Kimberly Wilson, DC entrepreneur and founder of Tranquil Space yoga studios, on finding balance and meaning.
Kimberly Wilson is the creative director and founder of Tranquil Space yoga studios, which Travel + Leisure magazine has ranked among the top 25 yoga studios in the world. But these are only two of the many hats she wears. Wilson is also creator of a clothing line, an author, a social worker, a perfume mixologist (more here)—oh, and she started a foundation to give back to girls in the DC area.
How does she do it all? How did she start? I interviewed Wilson in her aptly named Tranquil Space studio on a late fall afternoon. She works in a narrow, warmly lit office, adorned with feminine prints and whimsical posters of piglets sent by friends. The office matches Wilson’s bright, enthusiastic style and easy conversation. She is dressed in a black jumpsuit that she has designed—an outfit that can take her from heels and red lipstick to a yoga class, she explains. Indeed, I later join Wilson and her students for a yoga session, a grounding, hour-long respite from the bustle of the week.
Yoga at home: the roots of Tranquil Space
Wilson was living in Colorado after college when she first read about yoga in a women’s magazine and decided to try it out at a local gym. It was the beginning of both a business and a lifestyle. Yoga, Wilson explains, is a theme woven into everything she does. She believes in yoga off the mat—using yoga themes to live your life in a way that provides meaning to yourself and others.
Wilson moved to Washington, DC in the mid 1990’s and could not find the yoga classes in the DMV. There were few studios in the area at that time and she wanted to create a yoga class that she’d want to attend—something with a Cheers-like, community vibe and feminine flair. Wilson started Tranquil Space in 1999 in her living room. Now with two locations and 1,000 students a week, Tranquil Space has clearly outgrown her apartment space, but the community atmosphere is still core. Wilson says that cities like DC can be lonely and isolating at times, and she aims to cultivate a place where people feel at home.
“When you start a business, it becomes a part of you.”
Building the business
Wilson grew Tranquil Space by keeping her costs low and reinvesting profits into the business. Starting in her living room, then a renting space at a local church allowed her to keep large business expenses manageable. This approach helped Tranquil Space grow sustainably and, amazingly, Wilson did not take out any loans until year 8. At that time, she applied for a small business loan to lease and build out the current Dupont Circle studio space. The building is now truly a tranquil space with plush pillows and warming tea and cookies, but when Wilson first acquired the building, it had broken windows, a distressed roof, nesting pigeons, and no electricity or plumbing. She transformed the building and opened the current location of Tranquil Space in May 2008.
In September 2008, the global recession hit. Wilson recalls that it was a scary time but that it was also important to take a step back and not panic. Tranquil Space did not drastically change its operations, though it did start to offer pay-what-you-can, community classes to make yoga accessible to all. In some ways, she says, people maybe needed yoga more than ever.
- Stay creative. Wilson’s various new pursuits since launching Tranquil Space (social worker, author, lifestyle line designer, and more) has helped her stay fulfilled and become more balanced as an entrepreneur.
- Tenacity + work ethic are critical. Running a business, especially without a co-founder, is lonely and isolating at times, Wilson explains. She relies on tenacity and work ethic to make tough decisions and—especially early into the entrepreneurial journey—it was necessary to work, sleep, and breathe her business. “When you start a business,” she says, “it becomes a part of you.”
- Give back. Wilson founded Tranquil Space Foundation to promote leadership for girls in the DC area through yoga and creativity classes. She is also very involved with Farm Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to the humane treatment of farm animals. According to Wilson, giving back to others helps a person make better decisions and be a leader.
Advice for female entrepreneurs
When she was starting Tranquil Space, Wilson was helped by a 12-week course at the Washington Women’s Business Center. The Center is now defunct, but she recommends that female entrepreneurs find or start an advisory group of supportive women at a similar starting point. She convened an advisory group in the early stages of growing Tranquil Space. Wilson also recommends The E-Myth: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What To Do About It, a book that she credits as inspiration for her business philosophy and drive to create an experience for both clients and her fellow team.
Genna Byrd is the founder of Start DC. Learn more about her here. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.