From Wrist Wraps to Richness: How Kelley Urbani Is Changing the World
The first time I met Kelley Urbani she scared the crap out of me. It was 2009 and I was a judge at the CrossFit Games SoCal Regionals. Kelley was the athlete I was assigned to for a particular heat and all I could hear was John Welbourn’s voice booming from the sidelines. If you’ve ever seen former NFL-player John Welbourn, you know this is an anxiety-provoking scenario. In addition to that, despite the fact she barely said a word to me, the power of Kelley’s personality was palpable.
Kelley had struck me immediately as an intense and focused athlete. As much as I took judging any athlete seriously, which I very much did, the nervousness always increased when I was judging a legit competitor. I was known for being matter of fact and enforcing the rules with the athletes, but I also wanted very much not to mess things up for them. And so, standing there, listening to John Welbourn, watching Kelley working so hard, I kept thinking, “Dear God, please don’t let me miscount her squats.”
It was no surprise to me when years later I noticed she had launched a company. Kelley exuded willpower and strength. I didn’t doubt that she was a person who made things happen. When I got a chance to actually talk to Kelley about her company, however, I learned it was as much rockier road than I might have imagined. Her company, Strength Wraps, was born out of necessity, passion, and ingenuity.
As Kelley explained it, “I wasn’t trying to start a company. I was just trying to make a living.” Working as a full-time trainer, competing in CrossFit, and being a single mother filled her schedule. She was concerned her young daughter's father, who was and is in Special Forces, might be called away, or worse, at any time. She was hungry to find a way to make more money, but still be available for her daughter at all times.
While training at CrossFit Balboa, home of CrossFit Football, Kelley became accustomed to wearing wrist wraps while she trained, like all the other athletes there did. Being a lifting-centric gym, they wore lifting wraps, but as Kelley got into CrossFit competitions, winning the first OC Throwdown in 2009, she felt the wraps weren’t what they needed to be. She wanted to be able to loosen and adjust them for different exercises, have them be sweat- and water-proof, and more.
A short time later one of her clients was underperforming in the gym and Kelley knew it. She shared her mind with the client, saying, “If you’re okay with your effort level, that’s fine, but don’t tell me that’s your best effort.” The client responded, “My wrists hurt.” Kelley loaned the client her personal wraps. After using them the client wanted to know how to get them and convinced Kelley to make her a pair.
Ever the perfectionist Kelley decided if she was going to make a pair of wrist wraps, she was going to make the best ones, adding all the qualities she wanted and addressing all the things that bothered her in her workouts. It was only a short time before other members of the gym were asking her to make additional wraps and what would become Strength Wraps was born.
This project coincided with a period in Kelley’s career that was financially dire. Economic changes cut her income in half. She literally sold her own clothes in order to purchase the fabric for the first set of wraps she produced. To purchase the serger needed to make the wraps, Kelley paid all her bills late one month so she had extra money to go to Sears. The serger had a ninety-day return policy. Kelley figured if her new venture didn’t pan out in three months she would just return the machine and call it quits.
Kelley’s schedule revolved around her daughter. So Kelley sewed after her daughter’s bedtime, from 9:30pm to midnight and then got up and sewed again from 4:30am to 7:00am before waking her daughter. Then Kelley would pack the sewing machine and she would sew at CrossFit Balboa, either in the back office or sometimes even while coaching clients. Kelley became a one-woman manufacturing plant and planned her output down to the minute. “I could tell you exactly how many seconds it took to put one stitch down the middle of one wrap,” Kelley told me.
On the suggestion of a friend Kelley set up a Facebook store, which was a free service. Kelley joked, “It’s the raddest thing ever, if you’re broke. I know all the ways to run a business if you’re broke.” But at some point Kelley’s time and the time the business required were going to come to irreconcilable odds, and the time was approaching fast. Kelley was literally sewing around the clock. It was then that this same friend, who Kelley refers to as her 'prophet,' called her up with a proposition. “I want you to spend more time with your daughter and I want to loan you however much money you need to get somebody to help you sew.”
This opportunity coincided with John Welbourn offering for Kelley to use his booth at the first CrossFit Games held in conjunction with Reebok. Kelley accepted her friend's amazing offer - the only business loan she ever took - and enlisted her friends to help her at the CrossFit Games booth. “Literally no one knew what they were,” said Kelley. “We put them on thousands of people. I wish to this day I had video of every reaction because it was like, ‘Holy shit,’ ‘Oh my god,’ ‘These really work!’” The irony was many people who purchased them at that time didn’t know the name of the company because Kelley didn’t have enough money to print a name or logo on the wraps.
Before she knew it everyone was wearing the wraps, though, including CrossFit luminaries like Becca Voigt, Katie Hogan, and Kris Clever. And they weren’t wearing them because anyone asked them to - they wore them because they were a good product and they wanted to support someone in the community. As Kelley explained, “It’s a product that genuinely works. I always said, having a T-shirt company has got to be the hardest thing in CrossFit, because it’s not going to lower your Fran time. CrossFitters don’t care if it doesn’t improve their performance.”
But what Kelley learned most of all in taking her side project from the backroom of CrossFit Balboa to what is now a global business is that CrossFitters do care, and not just about performance. Since her business began she’s had people offer to help with a website, help with professional photos shoots, and help design her logo. Kelley is a strong believer in a rising tide lifting all boats and this is how she operates her company. She believe if she helps everyone around her to succeed then good things will come to all, just as the people around her helped her rise up from her own low point.
Kelley now sells 5,000 wraps a month and has her wraps made by a manufacturer in California. Now that the company has enough capital Kelley seeks out athletes to sponsor, but every one of them is required to be a leader in their community. Kelley tells them, “Your sponsorship will be revoked immediately if you are ever rude to a judge, if you are ever rude to a competitor, if you ever act or speak in any way that is negative to the community. Period. You have been blessed with a talent and a gift and with that comes responsibility.” Kelley also requires all the athletes to give back whether it be through church involvement or some sort of volunteer work.
Giving back to the community, be it globally or locally, is Kelley’s driving mission. As Kelley explained, “We support anything that moves the community in a positive direction. We’re not here to get rich off the community. We’re not one of these pop-up companies. I want to live well and provide for my daughter.” And that is exactly the authentic and genuine passion that sparked Strength Wraps from the start, that took Kelley from rags to riches, or rather - wrist wraps to richness.
Look for an upcoming product review of Strength Wraps. In the meantime you can visit StrengthWraps.com.
Photo 1 courtesy of AliciaPhotos.com.
Photo 2 & 3 courtesy of Kelley Urbani and StrengthWraps.com.
Photo 4 courtesy of MarySianiPhotography.com.
Photo 5 courtesy of MichaelBrianPhoto.com.