Workplace

This online marketplace for people of color is making wellness more accessible

After closing its doors during the pandemic, it's bringing its yoga and meditation classes online for Black people and people of color.

A woman with pink sunglasses in a bright green field

Ethel's Club, the tech startup focused on wellness for Black people and people of color, is shifting its model to make wellness more accessible to people who need it the most.

Photo: Ethel's Club

If there's anything the last year taught us, it's that personal wellness is underrated. Especially in communities of color.

Ethel's Club, the tech startup focused on wellness for Black people and people of color, is shifting its model to make wellness more accessible to people who need it the most. Instead of selling monthly memberships, Ethel's Club is embracing a pay-as-you-go model for access to live wellness classes offered on its digital platform. Free, prerecorded courses will also be available online.

"We wanted to make everything that we can more accessible," Ethel's Club founder and CEO Naj Austin told Protocol. "Putting wellness for marginalized communities behind a paywall started to feel more and more just not the right way to approach it."

That's a departure from Ethel's Club's previous strategy, which at one point charged a $195-per-month membership for access to its Brooklyn-based location and then $17 per month for a digital-only experience.

There doesn't seem to be anything quite like Ethel's Club, which has raised venture funding from True Ventures, Dream Machine and others, but there are companies and services in its orbit. For one, there's The Wing, but that's specifically geared toward working women and functions as a coworking space. There's also Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, but Austin doesn't see those audio-only experiences as competition for Ethel's Club.

Austin said to think of the new Ethel's Club as a marketplace for all types of wellness courses, with a mix of free and paid experiences led by Ethel's Club-vetted practitioners. The wellness courses will cover topics such as food and nutrition, mind and body, sex and romance, financial health and others. Each guide is responsible for determining how much they want to charge for their courses, so the prices will vary, Austin said.


A screenshot of a class from Ethel's Club's platform Photo: Ethel's Club


Many wellness spaces don't center Black people and people of color, Austin said. That's where Ethel's Club sees an opportunity.

"There's not one place to go to to watch content, buy live content, read content all from the perspective of not just race and ethnicity but by body type and hair type," she said.

Austin said it's also important to signal that "wellness is not this foreign matcha, yoga pants concept. But it is just feeling better throughout your life generally. And there are many ways in which one can do that."

Ethel's Club's first iteration of its digital offering gave members access to classes covering topics such as cooking, Black art and yoga. Wellness-related courses were the most popular among its members, as well as series-based courses, such as a four-part series on meditation through journaling, Austin said.

She attributes that popularity to "the community feel of showing up and seeing the same people in the room, and then also the accountability aspect of it."

Austin found that members returned to Ethel's Club for specific topics led by specific guides. That's partly what led to a greater emphasis on practitioners in this new version of Ethel's Club.

"Now that we're on the other side and we've spent the last year really learning about who these global people are, who are our audience that we magically have all of a sudden, we're wanting to really build a product with thought and intention," she said. "Which we were unable to do because we had to have a digital product in a day."

Prior to the pandemic forcing the closing of Ethel's Club's physical location, there were about 280 people paying for the monthly membership. When Ethel's Club brought its space online in March 2020, about 90% of its members crossed over to digital membership, Austin said. Ahead of ceasing its digital membership offering, Ethel's Club had about 1,500 paying members.


A screenshot of a video from Ethel's Club's platform Photo: Ethel's Club


Ethel's Club held onto its space, with the hopes of eventually reopening it after the pandemic, but the company has since permanently closed its location in Brooklyn. In the fall, the plan is to open up another physical location but Austin said she first wants to see which courses gain the most traction and how they would work in a physical environment.

"If we find out that most of the digital series people are purchasing are not yoga classes, but are classes that need a whiteboard, now we know to build that into the next space versus trying to retrofit what we have."

Ethel's Club will also determine the location of its physical space based on where its subscribers live.

With Ethel's Club, Austin said the company is really leaning into video because that visual aspect is a core part of its offering. That's not to say Ethel's Club will never add an audio-only supplement, but Austin said Ethel's Club has yet to make a decision. Still, Austin doesn't see features like video and audio as relevant differentiating factors between Ethel's Club and other community-based services.

Ethel's Club will also eventually live within Somewhere Good, a technology platform Austin and her team are building to house a variety of digital communities.

"The differentiator is in the fact that there is no place where communities centering identity are in one place," she said. "That alone is the best feature about the platform and I think anything on top of that is just extra. I think the way in which one connects we can sort of figure out but I think just the ability that you can connect in this way, I think is already pretty magical."

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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