Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area. Facebook Instagram
‘We never once sacrificed quality for profit. What I am most proud of with GASP is that we created a movement of like-minded people who each have their own version of what GASP means to them.’ -GASP CEO Michael Johansson
Chances are that if you live the fitness lifestyle and love working out, you’ve got at least a few items of GASP or Better Bodies clothes in your closet or dresser drawers. I know I have amassed quite a collection of tank tops, hoodies, shorts, and pants! Over the years in the pages of MD you saw the very best champions rocking these brands, stars like Branch Warren, Flex Lewis, Johnnie Jackson, and Dennis Wolf. I’ve never known the story behind the brand itself. Recently I spoke with owner Michael Johansson from GASP and Better Bodies world headquarters at Destination Dallas and learned how the company motto of “No compromises, no excuses, stay relentless” came to be.
It all began in the late 1980s, when Michael was selling Brian Moss’ Better Bodies activewear brand from the USA in the Nordic nations: Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and his native Sweden. The bodybuilding lifestyle had yet to gain popularity in that part of Europe. “Only a select few went to the gym back then,” Michael notes. Better Bodies grew faster than they could keep up with, and the company went under in 1992. After negotiations, Johansson began producing the brand again in 1994. “The cover of our first catalogue that year featured Aaron Baker, and it was very similar to the GASP brand you know today.” Their sales were limited to Sweden, a nation of just 10 million people, but gym owners and eventually Dick’s Sporting Goods all carried Better Bodies workout apparel. Over the next few years, the company took a more mainstream direction away from the hardcore gym crowd. “I felt we were losing something essential, where we had come from, our core values,” Michael tells us. “And it as all just to be more commercial and appeal to a bigger audience.” This is how GASP was born.
In the foreground, GASP CEO Michael Johansson
Michael was a bodybuilder himself in the early ‘90s, and his passion for the sport and lifestyle drove the values and mission of GASP. “We were doing it from the heart, not from the wallet.” Johansson wanted to help others reach their bodybuilding goals. “By the time I was 27, I realized I didn’t have the genetics to be Mr. Olympia,” he says. “But I could be Mr. Olympia in business and contribute to the sport in my own way. Better Bodies would be the more commercial side of the company, and GASP would be the emotional aspect for like-minded people.” In 2008, Michael decided to focus on the US market. The first athletes to represent the brand could not have been more appropriate: Branch Warren and Johnnie Jackson, the epitome of hardcore in every sense. He made a daring gamble in 2012 when he sold everything in Sweden and moved the company to the USA. Today, GASP and Better Bodies are sold and distributed in over 110 countries. Things weren’t smooth sailing. The advent and rapid rise of social media platforms challenged many established business models, and by 2017 Michael felt the brand struggling to remain relevant in this new environment. Eventually the company adapted and thrived once again. I pointed out to Johansson that not only is GASP clothing stylish, but it’s also incredibly durable, as proven by the many items of theirs I have sweated in and washed hundreds of times. “That’s where the ‘no compromises’ aspect comes in,” he explained. “We never once sacrificed quality for profit. What I am most proud of with GASP is that we created a movement of like-minded people who each have their own version of what GASP means to them. Everyone has their own experience of the iron world, and we help you shape your own path. The clothes remind you of hard work, no compromises, and no excuses, which is at the very heart of bodybuilding.”
For decades, Venice Beach was The Mecca of bodybuilding, where bodybuilders from all over the world migrated to be part of the culture. After that Las Vegas began attracting the fitness elite, and now thanks to GASP and Better Bodies, Dallas has become the new area to migrate to due to their enormous warehouse/headquarters and gym, Destination Dallas. “I wanted the gym to have that old-school feeling of the gyms I grew up training in, and of Metroflex Arlington and hardcore places like that,” says Michael. “It’s all about passion and purpose for people who want to work hard in the gym and fulfill their dreams, whatever those might be. I wanted it to be a meeting place for like-minded people, which is why I called it Destination Dallas.” So far GASP athletes Keone Pearson and Martin Fitzwater have moved there, and soon two-time Olympia 212 champ Shaun Clarida will have left his native New Jersey with his wife and child for Dallas as well. It’s also where much of their sensational video content is filmed for their Iron World YouTube channel, by chief videographer Nick Del Toro, who did amazing work for MD for years.
‘Everyone has their own experience of the iron world, and we help you shape your own path. The clothes remind you of hard work, no compromises, and no excuses, which is at the very heart of bodybuilding.’ -GASP CEO Michael Johansson
Everything shifted in 2017 when Johansson felt the company was becoming too corporate, and he decided to bring it back to its roots once more. “Everybody brings something to the table, whether they are current champions, aspiring bodybuilders, or athletes who are no longer competing. It’s a family here and everyone is welcome. We are diverse but again, like-minded.” There are many other brands to choose from and the fitness clothing industry is more competitive than ever, but GASP and Better Bodies have remained relevant through it all. “Our clothing is for everyone who has dreams and goals, and we believe helping others raises all of us to a higher level.” This year, GASP and Better Bodies are supporting 80 amateur and pro contests, and they have over 15,000 brand ambassadors and athletes around the world. “It’s all about creating more camaraderie and more of a community,” Michael says. “That’s far more important than selling clothing.”