The Boss Behind A Feminist Fitness Empire on How To “Own It All”
Andrea Isabelle Lucas is the boss behind a rapidly-growing feminist fitness empire in the Northeast. Her first Barre & Soul studio opened back in 2013 and in late 2016 she launched her fifth studio, in Providence, RI.
But Andrea’s road to fulfilling entrepreneurial ambitions encompassing a career that gives her self-actualization, and creates an inspiring community driven by grit and grace to empower women everywhere to pursue their biggest dreams boldly – has not been an easy one. Andrea is candid about the fact that she started her career dancing at a strip club to pay her way through college and achieve financial independence from her parents after giving birth to her first child at age nineteen.
Determined not to allow her circumstances to hold her back, Andrea continually redefined her own sense of being the leader of her life to get to where she is today: inspiring thousands of women to own their power over their lives – through fitness, community, and her own brand of unapologetic feminism.
I sat down with Andrea to hear how she stepped into her power and “own it all.”
Emilie Aries: You’re writing a book about your journey to success as an entrepreneur called Own It All. What are the biggest lessons you share?
Andrea Isabelle Lucas: So many messages we receive as women make it hard to realize that we’re not waiting for a knight in shining armor to save us, and we’re not waiting for the rest of the world to take a vote on what our next move should be. My career really began to take off when I realized that nobody was going to tell me I was ready to pursue my ambitions.
I had to decide for myself and give myself permission to start before I felt totally ready. I had to give myself permission to figure it out as I go.
And it’s just as important, I realize, to be radically responsible for yourself — including the lousy hand you’ve been dealt, if necessary. That means I needed to own the situation I was in, even if I didn’t create it.
Aries: Tell us more about that — take us back to the beginning.
Lucas: I was a rebellious kid, but I always considered myself smart and had the drive to do something big with my life, especially because I came from difficult family circumstances.
At fourteen years old I would run away from home for months at a time, sleeping in Salvation Army dumpsters. Then upon returning home, I’d buckle down in school and over-compensate for a while by getting straight A’s.
After high school I took a year off and sought out the fastest path to financial independence, so I could afford tuition and get out from under my parents’ roof. The first thing I did was started working at a strip club. For me, I was going to hustle my way to the top no matter what it took, and that gave me financial freedom almost immediately.
During that year off, I ended up having my first son. I think perhaps I was too young and naive to see having a child as a barrier to my college and career pursuits, so I never let being a teen mom be a mental obstacle, I just kept striving for success.
Aries: Wow. So you’re nineteen years old with an infant, and these audacious dreams for having a big impact. What did you do?
Lucas: Well, by the time my son was 9 months old, I was living paycheck to paycheck in a cockroach-infested apartment, and doing office work through a temp agency. My relationship with my son’s father was falling apart, so I moved back in with my parents so that I could afford to start school. But living there was difficult and soon I went back to stripping in order to earn enough money for tuition and get out on my own again. This was a low point for me, particularly because I knew I could accomplish so much more. I wanted stability for myself and my son, so I saved up to finally be able to make a down payment on a condo at age twenty-two.
Aries: Incredible. Sounds like things were just starting to look up again.
Lucas: I certainly thought so. Not long after that, I met a new guy who looked amazing on paper, and promised financial security and freedom from the struggles of single parenthood.
After I let go of my condo to move in with him, the red flags started showing up. The jealously. A scary road rage incident that ended in a car crash (thankfully no one was hurt). Slowly the cracks in the facade started to become visible, and things became physically abusive shortly thereafter.
Aries: Wow. That’s terrifying.
Lucas: It was. And that’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about advocating for women now. In that relationship, things slowly became “normal” that weren’t at all normal or okay. Finally, after finding myself in the ER, I just knew I had to get out. I asked any friends who would listen for help and support. I called all the crisis center hotlines, and I just scraped by during that period with the support of near-strangers.
Aries: And then, of course, began the challenge of rebuilding your life on your own, right?
Lucas: Finally, yes. That was rock bottom for me. I had learned not to place my fate in anyone else’s hands but my own. I stopped asking other people who I should become and just decided for myself. I changed my major to Women’s Studies, joined a burlesque troupe and wrote about the feminist neo-burlesque movement and my own experiences as a dancer for my thesis.
The year I turned thirty I finally got my degree and adopted a surname from my mother’s side of the family. It was the year I reclaimed my identity.
Aries: And a big part of that had to do with your passion for fitness, right?
Lucas: Yes. During that time of rebuilding I turned to barre and dance for a powerful new form of self-expression, strength, and self-discovery. I had been through so much at that point, and I wanted to pay my lessons forward. I knew that if I could overcome being a runaway, a teen parent and a domestic violence survivor, I could show others how to take ownership of their lives too, no matter what circumstances are thrown at them.
One day in the middle of a barre class, I thought: maybe this is it! Maybe this could be my career. Right here we have twenty women in a room together twice a week, why not extend this beyond fitness to focus on community, adopting a positive body image, and empowerment? What if we talked about women stepping into their power in addition to stepping onto their mat? The opportunity to have the impact I wanted was right in front of me.
So I decided to go head-long into my career as barre/yoga teacher and I sought out the absolute best training I could get. I started working for Exhale with the best studio managers and instructors in the industry. Around the same time, I started writing about my experiences on my own blog, and was unapologetically open about my story. I began really owning the label of feminist.
Aries: So why the entrepreneurial path? Why open your own studio?
Lucas: Because it was always about so much more than fitness – I wanted to share the feminist revolution I’d had and invite other women into owning their power in a new way. In March 2013 I started my own company with honestly no idea how to do it, but I was willing to figure it out and I had confidence that I could make it through new challenges. One thing I had learned over the years was that I could always count on myself to find my way onward and upward even if I had to start at rock bottom, so I just applied that to starting my business.
Now we’re doing $1.5 million a year. I’m writing a book, launching a clothing line and it’s grown from me starting out offering an innovative program myself within the context of someone else’s studio to launching and operating 5 locations of my own, and leading a staff of sixty people.
Aries: Wow – how on earth did all that happen so fast?
Lucas: It feels fast now, but I just focused on taking it one chance at a time. I just took on as much risk as I could tolerate each step of the way and surrounded myself with the best consultants and support I could afford. My appetite for risk has grown incrementally.
Whether I was overcoming obstacles in my path, rebuilding and reclaiming my identity, or building my empire: I just took things one day at a time, listened and learned as much as I could, and never let anything or anyone slow my climb.