Amina Daniels is an absolute powerhouse. She grew up in Detroit but moved to the Big Apple right after graduation, and had a very successful career in retail there. From opening stores on Fifth Avenue she jumped into the startup scene, and realized that she wanted to run her own business. She moved back home, and through obstacles she opened her very own boutique fitness studio. Now she's on a mission to encourage more women of color to improve their wellness habits and ultimately their lives through making better choices. Read on to learn about what it took to open Live Cycle Delight, and how she got back up after being quite literally knocked down.
Let’s start with the basics. What’s your official title?
“I don’t really get caught up in those funny titles. Head Honcho is what I’d like to call myself. I’m the lady in charge running the show, but also the founder.”
Can you tell us the story of your career so far, about what you were doing before this?
“Nine lives I’ve lived. I was working in retail in New York City. I also had a podcast, we recorded out of Radio City. I actually launched a podcast network that now has The Read, which is probably the most popular podcast on the network, they have over 55 million streams so it’s grown. It’s called The Loudspeakers Network. I did that while I ran retail stores. I started off at French Connection. During college I interned in their PR department. I thought I was going to work in fashion PR and then I moved to New York and realized that that was a very challenging industry to get into.”
What about it was so hard?
“...Nepotism. It was just a job that went to daughters and sorority sisters. I interviewed for several top PR agencies, and I would have the 4th interview, which is so tricky. You’re like “I’m in there! This is the final interview, why would somebody waste my time with four interviews if I wasn’t going to get it?”
But two weeks after I moved to New York, my first job was in management at French Connection. I also did the North American rollout for all the stores for shoes – I did the PR directive, and taught the city stores on the features and the benefits. I ultimately left French Connection and went to G Star, that was the first store I opened. It was a great experience, it was interesting, it was not nearly as corporate. My old director of stores, she called me about an opportunity to open the Tommy Hilfiger flagship, which was a much better opportunity and a little bit more money, still penny pinching.
I opened that store on 5th Avenue. It was the same year Tommy Hilfiger closed Fashion Week, it was just a whole other stage. I left Tommy Hilfiger to go to Juicy Couture. It was a 38 million dollar store so a lot larger volume, a lot larger responsibility. I was over the women’s department and I ran a really tight ship. Juicy Couture made some changes and they brought corporate in. What I was so good at doing was managing my business and using reports, but they were taking those reports away. People instead came in from Bare Minerals which was makeup and they were taking over VP positions. They had no idea how to run retail and ultimately, I’d say ran Juicy Couture into the ground. That’s why you don’t see Juicy Couture stores anymore. And just that simple leadership can change it.
I left Juicy Couture and I went to Michael Kors in Flatiron. So, I went from a 38 million dollar store to a 3 million dollar store. I went from having $320,000 days and 200 employees to having $12,000 days and having a team of 12. So it was different. It wasn’t nearly as fun. I also didn’t love the product like I loved Juicy and when I was at Juicy I just had more responsibilities and more control over running my business. I left Michael Kors, and I went in an entirely different direction.
I worked for a startup for a woman who went to Kellogg so she was really smart and analytical. She started a business called CleanBeeBaby, which was a mobile cleaning stroller service and repair. She started that in LA, and she was expanding to New York. In LA, she would drive a van to a mall and they would see 15 strollers while the mommies shopped and they could clean the strollers. In New York, the logistics are totally different. So aside from launching her business there was a lot of trial and error, but we did everything. The baby industry is another billion dollar industry, if you have a lot of money, you can have a lot of good accessories for your baby.
I did that and ultimately my parents won over and convinced me to come back home because there was money being given to entrepreneurs [in Detroit]. Like a lot of people who work for startups, I have a lot of instructors who are like, I want a studio, I can do this, it’s pretty customary that that happens. So I moved back home in 2013, which was very challenging. I never thought I would leave New York, I was obsessed. Since the young age of 13 I knew that I would live there, and I always thought I’d be a New Yorker and we’d have a happy marriage. But it wasn’t happy, so I left.
I came back home and I knew I wanted to work in health and wellness. I knew that there was an opportunity to create more accessibility at the boutique fitness studios. In New York, boutique fitness was popping, everyone exercised, Soul Cycle was a cult. Even though when I lived in New York, I never did Soul Cycle.
I did a class since, but when I lived there, that was not my fitness of choice. I did bike, I biked everywhere in New York City. When I realized that I could bike there faster than the train, I was like “what am I doing on the train?! This is crazy!” I’m losing that monthly card every week. My brother, every time he’d visit me he’d say “New Yorkers are so cold, they will watch somebody die on the subway”. And I was like, ‘well A, we’d get fired on our way to work, if you wasted 2 minutes, you’re late and then you don’t have a job,’ and then you see so much, and it’s so much work to be there. Unless you’re just living in the 1% and you’re overlooking Central Park and paying for cars I mean, there’s a certain sect of population that doesn’t live a hard life. But for the majority of the New Yorkers who live in the city it’s a grind. That’s why if you’re working as a waitress you’re probably doing 3 other things as well just to be there.
I ultimately packed up my bags and came on home, and I started working at LA Fitness. I wanted to get a better understanding of the layout of fitness. I felt like an outsider in Detroit. I hated being back, I missed New York, all of my friends were there. I’m from Detroit but had no friends here, I was living at home with my mother, it was terrible! Like what am I doing here, what is this life? So I was doing more yoga, I was biking a ton because it made me feel better. I was doing that, and I got hit by a car and that just kind of slowed everything down. I spent the next 2.5 years in and out of surgery but I was still starting my business. I was like, ‘okay, I’ve got this time.’
