Photographer: Ben Cope; Stylist: Sophia Rahimi; Hair: J Michael; Makeup: Janice Daoud
With a 50-item bucket list and business degree in hand, Lexi Hensler is unstoppable. The dynamic content creator has a loyal 15 million-strong following across her platforms who tune in for her adventures in both living life to the fullest and destigmatizing mental health. Take a scroll through her TikTok and Instagram, and you’ll find her exploring Paris, flying a helicopter and swimming with sharks. Most importantly, you’ll discover her entrepreneurial endeavors as the founder of Hugz, her brand of weighted stuffed animals that are designed to ease anxiety and depression.
Just a few months after the November 2022 launch of Hugz, we caught up with Hensler to learn more about her brand, the importance of knowing each day is a gift and more.
Congratulations on November’s launch of Hugz! What has been your favorite piece of feedback or story from buyers?
Thank you so much! The positive feedback about our line of weighted-stuffed animals has been overwhelming. I have loved hearing from folks that they have been using their weighted stuffed Hugz friend every day and are noticing a huge difference in helping to manage their stress, depression, or anxiety. It has also helped people with sleep!
One of my favorite moments after launching Hugz was when someone asked us to include a personalized note with their order – they were sending a weighted Hugz friend to a loved one who lived very far away and wanted to give them some “hugs” until they could see them again. This was an additional key goal of mine for the brand where one could send a Hugz emotional-support weighted friend to let loved ones know that you are thinking of them and sending a hug.
Let’s look back a bit. How did you first conceptualize the idea that sparked Hugz?
I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for a long time. One of the things that helped my anxiety in a big way was weighted blankets. I began researching why weighted blankets worked and learned that the weight being applied promotes relaxation of the parasympathetic nervous system. I wanted to create a more portable version that has led to my new mental health brand, Hugz! Hugz is devoted to promoting mental health and wellness through our weighted stuffed animals that simulate the feeling of being hugged and promotes calm. Hugz are weighted friends for all ages that you can take anywhere that help with reducing symptoms from anxiety, depression and stress. In November, we launched three weighted friends of an elephant, sloth and llama. In an effort to normalize the conversation on mental health, a portion of Hugz proceeds goes to mental health charities.
View this post on Instagram
A portion of profits from Hugz is donated to YourMomCares. Why is this organization important to you and why did you decide to prioritize philanthropy with your business?
YourMomCares is actively innovating new ways to recognize, prevent, as well as heal mental health challenges that children face. It was founded by the moms of Jonah Hill and Beanie Feldstein, Adam Levine and Alicia Keys. YourMomCares is an organization that was actually introduced to me through my Mom. She is a senior leader at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego where she and her team are focused on transforming mental health for children and youth and increasing timely access to evidence-based care to improve mental health status. It is important to destigmatize mental health— I struggled with anxiety and depression from an early age, encountering terrible stigma and shame about my mental health from peers and others when I tried to seek support. I was also severely bullied in school. If there is a silver lining from the COVID pandemic is that mental health is finally having its moment in the sun. Working with thought leaders in healthcare and at YourMomCares is vital to normalize the conversation on mental health as it has been historically stigmatized, underfunded and under-resourced. My goodness…there are six to nine month wait lists in communities to see a therapist and, emerging from the pandemic, a recent study reported that one in three young adults (ages 18-24) in California has contemplated suicide! My heart sank, as there are so many people suffering from depression and anxiety who need help. We are working together to change the conversation to accelerate the investments and best practices in mental health to save lives. One’s mental health should be spoken about and thought of just like if someone has asthma or diabetes. So, I hope that my Hugz brand, through working with YourMomCares, can help contribute to increasing the investment in the mental health field and fostering mental well-being.
You created an ultimate bucket list to live life to the fullest. Do you have a bucket list item that has been your favorite experience (so far) and is there one you have yet to do you’re looking forward to most?
One of my favorite experiences that I have been so fortunate to do from my bucket list was flying a helicopter! I had no clue that 20 minutes into my first lesson that the instructor would let me fully take over the controls, and there I was flying over all of Los Angeles practically on my own! Since then, I have wanted to continue flying lessons and I hope to obtain my pilot’s license in the next one to two years. I have loved envisioning my bucket list and, as I check things off, I keep finding more to add. I would encourage everyone to start living out their bucket lists. You never know what could spark a new passion.
Has the bucket list had an impact on your approach to day-to-day life?
I have been motivated to work hard to create opportunities for me to travel more and experience neat encounters, ranging from seeing the northern lights to learning archery and flying. When you travel, you learn so much about other cultures, traditions and ways of life. In some countries, they highly encourage their people to travel and find the best ideas to bring back to share in their own country. Each year I plan out and prioritize the top things that I would like to accomplish. I used to fall into the habit of saying “one day”, but then not making that day happen. My great-grandmother and grandparents only had a chance to visit other countries in retirement, where they had mobility challenges. It’s important to know that each day is a gift. I have learned that the only way to accomplish your travel and bucket list is to plan and commit.
You have an impressive following across your social media platforms. How have you continued to develop a relationship with your audience and what do you hope they take away from your content?
Thank you! It still doesn't feel real at times. I have always felt like we are a big family. I post a lot of content focused on comedic entertainment, lifestyle, travel and positivity to promote mental wellness. I strive to use my platform to inspire people to feel confident in who they are and be their true, authentic selves. As such, I share a lot of my story, including my own struggles with mental health in hopes to normalize the conversation, as well as help people feel less alone. Growing up with depression and anxiety, I thought I was the only one because no one talked about it. I thought I was weird or different, and when I tried to open up about what I was going through, people wouldn’t know how to respond or shut me down. Yet, when I discovered how common mental health struggles were, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I have been so touched by fans throughout the United States and the world who have shared their stories with me in finding hope and courage to get help and improve their overall mental health and well-being through my platform. If my mental health journey can help others to know that they should hang in there and seek help, I know that I have made a difference in the world. I hope my audiences take away the feeling of community and the inspiration to follow their dreams.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Ben Cope