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Season 2, Episode 8
Privilege as a Tool for Change with Vivienne Miles

Vivienne Miles (she/her) doesn’t believe a traditional bio is authentic to who she came here to be. Instead, she shares experiences that don’t define her, but that have given her a lens to see herself through and a foundation to define who she came here to be.

  • Childhood abuse.
  • An unplanned pregnancy at 20.
  • Sexual assault and physical abuse in her 20s.
  • An abortion at 30.
  • Another birth at 34.
  • A divorce at 22.
  • A bankruptcy, foreclosure, and car repossession.
  • $50,000+ in healthcare debt from depression and 12 suicide attempts before age 27.
  • A model who posed in Playboy ad used her sexuality as a currency for a decade.

Vivienne has grit and resiliency like no fucking other, but none of those things define who she is or how she interacts and engages in her life. With her Saturn Return, a giant beacon of light began to illuminate a path forward; one where she was no longer willing to tolerate abuse from boyfriends and addictions that kept her in low frequencies and shitty situations. Her vocation might seem shallow, but it’s full of her heart and a love language of healing, connection and unapologetic love, which transcends the four walls of her Co-Op Movement and Social Club.

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  • Discussed in this episode:

    • Vivienne’s relationship with feminism
    • The meaning of her company’s name, Co-Op Movement and Social Club
    • How Vivienne bought into diet culture early in life and eventually rejected it
    • The ways Co-Op is challenging diet culture norms in the fitness space
    • Why community is as important at Vivienne’s gym as movement
    • How Vivienne finds employees who share her values
    • The challenges of marketing a gym without shame-based approaches
    • The ways privilege plays into gym membership and participation
    • How ground-breaking it is to have a gym that isn’t focused on weight loss
    • The sustainability of her business model beyond her initial 5-year investment
    • Why her business isn’t a passion project or charitable endeavor, and the importance of making money
    • What helped Vivienne confront her privilege and set out to begin using it to create meaningful change
    • Vivienne’s abortion story
    • The journey from struggle to privilege and how the former inspired how Vivienne uses the latter
    • Her partner’s journey to feminism and supporting her vision

    Resources mentioned:

Becky Mollenkamp:

Hello Vivienne, thank you for being here and being part of the podcast.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Hi, good morning, how are you?

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Good, I’m excited to chat with you. This is gonna be a conversation that I think will include a lot of talk about privilege. And so I think it’s important first and foremost for us both just to acknowledge our white privilege going into this conversation, because I think that is something that will come up throughout this. And I think it’s also a great kickoff to having you tell me about your relationship with feminism, because I’m sure that your own privilege of being white is factored into that.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Yeah, certainly my relationship with feminism started before acknowledging and understanding any amount of privilege. So for me, feminism isn’t, it’s not a gendered conversation. It’s not gendered, oh, what am I trying to say? Activism. It is energy. It is leaning into what we think of as being feminine, soft, gentle, going slow, being nurturing. So we think of that as moms and women generally. But for me, feminism is welcoming that in, inviting it in, creating space to go slow, be gentle, get into our feelings. That’s for men and women and thems. It’s for everyone.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I think it’s best for us to start where you are now and then we’ll go back a bit. And because this is ultimately a business podcast, let’s talk about the business, which is the Co-Op Movement and Social Club. And so first I’m wondering, can you tell me about the name? What does it mean to you? 

 

Vivienne Miles:

Yeah, for me, the prefix co is togetherness. We’re in it together. And when you are cooperative, you are working together to like a common end or goal. And while we’re not necessarily results oriented, actually not at all, we are definitely in this together. Right? I have trainers and teachers leading classes, holding space for one-on-ones or workshops, and we need folks coming in through the door. So we’re in this together. It’s kind of a simple concept, but that’s where the name started from.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Well, and it’s called the social club as well, because as we’re gonna talk about, it’s not just a traditional gym. And I’m wondering, you know, you have a background, I believe in exercise science, perhaps, is that right? 

 

Vivienne Miles:

I do.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And for many of us, we have a history, especially as women, of diet culture and the pains that causes, and I think so many of us associate gyms with that, associate people who do exercise science with that mentality. And I understand you’re doing things differently. So what makes what you’re doing with Co-Op different than those typical gyms that are still very immersed in diet culture and exercise culture and all of that?

 

Vivienne Miles:

You know, it really begins with me personally, my personal experience. When I was much younger, I started lifting weights when I was 15. So in 1993, there weren’t a lot of women in the weight room, but it was the first time I experienced my physical body and felt strong and powerful, so I was hooked immediately. And so that was always a centering and grounding activity for me, was to work out. It didn’t start with changing my body. I’m privileged to be in a, I think, I guess, thinner body. But as time went on, I noticed that I cared more about what exercise did to change the way I looked. So it became habituated, and then it became addictive, and then it became abusive. It was a way I loved to abuse myself with compulsive exercise. So I went to school late in life. I was in my 40s when I went back to college and when I was coming out with my undergrad, I decided that I did wanna open a space and that it would be about movement, but feelings focused, not ‘what we look like’ focused. So we don’t have mirrors, we don’t have scales, we don’t have meal plans, we don’t talk about burning off what you ate or drank the night before, earning the weekend, or being ready for swimsuit season. That for me is all complete and utter bullshit, and ways to prey on people’s scarcity and fear mindset. And we’re coming at this as any body needs movement. That’s just like part, it’s like a small part of a healthy lifestyle. And we’re not here to grind you out and leave you exhausted and not have energy for the rest of your day in life. It’s just a component. So we really, we don’t do sales the first week of the year. We don’t push any idea that this is the time to get started. Anything that you would think of related to fitness. I feel like we’re doing everything differently, except a squat is a squat, a bicep curl is a bicep curl. Those things don’t change. But the environment you do them in, the intention with which you move and we hold space is everything for me. So that’s the movement side.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Well, and let’s talk about the social side because you just mentioned doing that in community and that that’s part of it because a big piece of what you’re doing and why it’s not just called a gym, but it’s called a movement and social club is that a lot of it’s also about social connection and camaraderie and gathering and creating experiences. And you’re even doing things like ceremonies and, you know, tarot and things that go beyond what we might often associate with a regular gym. Why are those pieces, why is a social component so important to you in what you’re doing?

