Kimberly Fowler, 61
If there is a commonality among our people, it is an innate sense of curiosity combined with a drive to move forward. Kimberly Fowler is one of us. She came from a tough background near the New Jersey shore. Her school district was poor; they had to share the building with another district so the day was split between the two. Her free time was spent in the waves, swimming and surfing with what became a lifelong passion for sports, fitness and wellness. Her escape route was through Boston University, then on to TX to get a law degree.
Speaking with Kimberly in her quiet Marina del Rey home, one finds a gracious, softly spoken, articulate woman of some considerable modesty. She reveals the time she spent living in Monaco dating Prince Albert while practicing law there as if this is a completely unexceptional thing, or the time she almost died from a free climbing fall in Nevada as if she slipped on the stairs, or overcoming a brain tumor as if this is nothing. Hers can be seen as a fantastic journey but the way she tells it, there is nothing that exceptional about what she has been doing. Like so many of us, she is always seeking, always investigating, and always wondering: “Can I do that?”
Not for the Faint of Heart
Kimberly was the COO of a large corporation, went on to found the groundbreaking chain of exercise studios YAS, written a couple of books, and is now training for a marathon in September. Having recently closed her 18-year YAS business, she has been consulting in the health/fitness sector and carefully investigating her next adventure. This may all sound completely over the top, and in the hands of a hyperbolic PR agent it could be. But Kim is nothing like that. She is almost shy about where she has been, and very honest about not being exactly sure what she will do next. She misses the community of thousands that she created at YAS, but then running a business of that size with its hundreds of employees is “not for the faint of heart.”
First Hybrid Studio
You founded YAS in (?). Why? What was the need you were seeing that you wanted to address?
I opened YAS (which is the acronym for Yoga and Spinning) in 2001. It was honestly created out of frustration. Those were my workouts back in the ’90s. I used both yoga and spinning to supplement my other sports, like running, biking, hiking, tennis — basically helped me stay injury free. I would take a yoga class at one studio then have to head across town to catch a spinning class afterwards. Back then there weren’t spin studios. Spinning was done in big box gyms like Gold’s, LA Fitness, etc. The boutique studios really didn’t exist except for small yoga studios. Hard to believe, right?
People thought I was crazy, but YAS became the 1st hybrid studio which created a whole new trend in fitness. I’ve been called the Godmother of the Hybrids. Which I’m proud of. It’s funny: beyond being a new concept, I was in my 40s when I started YAS and I was a lawyer, COO of a $200 million company. So people, and my friends, thought I was nuts mostly because of my age and the fact that I was leaving a high paying career to open a gym. Plus in 2001, Venice was gang area! You didn’t even want to walk down Abbot Kinney. It definitely took vision.
What are you doing now?
I have my own consulting firm called WellFit Global Consulting. I work with fitness and wellness entrepreneurs to guide them through the perils of entrepreneurship and to help them find their secret sauce. My favorite question is: What makes you special? It can be a tough question to answer. I also work with a private equity firm, Integrity Square, who funds concepts in what we call the HALO (Health, Active Lifestyle and Outdoors) sector.
I get asked consistently: What’s your next thing? Everyone wants to know what the next big trend is going to be. I think I have figured it out. I will say, it’s another idea that came to me out of frustration. I’ll have to keep you posted on that one.
What was the adaptation process for you to this new role?
Having YAS for over 16 years and prior to that being the COO/Council of a 200 million dollar vitamin company gave me a lot of experience in health and fitness, a lot of good and some that were very difficult. The good, the bad, and the ugly — I’ve been through it all. I am able to take those experiences and help others get through their challenges and guide them through the struggles of being an entrepreneur.
What is this we hear about a marathon? Is this the first time for you?
I LOVE running! I started running marathons in the ’80s after I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I actually stopped running when I started YAS. I was teaching 4 or 5 classes a day plus running my business. I was also Nike’s Yoga Athlete, writing books (2 published by Rodale). So no time to run or play tennis.
I was asked to run the New York Marathon for the Women’s Sports Foundation in 2017, which got me back into running. Right now I’m training for the Sydney Marathon which is on September 15th. I love Australia; it should be fun. But I’m way behind in my training.