Good is up and running, Ethel’s Club will be one of many communities that live on it. For Austin, creating digital space to foster community is essential right now, but she believes it will live on as a way to connect people around the world on a much deeper level than current social media allows for.
Founder, Folx Health
A.G. Breitenstein is the founder of Folx Health, the first health-care startup to specifically serve the LGBTQ+ community. The company launched in December 2020 as a member-based telemedicine service providing gender-affirming hormone therapy, erectile dysfunction treatment, at-home STI testing, one-on-one consultations, and prescriptions. It’s currently available in 12 states.
Breitenstein told Well+Good in December that they were inspired to create this company because of their experience as a genderqueer, nonbinary person operating in health-care spaces. “This is a community that’s really underserved. There’s so much about health care that’s very specific to us,” Breitenstein told Well+Good. While $59 per month may not be a price tag accessible to all, what Folx is doing is certainly an important start for more inclusive health care in the U.S. The company is poised to expand to new services and markets in 2021 thanks to a $25 million Series A investment announced earlier this month—making it the first major queer venture-backed health-care company. Next up in the pipeline? Breitenstein hopes it will be brick-and-mortar locations, pandemic and finances permitting.
Constanza Eliana Chinea
Founder, Embody Inclusivity
The ideas surrounding wellness have often been grounded in the appropriation and white-washing of cultural practices. Constanza Eliana Chinea’s work takes steps towards changing that narrative. By asking tough questions and unpacking long-held biases of the companies, organizations, and individuals who benefit from the existing white-centered structures and narratives, along with the BIPOC communities whose practices have been colonized and are most impacted by this exclusivity, Chinea works in ways that spark long-lasting, systemic change.
Moving forward, Chinea plans to continue to teach both BIPOC and non-BIPOC people to look past the existing whiteness-in-wellness framework and create more spaces for these action-driven discussions. In 2021, she plans to host a digital wellness conference led by wellness leaders of color in partnership with Rebeckah Price, yoga teacher and the co-founder of The Well Collective, and will welcome a third cohort to her 16-week mentorship program, Thrive, for BIPOC leaders and creators in wellness spaces.
Founder, Uoma Beauty and Pull Up for Change
When the social justice movement took hold in the United States in June of 2020, Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter had one request for brands in the beauty space: Pull up or shut up. After seeing many brands posting for #BlackoutTuesday and making one-time donations, she took to social media, asking them to reveal how many Black people they employ at a corporate level—citing the statistic that as of 2018, only 3.3 percent of all executive or senior leadership roles in the U.S. were held by members of the BIPOC community.
“Your favorite brands are making bold PR statements about their support for the Black community,” Chuter wrote in an Instagram post. “Please ask them how many Black employees they have in their organization (HQ and satellite offices only) and how many Black people they have in leadership roles. For the next 72 hours DO NOT purchase from any brand and demand they release these figures." The movement, called Pull Up for Change, has since earned more than 127,000 followers on Instagram, and major players like Sephora, Ulta Beauty, and CoverGirl (among many others both within and outside of the beauty space) have all shared their workforce data and vowed to do better in their hiring practices.
Now, Chuter is taking her mission of equity in the beauty industry even further with the launch of Make It Black. The initiative, which launched on February 5 to coincide with Black History Month, is working to shift perceptions about what it means to be Black while also raising capital for emerging Black founders through the Pull Up for Change Impact Fund. According to a 2017 Rate My Investor report, only 1 percent of entrepreneurs backed by venture capital funding are Black, and only 0.2 percent are Black women (another startling statistic: Black women looking to fund their businesses get, on average, $42,000, while white men get $2.2 million), which is something Make It Black is trying to change. Chuter has partnered with major beauty players including Briogeo, Colourpop, Dragun Beauty, Flower Beauty, Maybelline, Morphe, NYX Professional Makeup, PUR, and Ulta Beauty, and with her at the helm, it’s clear that real change is on the way.