Downtown Detroit told me they wanted SoulCycle, that I couldn’t do this [open there]. They were like, ‘SoulCycle’s coming!’ but Soul Cycle is never going to come. But they used that, they were like, ‘Yes they are coming, they’re going to go right here.’ I was like, you guys, I’ve lived in New York, I’ve run stores, that doesn’t make sense for them. And if that’s what you guys want, then fine. But they strung me along, Midtown Inc. strung me along because they had some properties. I looked at over 92 properties. I had people tell me different things. There was a space I wanted, that landlord told me I needed to pay $38,000 which was the rent for the whole year if I wanted that place. So it was obstacles.
I won Hatch in 2015 and I thought ‘Oh my god, now I’ll find a place, it’ll be so easy’. No, it wasn’t easy. It still had its challenges. I had more support, but didn’t make it easy. In 2016 I won Motor City Match. This was nothing, this being Live Cycle Delight, there was just not even a window here. We added a stairwell, they dug into the ground. I was like, ‘This is it!’. They were like ‘It’s dirt, what do you mean this is it’. I was like, ‘This is the space!!” And we opened in 2017.
The neighborhood is perfect. I did not want to be in West Village, I wanted to be in downtown Detroit, and I am so thankful that I ended up being here. It’s the best place. There’s parking, there’s people, there’s food and it’s in the middle of a neighborhood that’s changing, so it’s a good place to be. There’s many lessons in being patient and waiting for things to happen and staying humble and working and being resilient. And being open for places that you didn’t anticipate you were going to be.
So in the year between Hatch and Motor City Match and getting this space, were you still doing something on the side?
Yes, so I was working and I was also recovering. I had 2 surgeries. The accident was in 2013, and I was in a cast. I had a surgery in 2014 and in 2015 and I still need a surgery, but I just don’t really have the time for that. I was working as a personal assistant for Dream Hampton. She’s a native Detroiter but she’s based out of New York, Detroit, and LA. It was another great learning experience, working for women who run their own businesses.
Before this, were you ever a personal trainer?
So I have certifications and I’ve gotten certifications between surgeries. I have a personal training certification from SCW Fitness, I also have Group Strength training with them. I got that in 2015. I have a Real Ryder certification, Schwinn cycle certification, Stages Cycle certification. I have my 200 yoga hours from Kripalu which I did in 2016. I have my TRX Group training, my TRX Rip Training Certification and I think that’s all for my certifications for now. We’re hosting a STC in July so that’s a suspension training course, which is just a basic course. I’ve also done 2 TRX summits, so you earn a lot of points towards your education in those summits because you do so much TRX and you have workshops.
Okay so now that you’re doing this, it’s amazing! Is there something that’s part of your job that you weren’t expecting?
Because I managed people before, in retail stores, I’d say my retail stores background is the most helpful for people. I also had a learning curve because I managed people in my 20s so the majority of the people I managed were older than me. So you have to learn how to manage different people and also understand how you are perceived and recognize that in your management style or in your approach of how you need to connect with people.
I would say, you make every decision. I don’t have a partner, so every decision, sometimes it’s just like, oh I have to make EVERY decision? And I’m still growing so I can’t necessarily afford the team that I’d like. We don’t make enough to support so many roles on staff, but I look forward to that. In a perfect world I’d be able to teach a lot less than I teach and have more time to create and manage. But because Detroit just doesn’t have a ton of talent, I can’t rely on that because people won’t come to those classes. If you have a specific personality on the bike who brings it and people really resonate with that instructor, they show up. And right now, I’m that person so until I can find some more people…
I’m looking! I’m always looking to diversify my staff, I’m always looking for other ethnicities with certifications who can connect to people. People want to see themselves. And some people don’t want to see me, so also I’m cognizant of that. I’m on-boarding new people so I can have a buffer between myself and customers, and a buffer between myself and my team. I would say the challenging part is that I need more people so I can delegate tasks, but to delegate tasks I need to know they’ll do it right. And unfortunately you have to prioritize. Like, what emails pay the bills. And then the ones that don’t...also, I did a lot of free stuff on my way to get to this place. And now everybody still wants me to do free stuff. They throw the word ‘community’ around like ‘oh it’s for the community’.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
If I was not here, I’d probably be in LA. A lot of New Yorkers have found tremendous success in LA. And all the brands are there, all the partnerships are there. I would’ve been in the fitness and wellness arena. But here, I want to grow into a digital capacity. I still want more women of color to have access to fitness. So we have some mobile fitness ideas for college students. I want to do a black college tour, I went to a HBCU, at homecoming it’s a really fun time and you know, if we can roll out some fitness content that would be the goal. And then long term, long term, create a studio bike, an in-house studio bike that’s more affordable than Peleton so you can reach a different demographic. Fitness is a billion dollar industry, there’s a lot of opportunity to make it more accessible.
And one of the other reasons you asked why I came home - diabetes is a cause of death. Heart disease is a cause of death. Diet and exercise are ways to prevent diabetes and heart disease, hypertension, and in my community, those diseases run rampant, and typically just because of choices. Most of the time we don’t have people who are like ‘you can be healthy by just exercising’.
Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you're explaining to your ten-year-old self.
Thanks so much, Amina! You run an incredible studio here in Detroit, and we loved hearing more about your journey. Readers, after signing up for the nearest spin class or just taking a walk outside, come back next week for another learning lesson from the one and only Amina Daniels. (Photos provided by Amina and Live Cycle Delight)