For the second article in our “In Her Heels” Series on enterprising women, I’m chatting with Rebekka Sharpe from AerialFit Studio, a light filled haven where the more coordinated amongst us swing from the ceiling in programs such as Silks, Hammock, Lyra (Hoop), Trapeze and Corde Lisse (Rope) which Rebekka promises will keep us all “motivated and moving”. Bring It On.
Aerial classes really started gaining traction (see what I did there?!) some years back and even though I initially thought it was something only yogi types from NYC or Byron would do, these days, it’s now become quite popular. In this day and age we are all becoming more aware of how important it is to have a a holistic view of health. There’s lots of research out there showing how mind/body activities can reduce stress as well as improve your fitness, and the aerial arts are just one of them. I mean really, who wants to push weights when you can flip upside down and play acrobat for an hour?!
Bek obviously agrees with me here, as she tells us how she got into the Aerial movement in the first place. ” I had worked through some post natal issues after my first child was born and found a love of aerial yoga. It was having that one hour to be really mindful that got me through that really hard time”.
After Rebekka left school, she studied fashion. Working for a few fashion houses in Sydney for a while, she then decided to get out of the rag trade and try her hand at Administration and Office Work. Bek continues “I quickly worked my way up to be an executive assistant and learnt direct from some amazing GM’s on all aspects of business. From here I moved to Mudgee where I opened up my own Bridal Boutique. This was my first business and a great opportunity to make a million mistakes!. I tried merging my skills of fashion and business into one but it was hard and although it gave me an income to live off, it wasn’t making me happy. I moved back to Sydney and worked in finance, started a family and after my second child was born decided I wanted more and it was time for another business, so that’s how AerialFit was born”.
So how did she go from being in a class to owning a studio and running a class? “I loved doing aerial yoga classes and the mindful moments that it gave me but didn’t love the environment in which it was set. I also loved going to barre classes close to where I was working at the time so one day just decided an aerial yoga and barre studio would be a good idea! I also always wanted to try Aerial Silks, so thought why not, let’s just put all the things I love into one place, create an amazing vibe and set of values and see where that goes”.
So what exactly does AerialFit do, and what role does Bek have? “We provide a safe haven for our local community, a place that is often referred to as their happy place. Whether it be focusing on connecting their body and mind through yoga or hanging upside down and swinging from a 7mtr Silk. It’s enjoying movement and all that entails. My role is the Studio Director and my business partner Rebecca Chensee manages the day to day running of the studio. It’s my job to make sure that all the high level things are done to ensure that the business run smoothly. We’ve spent over 5 years building a business that can now run perfectly well without either of us if needed”.
Starting a business can be a bit overwhelming, even for someone who’s done it before. Did you know exactly what you wanted to do with AerialFit when you started?. ” I had a basic outline of what I wanted, so I developed a business model based on all the best aspects of the businesses I had worked for or experienced”.
What about changes and pivots? Did you stay on course with your business model or have you had to change direction as you went along? ” We have definitely had to pivot and change direction as we’ve grown and new challenges arose. Especially with the recent Sydney lockdowns, we had to take everything online and change our direction completely. We are really lucky that we have such a supportive community. I believe that in small business you always have to be adapting and changing to meet the needs of the clients and that may look very different as a business grows”.
Those who read this blog often will know my own personal motto “Just Be You, Everyday”. This is my own value promise to myself, that I will never try and be someone I’m not. I will not pretend, I will not be fake, I will not do or say anything I don’t truly believe in that will make others think differently of me. I asked Bek what she thought was the most important things that have helped her stay on track over the years of running her business, and I was really impressed she had a similar answer. “The most important thing we ever did was develop a strong set of company values. Every decision we make are with these values in mind and every action can be tied back to one of them. It’s really hard to stay on track with so many changes or challenges popping up on a daily basis, we grew really quickly and a lot of the time just did what was needed to get us though. The one thing we could rely on and keep coming back to was our set of values”.
So – what’s a typical day like in Bek’s heels? “I’m bare feet all way! I walk in after dropping the kids off at school and immediately take off my shoes. A typical day for me is teaching a BarreFit or Pilates class in the morning, answering some emails, check on anything studio related that requires my attention either from staff or clients. I make notes on what I need done by my team for the day then get on with my own tasks. This could be anything from reconciling accounts, generating reports, meeting with the leadership team or basically anything relating to us completing our strategic plans. I’m really grateful the business has given me the opportunity to almost always pick and choose what I do for the day. If I feel like a day of spreadsheets or I’m in the mood to develop some new Barre tracks then I can just do that”.
I’m sure all of you will agree that so many women find it harder to keep ourselves fit and healthy as we get older. I asked Bek what advice she had for those of us feeling this way. “I feel so passionate about this, it’s why I started AerialFit. I think women, and men for that fact, are too hard on themselves. Why do we feel like we’re not achieving this, are our expectations too high? Sometimes I feel like just having clean hair that’s brushed is kicking massive goals for the day. My advice would be that you can do whatever you want, it’s what you prioritise and see value in. However, also be realistic with the time you have. Making massive changes to health and fitness takes time. Small consistent steps is the key and be kind to yourself!”.
Talking of high expectations and feeling a lack of achievement, what are Bek’s thoughts on having a coach or mentor to guide us through these points of our lives? “We’ve had a lot of different help over the years, from industry experts to professional business coaches and mentors. I think its great to get help in areas you aren’t an expert in. Take as much advice as you can but then do what’s right for you, not every bit of advice is right for everyone. Just take the small amounts of gold and make it work for you. My advice for those who are on the fence about career or life is to just give it a go, weigh up the risk and as long as you’re not committing to your life savings to it just do it”.
Any last pearls of wisdom for women who want to do or be more? “My hope for everyone is that they feel comfortable and confident in themselves no matter what life looks like for them. Once you have this then if you feel you want more, you can just do it. Not everything will always work, I find I’ve grown and learnt most from my failures rather than my successes. Don’t let anything get in your way!”.
The biggest thing that struck me talking to Bek was the amount of self belief she has. Deciding to create a business just from things she loved doing is one thing, but making it actually happen is another. It isn’t exactly easy, and the confidence she has in herself, the passion she shows and the values she holds herself too is something we can all aspire to.
With a passion for rewriting how women see themselves, especially in the health and fitness sector, Bek is leading the way with her unique brand of fitness studios. Founder of AerialFit and Director of Body Barre Air Pty Ltd Bek has created an space where health and fitness can be someone’s “happy place”, a sanctuary to be who you are and enjoy movement in whatever form it takes. With over 20 years experience in business over multiple industries Bek has gained a rare insight into the world of small to medium business. Her own personal health struggles have made her stronger and even more determined to help create a movement where the emphasis is on how you feel rather than how you look.
Just Be You, Everyday