Leading Ladies Interview: Amber Joliat, Founder and Creator of Misfit Studio in Toronto
Interview By: Christina Remenyi
Photos By: Arden Wray
Starting your own business generally involves creating a plan and setting goals. With careful planning and a strategic direction, you can help set your entrepreneurial venture on a successful path. For Amber Joliat, owner of MisfitStudio, her business path looked less like a straight, clearly delineated route and more like a winding road, covered in wildflowers.
In 2010, while teaching yoga at different studios around Toronto, Amber felt something was missing. On a whim, she rented a space in Parkdale and began teaching fusion classes, blending dance, yoga and pilates. Without any marketing, the aptly named MisfitStudio grew popular almost instantly, prompting Amber to open a bigger location only a year into the business. But in 2014, her beautiful new space came crashing down, literally, after a major flood. Still without a plan but feeling like she needed to push forward, Amber rebuilt her business and moved into her current studio in an old church on Queen Street.
Through MisfitStudio, Amber has created something of a movement, having built a space that is quirky, offbeat, and welcoming to all types of people. And Amber’s world is about to get a little bigger, as she is opening a second location at 88 Ossington Avenue this summer. Despite all the challenges she encountered, Amber kept calm and balanced through it all by staying true to herself and doing what she loves…and practicing tons of meditation.
This organic and authentic approach to business is what makes Amber Joliat a true Leading Lady.
FORTNIGHT: Who are you and what do you do?
AMBER: My name’s Amber and I like to say I’m the creator of MisfitStudio. I like that word. I know it’s a little godly and I’m so not religious, but the word “creator” is more like having a vision; this is my creation and it’s such a gift and a pleasure to share it with the world. Every single day that people show up, I feel so blessed that I can’t really believe it’s actually happening.
FORTNIGHT: That’s a good way to feel everyday and it’s true, you built the studio from the ground up, literally. How did you get to that point?
AMBER: Almost 6 years ago I was working at 11 different studios all over the city. I called it my “yoga hustle” and I was going from studio to studio, class to class, and I could never really find a place that was awesome. There wasn’t a place where I felt accepted, like I could really crank up the music I wanted. I mean, let’s rewind to the fact that when I was teaching that long ago no one played music. Music is a major component of my classes. Its one reason why MISFITSTUDIO is so different. When I started to integrate elements of dance into pilates, it was a real standout even for the studios I was working for. My classes started to build a reputation of being different and unique. I think what led me to wanting my own space was through that acknowledgment and realization that I was doing something different and needed an environment that was fully supportive of myself. I truly did not know anything about business. I mean, I went to OCAD for painting and printmaking and finished my degree in Florence, Italy.
FORTNIGHT: What came first? Did you find the space or did you think I’m going to try this?
AMBER: I would say it happened very symbolically. As I was having these thoughts of wanting to venture out on my own, I was sitting on the floor of my friends tattoo shop and she said, “you know, I think I have to move to Berlin and I’m going to go like next week. You should take this place.” And honestly that’s how it happened. I met with the landlord the next day and I gave my notice at all the studios I was working at. Days after that, I remember I was sitting in the park, laying on the grass, looking at a NOW magazine, and I was reading about all the different bands coming to North by Northeast and I saw the name “Misfit” referring to the punk band The Misfits and I thought “that’s it!”
FORTNIGHT: Are you an impulsive or calculated decision maker?
AMBER: Not calculated at all. No, in true areas of nature, I see something, I leap and jump. I remember sitting on the floor and saying, “yes I will take this space, I’ll figure it out, let’s meet with the landlord.” It all happened within a week, so suddenly I had keys, I had a space but I didn’t have a name or even a concept. Sometimes you need a little bit of that to be fearless, just jump right in. Over the years, as the studio has grown, I’ve had to learn new ways of being. Learning the romance of calculated decision making. It makes me feel very adult
FORTNIGHT: Who were your first students?