 

Vivienne Miles:

Because science shows us that social connection is one of the highest markers of health and like life happiness and satisfaction. So coming out of the pandemic, I was tired of not being able to go to the places I wanna go and where I practice yoga, it closed down. Where I used to work out it closed down. So it felt also like this perfect storm for me to step into this space. But also on like a really super personal level, when you start a business, you get to do literally whatever the fuck you want. And that’s where I’m coming from. We do things in the studio that I’m pumped for, I’m excited for, right? So we have been doing journaling workshops, a sacred start workshop. So bringing people together for me is also decompartmentalizing, bringing your whole humanity into a space, experiencing some movement, experiencing some gatherings and some ceremonies, and learning together to me just feels like the way to do it. It feels like a no-brainer, but the feedback I get is like, oh my God, what a great idea. I love this. Oh, I wish I lived in Kansas City. It just doesn’t seem that revolutionary to me, but I’m finding out otherwise.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I understand that because for you, it feels so natural. And I think you have enough experience of going through an exercise science program and being in the gym yourself and experiencing how unusual it is to have a gym that is not hyper-fixated on appearance, right? Because that’s usually what it preaches, and using that shame around appearance is a really great tool for getting people to spend money. So it makes sense from a marketing perspective, why people engage in that. And it’s also so conditioned into us that what we look like matters most, especially as women. And I’m wondering then for you, how do you find, let’s start with just people that work with you. How do you find trainers, or I don’t know what you even call them, maybe you guys use different language, but how do you find employees who are bought into, supportive of, excited about this approach, because as I’m sure you know, going through an exercise science program, trainers are not an exception from the conditioning that we all receive, and they perpetuate those same things.

 

Vivienne Miles:

I love this question because I haven’t recruited. I’ve never put up a hiring sign. I’ve never put it out there like, hey, we need help. I’m not doing that. Everybody’s come through referrals. And that to me feels like kismet, that’s good energy. That’s the universe responding to my request to bring me my people, bring me my leaders, bring me the people that have this mindset. And to be really honest with you, I’ve had, within the first eight months of being open, nine months, I had 100% turnover. And that was for many reasons. And I could feel a lot of shame around it. I don’t. I knew staffing would be a challenge owning a small business, but that was really about the right people, the right fit. People who have drive and ambition, but also have this vision that we are a warm, welcoming space. I’ve been to too many gyms and studios where I feel like I got to shrink. Okay, just get in, get on your mat or find your spot. Don’t look people in the eye. People aren’t there to socialize. And I hate that. So looking for my staff, I’m looking for people who are outgoing, who are warm and welcoming. I do use Instagram to kind of check on people because if they’re, if their M.O. is about their body and other people’s bodies, it’s not a good fit. But if they’re talking about anti-diet culture and moving to feel good, then I’d like to have a conversation with that person. So everybody’s come through a referral.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Do you do any training or required reading or anything else to help folks that maybe are excited about what you’re doing, but perhaps not as far along in the journey of unlearning, especially around issues of creating spaces that are safe and inviting and welcoming for folks who have more marginalized identities maybe than just a different-size body.

 

Vivienne Niles:

You know, this is making me realize we should probably do something. We don’t though. There has not been any additional training or curriculum required to, you know, learn what we do or unlearn what we’ve been taught. We have little coaching moments and sessions like, hey, I overheard this thing that doesn’t really fit, you know we’re just conditioned. Like sometimes we don’t know what we’re saying we’re not totally, we don’t have total awareness around that. So no, not yet. But I like that idea.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I love that you’re receptive to it. And let’s talk about the customer, the client base. Again, you have people coming in and they’re saying, wow, this is so different, and they like it. But from a marketing perspective, as I said, part of, I think the success of marketing a lot of gyms is shame-based marketing. It works really well. Doesn’t mean it’s ethical or good, but it works. So how are you combating that? How are you approaching marketing to get the right people in and to help them understand what you’re doing? Because I can see that as a challenge.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Hmm. You have found the Achilles already. It is a challenge. It’s my number-one challenge with this business, is knowing what to say, how to say it, what format, what are the right words. We haven’t quite figured that out. To be really honest with you, we probably need a website revamp. I don’t want to get into all the things I need to do on my long to-do list, but that’s not something I have figured out yet.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

