There was once an Instagram account called Sporty & Rich. For a time, it served no commercial purpose. It was more of a brain tickle of pleasing images: a mood board of supermodels, interiors and advertisements, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s.
It posted vintage Range Rovers and Rolexes and Ralph Lauren — an affluent flavor of nostalgia occasionally punctuated by more modern references, like Frank Ocean’s album cover, Phoebe Philo’s designs for Céline, and President Barack Obama playing basketball. When it came to sports, it favored both the sexy (an up-skirt photo of a woman playing tennis) and the ironic (Joe Namath at 70, cocooned in a fur coat at the Super Bowl).
The account, created by Emily Oberg when she was 20 years old, was a hobby. It was an expression of her personal style, which she described as “mixing high and low, like sneakers with a designer bag, in a way I think is very common and ubiquitous now.” At the time, Ms. Oberg was living in an apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, and working as a video personality for the media company Complex.
But hobbies do not stay hobbies for long in the modern age. As her following grew, Ms. Oberg envisioned a print magazine. She envisioned a small line of merch: simple hoodies and tote bags and hats embroidered with “Sporty & Rich.” Then she began to envision a different life for herself — one of less hustle and more leisure. She moved to Los Angeles in 2018, and now her T-shirts are printed with phrases like “Health Is Wealth!” and “Drink More Water!”
The brand has also since grown, according to its chief executive, David Obadia, into an approximately $30 million business.
Now 29, Ms. Oberg has returned to New York to open Sporty & Rich’s first retail location. The SoHo store will not only sell her vintage-inspired activewear and graphic loungewear, but also offer two spa services: a “lymphatic sculpting” massage and a “natural face-lift” facial that targets buccal fat. Instead of mannequins in the front window, there is a large sculpture of a glass of green juice, which will be served in the store’s cafe along with bone broth, smoothies and coffee imported from Los Angeles.
Soon there will be Sporty & Rich skin-care products, and Ms. Oberg said she was working on developing dietary supplements and sex toys, too. If this all sounds a little familiar, that’s intentional.
“I kind of want us to be a younger person’s version of Goop,” Ms. Oberg said while overseeing the unpacking of the new store last week. She had just flown in from Majorca. It was an oppressive 89 degrees in New York, and she wore a chambray shirt (Ralph Lauren) tucked into white jeans (Khaite) with stiletto-heel ankle boots (the Row) and a gold watch (Cartier).
“I don’t think it really matters what we make,” Ms. Oberg said. “I think people just want something that’s Sporty & Rich.”
The Gwyneth Playbook
In the years since she moved to Los Angeles, Ms. Oberg has been open about her personal health routines and experiments. Last year she published “The Sporty & Rich Wellness Book,” a $100 coffee-table tome of advice and artful photos of toned-and-tanned models in states of undress.
In 2020, she told The Strategist she got “colonics a lot” and recommended her favorite at-home enema kit, which she said she used with coffee instead of water. In person, she talked about getting ozone therapy from a naturopath to help treat her autoimmune disorder, Graves’ disease. “That’s done through the rectum,” she added.
Ms. Oberg knows that “people in wellness are heavily, heavily scrutinized,” she said. She knows this from being “obsessed” with the Goop founder, Gwyneth Paltrow, a fellow fan of rectal ozone therapy who courts outrage on a biannual basis (most recently for discussing liquid diets). But Ms. Oberg also speaks from personal experience.
In 2020, she apologized for an Instagram post that compared the prices of fast food and snacks to “real food.” (The price of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, $3.57, was listed next to a bag of lettuce, $1.99.) She had written that people “don’t need to be rich to be healthy” and should “stop making excuses” — remarks that were criticized as insensitive and ignorant of the reality of food deserts. In her apology, Ms. Oberg explained that her post “was meant for people who DO have the option to choose a healthy lifestyle, not those who have no option or choice.”
More remarks by Ms. Oberg resurfaced — a since deleted Instagram account called @notsportyrich was devoted to aggregating them — as when she identified as a “big time” anti-vaxxer on a giggly 2019 episode of “Failing Upwards” (a shock jock fashion podcast now known as “Throwing Fits,” co-hosted by her former boss at Complex).
