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Back in 2010, spinning, juicing and avocado toast were only beginning to seep into public consciousness, but Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula knew the world of wellness was about to explode. The New York City journalists launched healthy living website Well + Good as a reaction to a mainstream media they felt covered the sector with a cynical, mocking voice. They, on the other hand, took this stuff seriously.
The two invested $5,000 of their own money to get started and promised to cover all things wellness from a respectful angle, sans snark. The result? A comprehensive site that discusses fitness trends, active apparel, and health food fads. Now in its fourth year, Well + Good enjoys a million monthly uniques and employs a full-time staff.
Ahead of Well + Good's LA expansion (which launches today!), Racked chatted with Alexia and Melisse about which workout craze they'll never attempt, why activewear is such a thing, and how they respond to people who aren't down with $11 juice.
What were you doing before you started Well + Good?
Alexia: Melisse and I were both working in print, so we actually had really similar career trajectories—we worked in book publishing and in magazines. We met at Luxury SpaFinder.
Why did you decide to start the website?
Alexia: People weren't traveling as much after the recession hit, and by 2009 were focusing instead on the whole wellness movement. Businesses like Organic Avenue, SoulCycle, and BluePrint were just beginning, and we were like, 'Let's focus on the wellness lifestyle in New York City.'
Melisse:: We wanted Well + Good to have a journalistic bend, which wasn't something we saw in the health and wellness world. There was a lot of eye-rolling over people's obsession with yoga or spinning, and other industries that are robust businesses now, like juicing and fashion fitness. We were naively ambitious of covering lifestyle, but we wanted to answer questions like, 'Who's your facialist?' or 'What's the difference between a juice and a smoothie?' We wanted to add cultural lifestyle journalism to a beat that wasn't deemed credible by mainstream media because of all the icky, weight-loss talk.
Have you always been interested in wellness?
Alexia: It's a personal passion for both of us. I've always been really into exercise, so when boutique fitness took hold, that was really thrilling for me. We both work out at least five times a week and love to try new studios and new instructors. Melisse is a long-time natural and organic beauty expert—she's been covering organic beauty for over a decade.
What are your diets and fitness routines like?
Alexia: I love high-intensity interval training. I also like to chill out on a spin bike. I eat mostly a plant-based diet; I'm green that way.
Melisse: I'm a fitness omnivore! I love to try absolutely everything. I also really like athletic barre classes. I'm a pescatarian, so I'm like a bear—I could pretty much just eat salmon. I've been that way most of my life, and I don't eat much dairy.
Do you take any supplements?
Melisse: I take vitamin D, probiotics and spirulina for my skin. They're my go-tos. Nothing too crazy, I have to say.
Alexia: I do oil-pulling, where you swish coconut oil in the morning for five or ten minutes; it's great for your gums and whitens your teeth. I also drink an ounce or two of aloe water every morning.
Why do you think wellness has become so trendy recently?
Alexia: I think people are having more fun with it. In the last five years, workouts have become so social and varied, and studios are beautiful. The whole elevation of the fitness experience has made it more fun for people across the board. The workout experience has become the best part of someone's day and not a chore the way it used to be. There's been a redefinition of gym culture into a whole lifestyle! There was a time in New York when people talked about movies or books or different things in the culture. I feel like now that conversation focus is workouts.
Do you feel like you have to try every food and fitness trend?
Melisse: We personally don't try everything; we have a team of writers who do. Everything that we write about, somebody on our team has tried. But we don't care about weight loss as an objective at all. We don't touch that. There are plenty of publications that will go there and try things that you see on infomercials with the goal of a flat belly, but we don't talk about that stuff at all.
What about out-there trends, like sunbathing naked to fight off yeast or eating clay? Are you guys on board with all that?
Alexia: We're editorially-driven. We'd report on these trends, but that doesn't mean we're on board with them.
Melisse: We're super moderate about this stuff. At the end of the day, it's like asking a dining critic what cuisine they don't like—it doesn't matter because they're going to write about all types of cuisines anyway. That's what your reader needs.
Are there any fitness trends you would never try?
Melisse: If it involves electricity and water, I don't want to try it.
Alexia: I don't think you'll see us at Tough Mudder. Personally we're not into that.
How do you respond to critics who think the lifestyle is overpriced or stupid?
Melisse: In terms of the expense, we're always looking for ways to navigate more affordable ways of doing things. I think in terms of people who think green juice is ridiculous, they're probably not going to be a natural reader for us, and that's okay. We're not going to appeal to everyone. We hope that there are a lot of things on Well + Good that are more general lifestyle things, like how much protein you should get or trends in fitness fashion. But I think to your point, there is always going to be a reader that isn't going to love us.
What types of stories always do well on the site?
Melisse: Exposing a wellness-wannabe practice as not healthy does well. Also, we hit juicing or fitness fashion every week because they are our bread and butter.
What are new health trends you're noticing?
Melisse: People using activated charcoal. It's still a little fringy for a lot of people, but we'll probably see that become more mainstream.
Were there any surprising discoveries you encountered over the last few years?
Melisse: I don't know if anyone could have predicted how hot spinning or boutique fitness would become. Five years ago, I don't think we would have been able to predict that juice bars would take over Manhattan. The exponential growth surprised us.
Alexia: The growth of fitness fashion is also something that we wouldn't have guessed five years ago—how much people are now caring about what they wear to work out. It's not just throwing on a college T-shirt and a pair of Champion shorts anymore. The number of brands and how specialized it's gotten is surprising, and we're just at the beginning of this. There are some dominant stalwarts in fitness fashion, like Nike and Lululemon, and there are certainly rivals to those brands now. There's even a lot of movement into high fashion.
What challenges did you face when you first started the site?
Alexia: There were so many aspects of running and growing a website that took us by surprise. There was all of the production work that went along with it, all of the ways in which text billed out—it was a lot messier and more complicated and time-consuming than we ever could have thought. There were so many things to figure out! It was blast, but we didn't have the background for it and we couldn't afford to hire the people for it, so Melisse and I were literally teaching ourselves so many things. It was crazy.
How did you get funding?
Alexia: We started really small in 2010. We pitched in $5,000 of our money and that was enough for the first generation of Well + Good. We were just driven by a passion for the content at that point, so we didn't have a business plan. We just had a vision for what it could be and for the woman we were writing for. When we launched the website, we basically just worked for free for the first year, freelancing on the side. In order to raise money, we poured our heart and souls into it.
Melisse: Now it's monetized through banner ads on the site and in our email publication.
What's next for Well + Good?
Melisse: This month, we're launching our Los Angeles edition. It's our second-most popular city in terms of readership. We're really very excited to be expanding and have wonderful people on the ground there.
And lastly, what's your best piece of business advice?
Alexia: Have a business partner that you love. I can't imagine having started this by myself—find a complementary person that you want to work with. Also, just know that it will take over your life. You're always on, so you have to love it because you're always doing it.