A Report on the Self-Care Boom of the Century

Abigail Shipps
November 25, 2021

Prior to 2020, self-care was a term that largely described an experience of staying in on the weekends, treating yourself to a bubble bath, or investing in a massage or facial every once in a while. New Year's Resolutions often centered around investing in yourself, but like many of us know, those self-care resolutions oftentimes dwindled by the time February rolled around. 

Well, hello 2020. To say this year has been overwhelming is an understatement. With an election occurring at the same time as a global pandemic, it’s safe to say that the average vibe across the board is slightly more anxious and nervous than normal. As a result, whether they predicted this or not, self-care brands are soaking up the limelight like never before– with plenty of outside factors to stress about, self-care has become an incredibly present industry for those seeking solace in a time of unrest and uncertainty. 

Self-care is described as practices and products that help to nurture your mind, body, and soul. While bubble baths and face masks are certainly considered self-care, the definition has grown to become more radically inclined. Nowadays, self-care is the serious investment in oneself that cares for your mental, physical, and/or spiritual well being. Instead of simply purchasing self-care products, the overall practice of self-care by investing time in health and wellness practices is a defining characteristic of this self-care boom. Just take it from Yaguara’s own, and founder of The Proof, Adrian Alerfi:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the health and wellness space as it relates to behavioral psychology and habit formation. At the end of the day, everything good in my life has stemmed directly from being in good health, both physically and mentally. While content and education are both critical in establishing the basis for healthy habits, self-care products can further elevate the output of habits in isolation. For example, you can have the best sleep hygiene in the world, but if you’re sleeping on an old mattress you still won’t be rested.” 

Learning the practice of self-care, coupled with utilizing self-care products, is the hand-in-hand process brands strive to preach with their brand missions. We spoke with four such DTC self-care companies who have hot takes on the importance of self-care, observed shifts in the impact of social media, and the evolution of self-care in the future. Meet the brands:

Benjamin Smith, Disco: 

“I started Disco out of personal frustration with the lack of skincare brands formulated specifically for men. There was a variety of pharmacy/drugstore and Amazon brands out there, but no brand spoke to me from a design standpoint, had high-quality formulas, and built a community around their product offering. I am a twenty-something, health-conscious guy, and no brand spoke to me. In response to that void, I partnered with a childhood family friend, Dr. Eva Simmons-O'Brien (A Yale-educated dermatologist), and together, we formulated 7 skin and body products for men. Disco launched in Q4 of 2019.

“Our customer base falls into three cohorts: Men aged 22-35, who are being proactive about taking care of their skin. Men aged 35-55, who are being reactive to taking care of their skin. And finally, women, who are buying on behalf of their partners.” 

Justin Seidenfeld, Canopy:

“We incubated Canopy out of Doris Dev. My co founder's girlfriend was obsessed with using a humidifier for skin health benefits, but went through the arduous undertaking each week to maintain and prevent mold from growing in her typical humidifier. So as a team of product experts, we saw the opportunity to redesign & elevate the humidifier experience to solve for this (as well as other pain points that so many had with their humidifier experiences). 

“We want Canopy to be part of everyone's nightly skin routine, year round. For those that invest in their skin health with expensive topicals and creams, Canopy provides the optimal relative humidity in your bedroom environment to ensure your skin is staying hydrated and absorbing active ingredients in those topicals to the highest efficacy.” 

Eva Goicochea, maude:

“Having been interested in public health—I was a legislative aide in healthcare early in my career—and coming from a product background as a brand and social media strategist later on for mission-driven companies like Everlane, I always aspired to create a consumer goods company that solved for everyday wellness specifically in sexual health because ultimately, I believe that it’s the foundation for how we feel about ourselves and others. Realizing that the industry was outdated and with no sign of it changing, I decided to create maude—a brand for all people. We are modern intimacy. 

“At maude, we approach sexual wellness in a holistic, human way: It's about overall intimacy, health and happiness—not just about product. And sex is wellbeing. It reduces stress, is great for your heart and mortality, and is psychologically tied to contentment and happiness. By creating an inclusive and simplified brand built on intimacy more broadly, we've resonated with our customers and really are seeing the tide change in the category.”

