When Johnnie Timu and his mates left school, they decided over beers to find their own passions and use them to empower their community in south Auckland.
After receiving support from Pasifika mental health provider Le Va this year, the team developed better support structures for mental health and counselling, adding to the team’s portfolio.
The team’s work already includes physical training, clothing and design, music recording, a barbershop and monthly markets to support South Auckland small businesses, but has plans to bring even more support to Pasifika and Māori in Aotearoa and overseas.
What is Brown Pride?
Brown Pride is a social enterprise aimed at empowering Pasifika and Māori through fitness, arts and community.
We started out running boot camps at a local school hall and then realised we had traction in our community. We moved into a gym space just over two years ago now.
We have over a hundred people now that are signed up as members. They pay weekly memberships to help support the gym.
We have a barber shop in here and our music studio, as well as our merch room.
What is a boot camp?
It’s temporary training for anyone that’s just wanting to start their fitness journey. They run for six-week periods to get them into fitness routines and better eating habits.
For some people it’s a good boost and for others it builds bad habits because their fitness just depends on when a bootcamp happens - that’s the only time they train.
We were trying to make it the beginning of their fitness journeys. [The gym] is a massive improvement on the services we can provide. It’s ongoing, there are no temporary fixes.
How did you start Brown Pride?
I started it with my best mates. After leaving school, the only time we would catch up was for training or going out.
Going out wasn’t doing much for us so we looked into personal training courses so we could get qualified. Then we started the boot camps at our old school.
Fitness has always been a passion for me so to start getting paid for it was a bit weird at first, because it was something I naturally enjoyed. But having good mates around me, they encouraged me to keep going and that I was onto something.
By the time we got to our fourth or fifth boot camp, we realised we could open our own gym and jumped at the opportunity. We didn’t have business plans or anything, but everything aligned over time.
What businesses run out of Brown Pride?
Within our group of friends, we all have our different skills.
Our gym is called Base. We don’t really call it a gym, we call it Base because it’s a bit of everything.
It’s that bridge from work or studies where everyone can stop in, have a workout, get a haircut, record some music or whatever. People can leave whatever stresses they’re going through in the day here before they head off home to their families and their kids.
The barbershop was one of the places we would see each other - getting haircuts to go out on the weekend, so I knew that would be a part of it.
It helped my little brother, our barber, so we opened the barbershop for him - F.O.B. (Fresh Outta Base) Cuts barbershop.
The music studio, 216 Records, came about because one of our friends (Reginald McFarland) has always been into music. We’ve always tried to encourage him to get into recording his own music, so we opened that for him and got him to run it.
We have singers, rappers, spoken word artists on the label, and we have a dance crew now coming out of here.
Merchman is our merchandise room for clothing and prints. It was for one of the other guys (Jairus Smith) - he’s always had a love for design and fashion, so we opened it up for him.
Then there’s myself and my right-hand man, my best mate Tee Faalili. He runs all our admin and back work. I just run all the coaching and oversee everything.
Brown Pride was one of the organisations that Le Va funded for suicide prevention. How has the funding supported your business?
When Le Va reached out and said they have funding that could provide social work facilitators and access to counselling, we jumped at the opportunity.
We were already doing it, but it got more of a professional approach and some structure around it.
Last year, we ran a mental health group for guys, then this year we ran a group for women. Our female groups are a lot bigger than the guys’ now because it feels safe here.
What do you want to achieve through your business?
I want to provide a safe space that’s away from home, away from church, away from work, that is something different. The holistic approach [to fitness], not just physical.
Even though the gym is our vehicle that brings everyone here, there are other elements that surround the gym that help with mental health, emotional and spiritual health as well.
With music, the barbershop, and mental health programmes, we have different activities that help support everyone that walks through the door.
My goal is to provide that space for everyone in my community.
Where can people find you?
We’ve got one branch in south Auckland. We’re looking for a new spot because we’re outgrowing this one.
Once that’s done, our goal is to move to either Westside with another branch, depending on how big our next one is, or to Australia.
How did you get into business?
I’ve always had a passion for fitness but my dad, when he was alive, took me through his different business ventures. He started at the local markets here in South Auckland.
Then he moved on to opening a couple of shops. I always looked up to him having the guts to do his own thing and I was just encouraged by that growing up, knowing I wanted to do it myself.
Has it been difficult starting your business?
It’s tough - there’s been a lot of ups and downs but we do get a lot of support. It’s not really advertised to everyone as broadly as I think it should be, but there is support out there.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Covid was probably one of the darkest times. For me, it wasn’t that I didn’t have a job, it was that my community didn’t have a safe space for all the people that depended on us. There was a risk of them losing the safe place that they go to and that was daunting for me.
Do you have any advice for someone in your community who wants to start a business?
Do what you love and figure out a way to get paid for it. I don’t think I’ve worked a day of my life in the past three years.
Lead with your heart. Once you see people as people instead of customers or clients then the blessings will come your way.
Money can come at any time, money can go any time, but your impact on people is not something that you should take lightly. Lead with people in mind and good things unfold from there - it’s always happened with us.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Alka Prasad is an Auckland-based business reporter covering small business and retail.