We associate gyms in a very specific way I have noticed a particular gym, I won’t say which but it’s purple, and their ads have been very intentional about saying their space is different. And even with as intentional as those ads are, and as often as I see them I can feel inside of myself a bracing of ‘you say that, but really, is it really gonna be different when I show up?’ You’re not gonna have, I’m not gonna feel like you said, this need to be small, this feeling of being watched and judged. I know they have mirrors, I’m sure they have scales. I know they have trainers that have really buff bodies despite all the things they’re saying. And so those things become a challenge. I’m not sure that I have your answers either, but I will say there has to be so many people who want to move but want to do it in a space that feels safe to do that. And I think there’s so many of us who don’t feel safe going into gyms. We just don’t, there has been too much harm caused.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Even just starting going the first time feels like death to me. And it might not be the gym for everybody, anything can feel that way, but we haven’t received such good feedback about that. Like, you know, the first week of this year and last year both, we had all free classes. I don’t do any sales the first week of the year. I’m not doing that. I’m not subscribing to the idea that this is the time to start. 

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I hate the new year, new you bullshit.

 

Vivienne Miles:

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just driven by capitalism. That’s it, to me. That’s the only, like the winter time isn’t to start new things. It’s to hunker down and to keep pace with what’s going on outside. And here it’s freezing cold, covered in snow, tells me to slow down. So once people find us, are in the door, it, that’s it. They’re hooked. They love it because they do feel welcome and they realize like, Oh, I can, I can move my body and every day is different. So they’re welcome to experiment with how much energy they have, or maybe they’re stronger because they’ve been coming for a month, so they’re picking up heavier dumbbells. I’m in love with our members. We attract the most amazing dynamic people, which is very affirming, right? That I’m getting all kinds of people from all walks of life coming through the door going, well, this is fucking cool. I will say, I’m gonna brag, the space itself is dope as hell. I did not cut any corners. I wanted to create a space that you wanted to be in. We have really high retention. I’m really proud of that.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

It means that once people experience that they get it, the challenge is helping them understand that this is truly different and not just purple gym advertising different, but really different. And honestly, if you did nothing but take down the mirrors, I would say it was worthy of a conversation with you because that alone to me feels revolutionary inside of your industry. But there is so much more than that. And I know part of what you’ve talked to me about too, because we had a previous conversation, was looking at other ways that you can invite the community in without having to pay, free events and things like that for the social element at least, because I wonder too, obviously gyms in and of themselves, create privilege. I mean, it is a privileged space, right? To be able to afford to join a gym, there’s privilege in that. And what you’re creating is so beautiful. And I know that part of that is that you want to have a space that is more welcoming, more diverse, all of the things, and yet you’re up against the fact that you need to charge for the space, you have overhead, all of those things. So how are you balancing that personally with that desire for the kind of world you’re wanting to create and charging people money?

 

Vivienne Miles:

Yeah, and I just want to acknowledge that it is a privilege, not only from a financial standpoint, but from a time standpoint. I was a single mom and yeah, money was tight, but time was sometimes tighter. Like any given day you’d ask me, do you have more time or money? I don’t have enough of either. So just naming that. One of my drives and goals is to create access to movement, to health, to wellness, to information, to education, to caring about ourselves and it not being called selfish or it not being pampering. I don’t find getting my nails done to be self-care. To me, self-care is about sustaining oneself to get through life. So that was another slight tangent. We have free classes that live on our schedule that will always be free. You never have to pay anything. You don’t have to have a membership. There’s not a drop-in rate. You just have to have an account so you can actually go to our app or website and put yourself in the class. And I still pay my trainers and teachers their full fee for those classes. And these classes don’t perform well. I just, I want to also name that. Just because we create access doesn’t mean people still feel okay. They feel safe. You know, it kind of feels like a handout. So that’s another place for me to be working on how can I really get the message out and let people know that this isn’t a hook? I’m not giving you something free in hopes that I can sell something to you later. Absolutely not. It is literally to be a good neighbor to our community and allow people who haven’t had access before in movement. So we have group fit classes, I think we have two of those a week that are free. And right now we have one yoga class. And the yoga class is free slash donation based. We are raising money for an organization that is taking yoga into public schools.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I have a feeling you’re right. My inclination is that people may not. One, it’s probably just awareness, right? Getting more awareness about the free classes. But I think it is also, we are so, I think all of us are just bracing always for what are you trying to sell me? What’s the hook? What are you trying to do here? And I think people are probably feeling that. And if I go in there, then they’re going to sell me on a membership because it happens so frequently, you know, free trials at gyms. We all know what the pressure is at the end of that experience and so why bother? And so I hope if anyone’s listening in Kansas City, they hear this and help spread the word because I think what you’re doing is different but I can see why people would be nervous about it. Yeah. Yeah, I mean totally, we’re all bracing ourselves. But it won’t come, so if you wanna go, take advantage. We actually don’t have a sales pitch. We don’t have a script.

 

Vivienne Miles:

We actually don’t have a sales pitch. We don’t have a script. We don’t have any of that. When you’re ready to buy, you have questions, we can walk you through that. And maybe that’s a downfall. Maybe it’s, you know, something, a deficit, a gap for us to be learning from. I’m not afraid of sales, like I’m not worth it, but I don’t want to put pressure on anybody. I don’t want anybody to make a decision just to get out of the space with me talking about it. Does that make sense?