Adriaan Zimmerman, NED:

“When my coworker, Ret’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, he took it upon himself to learn all he could about the available natural remedies her doctors weren’t talking about, and CBD was one of those remedies. Ret spent two years bouncing from one brand to another, never developing a true sense of trust with any of them until in the fields of Paonia, CO, where he met a farmer who practiced what he preached. Meanwhile, I felt fundamentally out of balance with myself. These feelings eventually culminated in a total burnout, topped off by a full-blown panic attack in front of my entire 75-person company. I knew a change was needed– I spent the next 2 years living out of a backpack and rediscovering the virtues of nature, simplicity, and true human connection. 

“Ret and I reconnected over a shared passion for discovering the tools that would get to the heart of the issues we, our friends, and families were experiencing. My approach was focused on harmonizing the mind, while Ret delved deep into the body, pulling from his experience as a leader in nature therapy primal movement. Sharing these discoveries with others became our common purpose and eventually led to the creation of Ned. We’re rooted in our mission to help people feel better and live better through simple means and a deep connection to the natural world. For us, this has meant creating simple and effective natural remedies that serve as a holistic first line of defense against common ailments.”

Face Mask Face Lift

As we’ve established, self-care is much more than face masks nowadays. With the increasing shift into integrative self-care within day-to-day life, brands have aligned their goals and pivoted their growth to fit with the current tumultuous times that mark the COVID-19 era. Take it from Benjamin at Disco, who aims to de-stigmatize men’s skincare and educate men on its importance: 

“We spent the first 7 months of the year finding our footing on how to acquire customers efficiently. The COVID era has been transformational for us, as once we found our footing, we are scaling nicely. We took the time to identify our 2-3 most important cohorts, refine our messaging and positioning, and develop a few exciting products which will launch in Q1-Q2 of next year.”

Likewise, Adriaan at Ned speaks to his experience navigating COVID and cultivating a storing customer base:

“Being a direct-to-consumer brand in the wellness space, the swing towards e-commerce during COVID has certainly been helpful for the bottom line. That said, we're not a brand that would look to exploit the pandemic and it inspired us to think about how else we can support consumers during this difficult time. We've made major shifts in terms of customer experience, content and non-transactional offers that align with our mission and help our customers feel better and live better. Taking this approach has allowed us to build deeper connections with customers that we hope will long outlast the pandemic.”

A characteristic of the self-care boom of the century is not the change in habits, but rather the enhancement of typical self-care habits, i.e., staying at home for longer periods of time. With men and women making the most out of their home office, families quarentining together, new relationships being tested, and individuals limiting travel and exposure to public places, home is where the heart is– literally. Justin of Canopy notes that “people are spending so much time at home, and investing time, energy and money into making their bedroom an oasis. Luckily, Canopy falls into that camp so we've seen a big surge in demand ahead of what we expected at launch.”

Similarly, Adrian and Eva have taken careful note of the stay-at-home wave. Adrian notes that “a work from home lifestyle can come with physical and emotional tolls, so it's important that we reframe our approach to wellness when we blend our living and working spaces.” On the other hand, Eva says maude has fit in well with intimacy rising in the ranks. Being solo at home has presented obstacles to some in regards to dating and building relationships, while being in company has presented a new definition of togetherness. Eva’s hot take “(no pun)”: 

“While COVID has been the theme of 2020 out in the world, intimacy, it seems, has been the topic in the home. Our business has double quarter on quarter (QoQ ), and our content audience has increased 600% with articles like ‘A Guide to Dating From Your Living Room’ being the most popular.” 

The growing content database surrounding the stay-at-home movement is paralleled to few other cultural shifts. How-to guides, from Maude’s ‘A Guide to Dating in Your Living Room,’ to ‘How to Make Sourdough Bread’ have never been more popular. Among these how-to guides is now a plethora of information about self-care habits, and how certain products can enhance these positive practices. Disco’s blog educates men on what and how to use skincare products, and gives advice on anything and everything skincare related. On their website, Ned has an entire ‘Learn’ tab that is home to their blog and FAQ, which extends their mission of helping people feel better and ultimately live better. maude’s blog, The Maudern, strives to educate those on the ins, outs, and importance of sexual wellness as self-care. Additionally, Canopy’s blog answers questions related to allergies, skincare, and the benefits of humidifiers. Self care education is now a key piece of self-care investment: you can’t build a house without a foundational frame. 

