'We Needed Something Different'—Nicole Ari Parker On Launching 'Gymwrap' And How It's Changing Black Women's Relationship With Fitness

A 2013 study found that 40 percent of Black women don’t exercise because of their hair — and those that do, find themselves altering the rigor of their fitness routine to protect their ‘do. Simply put, societal expectations of “acceptable hair” is costly, time-consuming and sometimes even too painful to not preserve for long periods of time for many Black women. Thus, a new haistyle can easily pose as an acceptable enough excuse to avoid the gym.

This is what Nicole Ari Parker found herself facing.

“Around 2011, when my kids were still maybe five and three, I just felt like the one thing that I could do as a mom was to go to the hairdresser on Saturday and get my hair done and make me feel good,” the ‘And Just Like That…’ actress said. “And my husband was like, ‘well, Babe, let’s go for a walk. Let’s go for a run on the beach.’ And I was consistently choosing my hair over my health. Then I thought, ‘there’s got to be a way to have both, right?”

Turns out there wasn’t a product on the market that suited her needs, so she created her own.

“The idea of the Gymwrap came about because I really was trying to solve a personal problem, but then I very soon quickly realized that there were a lot of women in the same predicament,” she explained.

The Gymwrap is a fitness sweatband that, according to Parker was developed with EvapoTECH™, a patented revolutionary process that provides maximum sweat absorption through a unique blend of fabrics, which allows heat to escape while letting cool air in.

“I just really created it out of the spirit of service and to put something in our fitness toolbox,” she shared with Essence.

The process, like for many new business owners started organically.

“I made my first one in my kitchen, but I started to really think on behalf of other Black women who wear different hair styles. ” On some days I wear a braid, and other times I wear a twist out, and sometimes I get a silk wrap—it needs to work for every stage of our hair journey.”

After years of blind focus groups, deep market research and good old fashioned listening, she learned enough about what consumers would want in a product and started the development phase. This, she says was a challenge considering it was her first product-based business.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t know how to go about getting manufacturers or perfecting a prototype, but something in me just wouldn’t allow myself to quit.”

That entrepreneurial tenacity, she astutely pointed out, came from years of being in the tough entertainment business.

“When I was 17 and decided to seriously pursue acting, my father told me that ‘you’re about to enter an industry where the whole industry is a no. And you’re going to be knocked down, and you have to promise me that you’re not going to give up and you’re going to get back up.’ That prepared me for what I’m doing now.”

Fortunately, the persistence paid off.

Gymwrap, which recently expanded its offering to apparel and assorted gym accessories, is not only sold on their website, but can also be found in Sally and Walmart stores nationwide with more retailers being added to the list everyday.

“We recently finalized a deal with REI to be distributed in stores and online, which is huge cultural win for us,” Parker shared. This is significant since the consumer demographic for the leading outdoor recreation corporation can usually skew non-Black as its widely assumed the group doesn’t participate much in camping-related activities.

With the success of the brand, Parker also attributes her small but mighty team for its growth, which includes her husband, fellow actor Boris Kodjoe.

“It’s funny because people assume he’s always only been involved in modeling and acting but he has a degree in business, and I have learned so much from him in this scaling phase,” she said. “He’s been with me every step of the way.”

She said that the brand’s mission is so much larger than just providing a vanity solution for women and their hair. It’s about preserving life.

“Black women are dying more than any other group because we’re not active enough,” she said. “Ultimately, I want to make it easier to help us live longer, healthier lives.”

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