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Absolutely. And I think so many of us even no matter what we’re selling or what our business is, we can understand that because when you go through this journey of wanting to undo all of these capitalist norms that we’ve been conditioned into, selling feels awful often because it feels like this experience of pressure. I think part of the journey of the unlearning and relearning is discovering what selling can look like in a way that is free from all of that. And to me, then it becomes like you’re saying, it’s really experiential and a conversation, it’s problem solving, right? And it’s where their problem meets your solution and they wanna reward you for that, right? But that feels so different and difficult. So I totally understand. And I think part of it is an unlearning as business owners and then it’s an unlearning for consumers. They’re going to, right now they’re bracing and we just have to help the ones of us who are trying to do it differently. Hopefully we begin to show them that there are spaces where you don’t have to be bracing for the shoe to drop.

 

Vivienne Miles:

I wanted to say something about how I think it’s confusing for women, in particular, to learn about a movement studio and it not be about weight loss. Well, then what is it about? I’m curious and scared because that shit does not make sense to me. And so removing weight loss from the conversation altogether, I don’t think we know what that looks or sounds like yet. So in that way, I can actually accept ‘trailblazer.’ Someone called me that one time, like, Oh, easy. I would love to claim that for myself, but just sitting here with you, I’m just noticing how shocking it is to remove weight loss from the conversation, which is inviting someone in to accept what they look like, accept their body size and shape. Oh, I’m so fucking on it. Like that just, that gets me really excited.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Starting a gym from the ground up with that in mind is still groundbreaking, you know, trailblazing in your industry. And I think this is a good place to acknowledge and honor that there are many, many Black women who have been sharing the same message for a very long time. I mean, they are the people who have been who started and have who have put all of the work behind body acceptance, body love, all of that. One name that just immediately comes to mind is Jessamyn Stanley, who has been changing what it means to be someone who embraces yoga for your body and not for any other reason but for movement. So just want to also point that out, which I know you know, too, but it’s important to. Yeah. OK, so I want to shift to your employees again because one of the, while I’m super excited again, no mirrors done, sold, right? That’s already great. Now, the other things around community building and ritual and all that? Awesome. But the thing that really got me excited was knowing about your company is called Co-Op. And you’re actually that goes beyond just the cooperative of the people in the gym working together and all that, but also looking towards this, maybe not a true co-op business model, but looking at ownership sharing in some way and profit sharing with your staff and That your goal is not for this business to enrich you to make you as the owner money, but thinking about how do I use that money to make a meaningful, real difference in the lives of my employees. So talk to me about what motivated you for that what you’re exploring with that and where you’re at in the process.

 

Vivienne Miles:

This is not something we talk about, right? And that’s one of my favorite things to do is like talk about shit we’re not supposed to talk about. And so money is like one of the biggest voodoo topics and I know people have a lot of shame around money for some reason, I haven’t figured out why but I know they do. So my financial needs are met, more than met. And my husband and I are supplying the capital for this company. And as I was putting it together, I was noticing that I had resistance with the financial part of it. And so I’m a meditator, get quiet, what is the message? And the message is, for me, I want to do more than just own a business and show people how to move their bodies or collectively be in a space and share something really sacred and meaningful. So this business is not meant to be something that I financially benefit from. I don’t plan on bringing home any money, so to speak. Breaking even with our investment would be nice, but we’re even flexible there. So as we grow and become financially self-sustaining and then beyond, all of that revenue will be redistributed to the people who are running this every single day, to my employees. I like to call them collaborators. Something about employee-boss that doesn’t feel like a good fit for me. And then part of our profit would also be used for community. I don’t even know what that might look like in the future because we’re not there. We’re not profitable yet. So this is something else that I didn’t think was that big a deal. Because for me, it’s kind of like profit sharing or like an employee-owned business. I don’t actually know what either of those things look like in real time. But this is one of the ways I can use my financial privilege to benefit other people and redistribute some amount of wealth. Like this is not a real estate development firm, this is a small movement studio. Maybe it’s a smaller scale, but if I can impact the lives of the people who are making this work, oh my gosh, I’m really here for that. I will also say in this same thread that a lot of trainers and teachers, I call fitness people, trainers and yoga people, teachers. They’re not usually financially taken care of without working at a ton of different places. They’re early morning and later in the evening when people aren’t at their 9 to 5s and they have a hard time making ends meet, their health usually ends up suffering and they don’t have much of a life or lifestyle. Maybe that’s a better way to phrase that. I want to help take care of the people that are helping us take care of ourselves. I pay higher than the industry average and standard, which is not to say, you know, these people aren’t building mansions yet, but can I just say some really honest things? Like I pay them for time off. They’re able to take vacations. Two of my trainers are a married couple, and they got to go to Hawaii without sacrificing any other part of their life. And to me that, that’s another luxury, but that’s not something that’s typical in this industry.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