Tarot Card Reader and Founder, Inward Boutique
According to a 2017 poll by Pew Research, 30 percent of Americans said they believed in astrology. Just two years later in 2019, revenue for astrology apps grew to nearly $40 million—a 64 percent increase from the year before. Now, searches for astrologers with digital platforms has grown exponentially (you can likely thank the uncertain times we’re living through). Chris Corsini is one of these astrologers—and has become a favorite of many. Corsini performs intuitive tarot card and astrology readings and works as a healer. He is also a multi-media creator of accessible music and video content. Through collaborations with deaf performers and a background in American Sign Language, Corsini works to bring inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionality into all of the work he does.
So what’s next? After doing personal tarot readings for the last four years, Corsini has broadened his work to include super relatable, general horoscopes for each Zodiac sign that he shares publicly via his Instagram (@chriscorsini) and YouTube channel (Chris Corsini). He plans to relaunch his website, Inward Boutique, on the Spring Equinox (March 20), which will offer affordable and accessible resources, master classes, holistic healing products, and more. He also plans to continue innovating accessible music and performance art through his collaborations with the Deaf community.
Jordan Marie Daniel
Activist, Runner, and Founder, Rising Hearts
Indigenous women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than other ethnicities. So, in 2019, Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel ran the Boston Marathon with a red handprint painted over her mouth to bring attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), saying a prayer at each mile for a different woman who was silenced due to violence.
Since then, Daniel has consistently continued to organize prayer runs—notably she ran 30 miles on Truthsgiving this past November—to bring awareness and attention to MMIW and Black Lives Matter. Through her organization Rising Hearts, Daniel is continuing to push for intersectional racial, social, economic, and environmental justice. Weekly, she organizes an Indigenous Wellness Through Movement series to elevate Native voices and decolonize white-centered wellness.
When Sinikiwe Dhliwayo got injured while training for the New York City Marathon in her early 20s, her physical therapist suggested she try yoga. Dhliwayo took to the practice immediately: For her, it was a “respite” from the unsupportive—and often racist—environment she was working in as a photographer and creative in print media. But just as quickly as she came to love yoga, she noticed that the settings in which it was practiced didn’t provide that same feeling of relief. “If you are like myself and other Black and brown people, [yoga and wellness] studio spaces often aren’t welcoming if you don’t fit the mold of being white, affluent, and skinny,” she previously told Well+Good.
With Naaya, which she founded in 2018, Dhliwayo is actively working to change this by centering Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in a new definition and vision of wellness. “We want to create a space where BIPOC folks can luxuriate in the beauty that is intrinsic to our being,” the Naaya website says in bold, red letters. Naaya does this through a robust slate of offerings that includes yoga, meditation, and mental health resources for BIPOC folks (particularly BIPOC youth) as well as anti-racism and corporate wellness programming.
This year, Dhliwayo is working to raise $30,000 to give 300 hours of therapy to BIPOC young folks through The Check-In, an initiative that Naaya began last year. And in early February, Dhliwayo launched Black Folks Breathing, which she calls a “no-holds-barred love letter to being Black.” “Through sharing our firsthand experiences as Black people, we maintain our hope and exuberance and prioritize our joy, despite facing the realities of structural racism and white supremacy,” Dhliwayo says. “We aren't defined by our struggles; we are so much more than that.”
Founder and CEO, Partake Foods
When it comes to allergies and different medical restrictions, eating can sometimes come with second guesses, fear, anxiety, and isolation. That’s what Denise Woodard is fighting to change. After her 1-year-old daughter Vivienne experienced a severe allergic reaction, Woodard began the journey of starting Partake Foods, a company that creates nutritionally sound, allergy-friendly foods that are also tasty.
