Name: Ashanti Johnson
Industry: Fitness and wellness
Tanya: Okay. I have my questions. So, the name of your company is 360?
Ashanti: 360 Mind, Body, and Soul.
Tanya: Love it. Love it. So, fitness and wellness. Tell me your path to entrepreneurship.
Ashanti: I grew up with a weight problem. I had my first gym membership at 14 years old. I’ve always been a fitness class person, never really excited about just going and getting on the treadmill and that sort of thing. I’m from Los Angeles originally, and I couldn’t figure out why I had all this weight loss. Despite the fact that I was sometimes taking four classes back to back, eating a salad, doing all the things, and pills and potions and all of that. I was even bulimic for about a year in high school. But then I moved to Chicago and I started kind of relaxing on that, maybe working out one hour to three hours a week. Having real bacon and real sugar, and the gyros and all the things.
Tanya: When in Chicago, eating like Chicago.
Ashanti: Exactly. So now, I’m in another city. I’m in this relationship, 22 years old, enjoying life and dropping weight more easily than when I was trying so hard to do it in LA. I started to find evidence that the mental side of fitness has the power to transform you physically. I also felt very much embraced and experienced a different side of the Black experience and culture. Once I figured that out – the physical and the mental, and started to really understand what was happening with me, I couldn’t help but share it.
It started with a boot camp in 2008 and through a lot of trials and tribulations, moved to a permanent physical space in 5 years. Our gym is a physical fitness group gym, but we also do these mental fitness workshops. My gym’s focus is really on changing lifestyles and really getting in there and having those conversations. Because everybody knows what to do, they just don’t want to do it.
Tanya: My exercise bike is literally right behind me. Collecting dust. Alas – what was your boldest business move? You’ve had to pivot from being in boot camp to getting a physical space. So it may not be your boldest, it may just be the most impactful. So, what would you say is your boldest business move?
Ashanti: Okay. The first one that comes to mind is actually last year. We do a bikini challenge every year. And it’s one of our biggest programs at the gym, where we take clients from January all the way through June to all these changes. It’s not just with the sugar out challenge, you’ve got to do seven hours of fitness a week, you’ve got to check in with your coach, you’ve got to come on to the mental fitness sessions. You’ve got to do fitness quick bars.
You’re placed on a team and the teams compete. It feels like summer camp.
So we started up, last year was our 10th anniversary, so it was a huge challenge. We’ve got all the bells and whistles. We had a huge staff and assistance and all kinds of stuff. And we started off strong, and then COVID hit. We shift everything online right away, including the challenge.
I decided, regardless of what happens this year, we’re going to keep this thing going. And that was a bold move because everybody was telling me like, “Let’s just cancel.” And I was like, “No. Health is the most important thing right now guys. If anything, you need some accountability. And whether it’s weight loss or whether it’s just staying healthy, and being mindful of how you feel.”
Ashanti: We do this mental support, so there’s like all of the emotionality going on. So, through the protests, and through everything, we just kept on going. And that was, I still don’t know if that was a good idea or a bad idea, but it was bold as hell. From January all the way to June.
Tanya: In the end, were they successful in their goals?
Ashanti: Some of them were, some of them just sort of maintained throughout which it could have been a lot worse. A lot of people went up, just from all the stress and the refrigerator is in your face all day, every day. The other bold move was a physical one. Moving from South Shore, Chicago to Michigan Avenue, was bold. A lot of things changed at that point. Our demographic was a lot younger. Our price point was a lot lower in the South Shore, and then it shifted dramatically when we moved to Michigan
Tanya: Just a couple of bold moves. Goodness, gracious. So, what was the biggest financial turning point for your company, your, “I made it,” moment?
Ashanti: It’s moving from South Shore to Michigan Ave. South Shore was a beautiful art gallery space that I was renting. I was able to save so much money because we were growing at a rapid rate, and the rent was so cheap there. I was paying something like $2,000 a month, which was a big deal at the time when we first started, but we were growing at such a rate that when we moved to Michigan Ave, I was able to do that full rehab with cash.
I was able to really design the studio and all of that in cash, like that was a big moment for me coming from living in my studio, and patching up holes on the floor and painting myself to that. It was really… I caught it in that moment like, “I’ve done good.”
