Frustrated by the plain elastic headbands that kept slipping out of her hair during workouts, fitness instructor Donna Browning embarked on a quest to create one that would stay put. She borrowed a sewing machine and, after stitching up several combinations of materials, discovered that velvet-lined ribbon and elastic could hold its own.
Browning, who lives in Cincinnati, started making the bands as gifts and selling them out of her bag at the gym. “The reaction of the women wearing them was amazing,” she says. “They said not only did they not slip, they made them feel more polished and pulled together. That made me think, I’ve got to share these with the world.”
In 2008, Browning and her husband, Doug, launched Sweaty Bands, selling her creations online for $15 to $18 each. Soon after, a blog post from Self magazine sparked a jump in sales. Sweaty Bands now employs a staff of about 100, and the Brownings expect to sell 250,000 headbands this year.
The company enlists local seamstresses to pick up materials and drop off finished product twice a month. A manufacturing facility in North Carolina handles custom orders that come through the company’s website, which was revamped earlier this year. “We had so many inquiries about custom orders on our old site, but we weren’t equipped to handle them,” Doug says. “We think the custom piece will bump sales to a new level.”
In addition to investing heavily in their website, the Brownings have pushed the product forward through aggressive marketing at athletic events, including setting up shop at the Boston Marathon, the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour and the Disney-branded race series. The company is on pace to do about 80 events this year.
“These expos are a marketing expense, but they’re also a fantastic revenue stream,” Donna says. “We get our name out there and help fund the business at the same time.”
The Brownings are exploring licensing deals with college and professional sports teams and already have a deal to craft sorority-branded Sweaty Bands–a natural fit, according to Dan Shaver, president and CEO of Vista, Calif.-based licensing advisor Affinity Marketing Consultants. “With an increasing focus on personal wellness and active living, Sweaty Bands provides a quality product that allows members to display their loyalty in a fun, stylish and practical manner,” he notes.
Sweaty Bands’ wholesale business is also gaining momentum. The product is sold in roughly 1,500 stores nationwide. These channels have helped revenue double every year since the company’s launch, coming in at just over $3 million in 2011. With rapid growth from custom orders, the Brownings expect to hit $12 million in 2012.
Down the line, the plan is to make Sweaty Bands part of a larger company called Sweaty Brands, with possible product additions running the gamut, from workout gear and swimwear to dog collars. “We get requests for a lot of that type of thing already,” Doug says, “and our new website is built to handle that capacity.”