Akinah Rahmaan, Founder Of Banana Skirt On: Using Transferable Skills To Penetrate The Fitness Industry

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Popular NYC dance company Banana Skirt Productions, channels music video dance moves to sculpt the body and allow for fitness freedom that’s high-calorie burning and expressive.

Launched four years ago by former Music Industry Executive Akinah Rahmaan, the brand’s unique concept is shaking up the dance-based fitness category by providing consumers with a style of fitness that’s both mentally and physically rewarding, as well as fun.

What started life as a humble class in a tiny rented room in New Jersey, has grown into a 20 class per week operation, with a flagship studio due to open in New York this Autumn.

Through offering a range of different style dance classes, inspired by Ciara, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Drake, and more, Banana Skirt aims to bring together people from all walks of life to inspire interactive, endorphin boosting workouts.

On a business level, however, Rahmaan envisioned creating a fitness experience where she could employ all of the expertise she had gained throughout her working life. From her time spent as a Marketing Executive, Music Supervisor, Advertising Executive, Artist Manager and more, Rahmaan knew she had the transferable skills needed to launch and grow Banana Skirt.

So, she created playlists and curated a monthly class calendar by utilising her music industry skills, she relied on the “story telling” instincts she’d obtained from her advertising role to promote Banana Skit’s offerings, and most importantly, she created an unforgettable fitness experience by trusting her marketing knowledge.

Starting out in a new field wasn’t easy, but here Rahmann explains how she used her transferable skills to successfully pivot from an established career in the music industry to build a new career in fitness……

My music industry career began in 2000 as a Manager at the premier hip-hop management company, Violator Management. I later worked with Translation Marketing on a few films as Music Supervisor and ultimately I progressed to VP of Marketing at Island/Def Jam.

During my tenure, I toured the world with artists, attended dozens of concerts, and was on countless music video shoots. By observing the work of the choreographer, dancers and artists I quickly learned that the time dancers put into rehearsing for a concert or music video is unmatched, with their eventual performance a great culmination that leaves everyone on a high.

It made for a great physical, mental and even spiritual transformation, which is what I found so special.

Fast forward to October 2013 when I had my son, Jase, and took my three months maternity leave. I returned in January just after the holidays and was soon laid off from my position.

I have always done an excellent pivot, which is why two months later I launched Banana Skirt Productions (inspired by Josephine Baker).

I wanted to create something that was feel-good, had an element of joy, and most importantly, where I could spend as much time as possible with my son. From there, the idea hit me and I set out to create Banana Skirt  –– a lifestyle fitness brand that leveraged music and concert choreography as a fun way for mothers to get back in shape after having a baby.

I began with classes featuring Beyonce music video choreography. I had no idea the word of mouth would snowball the way it did, but a number of influencers began frequenting the classes and things went from there.

It evolved pretty quickly, and I began to offer a large variety of classes – from Britney Spears to N’Sync to Fetty Wap to Drake and everything in between. Soon our clients included Mashable, Spotify, Teen Vogue, In Style and BuzzFeed.

Akinah Rahmaan, Founder Of Banana Skirt On: Using Transferable Skills To Penetrate The Fitness Industry

Image: Banana Skirt Productions

This is what I learned along the way:

Leverage your previous experience

I approached the launch of Banana Skirt like that of an album release, leveraging my marketing experience and natural pop culture inclinations.

I did not have a fitness or dance background, so instead, I began by researching, googling and researching some more.

In addition, my time spent as a marketer, working with celebrities for many years and my experience as a Music Supervisor provided me with a unique approach to building a fitness brand that was very music centric.

I am always tuned into what is hot in the clubs, new on the radio and what is trending online –– that has allowed me to differentiate Banana Skirt from other dance fitness brands.

Utilise your existing knowledge

I think there are two crucial elements that have propelled the success of Banana Skirt.

The first would be acting quickly. For example, offering classes that underpin what is happening in current culture – i.e the hottest songs on the radio and in the clubs, the hottest performances from awards shows, etc.

The second would be the brand’s use of social media. Early on we began posting the final performance of the learned choreography on our social channels. We encouraged our clients to share and post their performances and this sparked word of mouth about our classes.

My strategy included engaging synergistic partners, leveraging influencers, heavy use of social media, sourcing instructors who had a “Je ne se quoi”(much like the artists I’d worked with) and a most importantly, creating a great quality product that brought value to our clients.

Use Your Passion To Differentiate Yourself

I’m not a dancer and I do not teach any classes, but in many ways that has been the most crucial element of Banana Skirt’s success.

Coming from the music business, I’d been on many, many music video sets and attended many rehearsals for concerts and music videos. It was an interest I knew I personally had – to learn the choreography of my favourite popstar. So, I dug deep down into my experiences and created what came most naturally to me.

My goal was to create classes for adults at any dance level. To achieve this, I took the fun spirit and high energy of a kids dance class and applied it to our teaching strategy. I combined that with dope choreographer/instructors offering up the sexy and challenging performance aspects of a professional dance class and I created a unique experience.

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