You can be a boss, or you can make future bosses. Hakika DuBose Wise, the founder and CEO of the Kika Stretch Studio franchise, is doing both. In 2011, Hakika used her $500 tax return to start a wellness-based business that spread the gospel of fitness through a very specific niche: stretching.
What makes Kika Stretch Studios so unique is the use of trademarked KIKA Method -- a form of passive stretching -- where trained stretch coaches follow standardized stretch routines while exerting force on clients to move their limbs into a new position. According to Hakika, a former professional dancer, the benefits to this approach include mental clarity, improved posture, decreased stress and tension, enhanced performance, improved flexibility, and more. The KIKA method is inspired from Hakika's technical training in dance and personal training, the Alexander technique, Laban movement analysis, and advanced anatomy.
While Hakika's entry into entrepreneurship was first fueled by a desire for autonomy and flexibility, her foray into the business of stretching has made her the youngest female franchisor in the US. She is showing female entrepreneurs nationwide that dreaming big doesn't have to just stop at the typical business model. A 2018 Global Wellness report stated that wellness is now a $4.2 trillion industry. According to a 2018 IHRSA report, health club industry revenue totaled $87.2 billion in 2017. Wellness entrepreneurs who are able to tap into the franchise market and grow an enthused, loyal, and paying community have extreme opportunities for growth. Currently, Hakika has six Kika Stretch Studio locations located across New Jersey, and two more in New York City and Dallas, Texas. Nationwide expansion is at the top of her goals list.
Hakika spoke with xoNecole about the early days of the business, why she pursued franchising, her experiences navigating the wellness industry as a Black female entrepreneur, and the power of fueling and support future owners.
Courtesy of Hakika Wise
What inspired you to launch Kika Stretch Studios?
I trained as a dancer and acted and danced professionally for years. As an undergrad at Montclair State University, I was obsessed with the spine and how it works. I used to always stretch. I was looking for a side hustle and started to stretch bodybuilders. I based it off my own routine as a dancer to keep flexibility. There was a gym right by my house and I knew they needed the service. The owner let me set up shop. I knew I was either going to go back to school or start a business. My son was young at the time and I wanted to do something where I could be part of his life. I told myself that [I would] do this stretching thing. In 2011, I started with one client and I took it from there.
Why is a stretching studio such a unique business idea?
The reason why you should always stretch is that even if you are flexible - stress, bills, husbands, wives, kids - stress you out. It builds tension in the body that cause negative effects. If you never remove that, your quality of life goes down. You should be able to walk through life without feeling anything in your body. Stretch to destress and get rid of those lumps so you can enjoy your life.
How did you market the business early on?
I used guerrilla marketing. I handed out posters. I had someone dress up as a Gumbi. For the first year, I read books on business. Specifically, Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson. I used a lot of those guerilla marketing tactics and they worked. I started with only $500. My rent was $350 and I printed out brochures from Staples. I bought a $25 ball and mat. That's all I needed. People started calling from other areas. My first location was in Montclair, NJ. I started opening up other locations but I quickly realized I didn't want to be responsible for [everything] by myself. That's when I started thinking about franchising. It's not a model that many entrepreneurs consider.
Courtesy of Hakika Wise
"I used a lot of those guerilla marketing tactics and they worked. I started with only $500."
How did you put the franchising dream into motion?
I realized that what I'm building was legitimate. I had overcome a lot of past mistakes by then. For example, my Montclair, NJ location caught on fire two years ago. We were closed for nine months. I had to move to the church on the corner. Our clients went from storefront to the basement of a church. We lost some people. We also gained new clientele that stayed and still come. I knew the method was strong. You can do it anywhere. It's not about the space. I knew I had something I could build off of. It gave me more confidence to franchise.
One day in 2018, I was in Barnes & Noble and said I was going to Google the top franchise consulting firms. I reached out to five. The first person who responded happened to be the person I went through the whole process with. He was on a flight the next week just to meet me. He explained the [entire] process. He has a big company and that's what they do. He had a legal team and contacts I could use under his umbrella. He got in and directed me on exactly what I needed to do. I studied that for six months.
[Franchising] is typically an expensive process but his company positions themselves competitively so they get more people. Finding the right people to use and shopping around is very important.
How did you get your first franchisees?
