Think about any gym or boutique studio locker room you’ve ever walked into. Have you ever seen a product that was specifically designed for Black hair or skin? Because after a decade in the industry, I hadn’t. Companies put a lot of thought into who their customer is and how to serve them well, and it became clear to me that Black people simply weren’t being thought of. So much money was being spent on gym memberships, but many of us still had to bring our own products. Ultimately it’s not really about the products, it is about what those products represent. This is why I decided to create BLAQUE, a luxury fitness experience designed for the Black community, by the Black community.
The Black community has a specific need for fitness and wellness services because of the disproportionate rate at which preventable diseases affect us. And yet traditionally, it’s been a challenge to find a fitness space that feels like it’s for us. Boutique fitness studios are usually located in white neighborhoods (I used to have to commute an hour and 15 minutes in each direction to train at a luxury gym), and many are exorbitantly expensive. Because of this, there’s never been a sense of ownership as a Black person walking into a gym—instead, there’s a feeling like we’re infringing on something that’s not ours.
With BLAQUE, I wanted to develop a luxury fitness experience where the Black community is the priority. We are being very intentional about ensuring that our first physical space will be in a Black neighborhood in NYC, and we’re considering more inclusive pricing strategies like a sliding price scale so that the offerings are affordable for everyone who wants to participate, no matter how much they’re able to spend on fitness. We often don’t see “luxury” associated with something designed specifically for Black people, but it’s so important. Black folks experience so much trauma and often carry heavy burdens in our everyday lives. We deserve a space that feels luxurious and makes us feel cared for, honored, and valued. Luxury doesn’t have to mean inaccessible.
We want members to walk into our gym or log on to our platform and feel like they’re home. They’ll see people who look like them, they’ll hear music and experience visuals that are meaningful to them. Our signature classes are being designed with music and motion that resonates with our culture in a way that we haven’t seen anywhere. Often in the Black community, movement is a form of celebration, release, and healing. We are bringing that into our space with classes that focus on the joy of movement. When we move, it’s to express something and it usually feels good to us, so this is central to our class structure. The Black experience is unique and comes with trauma that often manifests in our bodies, so we are doing the work to address this in our offerings and to acknowledge the impact of systemic oppression on Black wellness.
So often in fitness and wellness, Black culture is taken, repackaged, and sold to non-Black members. But when Black culture is used to bring healing to the same people who created it, it’s powerful. We’re committed to upholding certain tenets as we design our class structure. We are being mindful about how our instructors resonate with our community. We want people to be able to identify with those guiding them through their wellness journey. As a Black member, being able to see yourself in your instructors begins to break down elitist barriers of what fitness looks like.
In a lot of ways, we’re working on shifting the narrative of what fitness is in the Black community. It’s so often looked at as an add-on, instead of as something that we need for our well-being. The level of exclusivity that the industry has held for itself has made a lot of Black folks feel like fitness just isn’t for them. And when a community is just trying to survive, the way ours is, it’s hard to think of this additional amenity as a necessity. But in reality, we know that fitness and wellness is not something that is an add on to quality of life. So we want to let our community know that BLAQUE is designed to make you feel good, this is an environment you want to be in, and this is for you. Ambiance, classes, beauty products, and all.
BLAQUE had planned to open its brick and mortar gym before COVID-19 hit. The brand is currently raising funds to launch its digital platform and outdoor classes sometime this year and their physical space next year. Donate here.
As told to Zoë Weiner