At PlayTone we specialise in all kinds of alternative fitness, teaching adults how to unleash their inner child and set themselves free. Check out our Hula-Hoop and Roller-Skate classes and keep an eye on our website for special workshops including: Roller-Hooping and Jump-Rope, and one off masterclasses with local and international performers from across these art forms.
So now you know what we do, we wanted to tell you a little more about who we are. To start this off I managed to pin down our founders Obie Pearl and Tinuke Orbit to get them to share a little bit of PlayTone's background, how they got started and where they want to go next...Getting this interview has been no small feat, busy doesn't even cover it... between teaching their signature Skate and Hoop classes; hatching future plans with new clients and managing the admin side of their independent business (in various tech friendly cafes across London) our PlayTone Founders are always on the move.
We wedged this interview in, between setting up for back to back Skate-Dance and Hoop-Tone classes, one Monday evening late October at current base The Africa Centre, Southwark. To set the scene I put them both on the spot, asking them to describe each other in only five words:
Straight off the bat Tinuke nailed it: "Obie is hardworking, silly, kind, reliable and upbeat” and a few seconds later Obie jumps in: “Tinuke: Ideas woman, natural entrepreneur, very talented, kind – life of the party!" Its clear these two not only know each other inside out, they like each other which helps to make them such a cracking team.
Having met less than 18 months ago when Tinuke walked into one of Obie's Saturday Hula-Hoop classes: "Indytute Hula-Schoola Experiences", they quickly became firm friends, sharing a love of hooping and skating and a desire to create a place where others could join in the fun. I asked them to tell us how they hit it off: "'Hula-Schoola' was mainly for people who travelled into London and just wanted a days experience learning how to hula-hoop and to pretend that they’ve joined the circus." explains Obie. "Tinuke came to that class to see what its like and say hello. Then fast forward a little bit to 'Roof East' where we worked for a whole summer."
"Working at Social Fun and Games - Roof East Roller Disco in Stratford was a dream summer. So much fun and games. So that’s when we got really close and started sharing ideas behind the skate rack. We would spend five to eight hour shifts hatching plans" shares Tinuke. Obie shares, "We were constantly like 'Oh, we could do this!' or 'Why don’t we do this?' Always trying to problem solve in some way or fix things in some way..."
So that's where it all began. The dream of owning their own business, bringing fun to the people by asking them to stop taking fitness so seriously! That's essentially what PlayTone is all about, just getting people moving, having fun and letting loose and for Obie and Tinuke that has meant challenging conventional forms of fitness:
"Being at the gym, running on a treadmill is nowhere near as fun as spinning 30 hula-hoops for 10 minutes, it’s pretty much incomparable. There’s so much popping up in London at the moment that is about trying to push people out of their comfort zone and to explore a bit more which is essentially what we are trying to convince people to do."
Playtone is just not like many other gyms, especially not with hula-hooping and roller-skating and although there are more alternatives to the treadmill these days, often those alternatives feel like the same thing, just wrapped up in different packages: "I just think it's great that there are more options for people to get moving" Obie tells me "People want to have fun whilst burning calories and have the chance to make some new friends. While I do agree that there is definitely a saturated market with yoga and other alternative practices, I also think that there has been a definite kind of progression, with aerial and more circus arts coming in, contortion classes, bounce fitness, trampoline fitness. With our roller-skating and hooping, that’s really unique in a sense because there’s not a place that’s doing both of those at the same time, and then there are the roller discos..." Here we are all nodding in agreement. I have to say as a newbie to skating, roller discos have been the icing on the cake for me.
"I live for a disco ball and a smooth shiny floor." admits Obie
"Roller discos are great." agrees Tinuke
"Now, that’s a seriously sweaty business"
<* and next month you can check out some great videos and pictures in my next post on What PlayTone got up to at the Roller-Discos and Skate Jams of Skatelove Barcelona...but meanwhile back to where it all began *>
So the dream of starting Playtone began less than 18 months ago and on April 11th 2018 we became a limited company. A lot has been achieved since those chats behind the skate rack. What are they most proud of so far? "Our launch party – that was epic." They both smile as Obie recalls the day "There's been many firsts in the last few months, and they have just flown by but the launch party has definitely been the ultimate showcase, it was magical."
