From Fashion Seller To Fitness Boss: Jasmine Graham Brings The Burn To W Hotel’s First Fit Fest

Life is full of surprises. Sometimes they’re compact and light. Sometimes they have the ability to plant a warm fuzzy feeling deep within anyone’s chest. Other times, they come in unbearable and heavy sizes that even a superhero would have a hard time bearing. At the root of it all, the element of surprise is capable of bringing out the unthinkable within anyone.

Imagine it’s the Spring of 2008 and you’re sitting at your desk in an amazing office, taking on your daily responsibilities as the Vice President of Sales at a reputable fashion company. Everything is business as usual until you’re told the dreadful phrase, “Today is your last day.” You’re now forced to find a way to survive after working for 15 years in a fast-paced industry. But more than anything, you’re given an opportunity to de-stress and really think about the direction in which you’d like to take your life. You decide to continue taking part in a weekly run club meet up because it always gifts you with that feeling of accomplishment you once knew after nailing ballet routine or sticking a gymnastics landing as a kid. In fact, you realize your deep enjoyment for being active and decide to take on the life mission you’ve always wanted – to help people.

“My goal is to UNLEASH your inner athlete.”

W-Fit-Fest-Bootcamp-2016
CREDIT: Chris Findley

This was a life chapter of personal trainer and endurance athlete Jasmine Graham. Shortly after her ultimately layoff, the fashion sales veteran started her own runner’s training camp, Pace For Success, and focused on strengthening and preparing fitness enthusiasts for marathons. But as the season changed and months grew colder, Jasmine soon realized her need for an indoor facility. After finding and utilizing a fellow trainer’s space, Graham decided to open a facility of her own, Fit Factory NYC, in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. There, the fitness entrepreneur has been catering to clients, leading various classes and workshops, all while allowing fellow trainers to utilize the space with clients of their own.

Today, less than a decade later, “Coach Jaz” has served as a contributing coach for the New York Times “Run Well” program and recently partnered with the luxury hotel brand, W Hotel for its first annual 2-day W Fit Fest. Held at the W New York – Downtown on Friday and Saturday (June 3rd and 4th) Graham, with the help of fellow trainers Corey and Thomas (pictured above), kicked off the weekend with a Friday night “Beauty and the Beasts” Bootcamp, followed by a Saturday morning Agility Run, Tabata Core class and more, giving participants a weekend workout to remember.

VIBE had the opportunity to attend Jasmine’s Friday bootcamp at W Fit Fest in New York’s Financial District. After catching our breath from what felt like the most challenging “whooping” we every received, we sat down with the energetic athlete to talk about her fitness bug, the undeniable obstacles she faces as a woman in a male dominated industry and more.

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VIBE: When did you get the fitness bug?

Jasmine: You know what? I’ve always had it. I have always been active.  I danced ballet for 15 years. I did gymnastics in high school and was a cheerleader in college.  I also worked in fashion for 15 years. I worked at Rocawear as VP of Sales in various divisions including their ‘Big and Tall,’ ‘Team Roc’ and ‘Loungewear.’  I also spearheaded the launch of the successful Rocawear Kids Division. I then went on to work on Marc Ecko’s Kids Collection as their VP of Sales as well.

When I got laid off in 2008, I had already gotten into running. I was working with an organization called Team in Training. [Basically] you go in, they train you and you meet twice a week. With Team in Training, you run marathons, half-marathons, century rides, and you raise money for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. It was great for me to be a part of an organization where you do great things as well as raise money for a great cause. 

Being a part of that grounded me in a very crazy fashion world that I was in at the time. I was able to set goals and I had discipline. So when I got laid off in May of 2008, I needed time to—I called it – detox from a toxic environment, you know? My grandmother told me to write down all the things I’m passionate about and my number one was helping people, running and fitness. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, because I knew I wouldn’t be in fashion forever, I just didn’t know what else I would do, you know what I’m saying? It’s like “Well, what else do I do?” I was lucky to have four months severance during the time when the economy tanked.  I sat home and created the Pace for Success concept.

So six months after you came to this realization, you kicked off the Pace For Success bootcamp for runners and eventually opened your own facility. Tell us more about Fit Factory NYC. 