The brand launched in 2017 with three flavors of cookies, and has since grown to many more products available in Whole Foods, Wegmans, and other grocery chains around the country. All of the brand’s snacks are non-GMO, kosher, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, made with whole food ingredients, and made without the top 12 most common allergens. The brand started 2021 by securing $4.8 million in fundraising (that’s in addition to Jay-Z already being an investor), and launching a line of baking mixes—with more products and innovation to come.
Founder and Executive Director, Hike Clerb
The great outdoors doesn’t discriminate. Access to it shouldn’t either. As a social activist and the founder of Hike Clerb, an “intersectional womxn’s hike club” based in Los Angeles, Evelynn Escobar fights for more representation for people of color in the outdoors. The club helps equip women of color with the “tools, resources, and experiences they need to collectively heal in nature.” The club, which began on Instagram in 2017 as a community-building endeavour to bring more women of colour into nature, has since turned into a full-fledged organization that not only arranges hikes, but also strives to reconnect BIPOC individuals to the mental, physical, and soul healing aspects of nature from which they have been systemically separated while educating on the history of this separation.
Escobar strives to hold space for underrepresented communities in nature and debunk the notion that the outdoors is a place of white or socioeconomic privilege. Nature is for everyone. Though the past year has limited the number of in-person community hikes, Escobar has shifted to building similar communities through her virtual content and online spaces for nature appreciation and education… while also planning and preparing for larger hikes and events when it becomes safe to do so.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford and Issey Kobori
When Trinity Mouzon Wofford started Golde in 2017 with her partner, Issey Kobori, they did it out of the kitchen of their one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. They launched the brand with one product, a turmeric latte blend, and in 2019, launched at Sephora with three latte blends—making Mouzon Wofford the youngest woman of color to launch a brand with the retailer.
Now, four years later, the brand has expanded with more latte options, facemasks, and most recently, superfood supplement powders that dissolve in water (available at Target). All of their products are 100-percent natural and vegan-friendly, made with ingredients you can pronounce. Most of the products cost between $15 and $35, making them more affordable than other similar wellness items. Expect even more to come from this powerhouse duo.
Wearables continue to track much more than steps (think: stress, sleep, and heart health), and with HabitAware, which Aneela Idnani co-founded with her husband in 2016 to help destigmatize and raise awareness for body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRB), that scope extends. Keen, the company’s first tech-enabled bracelet, helped Idnani bring awareness to her trichotillomania—a condition characterized by the urge to pull out one’s hair that affects an estimated 1 percent of the population in the United States—which has in turn helped her shift her behavior.
With the award-winning wearable, which vibrates like a “‘hug’ on the wrist, reminding you that your hands are not where you want them to be,” the goal of Keen is to help the estimated 20 percent of Americans who live with an unwanted BFRB, like nail-biting, skin-picking, and other self-grooming behaviors.
Looking forward to 2021, HabitAware has just launched Keen2 (available for pre-order). In addition to featuring traditional smartwatch capabilities, this next generation has more sensitive wrist detection, in-app journaling capabilities, and the ability to opt in to habit-reversal training, an evidence-backed form of therapy. With Keen2, Idnani furthers her mission to empower those who live with BFRBs to be able to act positively and proactively.
President and CEO, Alala
When Denise Lee founded Alala in 2014, it was with a mission to apply a fashion-forward design concept to high-performance activewear. As a triathlete who wanted garments she could wear all day—and work out in—without feeling underdressed, she felt that at the time, there was nothing on the market to suit that need. Needless to say, she was ahead of her time.
That’s because if you fast-forward to present day—after a year when many folks accumulated as many pairs of sweats as they could fit in their drawers—it’s clear that Lee and her vision for Alala reflect market demand to a T (or tee), wherein everyday clothing will blend fashion and function. A quick glance through Alala’s best-seller page shows that in addition to creating quality technical clothing, consumers are also flocking to the brand for its comfort-forward loungewear with items like joggers, jumpsuits, and cardigans. In the year to come, the visionary brand, helmed by Lee, will continue being a trailblazer in the industry.
