Walking into the Current Wellness building in downtown Raleigh, N.C. immediately has a calming effect on me. The bright space has the relaxed feeling of a retreat and the interior decor is curated but warm. With the sun shining through windows that run the length of the building, wood floors and exposed wooden rafters, it is as welcoming to those who come here for counseling as those who drop in for a workout. After interviewing Current Wellness co-owner and co-founder Brit Guerin, I was excited to try out her signature fitness class, Tidal Movement. Pop music filled the room with energy as Brit took us through weight training and mobility movements using a long, cylindrical free weight called the ViPR Pro. Her positivity was contagious among my fellow classmates, which made the workout accessible and challenging for all fitness levels.
Brit dreamed of owning a boutique coworking studio for holistic wellness for a decade before she and her husband Nathan Williams finally created Current Wellness. With a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, she started her career in the fitness industry teaching a wide variety of group fitness classes, and even trained fitness professionals. She returned to school for a master’s degree in mental health counseling, allowing her to expand her offerings in the health and wellness arena. Upon graduating and becoming a licensed mental health counselor, Brit and Nathan took the steps to open Current Wellness, a space where a collective of practitioners can work, meet with patients for mental health counseling, host fitness classes, provide nutritional and other types of wellness coaching.
“I wanted to partner with other wellness providers who were running their own private practices, under a similar mission, vision and values,” Brit shared. “Our vision is to be part of the conversation to redefine wellness, through the lens of self-compassion and social justice. That’s really intentional, because I have noticed in the wellness industry, [wellness] sometimes can become intertwined with unrealistic beauty standards. From the beginning, our messaging has always aligned with Health at Every Size® (HAES®). It’s first and foremost a social justice movement and it’s trademarked by the Association for Size Diversity and Health. [It] essentially encourages compassionate ways to take care of yourself that has nothing to do with your size or your weight.” Health at Every Size® recognizes that “health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual. Health should be conceived as a resource or capacity available to all regardless of health condition or ability level and not as an outcome or objective of living.”
Brit specializes in eating disorders, disordered exercise, anxiety and trauma, and so it was important to her that the wellness providers complement each other and work aligned under a similar mission. Though Health at Every Size® is integral to her values and the work she does, at one point, Brit feared that this ethos would pose a potential risk to her business because it’s not part of the dominant messaging in today’s fitness industry. Fortunately, she has been pleasantly surprised by the positive response to Current Wellness’ alignment with Health at Every Size®. In fact, this mentality has become an asset and market advantage for Current Wellness.
“Not a lot of people in fitness utilize Health at Every Size® as an approach. Typically, fitness is talking a lot about the need to lose weight to be healthier. We’re flipping that on its head and saying, actually, you can be healthy at any size, while engaging in health-promoting behaviors. I believe in it so much that that’s been part of our mission, vision and values from the beginning. What kind of surprised me is how our members came for that mission.”
A Wellness-Centered Coworking Model
Current Wellness’ unique business model also fills another important need by providing emerging wellness practitioners — instructors, therapists and coaches — with marketing support and workspaces. The practitioners pay monthly fees to run their own businesses out of Current Wellness. They have access to the studio space to host classes, private office space for client meetings and coworking space. They also can participate in marketing, networking and collaboration opportunities with other practitioners. This model has proven to be successful: in its first half year, Current Wellness brought on an average of one new practitioner per month and 18 months later, that number quadrupled. Brit says the number of practitioners signing up is still growing.
To Brit, sustainability is a form of self-care, so she and Nathan designed their business with sustainability in mind, which includes the way they run the business, how they think about the future of the business — and the building itself. With every decision they made during the year and a half of renovation, Brit and Nathan prioritized sustainability even though it resulted in higher upfront costs. Materials and practices that have a lower environmental impact often come with a higher price tag, which makes sustainability seem out of reach for some business owners. However, if contributing to a healthier environment in the long-run is the goal, then sustainability practices may actually pay off in the end.
