As anyone who has spent time in Paris recently knows, the fitness movement has taken off. Five years ago when you spotted a runner along the Quai de Seine there was only about a 25% chance he or she was French (excluding Sundays, still the most popular ‘workout day’ of the week); now running is trendier than ever in the City of Lights (check this out). The yoga scene, meanwhile, has been quietly growing for years, while CrossFit and Conquer Your Day have both established a strong presence in the Paris fitness world. The most prominent trend at the moment, though, is indoor cycling. Inspired by powerhouse companies like New York-born SoulCycle, 3 studios over the past year have sought to bring the concept to the Paris.
One particularly lovely Paris indoor cycling studio is Kiwill (featured in the New York Times), which opened just days before – and steps away from – the horrific attacks of November 13, 2015. I first visited on a rainy evening not long after the opening, when trauma and sadness were still painfully palpable in the République neighborhood. I remember how hard it was to get myself there that night; it felt wrong to enjoy myself while so much suffering and loss surrounded the city. But like many others, I made a conscious effort not to allow the heaviness and fear to prevent me from living; in fact, we have an even stronger responsibility now to embrace freedom and celebrate life in Paris.
What resonates most about Kiwill to me as a New Yorker is its truly “chaleureux” energy. Anyone who has experienced the real thing will be able to sense its authenticity and to see the loyal community Kiwill is building. Through speaking with co-founder Eric Sachello, I learned that for them it’s not about being the ‘loudest’ or dominating the market overnight (as seems the case with some of their competitors); for Kiwill, it’s about creating lasting connections and developing a real community that includes Parisians and expats alike. There is surely room for all of these studios to succeed in the City of Lights. #wecanallwin
Class Experience. Kiwill‘s warm ambiance and attentive customer service immediately make a positive impression. (It wasn’t surprising to learn that 2 of the 4 founders have previous work experience at Paris’ prestigious Le Bristol Hotel.) Kiwill instructors and staff are proactive in assisting new riders and accommodating clients’ needs (i.e. selecting shoes, helping with bike set-up, etc.). Our instructor was Matthieu, a dancer from the Paris Opera whose understated charisma and sincerity resonates easily with riders (about half of our class had never taken an indoor cycling class except for an RPM class, the primary indoor cycling option in Paris until recently). The class was given in French, naturally, with some universally understood motivational phrases in English. When Matthieu got off his bike mid-class for a few minutes to dance, first-timers seemed a bit surprised while the rest of us revelled in the positive spirit. Breaking through cultural differences doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s definitely happening and it’s being embraced. It’s amazing how much positive energy can be created with an encouraging coach, an uplifting playlist and a packed room.
What is the significance of the name Kiwill? “Kiwill is actually the combination of two words – ‘ki’, meaning energy in Japanese and ‘will’ as in willpower. Willpower and energy are the two qualities we hope to bring to our riders. You’ll find examples of this also reflected on our studio walls through motivational quotes. The word will is also a play on words with the bicycle wheel shown in our logo (this works when ‘will’ spoken with a charming french accent).”
What inspired you to launch Kiwill? “Our first major inspiration came from SoulCycle. During a trip to New York, we literally stumbled upon a studio and decided to give it a try — and loved it! Our appreciation of it came as much from the concept as from the spirit of New York City, where there’s an atmosphere full of good vibes. It’s a city where fitness is all about striving to do better — and to have fun and not be a punishment! This is the atmosphere we aim to replicate much more than copying anyone.”
Biggest Challenge: “Our primary challenge is keeping up with trends in Paris. We know things move quickly and people get bored easily, so we’re constantly pushing for new ideas and new types of classes. Giving people the energy and the pleasure to come back regularly is what it’s all about!”
Favorite Part of Being an Entrepreneur: “The daily challenge. You have to fight each day to succeed. This is my main motivation. In France, young people aren’t really given the chance to succeed and often aren’t given the opportunity to express their creativity and ideas. My desire to launch a business was born from this frustration. As a friend reminded me, “If the job of your dreams doesn’t exist, create it!”
Goals for Kiwill: “We see Kiwill as more than an indoor cycling brand. It’s about a community where riders feel at home — making friends, chatting with the coach after class — perhaps going out for brunch as a group, etc. We are committed to being a friendly brand and are working hard to build a strong community. Our coaches are very important to this process.”
A Winning Attitude Post-November 13th. “We opened Kiwill a few days before the horrific events of November 13th and the neighborhood was very affected — first, because police were everywhere and, second, because people didn’t feel safe going outside. We decided to keep Kiwill as a way to stand up to the fear of terrorism and to show that life continues. You may have noticed many “Not Afraid” signs around République in the weeks following November 13th. I think this pretty much sums up the Parisian state of mind: what happened is horrible and will stay in our minds forever but we must continue living.”
All About Community. “At Kiwill, we reach out to our community before creating partnerships with brands or creating new classes. For example, we decided to distribute juices by French juice company Justes because it was the favorite among our clients who did a juice-tasting for us. We also asked our riders which clothing brands they would like to see in the studio and what special classes they would like to take part in. This April we will also launch Kiwill events that include combining it with sports – like yoga, pilates and running.
* Special thanks to Kiwill and Eric Sachello. We wish you the very best. Keep pushing to inspire + spread light and joy in the brilliant City of Lights!
Kiwill: 27, rue du Grand Prieuré 75011 Paris (near métro République).
* Song For This Moment: “Bird Set Free” by Sia.