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When a photographer for Ife Obi’s fitness marketing side hustle said she had never seen a Black woman do Pilates, Obi was shocked — and inspired to do something about it. As a part-time Pilates instructor with a brilliant blue mohawk, Obi regularly taught courses that lacked diversity. She hadn’t realized, however, how little exposure her own community had to boutique fitness.
That very same week, she took action. She began scouting out locations for a pop-up studio in her native home of Brooklyn, in the hopes of bringing Pilates to the Bed-Stuy community. And within a few days, she found one — just two blocks from her apartment. It was a light-filled, “glowing” room, with butterfly windows that opened out onto Marcus Garvey Boulevard, and just weeks later, Obi signed the lease for what would become The Fit In.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” she says. “When you open a place — especially when there’s no historical data on how it will do in the neighborhood — you don’t know if people will even come or not. But my goal was to make it this very supportive place, that’s Black women centered. And I can’t count how many thank yous I’ve gotten just for being there and opening the studio.”
From day one, Obi felt the very real pressure that comes with opening a business sans plan. But the certainty that she had about her overarching vision propelled her forward.
“Immediately when I signed the lease, I was like, What am I doing?!” says Obi. “I went in with no plan, just a passion to bring wellness to the community in a way that’s comfortable and exciting. So you know, I signed the lease, went into a complete panic, and was like, We’ll see what happens.”
At the time, she was working as a marketing strategy director in Manhattan, having worked at the same company for more than 10 years. Initially, she planned on holding onto that job — for her, it represented personal and financial stability — but when classes started filling up and the demand continued to grow, she decided to take the next leap and abandon her day job. And fortunately, she wasn’t alone. By her side was a team of instructors (in her own words, “a sisterhood”), led by Kali Blocker, who had stood by her since day one of the venture. Developing a partnership that spilled over into almost every aspect of the studio, the pair created an environment wholly inclusive and unique.
“I’ve been in fitness for well over 12 years, and this is the first time I’ve been in something that resonates with me culturally, something where people just feel at home,” Blocker says. “People want more than just the class — they want the community outside the class. It’s a big thing. It’s beautiful.”
Looking back, it isn’t hard to see why people wanted more. For all the ways Bed-Stuy remains a community rich in culture — rife with restaurants, churches, and unofficial neighborhood gatherings — it still typically lacks fitness options beyond your standard yoga studio. Obi brought a completely new recipe for wellness to the table, and, subsequently, that required athletic clothing she could really move in, whether she was running operations or teaching an afternoon Pilates class. A combination of comfort and style were key: “When I look the part, I feel like a boss, and it shows in my workout.”
Often, the women walking into her classes had never taken a Pilates or strength class before, and in her studio, they didn’t feel intimidated or unwelcome as newcomers. In fact, just the opposite was true.“I knew there had to be more women like me, who wanted something other than yoga, who wanted access to fitness close to home,” Obi says. “It took off. And people were able to see other people who looked like them, right in their neighborhood, not just working out but actually teaching the classes, too. So they could feel as though the people teaching actually understand what they’re going through, because they’ve been through it. It’s just a feeling; it’s like, She gets me, and so I’m comfortable in this space.”
Obi’s hunch was correct: There were plenty of women craving a new kind of fitness community — one that prioritized individual growth and community-building over anonymous transactions and calorie burning. Classes continued to fill up and waitlists got longer. Seven or so months after opening the first location, Obi opened another to meet the demand: a smaller Bed-Stuy studio that quickly became equally as popular.
“It’s something I’m still in awe about. I just want to do more, reach more people, even outside of Bed-Stuy — I’m trying to help as many people as I possibly can,” Obi says.
Obi and Blocker’s dynamic is one that embodies the spirit of partnership and support that’s present in every aspect of The Fit In. As women who have established a space for other women to challenge themselves, improve, and grow, they happily do the same for one another.
“The studios and the vibe that is created really come from the instructors,” Obi explains. “There’s no front desk or anything like that. And I would say that Kali leads that community effort in being that supportive person. When people walk in and see Kali, they know she genuinely cares. They love her energy. You can’t ever get into a Kali class! That’s where that tribal, supportive sisterhood element really comes from in the studio, and Kali leads that, 100%.”
The Fit In’s only problem is a good one: too many people, not enough mats. They’re working on expanding again, this time likely outside of Bed-Stuy, to continue democratizing wellness in a way that’s authentic and refreshing.
“We all have awesome ideas, but [Obi] has that action behind it,” Blocker says. “I’ve learned that in order to really thrive, you need to give your baby a chance to grow. You can’t do that if you’re spreading yourself too thin. You need each other to get there.”
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