A Portland Fitness Start-Up Aims to Kill the Gym Membership

Joyn's Etsy-style clearinghouse of innovative, idiosyncratic workout classes emphasizes inclusivity and fun.

By Sam Pape May 17, 2018

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Rakim Sholes leads Joyn's "People of Color Hike."

Image: Courtesy Joyn

The gym. Easy to avoid for so many reasons—from hefty membership fees to the ripped bros seeking #gains on the bench-press., a Portland-based startup launched this spring, aims to create a fitness business model with no gym membership—or membership of any sort—required. The site’s co-founder, Gwen Sullivan, describes it as “a website where you can find group classes for movement and joy in an inclusive and welcoming environment.”                

Joyn is an curated online directory of 27 (and counting) community-oriented group fitness classes. Most of these classes aren’t new, but may have been hard for browsing consumers to find until now, buried in the trenches of Instagram and Mindbody. Joyn offers up everything from “Rain or Shine Training,” to a “People of Color Hike.” (And, yes, goat yoga.) Users can sign up for any of these classes via the site, at prices set by the classes’ leaders, ranging from free to $65. (Yes, for goat yoga.) The site is roughly comparable to Etsy: instructors are independent creators and managers of their classes, but Joyn handles payment and marketing.

Much of Sullivan’s inspiration for the site came from her complicated personal relationship with movement and fitness. She played sports as a kid, always preferring the team element to the workout itself. She’s also been in the health and fitness industry for years, having worked for Nike (the source, incidentally, of Joyn’s funding). She says that when she became a professional and a mother, fitness became all about exercise rather than play.

“It became just another thing I had to do, so I inevitably failed,” says Sullivan. She notes that some estimates say that 50 percent of people with gym memberships rarely, if ever, use them.

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Anna Chapman

Image: Courtesy Joyn

Anna Chapman, a friend of Sullivan who teaches two Joyn classes (Body Love Yoga and Body Love Yoga Meets Burlesque), had a similarly complicated relationship with her body from an early age. “I’ve always lived in a larger body,” explains Chapman, who comes from a family of athletes. “From an early age, I started trying to fix, or improve, my body.” But after years of tracking timed miles and calories burned with workout regiments like Crossfit, Chapman discovered—and fell in love with—yoga. “I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do it because of my body,” she says.

Chapman was already a certified yoga instructor by the time she got involved with Portland’s notably large and active body positive community. In short order, she knew she had to introduce them to her practice. “When I found out how healing it was to be with these people in the body-positive community, I thought, ‘This needs to be a thing,'” says Chapman. “I want my friends here. We are all in this together.’” 

So far, Joyn seems to emphasize that spirit of inclusivity. “The point of movement is to have fun with it—to be ourselves, explore the city, become okay with the fact that we’re not counting pounds or inches,” says Sullivan.

For now, Sullivan plans to keep the business small and local to learn as much as she can from the experience before moving forward. However, there may be bigger, more national plans for Joyn down the line.

“This is a real movement in the fitness industry,” Sullivan says. “Our dream is to get this spread as far as possible.”

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