Carbon Friendly, Multi-Use Space
Though insulation was not required to comply with building codes in the Current Wellness structure, the owners decided to install it anyway for its many environmental benefits. Insulation helps to moderate temperature, reducing the need for heating and cooling — saving energy in the long run. Since conventional insulation is often made with toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and chemical fire retardants, neither of which are good to inhale for long periods of time, Brit and Nathan chose Havelock Wool, a relatively pricey but far more sustainable insulation material. Havelock Wool is made from sheep’s wool, so it’s compostable and renewable. It’s also naturally fire and mold resistant, improves air quality and provides moisture control. I was able to experience some of these benefits firsthand during the Tidal Movement class — I could see the modern-looking Havelock Wool in the rafters as we were stretching on our backs and the space stayed at a cool and comfortable temperature throughout my visit.
Current Wellness opted to renovate the existing building that they leased rather than tear it down, even though bulldozing and rebuilding the space would have been cheaper. “We wanted to conserve natural resources and just use the existing concrete and use the existing building — [it] was mindfully done. [We wanted] to be in this neighborhood and preserve the history of the space.” As we were chatting in the teaching kitchen, Brit and Nathan explained that they actually gutted the inside of the building themselves, by hand, to save money on labor.
Brit and Nathan collaborated with architect Matthew Konar, who helped them conceptualize a versatile, multi-use space to suit the many functions it would serve — yet another example of Current Wellness’ cost effective and eco-friendly design. “We designed the space with sliding doors and room separators, so it can be one larger space where we can hold community events, or we can section it off for different types of purposes. Our movement studio can be a fitness class, yoga class, dance class and they all have different feels. You might face a different wall for yoga versus dance versus fitness; we’ve got different lighting for dance, we’ll cover the mirrors for yoga, we’ll expose the mirrors for dance. [Each class] kind of feels like a different studio.”
Making Wellness Accessible to All Community Members
Current Wellness’s motto is “Come for variety. Stay for community” and they demonstrate this both in the inclusive way they welcome visitors and the way they interact with their local community. Current Wellness is situated in a predominantly low-income neighborhood that’s seen significant gentrification in recent years. It was important for Brit and Nathan to engage with their new neighborhood. “We didn’t want to come in and just assume we knew what the neighborhood wanted, so we did a lot of outreach,” Brit said. They attended community meetings in the vicinity for a year while opening their space to meet local residents and leaders to obtain their feedback on Current Wellness’ business idea. “There was a lot of positive feedback,” Brit said. “Everyone was grateful and supportive and excited.”
Current Wellness developed a program to promote sliding scale pricing; a pricing model that reduces the cost of the classes and services depending on a person’s income and need for financial support. This means that no matter a person’s income, they will have access to the benefits of being a Current Wellness member. This program is paid for by other community members through the Pay it Forward Fund and since opening, they’ve been able to offer 260 classes at a reduced cost. Disappointingly, fewer people are taking advantage of the program than they had hoped. In an effort to do better, going forward Current Wellness is connecting participants in the program with a wellness coach to further engage them.
As I was leaving the studio, Brit and Nathan were heading to the local brewery to write a job description for a general manager they were planning to hire. They already have two part-time Wellness Coordinators, but they now have the funds to hire a full-time employee to relieve them of some of the day-to-day management.
Brit and Nathan have created a truly inclusive and intentionally-designed space that centers self-care and sustainability, all while developing a viable business model for the wellness practitioners that have joined them. As they look to the future and continue in the spirit of sustainability, they want to carefully build the lifestyle they seek, rather than grow the business too quickly and open new locations solely for the sake of expansion. I can tell they are making an impact in the lives of all who walk through the doors of Current Wellness and I cannot wait to see how their business continues to evolve.
Conversations with Abby Massey. Written by Abby Massey. Edited by Maya Quarker & Jess Lo.
Page design by Kiana Blakemore.