I told you they'd been busy. PlayTone HQ has been a whirlwind of activity and things can change quite quickly in the early days of starting a new business so our key strategies for dealing with that are constant open communication and the willingness to stay flexible. I'll let Tinuke explain: "The other day when we had a meeting, we started off with the company going in one direction and then throughout about four hours of talking we decided we wanted to go in a completely different direction. Everything had changed within the space of a few hours. I asked them about how they generate ideas and talking is a key aspect, not just with each other but also with family, friends and some key people within the health and fitness industry.
Obie: "We have a few main people that we
know within the industry, in health and
fitness, who run similar companies so
we're always asking for their opinion."
"We know that we’re not set in how we
are going to operate. We are going
to try things out, test them, then ask
lots of questions. We are always
asking our friends and family..."
Both Tinuke and Obie have family members who have run successful businesses and this has provided invaluable insights. They also have other women in business who inspire them too...
<*...but I'll be writing more about that in another post dedicated to:
Inspirational Women in Business and the ups and downs of running a company as young female entrepreneurs. So If you have any questions you want me to ask them in advance.. leave comments below and I'll add them to my list :*>...
Currently based at the Africa Centre in Southwark PlayTone has classes running Sunday through Wednesday (book here) and you'll find a wide range of abilities across the different sessions. I asked why they thought people were choosing to spend their money with us? "Bigger picture," states Obie "I think most people aren’t just shopping anymore, instead they’re shopping on experiences especially Millennial's, 20 – 35 years old, they are just not afraid to try new things." Tinuke agrees: "Everyone is looking for the next fresh funky thing. People are really eager to try out new things. Skating, hula-hooping, everything to do with PlayTone, people did them when they were younger and then they’re like 'I used to really love that!' or 'I remember doing this as a kid!' We are offering them the opportunity to relive their youth. That's essentially what PlayTone is all about"
And its not just the Millennial's getting involved: Our oldest hooper to date is 86. She wowed us all with her skills at a recent gig at the WI club in De Beauvoir Town. At Playtone we believe our classes are suitable for all levels of ability and all sizes. Whether you are just starting out or you are looking to take those skills to the next level, come and check us out. We always say age ain't relevant either, its about allowing your spirit to keep you moving and remembering that its a marathon, not a sprint.
Along with gigs in various private venues we have also recently begun some pop up ventures across town and that is something we intend to do more of:
"We had been really fixated on the idea of needing somewhere solid. One spot where people would come to us, but quite recently we’ve decided that we can be everywhere. We can move around and that way we can include lots of new people, all over London." shares Tinuke. "We want to be…everywhere." Obie nods in agreement. We want to run multiple projects, as Tinuke says people will follow us for three months somewhere and then we will move onto somewhere else for a few months and so on. For us, its about bringing a fun experience to new venues, and we want to touch different parts of the city."
With so much going on I wanted to ask them how they manage to get that balance we all crave. Its clear they have to be disciplined: "We spend three to four days at the computer and teach in the evenings." Says Tinuke. "After that it's meetings with new clients, looking into possible new spaces and launching our pop-up shop: Play Store, selling classic skates and the ultimate disco apparel *New products coming soon*!" Obie continues "We are always interested in meeting new people who might be able to link us up with connections to properties. Ideally we would like access to a space that we can be in 24/7." But what about your own practice, I press them, as artists how important is it for you to make time to work on your own skills as well as teaching others? How do you fit it in? "It's hugely important to us, we've just been so busy" says Obie "Tinuke has quite a rigid routine though." and Tinuke agrees "Yes, I go to yoga most mornings but when I am not teaching other people, I don't get to skate as much as I would like, which is frustrating when your starting up a rollerskating business" They both laugh. They both keenly understand the need for those precious hours in the studio which is why the PlayTone Recess session every Sunday afternoon is an integral part of our programme. It offers hoopers and skaters a space to work on a particular moves alongside a mix of super talented peers. I love our recess time because there is always someone in the room who wants to teach me something new and when that's not happening I can goof around trying to learn roller-hooping // I'm really bad at roller-hooping // constantly falling over, but that's alright, I feel safe to make those mistakes. Recess is just about practice, practice practice. It keep us all building skills and that connection and peer support is huge part of PlayTone's special family vibe.
