Interview with Founder Matt Morley
How did you initially break into the fitness industry?
I started training seriously when I was around 14 years old growing up in leafy south-west London. For many years my training consisted purely of middle distance running, swimming and free weights; no mobility work, no guidance from a coach and no real appreciation of movement per se.
In my mid-20s I moved to South Africa and added kickboxing, surfing and hatha yoga into my weekly routine; my body didn't like it and I was forced to recognise that my regime up to that point had been woefully incomplete.
Something was missing. As it turns out, lots was missing but I had discovered a hidden path and that was all that mattered. Strength work now came from functional bodyweight movements. Muay thai improved my fast twitch muscle fibres, reaction times and cardio endurance for 1-3 min rounds. Yoga started the slow process of addressing my flexibility issues as well as my previously unchecked monkey mind.
After SA I spent four years living in a tiny town on the coast in Montenegro where I continued to train outdoors with minimal equipment, develop my kickboxing practice and dive deeper into hatha yoga. I also began to research the work of Mark Sisson, Gymnastic Bodies, Movnat and Ido Portal online. A whole new world was opening up before me that would eventually dominate most of my waking hours.
What skills do you bring to the fitness sector from your previous professional experience?
I began my career with boutique consultancy business Luxury Branding in London where I was a Strategist working on Executive level projects for the likes of Armani Hotels & Resorts / Emaar Properties, One & Only Resorts / Kerzner International, Dorchester Collection / Sultan of Brunei and various entrepreneurs from the hospitality, real estate and wellness sectors.
In early 2010 the business relocated to Cape Town, South Africa with the aim of becoming operators via the launch of a regional private members club concept. As the crash kicked in six months later and funding dried up we refocused on local client work and moved downstream from strategy to marketing communications and creative.
Still determined to make our mark however, we conceptualized, launched and operated the Southern Africa Luxury Association (SALA) with myself as Commercial Director working hand-in-hand with local entrepreneurs.
In the background I also ran a quarterly, Anglo-Russian lifestyle magazine named V V that I launched and edited from 2007-2013, as well as contributing commentary pieces for a range of other lifestyle magazines such as GQ.
In 2010 I moved from consulting to an in-house role as Head of Marketing at Porto Montenegro on the Adriatic Coast, a mixed-use real estate and superyacht marina development that now attracts 10,000 visitors a day in summer and some of the largest yachts afloat. Living on-site for four years I built and managed a team of 13 people while overseeing a multi-million pound marketing budget with aggressive real estate and marina berth sales targets. Working closely with architects and interior designers, as well as the operations and sales teams in a 400-person company helped round out my skill set neatly.
What market opportunity did you identify for Biofit that made you become an entrepreneur?
As a deep believer in the value of bodyweight training outside in nature, yet a fan of city living and with family located in notoriously rainy London I became interested in the idea of a fitness studio that brought the outside in, offering a nature-inspired indoor environment in which to train for real world fitness using a bespoke range of hand-crafted equipment.
At the same time, the tech giants of Silicon Valley were all adopting biophilic, nature-inspired architecture and interiors as a way to boost employee productivity, reduce stress levels and enhance staff retention. If Google, Amazon and Apple were all in on this philosophy, why had indoor fitness studios not taken notice yet?
Crossfit boxes and yoga studios had also opened up the fitness market like never before, disrupting the previous gym membership business model and introducing two distinct yet ultimately movement-based practices to the masses. In that sense, Biofit would aim to humbly stand on the shoulders of giants.
What is the Biofit elevator pitch? How do you sum up what it's about?
Biofit is made up of three key pillars: an urban fitness studio concept, equipment range and training methodology all inspired by nature.
The business is led by myself, bringing expertise in real estate, customer experience, design and marketing to the party, accompanied by a team of coaches, interior / landscape architects and fitness industry experts.
Where is the business going to grow from here?
Our aim is to disrupt the fitness market with a premium brand that puts nature at its core, following ethical and environmentally-friendly business practices along the way.
Our collection of equipment will be sold to consumers online to businesses such as boutique hotels, gyms and residential buildings.
Our fitness studio concept can become an owner-operated or franchised concept complete with equipment and training program. There is also scope for offering white labelled gym design services to the real estate and hospitality industries.