Tanya: You don’t get to stay long in the financial wins as an entrepreneur. You’re like, “Woo. I’m not broke,”
Ashanti: Right. Exactly. And then it’s like, “I hope this works.”
Tanya: Initially you’re like a four, five-figure tax, and then you’re like, “welp”.
Tanya: What do you see as the future for women in your industry? It’s still heavily women-driven presumably, whether it’s who it’s marketed to and who’s participating in the classes. What do you see as the future of fitness and wellness for women?
Ashanti: For Black women or for women in general?
Tanya: That’s a good question. We’ll go for Black women to start.
Ashanti: I see the side of black women’s fitness that I think a lot of people don’t see. I think we are always discounted. I get a little irritated by the question of ‘do Black women workout’ because like, “Of course, they work out. Why is this a thing?”
But I think as we continue to get more conscious of our health, as we continue to value ourselves and don’t take on the oppression, and the idea that just because my grandmother didn’t work out and my mother didn’t work out, that I’m not supposed to work out. Or the notion that as I get older, I’m supposed to get fat, which are all ideas that we hold and that I’ve had to combat several times, I think as we get more conscious of the fact that, “This is my lifestyle, and this is my life. And how I choose to age is completely in my hands and it’s not dependent upon what I’ve been shown, but I actually have options,”
Tanya: We kind of talked about how the global health pandemic has affected your business, clearly. But what about the other pandemic, the racial one? There’s been so much that has happened, especially in your country in the last year or so. So how has that impacted your business, or I guess, has it? But you’re a Black woman, so I know that it has in some way, shape, or form.
Ashanti: I mean, people affectionately refer to the gym as their safe space. I intend it to remain that way. I really haven’t felt any impact of the racial divide that I know of or can think of, other than the natural emotional toll that it takes on people to where it impacts how they feel about themselves, which naturally impacts what they do for themselves. I’m sure there’s an impact. I’m not sure that I’m able to quantify that though.
Tanya: How can clients, companies support Black women at this time? How can people help you? And not necessarily in terms of helping you, but offering you support. And support can be financial, emotional, whatever it is.
Ashanti: I would just say continuous exposure. I mean, in this time that we’re transitioning back into life as we knew it before, people are just kind of they’ve been in their boroughs so long, their homes and assuming that everything is shut down, that sometimes people don’t even know like what’s open anymore or what’s happening any place.
So to use the platform to really showcase businesses and what’s happening with them now, I think is where a bigger business or company could help me. Financials are always great, but I am always the type that, you can tell, I always want to do everything myself. So, I would rather send me clients and then I got it, sort of thing. Yeah, the exposure, the referrals, the just talking it up has always been my primary form of marketing. And obviously, a lot of that stopped as people were not colliding with others throughout the day the way that they used to.
Tanya: I like the way you put that “colliding with others.” That’s good. So, my last question, and I laughed just because I’ve done a few of these now and the answer is always immediately the same. And so, it’s one of my favorite questions. How do you find a balance between personal and professional life?
Ashanti: You already know.
Tanya: It’s why I like asking this question because it’s so ridiculous at this point-
Ashanti: Not a thing. I’m a single mom also. So, I’m either doing one thing or the other, either I’m being a mommy or I’m being a business owner, or I’m being in my personal life. I think that I’ve had to learn to just make time for all of it. I used to just be all business. I was that mom and I had to learn how to find my way back. At one point, I was socializing with my staff and my clients had to subsidize my personal life. And I had to learn that’s a terrible idea. Especially when it came time to contact clients about delinquent accounts.
Tanya: Is there anything else that I didn’t touch on or… I had other questions, but I felt like they were weaved into the other answers that you gave just in terms of the triumphs and challenges, or mentors and people that assisted you along the way. This is the freelance part of the conversation.
Ashanti: You know what? I don’t think I could do anything else. My business is the perfect complement to my life. I have been very blessed over the years. I have always leaned on my faith to know that everything’s going to be okay, even when things are blowing up and exploding, that everything’s going to be okay. I don’t think it’s hard anymore. It’s really crazy right now but it’s okay. It’ll work itself out. And I think that part of that is just the confidence that you’ll keep going. But I don’t think I could do this in any other industry or with any other different group of people.
Tanya: That’s beautiful. I love that. That’s a perfect way to end. Ashanti, thank you so much for your time.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur and Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree, Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 20,000 and a non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO.