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Meet the founders of Play Tone, the playground for alternative fitness

27 Oct 2019

Photography by TRUELOVE Portfolio Packages

What do you get when you cross a dancer, a designer, a hula hoop, roller skates, fitness and a business idea? In the words of the co-founders of Play Tone, a “playground for alternative fitness”: events, classes, courses and workshops, all focused on roller skating, hula hooping and jump rope. “Our ethos is “unleash your inner child”, Play Tone declares. “We are driven by the theory that adding play to your day increases your mental and physical well being”.

Play Tone was founded by London-based Obie Campbell and Tinuke Oyediran, who first met when they both joined Marawa’s Majorettes, a world-record-holding troupe of hula hoopers. Prior to this, Obie was a full-time designer for seven years before discovering the hula hooping scene through her mum, who wanted to try out a class. Tinuke, on the other hand, started her career as a professional dancer and circus performer. She spent two years in Germany performing in the show Starlight Express, which she describes as a “glitz, glam, Eighties musical performed entirely on skates”. Upon returning to the UK, Tinuke joined Marawa’s Majorettes, where she and Obie began hatching plans to build a company together.

They launched Play Tone back in May 2018, and now have 14 professionally trained instructors, nearly two thousand registered members and have also seen over two thousand attendees come through their doors to date. They also have a shop in Dalston for people to buy the coolest skating and hooping kit, equipment and accessories.

Photography by Clare Brincatt

I caught up with Tinuke and Obie a few days after the launch event for Play Tone’s crowdfunding campaign, taking place at Roller Nation in Tottenham, North London, which  consisted of roller skating, hula hooping and jump rope classes, with a raffle ticket prize draw and a full-blown roller disco to end the night.

Having grown so quickly over the past year and a half, they are eager to keep this momentum going and have big plans to do so. “We are raising funds to buy, refurbish and kit out the ultimate disco travelling van,” Obie says “We plan to tour the UK in 2020, empowering different communities all over the nation. Donations will help us to buy the van, a sound system and all the equipment. We’ve reached 50% of our target in the first five days of the crowdfunder which is incredible. The more funding we achieve, the more locations we can visit. And hopefully, we can develop this into a tour that we do every single year”.

“The community that we’ve built at Play Tone is one where people can get fit together but also make friends and laugh”

Tinuke, co-founder

“A lot of people come to us to try something different,” Obie explains. “They may feel intimidated when going to the gym or be bored of their usual workout routine. So they try Play Tone to get some new exercise ideas and take up a cool new hobby. Some people are actually referred to us by their doctors. Hula hooping is great for your spine, and there’s research to suggest that jump rope is a better exercise than running”. Tinuke adds that “Hula hooping and roller skating are both high intensity, low impact exercises, so you’re getting your sweat on but it’s not like being on a treadmill where you’re impacting your back and knees”.

But people aren’t just going to Play Tone for health and fitness reasons, as Tinuke’s observed. “The community that we’ve built at Play Tone is one where people can get fit together but also make friends and laugh,” she says. “People will build friendships and then meet each other outside of Play Tone events so this is a way for them to create bonds with like-minded people”.

Photography by Zainab Kway-Swanzy

I arrived at Roller Nation with my afro out and a shiny green jumpsuit on, respecting the roller disco theme. I was greeted with bold animal prints, neon colours, more afros, soca music and lots of Play Tone supporters having a great time. The instructors were teaching people how to squat whilst hula-hooping (as if squatting isn’t hard enough) and showing others how to do the “candy” on skates.

Having not skated since I was about 12, I was a little nervous at the prospect of getting back on four wheels, but everyone was extremely encouraging and helpful. Tinuke took me under her wing and reminded me of some key tips: knees bent, heels inwards, skate in a marching motion. A few tries and I was able to skate in a straight (but maybe slightly wobbly) line, turn around and come to a controlled stop. It was really refreshing to attempt a new skill in a space where it wasn’t embarrassing to make mistakes. The whole venue was filled with laughter, chatter, singing and dancing. It was so much more than a fitness class.

But is it really all fun and games all the time? Even running a company as positive, carefree and innocent as Play Tone comes with its struggles. “One of our biggest challenges is being completely underestimated by other people in business, particularly men”, Tinuke explains. “Yes, what we’re doing is roller skating and hula hooping and jump rope. But we always say we’re not playing around. We are a serious business”. 

Photography by John Sukhdeo, Zainab (left) and Tinuke (right)

Obie echos Tinuke’s frustration about being judged inappropriately. “Often when we’re working on our laptops in cafes, men will walk past us and saying ‘Why are you spending all day on your laptops?’ It’s really bizarre – actually, really annoying – that we get targeted in that way”.

Obie and Tinuke agree that what keeps them going during the tougher times is remembering the reasons why they decided to create Play Tone:  to defy stereotypes, share their passions, spread joy and changes as many lives as possible.

The overwhelming amount of support Play Tone has received already is a testament to the impact that they’re having on the community. Obie and Tinuke are very much at the start of their journey, yet have already learnt so much. “Some advice I would give to someone who is thinking about turning their passion into a business would be to remember the reason why you started it,” says Tinuke. “Be the most organised you have ever been in your entire life and [remember]: collaboration over competition. Leave your door open and welcome as many people as possible who may want to work with you or help you out. It’s all about growing the community”.

Play Tone’s crowdfunder is live until 17 November 2019