I originally had two locations. The first franchise location was bought by a manager who was running my first location. She was so phenomenal. I didn't want to cap her potential. She needed to grow. The people I was working with told me that I could have my manager franchise the first location because she already knows the system. I met with her and her husband and offered it to them. They decided to go for it.
I started realizing if I went after people who were 9-5 workers, millennials - typically the people who would never be considered to franchise by other companies...if I went after those hungry people, they would do it. This is why all of our franchises (except for one) are minority-owned and run by millenials. This doesn't exist.
I try to change the lifestyle of the franchisees. We have corporate people who are high on the ladder but realize there is a glass ceiling. For example, their retirement plan may not be what they think it is. No one has assets anymore. As soon as you sign on the dotted line of a [Kika Stretch Studio], you own an asset which is huge. It will benefit you and your family.
If you're used to the corporate world, you've [probably] gained skills that will help you run your own business. It's just that no one else has given you the opportunity because you're not an ideal [franchisee] candidate. We look past that.
At this point, I stay up at night thinking about how I can make sure the franchisees are doing the right thing so that they can make money. Their success is my success. That's when I feel like I've done my job.
Courtesy of Hakika Wise
"I started realizing if I went after people who were 9-5 workers, millennials...if I went after those hungry people, they would do it. This is why all of our franchises (except for one) are minority-owned and run by millenials. This doesn't exist."
What is like being a Black woman in the wellness franchising space?
It's very lonely and frustrating at times. You realize how much this industry lacks diversity. Franchising, health and wellness are not diverse. Everyone knows it's harder to access capital as a Black woman, but I've never sought it or wanted it. Now, at this point, people come to me and say they want to partner. They want to buy the business or buy into it but not offer much. I say no because it's not just about the money [to me]. What are you adding? I can't be bought. People look at me and see the brand as an opportunity.
When I ask for a mentor it's hard because [people are] like, "Mentor?" Most of the people I've come across being in this position see me as young and don't think I know what I'm doing. When they realize I do, it's too late because they've already shown themselves.
Courtesy of Hakika Wise
"Franchising, health and wellness are not diverse. Everyone knows it's harder to access capital as a Black woman."
Why is developing and systemizing so important to your process as an entrepreneur?
I was doing everything by myself. I read a book called The E-myth Revisited and it said you have to fire yourself from things [to] run a business. I had to delegate. When I hired my first person, I had to start creating a manual so I could teach them. As I fired myself from different things, I had to write down what they had to do. That became the essence of my franchise. I already had all the paperwork [and processes].
Why is learning sales so important?
As a dancer and actor, I was always selling myself. In order to be good at selling, you have to know what you're doing it for. What's your reason for doing it? Do you have to feed your family? Do you have a project that you want to pursue? For me, it's about helping people and not just convincing people to do something that doesn't work. As long as you help people do something, you'll always be good.
I originally started this business for my son so I could be in his life. Now he's nine and I want to show other people that they can do it too. That's how I've gotten franchisees. There's nothing special. I just didn't stop.
How important is self-care as an entrepreneur?
You [need it]. You'll run yourself down. At one point, I was putting all these things in front of me. Who's taking care of me? Now, I make it an effort. I'll disappear and go to a spa for a self-care day. Sometimes I'll even just go and buy socks.
What marketing strategy has been extremely helpful to your growth?
It starts with the people that you hire, especially in the service business. Hire happy people, people who are good with people, and people who love life. That's what people are attracted to. A lot of people open up businesses and sit behind their desks. Put yourself out there. Show the public that you can help them.
What’s the larger vision for Kika Stretch Studios?
I want to pass this off to my children. I argue about this with my husband all the time. Sometimes I'm like, "Maybe I'll sell it." He'll say no! That's another thing we have to do more of - holding onto things and keeping them for future generations. Even if my kids don't want to do the stretching business, the platform is here. I can pull from it and help them do what they want. They can be internally funded by me instead of someone else.
I am also looking for new franchisees. We're done with New Jersey and are opening two locations in Brooklyn in the summer. We're also opening Dallas, Atlanta, and Florida before the year is out. We're expanding naturally and looking for people who want an opportunity so we can guide them into ownership. We turn employees into employers.
For more of Hakika, click here to check out a Kika Stretch Studios near you.
Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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