These days it feels like wellness and self-care in the African-American community is all the rage — but Briana Owens isn’t one for following trends. The Hampton University graduate has been hip to the fitness game for as long as she can remember. “I was the kid in the lunchroom drinking watered down Juicy Juice,” she shared emphatically. “I’ll thank my mom for that one!”
Born in Queens, New York but raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Briana’s sense of healthy living has evolved with her environments, but her core beliefs on the concept remain the same: your body is a temple, and fitness is its plug. Unfortunately, when Briana attended different fitness classes throughout her young adult career, she noticed that she most often was the only person of color in the room. After a bit of soul-searching, Briana decided to create Spiked Spin, hip hop infused cycling classes that throw stereotypes about minorities and fitness out the window. In this interview with BAUCE, Briana shares why she is on a mission to transform the black wellness movement and how she keeps her New York based fitness business running behind the scenes.
So, let’s back up Briana. Although you were an English major in college, you ended up in the advertising industry after you graduated. How did you go from managing media for big brands to launching your own fitness business?
Briana: So after I graduated I started working at really big media agencies. I’ve always worked on large clients and part of that role is being taken out by different sales teams. We would get invited to different business experiences; we used to go to Soul Cycle all the time. And that’s kind of where my passion for cycling came from. The first time I went, I hated it. I didn’t go back for an entire year. But then one of my co-workers begged me to come back and try it out again, so I went back with her and it was a different instructor which meant a different experience. I loved it. It became like some type of mild addiction and because I was able to go with my team, it became a part of our routine and our bonding experience.
I started riding, and then, I slowly started teaching for a few years. I noticed a trend basically where I would look around and see very few minorities. There was also a lack of hip hop music at the spin classes I tried out. If there was any black music it was for an overly-hyped “theme” ride. And that was the part of cycling that I hated. I would spin on my own outside of these classes, and I would be jamming to Future, but when I was teaching I had to cater to the audience, which is not necessarily the same demographic that would like to bump to my music. I realized that there was something missing and that’s when Spiked Spin was born.
Pitch us your business in a couple of sentences. Why should we ride with Spiked Spin?
Briana: At the core, Spiked Spin is hip hop cycling. If you love hip hop, if you love a challenge, if you love fitness, if you love to go hard — then Spiked Spin is for you.
You still were working a full-time job while your passion for cycling emerged. Was it difficult to get certified as a cycling instructor?
Briana: The process to get certified is not difficult. But I think to be a good instructor is difficult. It’s difficult to be an instructor because you have to be able to connect to people beyond the workout. And this again is a part of the idea that every experience is different. I went to one instructor and I absolutely hated it, and then I went to another instructor who changed my entire life. So, I think you need to be able to reach people at different places. You need to be able to connect to them from an authentic place. Like, if you just want to get paid to do your job at a gym, that’s fine. But from my perspective, what I’m doing is much larger than that and much more transformative, so it requires a real effort.
But Spiked Spin isn’t just all hip hop right. There’s an inspirational layer to your rides as well?
Briana: We always close every ride in some form of appreciation and a moment of gratitude. I believe that reflection time in fitness is imperative. It looks different in every class, but it’s very necessary to me. Most of the time, we turn up. Sometimes I’m pumping up your confidence, and sometimes I’m speaking to some deep stuff on your mind. It really depends on the vibe of the room, what music is playing, and what the riders are receptive to. So, that moment of gratitude is usually wrapping up whatever that experience was for that night.
Why did you choose to focus on women of color as your target audience?
Briana: Our core demographic is black women or minority women. I am a minority woman, and I know we carry a ton of burdens. We are constantly pressured to be so many things. And in that one hour when you are working out with me at Spiked Spin, it’s very important that you are allowed to just be with no definitions attached. You don’t have to be a mom when you’re in the room. You don’t have to be in advertising. You don’t have to be a CEO. In this moment, in that one hour, you are just a woman on a bike. And that’s key to me.
Photo via Briana Owens // Spiked Spin
What’s the hardest part about running a fitness business?
Briana: The hardest part about running Spiked Spin is controlling the growth and expansion of your business; it’s making sure that your business doesn’t appear to be growing larger than it actually is. So, controlling and maintaining an authentic experience while simultaneously ensuring that the brand is growing.
Like people hear about your cool brand. It’s buzzy — but does that mean people are coming? Does that mean you have real paying customers? That’s the distinction I need people to understand: likes are not dollars. I need people to connect those dots. A lot of the people who follow us on social media may have never been to a class. Some people who come to the class faithfully might not even follow us on social media. So that’s one of the biggest challenges: finding a balance between making sure the brand is growing, making sure it’s buzzy, but also ensuring that the “buzziness” translates to ridership and people coming in the door. There is a lot of stigma around cycling. It’s not something that’s familiar to black women and so that adds another challenge where I have to constantly break those myths and encourage people of color that they too can do this form of exercise…that it is for us too.
I’m having to shift mindsets. I’m having to build trust with people. It’s a new brand; there are competitors in the industry who have proven themselves. I have to remain authentic to what I set out to do and stay focused on that and not be clouded by the noise and the distractions. My number one business goal is to make sure people have the best experience when they ride at Spiked Spin.
How does Spiked Spin make money?
Briana: So, one way to generate income is obviously ridership; people taking classes is the bread and butter of the business. Number two is merchandise. I like to do very limited quantities of different hats, sweatshirts or t-shirts because it just gives people a feeling of exclusivity. It makes them feel special and premium. Lastly, I have kind of become a brand in myself by participating in panels and booking different speaking engagements. I believe as the brand grows, that’s another opportunity that can be monetized over time.
Briana, how would you define what it means to be a BAUCE?
Briana: When I think of the word BAUCE, I think of someone who is 100 percent authentically themselves. I think of someone that’s 100 percent confident in their skin. And someone who is 100 percent confident in their purpose. And I say this: it doesn’t mean you have to own a company, it doesn’t mean you perform in front of arenas. It means that you are so settled and content in your “woman-ness” and being that no one can shake your confidence. No one can take that away.
Also, being a BAUCE means balance. I don’t believe in the “never not working” trend. If it wasn’t for Spiked Spin, I wouldn’t have a business. There are times that I’m not working and that’s okay. There are times when I’m out living and with my family or friends. We only have one life, and I plan on living it fully. I don’t plan on doing it to “never not work”. I think that’s what makes you a BAUCE. When I meet women with that energy, its radiating and refreshing. If you love to work and that’s how you feel complete, then do you. But don’t do it because that’s the trend. Don’t live for a hashtag. You have to live for you.