By Kelly Beswick
He is the scion of Fitness First founder Mike Balfour, so his family has some form in opening gyms. But with 1Rebel, James Balfour has torn up the rulebook and the honed and toned folks of East London can’t get enough
“I can tell you that 1Rebel came about mostly through passion and less by calculated planning,” confesses James Balfour of the fitness brand he co-founded in East London just two years ago and that’s already changed the face of the industry. “I’d previously built a successful brand called Jatoni Fitness with my father, but I was feeling very uninspired by the clubs we had created. The focus felt wrong, it was all about the price rather than the product and it was no-longer something I wanted to be associated with.”
Looking for inspiration, Balfour turned to LA where the boutique fitness business was booming. “They were the first to start acting like a retailer, focusing on creating a distinctive brand and on getting people results,” he explains. “That’s when it struck me that what me and my father had been a part of had been the beginnings of an industry, and that it was now ripe for disruption.”
And disrupt he did with the aptly named 1Rebel, firstly by tearing up contracts “Millennials do not want to sign something that looks more akin to a mortgage. Signing a 12 month guilt-based proposition is not something that resonates with the way that generation consumes,” Balfour reasons.
Secondly, he decided to ditch the traditional equipment-heavy gym model, and instead just focus on classes, the reason being that these would deliver similar results to a personal trainer, but without the exorbitant cost attached. “After all, fitness clubs don’t actually get you fit, they just sell you access,” says Balfour. “You have to be very educated and very motivated to achieve top fitness levels by yourself. So instead of coming and working out, at 1Rebel you come in and take part in a class.”
Just three types of class are offered, Reshape, which is weights and running, Ride, which is spinning, often accompanied by live music, and Rumble which is boxing. “Ultimately, what we’ve done is redress the balance between us and the consumer,” argues Balfour. “Like a restaurant that has to deliver good meals, we have to be the best in class in every class or people simply won’t come back.”
They’ve obviously got it right, because fitness buffs are queuing up for classes at both of their achingly trendy East London studios. Indeed, the cutting edge design, cheeky, tongue-in-cheek company culture and a level of social media engagement that money just can’t buy are aspects that Balfour is particularly proud of. “I’ve now got a brand that I love and feel incredibly passionate about,” says a grinning Balfour.