“I think that there were a lot of people who love to hate me, for whatever reason,” Ms. Oberg said.
Left: Sporty & Rich’s tennis collection campaign was inspired by Serena and Venus Williams in the late 1990s. Center: Its collaboration with Adidas is based on vintage sportswear. Right: An image from the spring 2023 campaign evokes paparazzi shots of celebrities going to work out.Credit…Alex Nataf (left and right); Quentin De Briey (center)
Asked about the vaccination backlash now, Ms. Oberg said she had treated the interview as a “silly” and “stupid” conversation with friends and didn’t fully understand that her comments might upset people. She is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, she said, and “would never put other people in harm by not getting a vaccine.” She attributed her beliefs in part to her upbringing.
“My mom was really into natural medicine and natural remedies and eating super-healthy and being active,” said Ms. Oberg, who was raised in Calgary, Alberta, which has been compared to the Texas of Canada for its large oil industry and annual Stampede rodeo. “I was vaccinated when I was a baby, but slowly over time, she became more and more skeptical.”
If Ms. Oberg’s mother influenced her notions about health, her father, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, influenced her style and taste. He was an outdoorsman, skateboarder and sneaker collector who once dressed her in baby-size Air Jordans. He valued durability and longevity in products, having worked as a letter carrier, “pounding the pavement,” he said, for the last 21 years.
Ms. Oberg described her childhood as comfortable, but not particularly Rich — “that part of the brand was very much something that I always wanted and wish I had” — or Sporty, other than being on the badminton team in high school.
“I was just obsessed with clothes and fashion,” said Ms. Oberg, who began working in retail at 14 at Canada’s elevated fast-fashion chain Aritzia, as well as the department store Holt Renfrew. She left Calgary at 18 for Vancouver, then moved to New York two years later to work with Complex’s new video team in New York.
Complex is perhaps best known today for “Hot Ones,” a series in which celebrities answer questions while sampling progressively spicier sauces. Ms. Oberg was best known for “Get Sweaty,” a series in which celebrities answered questions while working out with her, and for interviewing hypebeasts waiting in line for hours outside Supreme.
Through Complex, she became a sort of micro-celebrity, particularly among young male streetwear fans, some of whom continue to comment on her Instagram photos. A bikini shot — headless, as her selfies frequently are — recently yielded the comment: “Like 10 years of getting thirst trapped and I’m still here.” (Ms. Oberg said these kinds of comments don’t bother her: “I don’t like when girls who post all these sexual photos are like, ‘How dare you objectify me.’ It’s like, ‘What do you expect?’”)
Yet Ms. Oberg has largely managed to transcend the “influencer” epithet. Her personal Instagram account may be conventionally aspirational — frequent subjects include her European travels and concave stomach — but it’s not filled with sponsored posts. In the past, she has pointed out the absurdity of the influencer industry. She told the “Failing Upwards” podcast that she once was paid $12,000 to post for a makeup brand. She does not typically wear makeup.
“Emily was never into fame or fortune — that’s funny to say, because that’s kind of where it’s at right now,” her father, Deo Abesamis, said. “I always try to tell her things like, ‘This can be all gone tomorrow, so enjoy your time now.’ And she realizes that.”
She did recently experience one unfortunate rite of passage for the rich and famous: getting burgled. While on vacation with her boyfriend (a co-founder of the activewear brand Splits59), a number of items were taken from her new Beverly Hills home. The loot included four Hermès bags (two of them Birkins) and four Chanel jackets, all of which, she said, she had bought for herself.
She was surprisingly sanguine: “At first it was very sad, but it really is just things, and they can be replaced.” Though not through her insurance, she said, which expired before the break-in.
Join the Club
Before devoting herself full time to Sporty & Rich, Ms. Oberg spent most of 2017 at Kith, the streetwear brand and store, working as the women’s creative lead. She saw the more traditional fashion job as her exit ramp from media. But it wasn’t the right fit.
