When gyms across the nation closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, exercise gurus suddenly found their regular fitness routines disrupted. Now, many former gym-goers have adapted to working out at home — and some even prefer the change.
Two people making the most of this shift to indoor workouts are Boston University sophomores and business partners Aubrey Vitale and Ian Carman. Back in May, Vitale, in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Carman, in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, co-founded Breathe Well Fitness, an online-only business that sells eco-friendly at-home exercise equipment.
What began as a pandemic-era side project has become a full-time responsibility and business. Breathe Well sells a range of workout equipment that can be used in body-weight and calisthenic workouts, such as resistance bands, yoga mats and massage tools.
As summarized in its online mission statement, Breathe Well is conscious of and actively works on improving its environmental impact. Vitale said every business decision, from product materials to shipping, prioritizes eco-friendliness.
“I think it’s important to be aware of sustainability issues,” Vitale said. “If I wanted to start a business, I wanted to do it in the right way and have the littlest environmental impact that I could possibly have.”
Product descriptions on the Breathe Well website list materials and information about recyclability, and Vitale said all products are recyclable and made of materials that have the smallest environmental footprint they could find. He said finding truly green products can be an intense research process, as suppliers are not always transparent about the materials they use.
Before marketing any of their merchandise, Carman said the duo’s product choice is backed by thorough work and testing. He said this is a way he hopes to differentiate Breathe
Well from other e-commerce businesses.
“We ended up focusing specifically on making a difference, even on the small scale,” Carman said, “working with eco-friendly workout products and making sure that every product we have makes a difference in the world.”
In line with the company’s environmental focus, they have partnered with One Tree Planted, a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 that connects with businesses to pursue global reforestation. For every purchase made on Breathe Well, One Tree Planted will plant a tree to combat deforestation.
Diana Chaplin, canopy director of One Tree Planted, wrote in an email that the collaboration is meaningful because Breathe Well is one of the small businesses that has supported the nonprofit’s reforestation projects with a donation.
“It takes a lot of people to execute reforestation projects, and we rely on each other for mutual benefit,” Chaplin wrote. “Breathe Well Fitness’s contribution has been fairly small to start, but some of our best partners have grown with us, and we’re grateful to have the support in a way that also engages and inspires consumers around sustainable actions.”
The partners have also taken advantage of their BU network to acquire additional services for their business — Vitale said BU AdClub has agreed to provide Breathe Well with a team to guide advertisement and social media customization for the semester.
Social media outlets have also been helping the business connect with its community — Breathe Well has started posting information about projects funded by monthly donations, which are in partnership with One Tree Planted. Vitale said online exposure and outreach give the business an opportunity to thank its partners and show customers what their purchases are supporting.
“It’s been great, and we’ve started to get some nice feedback,” Vitale said. “It’s really cool to see a small community starting to build within some of the people that follow our social medias.”
Vitale and Carman said Breathe Well is still in its early stages of growth and development, and the two have plans to expand. Carman said the team is particularly interested in developing environmentally-conscious clothing lines further down the road.
“It’s all pretty open for now,” Carman said, “but [we’re] definitely very excited to expand that, beyond just the equipment aspect of everything, into more of a lifestyle brand.”
Vitale said they’ve made some initial sales, but building their company into a reputable brand has been a slow process. He said the duo would love to continue working on Breathe Well after graduating from BU, if the business grows in the way that they envision.
“We’re really hoping that in the next, hopefully six months, we can start to see some more significant traffic,” Vitale said. “And with the help of the AdClub, and I think a lot of hard work, and maybe a little luck, we’re hoping that we can get things rolling.”