AMBER: I was teaching 10 classes a week I had a few private one-on-one’s and that’s how it began. And on the first day, my friends showed up, and a lot of my die-hard students who were heartbroken that I wasn’t going to be at the studios they loved followed me to Misfit. Honestly, by six months I had been voted in the top 10 yoga studio list in blogTO, which was so mindblowing.
FORTNIGHT: And you saw a jump in business right from that post?
AMBER: Right from that post. I didn’t change for that post but everything changed from that post. It was 20 people, then 30 people, then a line-up waiting for me by the time I got to the studio in the morning. It started to build and build so much that there wasn’t enough room. I feel like when you’re really on your path, the universe just collides things, and pushes you forward. It gives you an option, you always have the choice, but it shows you the option.
FORTNIGHT: How did it make you feel that all these people were coming here for you and for what you created?
AMBER: I do hear that and it has been an interesting thing to observe. But I don’t think I’ve ever identified with Misfit being me. My real hope and desire was to create this space where everybody felt comfortable to move and dance and sweat together.
FORTNIGHT: How do you lead your team of instructors at Misfit?
AMBER: I set time aside with every one of my instructors to have a personal relationship with them and to know what’s going on in their life. I think it’s really important to build and lead a team of people who are connected, who love each other and genuinely want to be around each other. Openly we discuss teaching, inspiration, and education. I feel the role between teacher and student is symbiotic, learning as we go.
FORTNIGHT: What do you feel like are some of the most satisfying aspects of being your own boss versus working for someone at a studio?
AMBER: I think that the expectations are my own to live up to, and I definitely call on my early years as being a dancer to speak to my discipline as a boss. I’m so grateful for the discipline that I have; it’s ingrained in me. If there are days I’m feeling uninspired or days where I have to deal with something annoying and difficult, I push through and go face it. This is what I was meant to do with my life. I really authentically believe that. Despite all the challenges, all the highs all the lows, this is it for me.
FORTNIGHT: When you’re going through progressions and challenges with your business and life, who supports you? Where do you find your support?
AMBER: I have a really sacred circle. The people inside the circle are my girlfriends who have been with me through real dark times and who have watched the whole process. They were there for me when I was making that decision to stop working for other people and they were all so encouraging. I think my girlfriends have been my greatest support through everything. Also, my mother is an exceptional support system for me and has been every day of my life. And then there’s Nik. We just celebrated 3 years together. He and I have built something really, really special and I’m so grateful for him.
FORTNIGHT: Where do you gain inspiration? Or is there someone you turn to for inspiration?
AMBER: My sources of inspiration are people who were influential in the world and left a kind of mark in the world. Like Martha Graham, who was a dancer who ultimately created her own movement. She was nuts and wild and lived till she was 98 years old. I find inspiration in nature, flowers and trees and plants.
FORTNIGHT: If you could be locked in one store overnight and raid its contents, which store would it be?
AMBER: Does it have to be a store? Can it be a gallery? If so, then the Guggenheim in Venice. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.
FORTNIGHT: What’s your favourite act of self-care?
AMBER: Going for a massage. My favourite masseuse is named Angela and she works at Hammam Spa. She also used to be a dancer so she understands the body in such a different way.
FORTNIGHT: How do you refuel or recharge?
AMBER: I drink a ton of water and meditating is so important to me. I also love picking wildflowers. I have a weekly ritual where I walk along the train tracks at Dupont, pick tons of wildflowers, dry them out and hang them on my wall at home. The wall has become a wildflower dream.
FORTNIGHT: Can you share a really good piece of advice you’ve been given recently?
AMBER: It’s from a book I read called The Four Agreements: take nothing personally.
FORTNIGHT: What’s one life hack you use regularly?
AMBER: My bag has everything I need, maybe minus a passport, to do anything. I love knowing that if someone were to say, “let’s go spend the day on the island,” I’m always ready for that. Spontaneity in life is one of the things that keeps us alive and young. Oh and always having some kind of corkscrew in your purse. Never be stuck with a bottle and nothing to open it with!