Fierce Grace Brixton celebrated its 1st birthday last December. Now half way through its second year, we took the opportunity to catch up with Fierce Grace Brixton owner, Katie to learn about how the studio came to being what it is now!
What first brought you to yoga and how did it become a part of your life?
“I was living in Hong Kong and found an inspirational teacher, Robin Tassie. She went on to set up Yoga Central Hong Kong. She said I was a natural! I found I stayed so much calmer in the uncertainty of moving to HK and finding a new position as a fashion design. AND walked taller!”
How long has FGB been in the making?
“10 years! Nigel did the Bikram yoga training 13 years ago. When he came back he taught for Michele at the City studio, wanting to open his own one day. We were just friends then, but started dating not long after! We always did yoga together as much as possible.
Starting a family (our daughters Eva, 10, and Honor, 8, sometimes help out on reception!) temporarily delayed the plans to open a studio. When we moved to South London we saw that it was really missing a hot yoga studio and we were motivated to find a space in our own neighbourhood. However, it took years for the right place to come up.”
What were your aspirations with opening a studio? – Your yoga vision!
“I wanted to create a beautiful and clean studio and a strong and supportive space where I could create a community. We wanted to welcome all people of all ages and abilities who were interested in challenging themselves and learning the amazing benefits and discipline of hot yoga. Having experienced the power of yoga I wanted to share it with others, who would in turn want to share it, and so on.
I wanted the studio to reflect the vibe and multi-culture that is Brixton and allow a flourishing yoga community to develop. At the same time, I wanted to provide a peaceful and tranquil ‘retreat’ from the hustle and bustle of daily London life and all its delights and challenges. And I had to make space for a touch of humour with Peter Blake’s Rainbow Babe – which somehow seems to fit perfectly with our hot yoga!”
How did you get introduced to the Fierce Grace system?
“We have known Michele for years; first as the person who brought Bikram to London, then as a truly inspirational teacher and then as a friend and mentor of great generosity of spirit.
When she announced she had created ‘Fierce Grace’ and was moving all her studios over to this new system it was very exciting. We knew that she was probably the only person in London with sufficient depth and breadth of knowledge and experience who could design a completely new, integrated yoga system to cater for the heavy demands of people living in a busy, stressful city, and make it work.
All her teachers had a chance to retrain in this new system so Nigel made the transition. When the site, designs, finances had been arranged to make our studio happen, we had to decide whether we wanted to embrace this new system.
Whilst on Michele’s Tuscany retreat (where we celebrated our wedding anniversary), we talked it all through, got aligned with her plans and vision, and thought ‘let’s go do it’. And have never looked back!”
What were the biggest challenges opening the studio?
“Where do I begin?! There has been a hurdle at each stage! With every challenge, I have had to find the courage, inner strength and determination to carry on, find another solution, consult a new expert, find some more money, you name it!
It took 18 months of driving it! It doubled in cost; I lost two au pairs through the stress at home. I put my other businesses on hold so I could give it my full support and be there to meet builders, interview staff and oversee everything ahead of opening.
Everything had to be designed completely from scratch: the heating and humidity, hot water, lighting and computer systems, plus always ensuring that everything is as environmentally-friendly and eco-efficient as possible. That big grey machine by the mat stands is a “heat exchanger”. It transfers heat from stale hot outgoing air to fresh cold incoming area so saves on energy, helps protect the environment and keeps costs down whilst adding to the comfort of members.
The computer booking system is synced to the accounting and banking system. Behind the scenes, it is very complex and sophisticated, all designed to give members a seamless experience where everything works (mostly!).
There is nothing which has not been carefully thought through to the nth degree with lots of research and help from other studio owners. I wanted to create a state-of-the art studio taking advantage of the latest technology and design.”
There must have been some teething problems and funny tales!
“The most memorable occasion was when, after two large holes had been drilled through the 18 inch thick concrete floor to allow for the hot air ducts to come through, the landlord’s chief engineer took one look and said “who the f*** put that f****** great hole in my floor?!” The whole project ground to a halt until sorted!
Another was when it unexpectedly turned out there was insufficient supply of hot and cold water for the showers. We had to design and install a hot water system which could service 12 showers operating simultaneously for up to 60 people and then re-heat 1,000 litres of water ready for the next class… and could the floor slab support one ton of water (thankfully yes!).
One week before opening, we were told it would take two months to install phone lines, without which we could not open as everything is internet-dependent, even the streamed music. Three days of frantic phone calls later and showing six different BT technicians around the same facilities – their solution? To ‘hijack’ phone lines from the neighbouring property which was just closing down…”
…And what about when you first opened?
“Finally we open on 4th December 2014. Half way through the first class there is this acrid smoke coming out of the studio. It turned out that the heater had sucked in some builders’ rubble, cooked it and spewed the noxious fumes back out into the studio…but everyone was great…and even found it quite funny after they’d recovered!”
How did you build up the Fierce Grace team?
“We made it an aim to recruit, train and retain great reception and studio staff, helpers and teachers aligned to my vision and the Fierce Grace ethos and who take the same pride as I do in providing a great space.
It has all been worth it! I love the community which is being built. I love that our members love coming to the studio and regard our staff and teachers so highly.
Building a ‘community’ has always been a big focus, how did you do this in the beginning?
We have a collection of Founder Members. I was especially pleased when nearly all the Founder Members renewed their membership. They provide a bedrock to the studio and community, and have been great at introducing their friends and family. It is also great how more and more people are taking up the Hot Unlimited package, which provides great flexibility and value.”
What have been your greatest moments and milestones in opening the studio?
“Having people come and thank us for providing this studio for the community! I have been bowled over by people’s support and gratitude, especially in the early period.
The ‘Touch Your Toes’ charity event raising £500 for Brixton Soup Kitchen was a particular highlight. Looking at the world upside during Separate Leg Stretching, seeing the faces of passers-by in buses, cars, taxis, lorries and on bicycles, motorbikes and on foot as they saw Michele teaching 80 people yoga in Windrush Square, cars hooting, ambulance and squad cars’ sirens wailing and passers-by cheering us on with the amazing Solomon and his colleagues was terrific!”
What has helped things along the way?
“Having a dedicated team that run the studio and are an inspiration to work with and serve our members. Having fabulous teachers who love working at the studio and teaching – and also knowing that Michele is always there, just a phone call away to offer her wisdom and insight into running the studio and, most importantly of all, sharing her knowledge of how to support any members who have particular injuries or medical issues to deal with.
And now some of our members have just completed the Fierce Grace Teacher Training! The momentum is building…”
How do you make it work? Juggling so many things at once, on top of family life?
“Work smart, work hard, plan my time in all areas, go with what feels simplest, work together, find great partners, do what I’m great at and find others who are great at what they do. And stay focused on the vision.”
What are your favourite things about Brixton?
“Brixton Village, vintage shops and gyoza in Pop Brixton, Ritzy Cinema on date nights with Nigel. And Fierce Grace Brixton, of course!”