Founder and CEO, Hungryroot
Thanks to our collective, pandemic-induced cooking fatigue, “half-scratch” meal kits—which come with pre-prepped ingredients so you just have to cook and consume—are poised to become the next best thing in healthy cooking since sliced sweet potatoes. But long before the pandemic, Ben McKean’s company, Hungryroot, had already cornered the market with its healthy groceries and simple recipes, helping it stand out from a crowded field in this critical moment.
Launched in 2015, the grocery delivery service helps customers make nutritious weeknight meals in 10 minutes by mixing and matching hundreds of pre-made ingredients. After some brief hiccups in 2018 (and a brand pivot), the company hit a record $100 million in profits in 2020 and tripled its product offerings to provide even better service to its expanded customer base. In 2021, as existing meal kit companies scramble to make their offerings simpler and more time-efficient, Hungryroot plans to add more products to its market and continue to improve upon its recipes to best serve the needs of its hungry, time-pressed customers.
Olympian, USA Track & Field
At 16 years old, Sydney McLaughlin placed third at the U.S. Olympic Trials, punching her ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 400m hurdles and becoming the youngest track and field Olympian since 1972. McLaughlin finished 17th at the Rio Olympics, became the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year (for a second time), and, instead of turning pro, embarked on a short but monumental collegiate track and field career at the University of Kentucky.
McLaughlin’s freshman year at Kentucky was full of history-making accomplishments. She won the 2017 indoor 400m SEC championship title, got second in the 400m at the NCAA Indoor National Championships, where she ran the second-fastest collegiate indoor time ever among female athletes, and set the collegiate and world junior 300m record with a time of 36.12. During the outdoor season, McLaughlin broke the SEC meet record, NCAA collegiate record, and the world under-20 record in the 400m hurdles with a time of 52.75, the 13th fastest 400m hurdle time recorded among female athletes. A few weeks later, McLaughlin was crowned the 400m hurdle champion at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor National Championships.
After a standout freshman year at Kentucky, McLaughlin turned pro and signed a multi-year deal with New Balance. In 2019, she took silver in the 400m hurdles at the world championships in Doha, running 52.23, the third-fastest time in history. She also added a gold medal to her collection as a member of the 4x400m relay team. In 2021, McLaughlin has her eyes set on making her second Olympic appearance and competing in arguably the most dominant and fastest women’s 400m hurdle competition in history.
Dr. Tamsin Lee
Founder and CEO, Influential Point
Acupuncture has been a mainstay of the American wellness industry for decades, but the East Asian medicinal practice has long been colonized by white practitioners to serve primarily white, affluent clients. It’s why Tamsin Lee, DA[o]M, AEMP, has made it her mission to push for social justice within acupuncture and other East Asian medicinal practices. She founded Influential Point in May 2020, an organization that aims to “educate, support, and empower acupuncturists to be [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] practitioners who push for systemic changes,” Dr. Lee told Well+Good in August.
Along with its social-media-focused educational efforts, Influential Point launched a petition urging the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine—two huge certifying bodies for East Asian medicine in the U.S.—to remove the xenophobic word “oriental” from their institutions’ names. (One prominent medical journal has since removed the “o-word” from its title.) The organization also received a $20,000 research grant from the University of Washington to explore the mental-health impacts of racial and ethnic discrimination precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic for Black and Asian Americans. (The study wrapped in January 2021, and data is currently being analyzed.) In October, Dr. Lee was also awarded the Emerging Leader award from the American Public Health Association for her work in digital inclusion within the Traditional and Integrative Health field.
As all aspects of American society continue to grapple with racial and social equity in 2021, Dr. Lee’s work—and the work of Influential Point—has never been more needed within the wellness industry.
Founder, Trauma With Your Mama
Relationships are important, complicated, and constantly evolving—often none more so than the ones we share with our mothers. As a spirit-based and spirit-lead wellness facilitator, Jaznel Mosby helps to lead people back to themselves through introspection, meditation, movement, and her own writing.
As the founder of Trauma With Your Mama, a course that helps women navigate their journey of healing and finding peace in and with their “mama trauma,” Mosby—known as J. Chavae in her writing and work circles—works to create brave, intentional, and sacred communities for growth. Chavae is passionate about creating more spaces of rest, ease, and being, and in 2021 will be working to add even more improvements to the course and expand the community.
CEO, Sundial Brands
Being at the helm of a major beauty brand in 2021 requires more than signing off on this season's trendiest skin- or hair-care ingredients, and Cara Sabin, who has worked for some of the top beauty brands in the world, has taken this as her mission. As the CEO of Sundial Brands, a portfolio that includes BIPOC-founded SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, nyakio beauty, emerge, and MCJW, Sabin has been outspoken about the importance of brands having a social mission that binds its community together.
Take SheaMoisture, which operates through a "community commerce" business model that is dedicated to "creating a fairer world by overserving those who have been underserved," as she put it in an open letter on the brand's site. In action, that means pouring money back into communities for education, safety, health care, and fair wages and funding small Black-owned businesses through the $1Million Fund. Given that she's only been at Sundial for a year and some change, we expect this is only the beginnings of how the beauty industry will see Sabin shake things up.
Rebecca Alvarez Story
Founder and CEO, Bloomi
One welcome development that’s happened amid life in quarantine is the growing understanding that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is part of a well-rounded self-care routine. But, that reality isn’t a new one to Rebecca Alvarez Story, the sexologist who founded Bloomi in response to her frustration that the sexual-health industry lacked a platform for consumers to be able to find products free of potentially harmful chemicals and safe for use. Per the site, only 2 percent of the thousands of vigorously vetted products are approved by Bloomi’s experts to be featured on the platform.
Story’s intention for Bloomi, which sells its own products in addition to others, is to help you “be the CEO of your body,” according to the site. Core to Bloomi’s “inclusive, modern, and empowering” mission are education (with its Sessions by Bloomi and on-site blog), sustainability (Bloomi products are made with materials that are recyclable and the brand offsets customers’ carbon emissions), and accessibility.
Founder, Intersectional Environmentalist and Green Girls Co.
In May 2020, Leah Thomas made a viral Instagram post that illuminated the connection between climate justice and social justice. A month later, she left her job to found Intersectional Environmentalist, a collective of environmental activists dedicated to dismantling systems of oppression in the environmental movement. Through social media platforms and their website, Thomas and her team share resources that explore the intersections of social and environmental justice.
Thomas launched The Greens Girl Co. in October of that same year as an experiment of what radical transparency and wealth distribution can look like in the cannabis industry. She runs an online shop featuring artisanal cannabis-related goods; a directory of cannabis stores owned by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); and The Cannabis Innovation Fund, which supports cannabis innovations and reform organizations, providing grants to BIPOC working in the cannabis industry. Leading by example, Thomas hopes these endeavors will help make the mission of cannabis and environmental organizations more inclusive.
Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer, Shaktibarre
When Corinne Wainer got into barre, she loved the modality but not so much the classes. She found the studios she entered to be too judgy, too expensive, and too homogenous. Everyone looked like her, she says, which left her craving a more inclusive, welcoming, and supportive environment. And so, Wainer and co-founder Shauny Lamba founded Shaktibarre with a focus on affordable prices and a truly diverse staff.
Wainer is now at the helm of Shaktibarre, leading the company into a digital space necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With classes that fuse isometric movements, yoga, and psychology together, she launched the Shaktibarre App, offering access to both live and pre-recorded classes for just $20 per month. Creating the app allows Wainer to continue serving her community the classes they love at an attainable price. And now that attendance isn’t limited to people in New York City, the sky’s the limit for growth.
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