Nearly 10 years ago, US Peace Corps volunteer Ari Zandman-Zeman, now 33, was stationed on Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines mentoring at-risk youth, coaching basketball teams and supporting public interest groups. His island location, like many Peace Corps deployments to developing areas, lacked any formal gyms or training facilities, so the former Division I college basketball player sought an alternative fitness routine. It was there that he first explored the idea of a simple elastic loop, a giant rubber band, using it for functional resistance training anywhere he could. He continued developing his prototype the following year in Guatemala where he added accessories made out of nylon straps custom made by a local tailor.
Today, Ari’s Rubberbanditz produces more than a dozen different high-quality latex bands with countless accessories, a TSA-compliant mobile gym kit weighing just one pound, athletic and therapeutic equipment, a tutorial DVD, and downloadable exercises to help users train and stretch anywhere. Having grown by 33% every year since its launch in 2009, the Durham, NC-based company is now a top Amazon seller, has been featured by several influential fitness industry entities, and has helped more than 35,000 customers meet fitness needs through their products. “Rubberbanditz allows you to be deployed with a full-body workout with a self-contained product and empowers you to train your body to operate as a unit,” Ari said.
While much of Rubberbanditz’ rising popularity can be attributed to the cost effectiveness, accessibility, functionality and easy-to-transport nature of the products themselves, Ari, now CEO and Chief eBANDgelist, credits additional factors behind the scenes, including resilience in the face of failures, agility in the marketplace and a high standard of customer service.
But it’s not just resolute business practices that make this three-employee company stand out in the highly saturated fitness equipment market. Ari built Rubberbanditz around two key missions: To keep the products and the company as green as possible, and to promote personal fitness however and wherever they can, describing themselves on their website as a “quadruple bottom line business about placing people, planet, profit and power on an equal footing.”
“Our green initiative is a deep-rooted passion of mine,” Ari said. Their green policies encompass every area of business: recycled product packaging, donating returned bands to The Scrap Exchange, office sharing, online-only marketing, downloadable digital resources and encouraging employees to commute by bike. Ari himself, now living in Los Angeles, still cycles to work as much as possible. The products themselves support the green policy two-fold by using as few materials as possible to create an endless combination of exercise tools, which in turn allows users to forego the commute (and cost) required of a gym membership. “Green initiatives should be thoroughly embedded in every business,” Ari said.
As impressive as its ecofriendly nature is, Rubberbanditz’ social initiatives across the globe are even more impactful and reminiscent of the Peace Corps’ mentality. Outreach projects like Carolina for Kibera and BounceBack Kids “encourage inclusion, accessibility and enthusiasm for exercise […using] our bands, bodies and minds to break down barriers to fitness through group-facilitated training sessions and by supporting like-minded organizations.” Rubberbanditz provides products and training to support mobile fitness programs for at-risk youths, adults and children with medical issues, athletes, and disadvantaged people around the world.
The company’s social outreach began in its first year by partnering with Bridge II Sports, a Durham neighbor organization also in its first year at the time. Bridge II Sports runs programs that allow children, teens and adults, including veterans, with physical disabilities to participate in recreation, exercise and competitive sports. Working together with Ari and his donation of Rubberbanditz products, Executive Director and Founder Ashley Thomas implemented the use of bands to the fitness and therapeutic elements of training for their athletes starting around age 13 and saw impressive results.
“I am a big believer in resistance training,” Ashley said, “especially for those with disabilities because our abilities are compromised.” The bands allow Bridge II Sports athletes to stretch and strengthen safely where they otherwise couldn’t, especially amputees, she explained. “Ari is a great person,” she added, “he understood our mission from the very beginning,” helping to develop and implement customized exercises and training programs with an involved and hands-on approach.
Ashley, who emphasizes that physical activity and recreation is key to healthy living, keeps a set of bands hanging on the back of her office door and traveled with them to athletic competitions. The US National Parakayak athlete has spina bifida, a congenital disorder that causes some vertebrae to stop developing before being fully formed and remain open. When she started using Rubberbanditz products, she noticed marked improvements in her athletic performance and her strength, especially in her back. “There are no excuses with the bands,” she said. “They are phenomenal for travel and great to use with any disability.”
Ashley isn’t alone in her praise of Rubberbanditz. Its website boasts enthusiastic testimonials from customers, professional athletes and directors of the social outreach programs with which it partners. It’s clear Rubberbanditz is raising the bar for accessible equipment, green policies and social consciousness, an example its larger competitors—and all wellness companies—would do well to follow.
Still, it should be no surprise that Ari isn’t finished growing Rubberbanditz and its initiatives. His primary goal: to replace the term “resistance bands” with “Rubberbanditz,” genericised with the likes of Band-Aid and Xerox—something most other companies would consider negative. But Ari is charging ahead with a five-year plan of aggressive growth strategies centered on Rubberbanditz’ core missions and showing no signs of slowing down, a force for positive change.