Frame founders Pip Black and Joan Murphy

Frame founders Pip Black and Joan MurphyIt’s been seven years since Frame founders Pip Black and Joan Murphy opened their first studio. It was in London’s Shoreditch – where we’re sitting, catching up today. Now, their empire spans three studios, including one in Queen’s Park and another in King’s Cross. A new outpost in Victoria is set to open in April, all in line with the pair’s ambition to open two new studios a year.

The reason we’re here is to talk about their latest project, a new pop up in Old Street station. The fitness haven has taken over the space to offer a one-stop-shop for all things wellness. From now until February 8th, you’ll be able to sign up for 30-minute classes on your way too and from work or just pop in to fuel on healthy food or pick up some great workout gear. There’s even ‘learning’ sessions where you can be taught anything from how to host your own supper club to how to do the splits.

“There is a preconception that this time of year has to be about slogging long hours at the gym, detoxing and taking the fun out of everything –but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Pip tells me. “For 2016, our motto is, ‘if you’ve been bad, we’ll make you feel good.’ We’ve all been a bit indulgent over the festive break – and rightly so! Don’t punish yourself in January. If you want to eat a slice of pizza, eat a slice of pizza. It’s not a cardinal sin. Instead of focusing on punishing yourself, focus on feeling good and the rest will follow.” That sentiment is the running theme at Frame. “We’re all about looking after yourself but not beating yourself up about it,” she continues. “One of our big things is about being positive about exercise. We’re not about being 100% healthy; we are about enjoying life.”

It stands out from the pack merely because the pair wasn’t afraid to go against the mould. Take the January gym rush, for example. Joan and Pip refuse to use any form of marketing that actively promotes weight loss. “We always felt that the only reason people went to the gym was because they felt guilty for eating too much. The negative connotation was very obvious.” That’s partly why you won’t see models in their campaigns. “While yes, perfectly airbrushed images of models may be aspirational, they can be super unrealistic. Getting fit, working out and having fun is achievable and accessibly so it never made sense to us to convey that by being illusory,” Joan explains. Instead, their campaigns feature the instructors and Framers who teach and attend their classes every day. Hang around one of the studios long enough and you’ll recognise a face or too. Their mission isn’t to create the next Dove campaign, Joan adds. “It’s just that we don’t think you need to be 6ft and extremely slim to look amazing.” There’s no ‘fit-shaming’ on Instagram so don’t expect any Kayla Itsines-style body transformation posts either. Ultimately, there approach starts and ends with being inclusive.

Having grown up playing sports, the pair wanted to create something tantamount to the sense of fun and bonding that guys have when playing weekly five-a-side. “It’s such a great approach to being active – you get to hang out with your mates, run off some steam, feel re-energised and grab a post-drink game with the lads. No one takes five-a-side too seriously – you don’t have to give up your life to train for it, but the benefits are huge. Exercising should be the same.” That was the light bulb moment, Joan tells me. “We want to create a way of moving that could easily fit into your day, that you could go to with friends, that you didn’t have to commit to doing for months, and to be able to do this somewhere that wouldn’t frown at the fact that you wanted to grab a post-work drink with your friend. Life is often serious; exercise doesn’t need to be.”

Frame founders Pip Black and Joan Murphy

Fun is a word that continues to pop up throughout our chat. It is, they agree, at the heart of everything they do. Why has fun been missing in fitness for so long, then, I ask? It only seems natural that more you enjoy the experience of working out, the more likely you are to keep it up, right? “In the late 70s and 80s the likes of Jane Fonda made working out seem accessible and fun, but the rise of the ‘super gyms’, and technology to a certain extent, put a stop to it,” Pip says. “Suddenly it was all about watching a computer screen while running on your treadmill or spending hours on a stepper staring at a wall. Working out suddenly became a solitary thing with the focus solely on losing weight. People began to feel like they had to work out, but not that they wanted to.”

Frame founders Pip Black and Joan MurphyRefreshingly, Pip is the first to admit that her approach to health and fitness has been an ongoing journey. We all know that exercise is good for us but how easy is it to put your trainers on when you feel, unconfident in yourself and can’t drag yourself out of bed? “It sounds cliché but I definitely have a much healthier relationship with exercise and food when I found my husband (we got married last week) and had my wonderful little boy,” Pip says when I quiz her about her personal wellness journey. “I genuinely believe it’s about being happy and learning to love yourself, which I struggled with when I was navigating my way through my turbulent twenties. I used to be an all or nothing kind of girl, but now I practice what I preach – I look after myself better, I eat good nutritious food (alongside a healthy serving of cheese and chocolate) and I definitely still drink, but I don’t go on massive weekly benders like I used to. I’m just happy and my eating isn’t led by emotions.”

Sport has always played a big part of their lives. The former advertising executives met through mutual friends on a surfing trip in Cornwall in 2007. Pip is a former England Hockey player and Joan grew up in New Zealand where going for a run and having a class of wine afterwards was just the norm. “When I met Joan, it was like I had randomly bumped into a carbon copy of myself,” Pip says, animated. Within days they were inseparable cycling around London in the sunny summer evenings, albeit after a couple of gins. “We were both craving regular exercise and an endorphin-rush, which didn’t have the side effect of a 3-day hangover.” After spending months searching for a place to go, they came to the conclusion that it didn’t exist and Frame was born.

They spent six weeks working on the idea. After a month Pip quit her job and Joan quickly followed. “Being young meant that we didn’t really think through what we were doing so were totally happy taking risks.” The fact that they both have business degrees definitely helped. “To this day, our investors and other business owners are shocked by how well we know the numbers and how in-depth our reporting systems are,” Joan says. “The majority of what we’ve achieved has been through hard work and perseverance and talking to lots of people who know a lot more about things than we do! But ultimately, having a basic grasp on things like marketing, finance, accounting and operations has made a difference. I think we both wish we’d listened harder and turned up to more lectures back in the day!”

That statement is sums perfectly captures these two: hard-working but self-deprecating, but more than anything, approachable and entirely relatable. “I think the main reason why Frame has got to where it has is that we have never rested on our laurels,” Pip says. “Without sounding corny, I feel that life is one big opportunity just waiting to be grabbed.”