No, I actually had started a decade ago going down the path of becoming a personal trainer when I went through my own journey and realizing I wanted to really help people and that’s where I started. I’m personally glad I didn’t end up there because the industry is really problematic. I love that you’re trying to change it, and I would have loved to have been a trainer at your studio, but that is not the norm. And it’s very extractive, as you’re mentioning. And I’m glad you’re bringing this into it because I actually hadn’t planned to talk about it, but I think it is important to talk about. It is such an extractive industry. People get paid very little. Often they’re getting paid a small percentage of what the per person-fee is. A good portion of that is going to the gym or the facility or wherever, and they get a small amount of that. And so they’re paid more if there are more people in class, often less if there’s fewer, or they get a really low hourly at the YMCA or a lot of those kinds of places are just getting minimum wage or a little more. I mean, it’s very extractive. And you mentioned earlier, you’re paying people for free classes. That doesn’t usually happen inside of that industry, right? That’s something a trainer is doing pro bono or the gym is offering it and they are paying, but only because it is a loss leader to get people to sign up. So already you’re breaking those trends, but the industry is extractive and I love that you’re trying to explore ways to change that. And how, I would assume that once you get the right-fit people in, that they do probably stick around because it is so different than what they’re experiencing elsewhere.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Our staff, our team members, my collaborators, are, I believe, super happy. And I have gotten that feedback. I have one-on-ones. We have whole-team meetings where we can talk very openly about how everyone’s doing. A quote from one of my trainers is, ‘thank you for letting us have these badass jobs.’ Never once have I ever had a job, and I’ve had a lot of them, that I would have described as badass or have very much gratitude for having, and I notice right now I’m like oh stop talking about how great you are, there’s already shame creeping in but there is a sense of doing this, for me this is heart-centered work and it’s working. It feels really good. My team members, my collaborators are well-rested. They’re well taken care of. They have the capacity in the bandwidth to take care of themselves because they’re not having to run around the city teaching or training or coaching everywhere or a bunch of places.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I know that you said you have runway, financial runway for making this work. You signed a five-year lease. You’ve invested in the facility, which you mentioned is really amazing. You’re putting a lot of money in. You’ve given yourself at least five years. Is the model, beyond that, sustainable? Are you looking at a model that you can see being a sustainable model that can maybe survive past your, wealth, your financial privilege that you’re bringing to it?

 

Vivienne Miles:

What I feel and believe inside is not necessarily what’s happening outwardly yet, but I believe so strongly in this. I can see it multiply. Like it’s not just going to be a five-year deal and done. That was just the terms of the lease. My goal is actually to give the business to my full-time employees. And they know that, but I don’t know if not everybody knows that. And I think that might scare some people, like, well, why would I join this and get really into it if you’re just going to leave? So there are some things for me to figure out. And people ask me, oh, are you going to franchise this? Are you going to open up another one? I would love to open up a second one in Kansas City once this is sustainable, and that we can really work out the kinks and understand. The initial investment was a lot higher for this one. It’s our first time doing it. So there’s some things to figure out for us. But I do think it has life after five years. In fact, I hope that this is the future of movement. Because I also want to add this. Weight loss is a worthy goal. I don’t want to completely demonize it. Sometimes that is what a specific body and person needs to contribute to a higher level of vitality and health. So let it be a byproduct, but I hope that this is the future of movement, that we just, I don’t know how to escape capitalism, but somehow we get out of this mindset that’s the only reason why we exercise. So I feel like there’s gotta be a shift of, you know, in mindset and how we think about exercise and movement. But yeah, I hope this is the future.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I hope it’s sustainable too. That’s why I’m asking to make sure that, you know, the business model as you’re exploring it, you’re exploring it outside of the privilege you’re bringing into it to be able to make it sustainable because it’s so important to actually create lasting change that really changes individual industries, the way we approach weight loss, or I’m sorry, the way we approach movement industries, you know, to change capitalism, or to hopefully get rid of capitalism. Like we have to create alternative models that work, that are sustainable. So it’s so important that as we’re doing these things, it’s not just like, oh, here’s a charitable act, but like, no, I’m creating a sustainable business model.

 

Vivienne Miles:

I’m glad you’re saying the charitable aspect because when I first started talking about this business, somebody called it a passion project. And that wasn’t immediate ‘oh, hell no.’ This is not that. I’m passionate about people and movement and health and that all feels really good. I’m more passionate about changing why we do things. I like to refer to myself as a heretic or a rebel with a cause. I’ve seen the what I refer to as the ugly, back-of-the-house charitable nonprofit organizations. And I sat on a board and I looked around and I thought, okay, a lot of white privilege, a lot of cis happening. And this was for a domestic violence shelter that also had all sorts of other types of programs, but nobody really representative of who they were helping. So I’ve seen that side of that. That isn’t what this is. I do believe in profit. I do believe in abundance. I do believe in wealth, and creating more of it and more access to it. It is really expensive and difficult to open up a business. And so that was, that’s part of this. I can do this with the privilege that I have, and potentially this one location can feed another one to start a second location.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Let’s talk about privilege because there’s immense privilege and being able to have the money to build out a space, to sign a five-year lease, to hire staff, to do all the things that go into this while you, you know, you’re now a year and a half or so in it running and not making a profit. Most people don’t have the privilege to be able to do that. You have a good deal of financial privilege. You haven’t always, we’ll talk about that, but you’re in a place in your life where you have a lot of financial privilege. You have white privilege. There’s no kudos, and I don’t think you’re asking for them. I’m not gonna give them, so I just wanna be clear to everybody. I’m not here to heap praise on you to say you’re doing something so great with your privilege or good on you. And a lot of people with that kind of privilege don’t do that. They’re not trying to build out a business that won’t profit them, that’s about community, that’s about enriching the lives of the people who are actually doing the work. All of that. Most people don’t do that. It’s not to say that it’s like yay for you for doing it, but most people don’t. So what is it that motivated you in that place of privilege to say this is how I want to use that privilege? Because it isn’t the decision most people make with that privilege.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Yeah, I love how you’re phrasing this question too, because there’s part of me that’s like, well, I’ve never confronted it, but I have. Like you wrestle with this privilege, this financial privilege of like, okay, what does this mean? Is this changing who I am? And I don’t have a better answer for you, Becky, other than it feels right. It feels like the right thing to do. I don’t understand the mindset of hoarding wealth. I don’t understand the idea of just raking it in, raking it in. To me, there’s no point in being the wealthiest person on the planet or in the 1%. That to me doesn’t have inherent value.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