Now that the interview is in full flow I sneak in a question they're not expecting. I'm interested to know if they've ever been competitive with each other? - Having seen them both Roller-hooping (we know that's my jam...to be...) its clear they share a passion for both art forms. "Obie is the Super-Hooper," says Tinuke "We have our main areas and then it crosses over and overlaps in between..."
"If you were looking at our different skill levels - I will spin multiple hula hoops up to 25-40 and specialise in splitting hoops on different parts of the body" continues Obie "and Tinuke does artistic skating and skate dance to a super top level." So that's a no to the competitive question. Clearly they enjoy learning from each other and it's this commitment and passion to on-going development of their skills that make them both such intuitive and committed teachers. They know how long it takes to crack a move, they've done it and they want you to learn how to do it to.
So where did they crack these skills? Tinuke started in dance and quickly transferred to Skate-Dance when she joined Starlight Express. I asked her how her time on the show prepared her for running her own business with Obie:
"With skating, you have to do a lot, work hard and don't be afraid of failure. Don't be afraid to fall over, don't be afraid to embarrass yourself and kind of just let go of your ego and let people help you." she explains.
As well as a wealth of experience in Graphic/ Service Design, Obie also picked up ideas from her experience from working with Marawa's Majorettes:
"Running the ultimate girl gang." she is quick to reply and we all laugh. "Working with so many different personalities, I'm really proud to say as a girl squad there were hardly any arguments and it's survived for five years and is still going. It taught me that its all about community, oh and delegation. One person isn’t enough, its all about building a family and that this is a journey we're on, not a destination"
And PlayTone's aspirations don't stop there. Obie is keen to grow the company family: "Its not just us two, I have always wanted to provide a platform for people to earn money, for people to learn skills and have a good work life balance and this is the ultimate dream job, in that it encompasses all of those things." We have international plans as well and we are all very excited about the scope of the projects ahead of us "I’d say, aspirations are definitely about having Playtone in multiple different places." Tinuke explains "Not even just around London or around the UK. We could have one in LA. We could have one in Jamaica! We could have one anywhere, then we can be everywhere, all the time and we really want to do a tour."
Obie elaborates "specifically to places that need a special touch. I think that’s what we bring. We bring that magic to any place: an arch, an abandoned building. We want to make pop-up playgrounds that bring in the community, touring to places where we can add some of that special PlayTone magic."
They have the ideas, the determination and they also have some backing. Rookie Skates are already on board, I wanted to know who else supports them in terms of their aspirations? Who is supporting them to grow Play Tone as a venture?
"We started off with our own personal savings and not a big investment loan." Obie tells me "Now we are ready to build more relationships in terms of funding. We have been thinking about loans that we can go for, we want to run a Crowdfunder campaign or an Angel Investor, to come in. We would be interested in being someones project. An investor who was really excited about what we are doing, someone who might have a space and so on and there is a range of different things that we are willing to kind of trade on."
So that's where we are at just now: pop up playgrounds, new merch, weekly classes, hatching plans and organising a whole bunch of extra workshops and training with Skaters and Hooper from across the UK and beyond. 2018 has been a great year so far and the best is yet to come. I plan to share with you new info as it happens plus much more about Play Tone people and what we have in store for 2019. Share your comments below. Ask us questions. Tell us what you want to know more about and we will try to make it happen. Till then...
I'll mainly be doing this: --------------------------------------->
Mother of Cats and Roller-Hoop Wannabe...
Lolli is the newest member of our Playtone family /// She will be sharing our stories, events, product reviews, tips and more alongside working to complete her 365 #moxiskatedaily challenge ///
check her out @lolliskates