Bami Kuteyi, Bam Bam Boogie to her legion of fitness fans, is a force of nature. A ball of energy warmer than the sun, radiating positivity and life from the instant you find yourself in her presence.
Bami is founder of fitness brand Bam Bam Boogie, a breath of fresh air bringing much-needed inclusivity in the fitness industry via its innovative classes - Twerk after Work and Twerking Heels.
Bami’s vibrance isn’t just in the warmth she exudes; her explanation of how she came to launch her brand is captivating in its simple response to a problem she faced at the time - anxiety. The search for a way to manage her anxiety, something she struggled with while working for one of the world’s biggest brands, and her journey of resilience to pivot into the self-made role she is in today, is a remarkable example of turning a challenge into a shiny new opportunity.
Welcome to the Black and Good “Stories” series. Our first conversation kicks off with the inimitable Bami telling us about the conception and birth of Twerk after Work:
Bami: “Can you imagine landing your dream role fresh from graduating from uni? I mean, being hired as a Digital Marketing Specialist at Google, in a totally different city to the one I was living in at the time was just wild! I was living in Toronto at the time and the role was in Dublin. I had so much to learn and got stuck in right away in my new role”, Bami excitedly explains.
Having left her family and friends thousands of miles away, the demands of the new role were understandably more keenly felt without her regular support network. This led to bouts of anxiety and feelings of imposter syndrome and to combat this, Bami joined a gym to reinvigorate her signature vibrant energy.
Before moving to Toronto, Bami grew up in North London and went to school in Hertfordshire where the population was predominantly white. It wasn’t until she moved to Canada that she discovered (reggae) dancehall music and the vibrancy the dances to the music generated. The Caribbean community, along with a breadth of other nationalities where she lived, had a big influence on the conception of Twerk after Work.
Bami: “Once I joined the gym, I sought the help of a personal trainer to put me through my paces. I gradually started to feel more like myself again and felt revived but also found it financially unsustainable. It also struck me that gyms and fitness classes, in general, could feel so un-inclusive. Everyone seemed so slim, able and samey. I couldn’t help feeling that it would be good to be in a fitness space where I felt like I truly belonged. It got me thinking about what such a fitness class could look like. I decided to create a fitness class that was different from anything in the gyms in Dublin, or anywhere else as far as I knew, which I then delivered to my colleagues during lunchtimes. I wanted a class that was very inclusive and one that pushed people’s fitness levels while having fun. The underlying ethos was that it didn’t matter how big or skinny you were, what music you were into or how physically fit you were. This was a class that ANYONE could do and guaranteed a good time while burning some serious calories.”
The classes were a hit with her colleagues at Google and before long, Bami found herself taking the very bold step of leaving her dream role behind to forge her own path with her new fitness brand.
Kicking down doors of objections
While the Caribbean-flavoured workout classes were a hit with colleagues who had experienced for themselves first-hand its awesome power to energise, connect people and revitalise their bodies, Bami found herself having doors slammed in her face, so to speak, when she tried to introduce it in bigger fitness spaces. But knowing from experience the power of exercise and some of the barriers to accessing exercise being cost and inclusivity, Bami wasn’t deterred. The feedback from students so far had been extremely positive and highlighted the need for something like Twerk after Work.
“I’m glad I didn’t let the no’s dissuade me”
Bami: “My mental health struggles were significantly reduced as a direct result from working with a personal trainer and generally being more active. But I had to stop due to the cost - and I made a good living in marketing! So imagine other women with vulnerabilities who actually NEEDED the power of exercise to help them feel better not being able to access it. My mission was bigger than me and too important to give up on. I understood that gym owners and managers couldn’t visualise the effectiveness of my brand of fitness. I get that twerking doesn’t have the best image either so after a while I simply showed up and asked if I could demonstrate my product. And I’m glad I didn’t let the no’s dissuade me because today Twerk after Work has 15 instructors across 4 countries and the intention is to grow it significantly within the next five years.”
Bami credits her remarkable fortitude to seeing her parents’ work ethic, specifically her grandmother: “I mean if my grandmother can trek the hot, dusty, busy streets of Lagos in the searing heat to sell her wares, and her ancestors before her, what’s my excuse? Our ancestors had to strive so much harder to survive. They are my biggest inspiration and motivate me to never give up.”
The following is a list of quick-fire questions on how to resiliently thrive and here are Bami’s responses:
Jumping in the deep end first, how much of your personality is a defence mechanism?
“None of it. I once heard that 75% of your positivity is genetic. My dad and I are very alike. We are both super cheery, no matter what other people say or what mood they are in.”
What is your spiritual practice?
“Like most Africans, I was raised a Christian and still keep my faith. Additionally, I meditate daily. It helps me a lot and keeps me grounded and centred. If I didn’t meditate, I would feel too scattered.”
What’s your superpower?
“I love the fact that I can make anyone realise that they have a superpower too.”
What do you think is your greatest strength?
“I am great with words. I have a way of winning people over and this is probably because I try to just be me. No sales pitch, just the real me. I’m lucky that people warm to what I have to say and connect with me quite easily.”
What’s the best thing about what you do?
“Seeing the change in women’s lives as a result of attending our classes. Whether it’s more confidence or a new sense of self-belief. I have seen clients conceive after previously struggling, one or two clients who have found the courage to leave abusive relationships and others who have changed careers as a result of being part of the most awesome fitness community in the world.”
What’s the thing you hear most about the work you do?
"People often say they saw videos or information about Twerk after Work and that it seems exciting, so they want to try it too. On the flip side, we sometimes get trolls leaving negative comments about twerking being ratchet but I don’t let those types of comment rent any space in my head. The overall response has been great and life-changing for some women. Those kinds of feedback spur us on to keep doing what we do.”
If you could go back in time what would you change?
“I wouldn't change anything! I believe everything happens for a reason, and knowing what I know now, I would tell the young me to stay strong, don’t let anything get you down because you truly have something special to give the world.”
What’s your favourite quote?
“My own saying! Which is that “home is wherever you want to make it, it doesn’t need to be a physical place.” I feel comfortable at Bam Bam Boogie and I take that amazing sense of security and joy deep inside me wherever I go.”
How would your friends describe you?
“Wild, crazy, fun, and for my serious side, very inspirational, driven and hard-working.”
In the two years since launching Bam Bam Boogie, Bami has worked with brands like Facebook, Shopify, eBay, Nike, JD & Gymbox. The young entrepreneur plans to scale her business and establish Twerk after Work as the popular alternative that classes like Zumba have become in recent years. Bami tells us: “The aim is to evolve our philosophy of self-love, support, collaboration over competition, female empowerment and community into a social enterprise once we have established Twerk after Work as a truly viable entity on its own. I want to create a reliable safe space for young girls from low-income families to come along and make of themselves as they choose. Whether they want to pursue a life in science, technology, the arts or sports, I want to give them the tools and support to make that happen.”
This wild, crazy, fun recipient of the Precious Lifestyle award for ‘Fitness Queen of the Year’ (2019) has inspired a new generation of fearless females founders, creatives of colour and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Between her relentless advocacy for self-love, positive affirmations and physical fitness, Bami has become a role model to many and we are excited to follow her journey in the coming years.
* Bam Bam Boogie is looking for more instructors. Anyone interested in joining her tribe of awesome women inspiring other women to thrive can find out more here: https://www.bambamboogie.com
There are not enough positive stories of black business owners out there, so we are doing all we can to find and highlight those stories.