Thanks to Dan Splarn at the Hackney Gazette for writing this great piece about Strong + Bendy for the Hackney Gazette.
Tired of fitness brands that shame their customers in to exercising with ‘before and after’ images, the founders of Strong + Bendy are celebrating the beauty of their members with six giant portraits around their fresh new studio, now open in Hackney Wick.
The sisters founded Strong + Bendy two-and-a-half years ago, moving in to a new studio complete with an exercise garden on Trowbridge Road in September. The space has undergone an extensive renovation – funded by the pair’s personal savings – and features six giant murals of some of their most treasured customers by the renowned street artist, Zabou.
“I was fed up of seeing other gyms shame their customers by posting ‘before and after’ shots of them in their underwear on banners, social media and websites,” explains Cowburn.
“So I decided to do the exact opposite – I commissioned Zabou to create seven foot high beautiful portraits of our members, celebrating them just the way they are.”
The murals are partly in place to respect Hackney Wick’s reputation for street art, but they’re mainly a thank you note to clients who have been a part of the Strong + Bendy journey from the start.
“What was unbelievable was that Zabou did them all in five days,” Bell recalls. “My favourite thing [of the renovation] by far was seeing Zabou work. It was a privilege to watch.”
Cowburn says that the ethos of Strong + Bendy centres “on how you feel when you leave, rather than how you look.
“What these [other] brands sell on is that every bit of you is not good enough, you don’t look the right way and we’ve got this magic formula that we can sell you,” she adds. “I would counter that with the people coming here – like Sarah, who we chose for the wall – what an insult it is to suggest that anyone as amazing as these people would need transforming.”
Bell says that there’s rarely feedback from customers celebrating a physical transformation. They’re much more likely to “say they come back because they enjoy the social aspect of it.
“We’ve got a catalogue of emails saying we’ve helped them with their mental health, and that is not recognised at all in the before and after pictures. You can’t photograph that; the social element and motivation of group fitness.”