In September 2012, I opened the Pace For Success studio. In October 2013, I put the Fit Factory NYC model into play. I’ve got two studios in Chelsea. I give trainers a location to build their business through personal training, one-on-one training, small group and group fitness classes, which was the biggest thing for me. When I was outdoors, I couldn’t find a space to do classes. I would have to do a rehearsal space or dance studio. The thing about Fit Factory NYC is that I give trainers a space to grow their business. ‘You know what? If you’re on the West Side Highway or you’re out in the park and it’s going to get cold and you really want to start growing your business, come to Fit Factory NYC. I’ve got all the equipment here, all you have to do is come in’ — Which is huge! You [the trainer] can build your business at Fit Factory NYC.”

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CREDIT: Chris Findley (Pictured: Natasha Ross)

How did your partnership with W Hotels come about and how was it working with them?

I found out  that the W Hotel developed a fitness initiative. One of my clients works for the W [Hotel] Downtown. At my Christmas party, she told me, ‘Jaz, I want you to be a part [of a project] —we’re trying to put something together and I’m going to have you talk to my marketing person.’ I was like ,’Sure! Count me in.’ I had no idea what it was going to be about.

In January, I went down to their location. I had lunch with them, they showed me where they would want to have the event and we started talking about the W Fit Fest. From there, I teamed up with their Marketing Manger, Leslie Peebles, who’s really into fitness. She’s like a fitness connoisseur and this was her brainchild brought to life. She’d come to the studio or I’d come to the hotel and we would collaborate on the details of the event. We planned out how the classes would go, who would teach and we started doing this from January to have this in June.

Working with the W was amazing for me, because I think Pace is just—we’re this boutique; small studio. They could have picked any of these larger studios, so I appreciated the opportunity to work with her. It’s been a labor of love, for sure. For Leslie, it’s like she’s seeing her dream come true and for us, it was amazing to collaborate with such a major organization and then also have the Fit Fest be such a success.

W HOTEL TABATA JAZ 8
CREDIT: Chris Findley (Pictured: Jasmine "Coach Jaz" Graham)

What would you say are some of the obstacles that you faced personally in your career as a trainer, and how do you plan on overcoming them?

I think one of the biggest things is being a woman in a business that is still highly male dominated. Some of those obstacles is definitely coming across as strong enough, in control while not being a bitch. I come from a fashion environment—a place where it’s ‘Say it like you mean it’ and ‘This is business’ and ‘That’s how it is.’

What I’ve had to learn in this business is that a lot of these guys [trainers] have never been in the corporate world, so my task is to teach them how to incorporate policies, procedures and structure to their everyday work ethic. It’s also been important for me to properly communicate to my team. How do you get the best out of your team, especially when people make mistakes and errors? It’s that kind of thing. It’s being able to communicate that properly in a way that is always empowering and not demeaning. Which is really important because when you have good people, you want to keep them. At the same time, I never want to come across as rude or like an asshole, where you have to say, ‘You didn’t have to say it to me like that, Jas.’

But I come from a world where you would! People would say exactly what the hell they mean and you’re having coffee five minutes later. This is a completely different world. A lot of these guys don’t have experience in that kind of environment. It’s been a learning curve for me. One of the things that I’ve done is hire a studio manager, Antonio Myrie, to help me manage my trainers. Which is great, and he’s a man. It totally works for us, because it’s good cop/bad cop. Plus that’s one way of helping me get through some of my day-to-day. There’s a lot of testosterone daily.

What’s next for Pace For Success and Fit Factory NYC?

[At the beginning of] this year, my goal was to really take the brand to the top. I’m a woman of color in Chelsea with these amazing trainers. We care about our clients. Yes, participants come into the studio and want to compare the amenities to major fitness studios, but it’s unfair. We do an awesome job at what we do. You don’t know everything about us yet, but you will. And with [the help of] social media, which is a huge part, we’re definitely on our way there.

For more information about private training, classes or to look for Fit Fest dates in Fall 2016, visit Pace For SuccessFit Factory NYC, and W New York – Downtown.