As fashion editors and bloggers navigate fashion month, many will have one very un-chic thing in common: foot pain. Some will pop a preemptive Advil, others will carry spare flats.
NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has a better solution. It’s called Flexpower, and it’s been a well-kept pain relief secret of professional athletes for 20 years.
The NBA, NFL, U.S. Women’s Soccer, and U.S. Olympics are among more than 1,000 teams that rely on Flexpower topical lotions to get warmed up before games (it gets warm like Ben Gay without the smell), to ease muscle pain, and to speed recovery after tough workouts.
It’s a staple in trainer’s bags, and thanks to an investment from Antetokounmpo and his family’s fund, Ante Inc., it soon may be a staple in designer handbags.
“I believe in this product so much,” Antetokounmpo told Forbes, “and it’s important to my family that we make a real commitment to helping Flexpower grow.”
Flexpower not only works for pain, but it’s Soothe product is packed with botanicals including arnica, so it also helps clear bruises from everything from Botox to a bumped knee. It also works for bug bites and sunburn. I’ve tried it on my sore hands from too much typing and it works for that, too.
The brand’s other pain product, Warm, is the original lotion used by professional athletes around the world. Trainers and players say it delivers quick relief for muscle and joint pain. Athletes like Antetokounmpo use it to both warm up before practice, and to ease soreness afterwards. It can even help ease arthritis pain, and the formula is FDA-approved.
Flexpower’s two-decade journey began with former U.C. Berkeley basketball player Rasheen Smith.
“As an athlete, I could not find a daily solution for pain that delivered both a healthy and scent-free experience,” Smith said. “There was a growing concern among professional athletes about the harmful side effects from the daily use of oral pain medication, and the topical products were only marginally effective and contained heavy, medicinal odors. I was motivated to develop a better, more enjoyable product that people could use regularly.”
The strong smell also helped players sniff out out injuries and surreptitiously target their competitors’ sore spots.
Ben Gay first launched in 1898, and no product since has really moved the needle when it comes to topical pain creams. Icy Hot and Biofreeze have strong scents. Voltaren is another option, but it contains an NSAID which can have side effects and is off limits to some. Aspercreme is another, but reviews of its effectiveness are mixed.
Smith came up with a scent-free, botanical formulation that was free of synthetic chemicals. It was an instant hit with his fellow basketball players, and the word spread to other athletes around the world.
Antetokounmpo was one of them—he’s been using Flexpower since 2016, and still uses it to warm up before every practice.
His brother Alex (also a basketball player) DM’d Flexpower on Instagram earlier this year. The brand’s social media manager recognized his name and told Heather Vandenberghe, who had signed on as CEO and co-founder in 2019 to bring the company to the consumer retail world. She had spent a decade heading up marketing at a little company called Louis Vuitton, and also held high-level positions at Tommy Hilfiger and Westfield, so she was well-positioned for the task. (She also spearheaded Elle’s Law after her daughter was the victim of a tragic car accident.)
When she called Alex back, he told her all of the Antetokounmpo brothers were unanimously excited about FlexPower and wanted to invest.
“Can you imagine? I’m sitting here in my tiny little home office, and I said, that’s great, let’s do a next call,” Vandenberghe said. “So we do a next call with their finance team and go through our business model. They’re excited. And the next call is with Giannis, and Giannis is so enthusiastic. He calls it hot sauce.” His mom also loves it for back pain relief from too much Peloton.
That excitement quickly turned into an investment and part ownership. The Antetokounmpo family now has two seats on Flexpower’s board: one representing the family and one for Giannis (the company declined to disclose further details about the deal).
The brand also suddenly had the perfect spokesmodel, who happens to be one of the best players in the NBA.
Another win came earlier this year came after Vandenberghe’s friend Anne Keating, former vice president of public relations at Bloomindale’s, heard Vandenberghe on the podcast Second Life. Keating wanted to try Flexpower, Vandenberghe sent her some, it fixed her lower back and neck pain, so she sent it to another friend: Tony Spring, who spent 33 years at Bloomingdales, most recently as chairman and CEO (he’s currently CEO-elect at Macy’s).
Long story short: Flexpower products will be available online at Bloomingdales this holiday season, and in stores in early 2024.
Vandenberghe signed on with the company just before the pandemic struck. With stores closed and retail’s future uncertain, she and her team decided focusing on product was their best move. They launched a reef-safe, white-cast free sunscreen, developed by Smith who wanted something truly sheer for him and his family (mission accomplished). They also launched a lip conditoiner (I’m obsessed), and bath salts, in addition to the pain relief lotions.
With a whole roster of products, and with Antetokounmpo and Bloomingdale’s as partners, Flexpower is ready to level up.
The brand has also made inroads with smaller luxury retailers including McMullen in Oakland.
“Wellness and self-care is always a priority at McMullen, so being able to expand into this category and partner with another Oakland native is very special for us,” owner Sherri McMullen said. “I personally use Flexpower products and love that it’s all-natural, scent-free and locally-made. Rasheen Smith and his team are true innovators in the wellness and beauty space.”
“Everything’s been so organic with people falling in love with this product, and the idea that it’s botanical, and we’re making it a sustainable manner,” Vandenberghe said. “Who knows what we’re going to do next? I actually know, but I can’t say.”
One thing’s for sure: if, like McMullen, you’re heading to fashion shows in London or Paris, Flexpower is your new best friend.