“I didn’t like working in an environment where there was no respect for a work-life balance,” she said. She preferred “a very, very strong balance, sometimes way more leisure than work.”
“I want a very simple life,” Ms. Oberg continued. “We’re making clothes, you know, we’re not finding cures to diseases and viruses.”
She was still consulting for other brands at the time, including Harmony, a Paris-based brand that she had once covered favorably for Complex. Harmony’s founder, Mr. Obadia, described himself as an experienced “product-driven guy,” but “not a fantastic guy when it comes to images and marketing.” The work Ms. Oberg did for Harmony was remote, but she and Mr. Obadia kept talking, and soon she flew to Paris to meet him. They began dating.
“We said ‘I love you’ the very first day,” Ms. Oberg recalled. “It was very intense.”
While living between Los Angeles and Paris, they decided to work on a Sporty & Rich product drop together. When Mr. Obadia saw thousands of preorders roll in, he realized Ms. Oberg had something he never had: a strong following. He thought he could turn Sporty & Rich into a real, serious brand, not just a mood board with occasional drops.
Mr. Obadia, now 34, said he told Ms. Oberg: “You don’t know how to manufacture items, you don’t know how to operate a company, you don’t know how to scale a company, but you have what matters the most. You have a true vision. So I’ll do my part. You do yours.”
Today most of Sporty & Rich’s team is based in Paris with Mr. Obadia, who formalized his role as chief executive in 2019. (Ms. Oberg is still the sole owner of company, which employs about 25 people.) While he and Ms. Oberg are now exes, they are on good terms, they both said. There have been growing pains — Ms. Oberg’s near cancellation revealed that some customers were unhappy with issues in order fulfillment, which sometimes persist, and her brusque approach to customer service, which does not. But Mr. Obadia projected revenue to be from $28 million to $32 million this year, without any investment or outside funding.
The brand just rolled out the second part of a major collaboration with Adidas, and earlier this year released a 1970s- and 1980s-inspired tennis capsule with Lacoste. Ms. Oberg and Mr. Obadia are both tennis enthusiasts — as a child, he dreamed of going pro — and Sporty & Rich has helped lead the tenniscore trend.
“It’s health and wellness as brand messages and aesthetics,” said Marian Park, a fashion strategist who runs Miscellanea Studio, and who pointed to a number of newer brands emulating the same post-gym-Princess-Diana look, stamping their athleisure with similar tennis club-inspired logos and sweeping health mantras, like “sport is medicine.” “Millennials and Gen Z, we’re drinking less and smoking less than boomers, and we’re all scared of getting older.”
Ms. Park acknowledged that Sporty & Rich stumbled during Ms. Oberg’s controversies in 2020. And yet, she said, “there is a huge segment of consumers that don’t care about that or don’t know about that and never will. As long as they’re tapping into those lifestyle conversations around wellness and sport, it’s always going to do well.”
Bosse Myhr, the buying director for men’s and women’s wear at Selfridges in London — one of more than 150 wholesale partners that stock Sporty & Rich — painted the average Sporty & Rich customer at Selfridges as a 20-something woman “who likes to work out, who likes to be conscious about what she eats, and wants to look cool and relevant.”
Mr. Myhr, who recalled meeting Ms. Oberg at a buffet brunch at Soho House in New York, cited the if-you-know-you-know clubby feeling around the brand. “You want to feel that you’re part of it,” he said.
That feeling is exactly where Ms. Oberg sees the future of the brand: clubs. She imagines creating “the place I want to go to that doesn’t exist” — a wellness center with tennis courts, a pool, restaurant, spa, naturopath “and colonics,” she said, laughing. “For me, it’s more about the world and the lifestyle that we’ve created rather than the product.”
“This is kind of like a preview,” she continued, waving an arm around her store-cafe-mini spa, which opens on Thursday, and whose bright primary colors were inspired by Esprit stores in the 1980s — more sporty than rich.
“At first we had a different concept where it did go that more luxury route,” she said. “Then I was like, ‘Wait, this is not us. This needs to feel like us.’ Just, you know, childish.”