Our training methodology can function as a set of standalone fitness classes adopted by mainstream gyms, as well as an online coaching program, touring workshops and coaching certificates.
What stage is the project currently at?
I've spent the past 18 months in London putting together the business plan, a range of prototype equipment, six class programs, the studio's interior concept with designer Lily Jencks, sourcing all the necessary suppliers, building a team of expert coaches, curating the class playlists, building a website and social media presence, running a series of pop-up classes and workshops in central London and looking at countless potential premises for our own pop-up studio.
What wider socio-cultural trends are you tapping into with Biofit?
The turn to nature is evident in numerous fields today. Organic, seasonal, provenance-heavy food is big business, from farmers markets to supermarkets such as Planet Organic, as well as restaurants and juice bars. Everything from single origin coffee to grass-fed meats now come with narratives that speak of small-scale production, fair trade prices and ethical values. These trends have largely slipped by the fitness sector unnoticed.
Even luxury brands from the worlds of fashion and watches have had to go back to basics in recent years, dialing up their craftsmanship credentials as a way to justify prices as wallets were squeezed and consumers became more savvy with their spending.
Much closer to home, functional fitness and bodyweight training are now immensely popular as a new generation wake up to the benefits of stepping away from expensive but inherently restrictive gym machinery. The biggest trend of direct relevance in many ways is the shift to military bootcamp style training and Obstacle Course Races such as Tough Mudder.
How is Biofit different to existing fitness businesses such as MovNat and CrossFit?
On paper MovNat share a similar philosophy to us, attempting to bring nature and fitness together again; it is in the operational delivery that our two paths diverge. Movnat are less interested in tackling the conundrum of every day training in an inner city location with inclement weather for nine months of the year - a challenge that we have set out specifically to address.
As such, they are less of a studio or class concept business, preferring to pop-up around the world with workshops, coaching certificates and, more recently, a collection of co-branded equipment. Presumably this means they can all spend more time in nature doing what they love; they're certainly no fools!
CrossFit is a giant multi-billion dollar business now but to zero in specifically on what distinguishes their training philosophy from ours - a CrossFit workout is built around a random combination of gymnastics, Olympic lifting and cardiovascular endurance. While they too espouse all-round physical preparedness as their ultimate goal, their method involves heavy barbells, weights and machinery. Reps, speed and competition are central to every workout.
In contrast, Biofit has no barbells, dumbbells or cardio machines in the studio, nor do we worry too much about how many reps we do, we focus on quality not quantity. CrossFit is a chimp, we 're the bonobo.
We train hard and fast some days, slow and heavy on others, then focus on mobility, play and movement skills while the body recovers.
What are the wellness benefits of a nature-inspired, biophilic fitness studio environment?
Prescribing time in nature, or forest bathing, as a wellness cure is common currency in places like South Korea and Japan. Green prescriptions have been making waves in New Zealand for many years now and the UK has been pushing for something similar too via Natural England.
In practical terms the key benefits of spending time in nature or in biophilic indoor spaces have been identified as a reduction in stress levels, improved focus and concentration and enhanced productivity. Our aim is to harness those same benefits to create a functional fitness studio environment that is actively benefitting our clients while they are busy training. Here is a useful study by Human Spaces on this very subject.
Who are Biofit's customers and why do you think they are drawn to the brand?
From the very beginning this has been about offering a value system not just a studio space, equipment or training program. Very few fitness brands have really gone beyond product to communicating a complete lifestyle, with the obvious exception of Equinox, they re-wrote the rulebook in that sense.
We've put together a cohesive, 360 degree concept and I think our early customers have picked up on that. It's about reconnecting with nature, going back to basics but also recognizing that the most efficient way of maintaining a regular training practice is to have a like-minded community around you in a conveniently located space where the work gets done every day, no matter the weather.
They're people who think about where their food comes from, feel disconnected from the typical urban gym experience and are now looking for an alternative. They are discerning, independent thinkers prepared to seek out and adopt non-mainstream brands where they feel a meaningful connection.
As our approach prioritizes mobility, skill and quality of movement over mere physical appearances, we tend to appeal to a slightly more mature audience who are ready to think in those terms. Although we preach playing a long game of steady, consistent practice throughout life, rather than a "get-ripped-quick" approach, ironically there is nothing better than bodyweight training and a real food diet for developing a lean, strong and flexible body!