For me, I can say very clearly I have pinpoints, like my real unlearning journey of my white feminism of my youth and, well, the bulk of my young life and into my adult life. There was a very clear demarcation of where I went on my journey of unlearning that version of feminism and coming to a place of intersectional feminism, of really understanding privilege and my white privilege, and my privilege is a middle-class person, and that was Michael Brown’s death because it happened half a mile from my doorstep. It is unfortunate that it took something like that to awaken me, but for most of us who sit in a place of privilege, it does take something to start to shake us out of our slumber of privilege and to say, oh, I do have privilege and oh, maybe my feminism was very sort of white-centric without me thinking it was. Like I was always a good liberal, I didn’t realize that wasn’t actually helpful and that it was actually harmful until I had to sort of go on a journey. So was there anything in particular or was it a gradual unlearning? Were there particular texts perhaps or educators that helped to start to kick you out of that slumber?

 

Vivienne Miles:

Finding myself in rooms I could never have imagined being in and looking around thinking, okay, I’m in this room, so I belong but why does it feel like I don’t belong? Or what is it about this that I don’t like? And this will go back to the nonprofit world. Like where we have these like fancy galas and dinners and to raise money. But all these white people are patting themselves on the back. It’s disgusting. That’s why I have been a little reluctant to talk about some of this because I don’t wanna appear as though I’m one of those people. I’m not looking for the accolades, but I’m in these rooms with other wealthy people, and I’m wondering, are you not here with me? You don’t see what we’re doing? Just write the check and send it. We don’t need to buy these fancy, expensive clothes, and show up and schmooze each other. Gross. That’s disgusting to me. We used to get invited to a lot of dinners like that, and at first it was kind of fun. And you start looking around, and one of the things that is most disgusting to me are the people attending our typically white and the people that are receiving the benefit are not. And I don’t. I want to be helpful. I’m not saying to not be generous and not give, but why the fuck do we need a party? That’s, that’s gross.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I’m gonna guess then you’ve answered my next question, which is why not just use your privilege through charitable giving, which is what a lot of folks who have more for a financial privilege will do. And there’s something to be said for that, but you’re taking a very different approach, which is in some ways, maybe a smaller approach in that you’re trying to make a meaningful impact and inside of this one business, maybe it grows, but inside of this space with these individual both clients, community members, and then employees, why that approach instead?

 

Vivienne Miles:

Let me give you a scenario. I got a million dollars and I can write a million dollar check to any given charity. And my experience is that it gets diluted, diluted, diluted. You have to pay people. And I’m not saying that people who work in that world don’t deserve a salary, but the million dollars you first give, how much of it directly impacts those who it’s meant for? It’s pennies, in my opinion, what I’ve witnessed. And I think we can do more powerful work. I think that a lot of privileged people want the accolades, they want their ego to be stroked, they wanna be seen in that room. And they’re not confronting. I guess they have confronted it. I just don’t, I hadn’t put it in those terms. But to me, that is only going on a road trip. Just stick with me for a second. You never get out of the car. You see things from behind a sheet of glass. I wanna be in life. I wanna feel life. I wanna be with people. I wanna experience their energy and their emotions, their breakthroughs. I want to be there with people. I don’t want to experience my life on a road trip. I want to get out of the car and get in life with people.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

That million dollars given through some organization that gives to a lot of folks who need it. It makes it ultimately, let’s say it’s like a $10 impact on, I don’t know the math, 10,000. That may not be a million people. Whereas what you’re saying is I, I feel like I want to have a $10,000 impact on 10 people. That’s not the right math, but just pretend like I know math and that are $100,000 impact on 10 people, right? So it may be on fewer folks, but the impact on those individuals is far greater.

 

Vivienne Miles:

I’m gonna paint with a big paintbrush here. I don’t know why wealthy people are boring, and that they’ve never thought to do this and I’m not saying like nobody else has. My son goes to a private school, so I get a lot of this there as well. Like, what? You’re not doing anything. Taking care of your family is an important thing. And if that’s what somebody picks as how they spend their time, I love that for them. I’m a huge advocate of ‘pick what’s right for you.’ But I’m just bored to death with that life. I want to do something else. I want to, and that’s who I am. I realize that is part of my design, to be here with people, to make impact, and not to sit at home in the lap of luxury, getting my facial and my massage and going to yoga.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Go back to episode one of season one, CV Harquail, who said, feminist businesses are inherently creative. And I do believe that privilege does not necessitate creativity. When you operate from a marginalized identity, you have to be creative, just inherently you have to get creative, because life isn’t handed to you, things aren’t simple, it’s not easy, you have to get creative in figuring things out and problem solving. This will bring me into the last part of what I want to talk about, which is yes, you have privilege and that is not to negate or say that you did not have hard times and hardship. Because one of the things that often comes up when you start talking about privilege is people feel this and I understand it, I used to be there, that defensiveness around, but I haven’t always had it easier. It’s not been easy for me. The point is you’ve always had white privilege. You just were born with white privilege. You’ve also had a decent amount of financial privilege at points in your life. And you’ve also had a lot of hardship. And you are a woman. And there is marginalization that happens inside of that, of being a woman and having parts of your life where you’ve been a single mom, where you’ve had money struggles, things that I think we know are marginalizations. That helps to create, make you a creative person. So let’s talk about those things. You told me that you spent your childhood being a good girl. Oh, do I relate to that one! And we’re going to, on our bonus content, if you’re a subscriber of Feminist Founders, and it’s for free or paid subscribers, so get the link in the show notes. We’re going to do some bonus content on how to release the inner good girl, which I’m excited for. But that then had you showing up one way through the early parts of your life. And then at 20, you were pregnant, kept the baby, were unmarried. I believe that probably led to the college-dropout piece. Fell into a journey of depression, including suicide attempts. I think that you struggled a lot financially as that single mom. So tell me a little bit about that part of the journey before we get to the part in your 30s where things shifted, but that earliest part of your journey.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Birth to 20, I was a good girl, you know, nearly straight A’s. I didn’t get into trouble. I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t, I was such a nerd too, like no boyfriends. I would have like one best friend at a time. But I had a boyfriend, obviously. That’s how I got pregnant. And not having the baby never really occurred to me. I didn’t really know about abortion. It wasn’t something, I mean, we didn’t talk about sex, or family planning, or having safe sex. I don’t even know, there was none of that. So here I am 20 and I’m pregnant and I’m a whore and I’ve ruined my life. That was the message. Not necessarily said explicitly and directly to me, but that was the underlying message, that you’ve really gone and fucked this up. You’re so young and you’re throwing your whole life away. And this is for me where my life really began because it is the point when I started to notice, look around, question the things I believed, question the things I was taught to believe, and notice that something about what I’ve done here, becoming a mother, is shame-inducing for those around me. And that didn’t really make sense to me because my daughter is a fucking magical thing I made. She came out of my body. I was just enamored with her. So when I was with her, I knew exactly who I was and how to be in this world. There were no questions. But then outside of that, everything was telling me I was a loser. And I kind of bought into that for a while. I was a wild single mom every other weekend, I did have shared custody. And that’s really where the depression started to hit because it’s like, wait, I actually can’t, I don’t know how to survive. I know how to be a mother, but I don’t know how to pay my bills. I don’t know how to get a lease. I didn’t have skills like that. So I found myself in abusive relationships, really transactional, so that I could economically be taken care of, there was not a lot of safety or security in my 20s. And so yeah, I was broke for more than a decade. And I had a million jobs, I didn’t like Corporate America, so I would I was a gig worker, you know, cocktail server, bartender. I did some modeling, but yeah, it was a shitty time. And at the time it wasn’t teaching me anything. I just thought life was really fucking hard and it was terrible, but then I did start taking note, like, some people have it easy. Look, they have all this money. They’re doing all these neat things. Why not me? I started asking why not me? Why can’t I have that? So I just started having hope one day. I just thought maybe I could be that, too. Maybe I could have a safe life. I could be with somebody who would love me, and cherish me, and protect me.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

You got pregnant again in your 30s and had an abortion. I’m just curious if there was something different happening in your 30s that made you feel like I need to make a different choice for myself right now.

 

Vivienne Miles:

I felt empowered. I felt in charge of my life and I was starting to take, you know, I don’t like the word control. So I was starting to become in charge of my life and my body. So it wasn’t even something I had to think about. I knew immediately I’m not, this is not what I want. This is not what I’ve intended to do and I’m not doing this again.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Your response makes me so happy. I love that. ‘I felt empowered.’

 

Vivienne Miles:

It’s the most empowered decision of my entire life by far. It’s the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. And I don’t have any shame around it. I want to be an advocate of empowerment. Pick what’s right for you, regardless of where you are in your life or what other people think you should be doing.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

So what was it then that started to happen for you in your 30s that led you to where you are now? 

 

Vivienne Miles:

I was single, and I was having a conversation with someone who was considering hiring me slash trying to sleep with me. And he said, we are saying it all wrong. The universe doesn’t understand the word not. So don’t say, I don’t want to be single, say, I want to be in a relationship. And literally this is my internal dialogue. Oh, what the fuck? Now the universe doesn’t understand a word. But I was hopeful and I really, I don’t, I was just ready for change. So I started the mantra, I want to be in a relationship, I want to be in a relationship. And it grew to, I want to be in a safe relationship. I want to be in a safe, secure relationship. I want to be in a safe, secure, stable. Safe, secure, stable, fun. So I built out what a future version of me and a partner would look and feel like. It had energy to it, it had a lot of emotion to it, it had activity. Like I wanna have, this life is privileged with fun. So I did that. And the other woohoo-y thing that happened the same month was I was learning about visualization, and using your imagination to conjure up the dream of what the future could look like. And I kept my hair shorter than this, but when I pictured myself as a bride, I had long hair that was in an updo. And so I thought, okay, well, those things don’t match. I’m giving the universe, now I’m all on board with the fucking universe. I’m giving a mixed message. This is what I want my future to look like, and yet I’m not taking the actionable steps, the intentional steps to get there. So I started growing out my hair. I mean, it’s just not even, it doesn’t even make sense. Sometimes when I hear myself say it, that was January of 2011 and I met my sweetheart in August. And I knew right away.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And so things began to shift for you and you ended up in this wonderful marriage and you have this life now with much more privilege. And the whole reason I wanna share that journey but also wanted to save it to the end is because I think it brings us right back to the beginning, which is how you’re using that privilege. And my guess, tell me if I’m off base here, is that journey when your answer is, I’m not sure what made me unlearn the conditioning. I think part of your motivation for doing things differently has to be because of that journey.