Self-Care #Goals

It is no surprise then that there seems to be a new self-care brand every time you scroll through Instagram: with a number of people shifting life indoors, coupled with increasing stress and balancing working from home, self-care is arguably a necessary part of daily life. Coupled with an increasing number of eyes on social media, it only makes sense that self-care brands are populating Instagram feeds left and right. Adriaan from Ned declares that “social media is now the tip of the spear of how brands connect with consumers. It's a platform for storytelling and conversation, but also a top-of-funnel channel for prospecting and brand awareness.”

Channeling brand awareness is a big task for any company, but brands have taken it upon themselves to reflect their product and the self-care industry as a whole. As with most brand Instagram strategies, the key is balance. Benjamin from Disco describes how the brand is learning and “planning to invest heavily into video and long form content, which we believe to be the most engaging. For now, we are striking a balance between humor and education.” Likewise, Canopy has a similar balance-focused strategy, with their feed channeling a clean and approachable energy, but “grounded in science & technology. 

Overall, self-care brands are focused on growing and connecting with an audience. Adriaan notes that “content must be meaningful enough to draw consumer interest, whether there's a brand tied to it or not.” Establishing a strong voice and image are therefore critical for growing and maintaining an audience. While social media is not the only measure of success, it is definitely more than a stage upon which a brand sits – breaking the fourth wall makes a difference. Adriaan says, “you must be there to engage with an on-brand voice and interact with comments or questions in real time. Not only to sell, but to communicate.”       

Looking Ahead

With so many issues rising up from 2020 ashes, many social stigmas and systematic issues are being challenged and turned on their heads– it seems like we’re living in a tornado of change. As a result, Eva from maude is taking in the little things: 

“2020 has taught me about balance—making time for cooking, exercise, etc.—but has also been a year in which I've made sure to appreciate all of the occasional visits to my favorite places in New York as I've watched them close one by one. It brings a new perspective to being grateful and enjoying down time.”

From appreciating the small things to investing in health and wellness, self-care is becoming reborn and widely popularized in ways that make it more normal and essential to daily life than ever before. As new products grow in popularity, the self-care circle widens. Benjamin of Disco notes:

“In general, health and wellness orientated brands are well-poised to capitalize on the growing interest and investment in better-for-you products. The men's skincare category is also still very early, with much room to grow over the next few years. This affords Disco an enticing opportunity to establish ourselves as one of the leaders in the category and beyond. As someone who is passionate about health and wellness, I am incredibly grateful to see more and more guys invest in their skin and general well being. Exciting times ahead!”

With a growing health and wellness focus, customers reap the positive self-care rewards once they implement little habits in their day-to-day life, whether it’s overhauling a daily routine, changing skincare products, or taking up a new hobby. Adrian notes that “as long as self-care brands retain the ability to yield some positive impact on a distinct outcome, I’m all for it. They don’t necessarily need to be quantifiable; the outcome can be in the ritual itself.”

Adrian expands on the power of new rituals:

“Beyond the obvious health risks with the pandemic, we've also been forced to make major changes in our lifestyles, many of which may never go back to 'normal.' Creating transition rituals to carry us from working hours into living hours can be a great tool. It can be as simple as going for a walk or cooking up a healthy snack. Nutrition, movement and the outdoors are all essential pieces of self-care going forward.”

Creating new routines and implementing new rituals, in addition to expanding one’s foundational knowledge of self care help define this self-care boom. The awareness of self care and wellness has always been there, but the extent to which people knew how to implement it in their everyday lives is only now more apparent. Brands not only want people to use self-care products– they want them to understand the overall impact and importance of prioritizing self-care. Moving into 2021, Justin from Canopy notes:

“People were already putting more focus on wellness, specifically mental wellness, fitness and diet. But with COVID, people will be even more attentive to what they surround themselves with, how that affects their body and what they put in their body, and ensuring all of that is clean and optimized for well being. I think Canopy will be a critical part of supporting that trend.” 

Canopy joins many other brands in their support of self-care for all– gone are the days where self-care is simply labeled as a special occasion or a yoga retreat. Now, the education and implementation of self-care is an integral part of our lives and overall well being, and brands are on the mission to help. “Self-care,” Justin says, “is going to be holistic and multi dimensional, and a top priority as we go into 2021.” 

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