Take a deep breath. You probably need one right about now. I know I do. No matter how uncertain or stressful life becomes, breath—a dose of fresh air, a heavy sigh, an intentional pause to calm the mind and body—is the most reliable and time-honored medicine to carry us through difficult times.
The Business of Breathing
Before this historic pandemic flipped the world upside down, some entrepreneurs were already acutely aware of the value (in health and business) of a deep breath and healthy lungs. Looking back in time, they sought to bring ancient practices and beliefs around breath into modern-day, infusing them into forward-thinking innovations and designs. In doing so, a few companies have found ways to build a business around breath and carve out a new niche in the $3.7 trillion global wellness industry. Already massive, this industry is projected to grow nearly 20 percent throughout 2020.
Thousands of mindfulness and meditation products, apps, and services have begun to flood the market. Standing out, providing something unique and impactful, is no easy task. Entrepreneurs that want to build a business around helping people live happier, healthier lives, and stake a meaningful claim in such a crowded space, must unearth the perfect combination of innovation, passion, specialty, and intention.
These entrepreneurs have done just that.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Komuso Design created The Shift in 2017 to provide men and women with a tool for better breathing and relaxation. Designed to be worn as a necklace, The Shift emulates the bamboo flutes 17th-century Japanese komusō monks used in their meditative practices. The idea is that breathing through The Shift—in the same way, the monks breathed into their flutes—will prolong the wearer’s exhalations and create a calming effect.
The science around the health benefits of slower breathing and what Harvard Health Publishing refers to as “relaxation response,” is strong. Deep, slow breathing can reduce stress, prevent insomnia, regulate fight-or-flight response, and improve focus. Husband and wife co-founders Vanessa Tapia and Todd Steinberg tapped into this science for their product’s initial designs. In collaboration with a psychiatrist friend, they combined research with their own experiences battling anxiety, busyness, and stress. The result was The Shift, which they launched with a true intention of helping others live more mindful, calm lives.
The road getting there wasn’t easy though. Committed to keeping production in the U.S., and prioritizing quality over margins, the couple had a difficult time finalizing the design and establishing its manufacturing. In an interview with Cnnekt, Tapia said, “What should have been an easy manufacturing process took us to the brink…”
Once Komuso Design finally introduced The Shift, sold exclusively via its direct-to-consumer website for anywhere from $85-$115, the company grew quickly. The Shift has appeared in a number of women’s magazines and is poised to set a new trend in wellness fashion. More than 90 percent of reviewers give it five stars, with some going as far as to call it a life-changing product.
Steinberg has referred to the company’s initial growth exponential, and largely attributes its success to the fact that the product is truly resonating with and helping customers. Looking forward, the company is exploring the possibility of launching a similar product for children. Tapia and Steinberg have talked about bringing Komuso Wellness programs to pediatric hospitals and schools, to teach mindfulness to children experiencing high stress.
Another wellness jewelry line tapping into the breath business is aromatherapy necklace manufacturer Cor Pendant. The company was co-founded in 2016 by Coreena D’Alessandro, a department store buyer, turned stay-at-home mom, turned aromatherapist, and jewelry designer Marianne VanderWall. A small operation out of Redding, Connecticut, the company was designed for “modern, busy women,” to enjoy the benefits of essential oils on the go.
However unique, the premise is simple. Not unlike Komuso Design’s The Shift, Cor Pendant is worn on a long chain and resembles a cylindrical whistle. The pendant holds interchangeable and replaceable Cor Wicks of D’Alessandro’s unique essential oil blends that support various moods, including calm, focus, and energy. Anytime, anywhere, the wearer can twist open the pendant, remove the wick, and take a deep breath in. The company believes the power of aromatherapy then takes over, offering a sense of clarity and renewal.
Like most bootstrapped products, Cor Pendant initially launched on its own direct-to-consumer website. D’Alessandro immediately sent samples to Anthropologie, hoping against hope to gain a foot in the door at a major women’s retailer. After months of quiet, she heard back from a buyer involved in building out the store’s wellness assortment. After more samples and another year of waiting, Cor Pendant finally received an order. Anthropologie continues to carry the product and its accessories online and in select in-store wellness installments. It retails for $125 and is also available through a variety of eCommerce sites and high-end brick and mortar shops and spas.
While Anthropologie was a significant win for the company, D’Alessandro doesn’t maintain any illusions about the day-to-day of an entrepreneur. In a previous interview with a beauty trade publication, Beauty Independent, she said, “I feel like I’m in a good place now, and doors are opening for me. I’m making the right connections, and it feels right intuitively. That’s not to say that I’m not going to encounter 20 challenges tomorrow.”
Molekule, a science and technology company based in San Francisco, is the ultimate example of just how big the business of breath can be. The company created PECO (Photo Electrochemical Oxidation) air purifiers, which it purports can destroy microscopic indoor pollutants, including bacteria, allergens, mold spores, and viruses. Following a $58 million Series C funding in February, the company has raised a total of $91 million since its founding in 2014.
The company is led by a family, brother, and sister engineers Dilip Goswami and Jaya Rao, and their scientist father Dr. Yogi Goswami, who shared a deep personal motivation to tackle indoor air pollution. For more than 20 years, chief scientist Dr. Goswami researched air purification techniques to help his son combat intense allergies and asthma. CEO Goswami and COO Rao took their father’s ultimate breakthrough—the creation of PECO technology—and used it to launch the Molekule system.
Backed by major VC firms and hundreds of employees, Molekule has all the makings for success. The company has stated 3x year-over-year growth in its filter subscription revenue between 2014 and 2020 and says it has 200 percent repeat customer growth. Still, the company has not gone without public scrutiny. Some testing sources have refuted Molekule’s claims, bringing the effectiveness of PECO technology in destroying air pollutants into question.
Looking ahead, Dr. Goswami stands behind his invention and believes Molekule can play a role in fighting the coronavirus. The product is undergoing testing for its efficacy in killing COVID-19 in the air, which Dr. Goswami hopes will lead to Molekule’s use in hospitals and health care centers.
In the early 2000s, Jorge Brouwer brought his invention, the Expand-A-Lung, to the internet. An avid free diver, Brouwer developed the product to improve his lung capacity for longer dives. Soon, he knew he had something that really worked, and began marketing the simple, four-inch device as a way for athletes to strengthen their lungs through exercises that were typically available only in respiratory care facilities using expensive medical equipment. He began advocating for the importance of frequent and consistent breathing resistance training in improving endurance athlete performance.
Through his own site, Amazon, and other retailers, Brouwer went directly to consumers. Early traction with triathletes and free divers led Brouwer to explore how improved strength in the inspiratory and expiratory muscles his product targeted would impact COPD patients and other people with respiratory illnesses. After initial testing showed positive results, he launched a targeted campaign promoting his product’s usefulness in improving shortness of breath symptoms. Within two years of that effort, nearly half of Expand-A-Lung’s sales were from COPD patients seeking drug-free remedies.
Today, the product is rated as the top breathing fitness trainer sold on Amazon. The company touts its use among divers, cyclists, runners, swimmers, surfers, martial artists, and Navy seals. More than 80 percent of Expand-A-Lung’s online reviews are positive, and the company claims it has received more than 8,000 unsolicited positive testimonials from customers.
We are living in stressful times. But, pushing back against the tide of uncertainty are dedicated entrepreneurs, passionate about physical, spiritual, and mental wellness. They are lighting breath on fire, helping people improve their health, reduce anxiety, and live better lives—for our new normal and beyond.