Jasmine Chong of Yoga Lab and Barre Lab on owning a successful fitness brand, vulnerability, and attending classes of other studios
Raising a community
You might think an entrepreneur who owns the slew of Yoga Lab and Barre Lab studios on our shores (and has only just hit the big 30) would be waxing lyrical on business acumen and spending every moment of our chat convincing us why her sizable empire is the best in the business, but no. In fact, Jasmine Chong is very much fazed by her success, while acknowledging there's still a learning curve to abide by no matter how many outlets you actually own under your belt.
Her career path started out in a bank, but then she decided after two years, her weekend job as a yoga teacher was the only thing that was keeping her sane. Fast forward another two years, and she opened her own, Yoga Lab. Four outlets in, and her infatuation with barre led her to embark on another teacher's training in the field — eventually leading to the birth of Barre Lab.
So what's your secret to owning a successful brand?
I don't even think it's successful! But it's always having a reason to go on, remembering the reason you started, because there will be ten thousand reasons to stop. Whether it be people or even yourself, feeling that you're not doing a good job. Keep moving and evolving, no matter what. A leader of the business should be certain that deep down, you're doing something good. If it's about money or material reasons, give up.
The market of fitness is so saturated now. It has changed a lot since the very first Yoga Lab opened — how does your brand keep up with that?
I think it ties back to authenticity and real people. We are seven outlets in and we have never operated like a corporation. While we have middle management and an organization chart, when it comes to down to the connection between us and our students, we are just one phone call away. I tell my team that you might be able to teach the best lessons, but if you're not the best person to your students, it's not going to work.
What would you say are your most notable achievements?
I actually think quitting my job was my biggest achievement. It's counterintuitive, but I think it took more strength, faith, and courage than to stay in it.
What is something that people don't know about you?
People see the leader and a strong front on the outside, but I am a vulnerable person too. I think having that side makes me human and a better person to connect with whoever I cross paths with.
How has yoga changed the person that you are?
By putting myself in uncomfortable situations, and seeing how I react to it. Within two minutes in a pose, I can decide what mental state I'm in. Some days I can stay in there forever, or on a bad day, I'm crying and feeling frustrated. It's amazing how exposing the practice is. Constantly putting myself on a mat in those various poses gives me insight on how I am doing mentally and physically.
You're fairly new to barre, as compared to yoga. What has barre taught you?
I think it has taught me humility. When I first got into barre, it was a real killer and I couldn't even walk down the steps after my first class. I realised that I can't get everything on the first try and I should always keep an open mind and heart to new things. I ended up going back to barre because I was competitive. But after three or four classes, I fell in love with it. It changed my body and made me strong in areas that yoga didn't.
What can someone expect from a class with you?
I recently did a training retreat with Barre Body and that transformed me as a teacher. Not just how I teach barre but yoga as well. When I first started teaching, I was very quick to correct people's alignment. Students like to know what to do and what they were doing wrong so they came back and I became a bit obsessed over this stringent way of teaching. But at Barre Body, they kept saying to do what feels good in your body. That challenged the way I teach, I realised if something feels good in someone's body and it's not the perfect alignment, as long as they are safe and it's good for their mind, body, and soul, I should just let it go. Now as I mature as a teacher, I want to hold the space for the student, not for myself. I'm just going to watch over your movements but I'm not going to be controlling your practice.
As the founder of Yoga Lab and Barre Lab, have you attended classes of other studios?
Yes I do [laughs]. I hate that people recognize me when I walk into another studio. Yoga is just yoga and barre is barre — I've never seen it as a competition. I believe there is enough out there for everyone. We all teach differently and the students have the right to pick and choose. When I attend another teacher's class, I just want to be a student again. I want to not worry about the lights or if there's hair on the ground. I don't want to think, I just want to move my body. If it's a great class, I'd tell the teacher, but I won't ask them to come to work for me. I respect that they have found a place they want to work in.
Who's the person that really inspired you throughout your journey?
My dad inspired me a lot because he's the most hardworking person I know, and also really smart. He made all his money himself. Even when things seemed impossible, he just never gave up and always believed.
Betty, my business partner, is the other person. She was my first ever yoga boss, when I first came out from the bank and had no experience, she was the one that came out and told me to just teach. I would ask her like ten thousand questions everyday and she would still be really patient. When I wanted to open my own brand, she was the only yoga studio owner that didn't drop me. She supported me and gave me contacts, tips on what to look out for, how to set up a studio etc. I just thought that was who I wanted to become — that woman who's so empowered that they eventually empower someone else to achieve what they want to do.
Now it's the same in our community, we just tell teachers that it's okay if they want to leave. If you feel the platform has served you and you want to move on, that's good. It means that we have given you an empowering platform to step up, and if you want to open your own studio — go for it.