 

Vivienne Miles:

1 million percent. So when I’m saying things like, oh, I don’t know, I’m unsure, it’s like, well, there’s so many things that happened in my 20s to show me what I didn’t want. And so once I started moving towards what I did want that, I mean, there was just, it moved, life moved really, really fast. Like almost whiplash speed from being a struggling single mome to I’m in a safe relationship and our bills are paid are like, oh, I can actually have needs in the space and get them met. It just was mind boggling. And when I met my sweetheart, he was starting his own business. So there was still actually some time in there that there’s a little bit of struggle still. And I just am saying that because we have built. He built his business and we built our family and our relationship all at the same time, but we’ve stayed really connected to our individual work so that we could stay really bonded and connected. And we’ve been together for almost 13 years and we’re more in love and more connected and having more fun than I ever have. Like it’s just mind boggling to me.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I feel like on your behalf, I just want to throw out too, because I was looking at my notes from we talked before and to clarify like your depth of understanding of struggle. You had your gas shut off, you were struggling to pay for groceries while you had a young child, you had your car repossessed, you filed for bankruptcy in your 20s. So like, to be clear, like there was genuine class issues and struggles there that are very different than the life you’re living now that I think give you a great deal of insight that maybe some of those other people in those rooms at those parties don’t have that aren’t giving them that insight into the privilege and how to use it differently. That does not excuse them. They need to learn. But I do think your journey explains, at least in part, how you’re showing up now. I had a lot of other things I wanna talk to you about. We’re almost done for time. So I’m only gonna ask you one more because this is a particular interest to me, I’m also married, and my husband’s on his own journey of becoming a better feminist and a better ally. It sounds like your husband’s in that journey with you, too. And so what is that, what has it been like experiencing that journey with him? ‘Cause he’s supportive of what you’re doing, and not that you aren’t your whole ass person who could do it on your own and you don’t need his like approval, but it is nice to have a partner who is understanding, who says, sure, let’s use all of this finances and never make any money back on it. You know, like maybe we break even, but that’s it. That’s rare. So what is his journey and what’s it like having a partner like that?

 

Vivienne Miles:

I’m pausing because it’s bringing up a lot of emotion for me to be able to talk about him. I often tell him the biggest gift in our relationship is his open mind. So he didn’t grow up with financial privilege. White privilege, male privilege, yes, absolutely. But his upbringing taught him a lot too. And because of his socioeconomic status as a child, he saw how he was treated by other kids, other parents. He’s an athlete. So, you know, he was put on the B team because he didn’t have the new shoes or the cool this or that, you know? So his childhood gave him a lot of perspective. So, you know, when we first met, I’m not shouting about privilege. I’m not really talking about feminism a lot. But through our relationship, I’ve gotten louder and louder and louder. Like he would come home from work and be like, you gotta be our fucking Abraham Lincoln. You have a penis and you’re white and you’re at the table and people are listening. You have to speak up for us. And so he listens and he takes action. He is not as outspoken or open about these shifts and these ideas as I am, this wouldn’t work for me if it were any other way. And I think he understands that. So we have a way of hearing each other, slowing down, not taking offense to things, not getting on the defense. Like, okay, he’ll listen to me. She’s having experience. She’s telling me. And I just think that he inherently trusts me. He doesn’t need to defend himself. He, and he knows the struggles I had as a single mom, how many times you know, I was offered a job as long as I also was giving a blow job or, you know what I mean? Like he, he’s really compassionate towards that. So I think by proxy, you know, and his love for me, and that helps him not have to be defensive about his privilege.

 

Becky Mollenkamp: 

Well, we need more male allies and it’s always nice when I learn of one. So thank you for sharing. All right. There was more we could have talked about, but we’re going to end here and then we will go record our bonus content. So make sure you subscribe if you want to hear about tips for letting go of the good girl. But to wrap up, I would love to hear a resource that’s been helpful for you along your journey, a book, often maybe a podcast with something that’s been helpful for you in either as a business owner or as somebody who cares deeply about equity and social justice.

 

Vivienne Miles:

The work of Byron Katie has been such a miracle in my life. It is so straightforward. It is actionable. And it is something you can practice alone. You can be facilitated and you, it helped me weed out my shitty thoughts and beliefs so easily. And so she has books. How I witnessed her first was through an audio book. And she just facilitates anyhow. So it’s very repetitive. And I think it’s nice to hear her voice and how she’s in conversation, holding space with the work with people. So that’s what I would recommend. There’s access to podcasts where you can get her book on whatever app you listen to books on.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I listened to “Loving What Is” so maybe that’s the book that’s a good place to start, and I agree with exactly your assessment. It is repetitive, but I think that’s by design. In a similar way, “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is very repetitive, but I think again, it’s by design. It’s to have that sink in because it is simple, yet not easy to do. And so you kind of need that repetition to really start to get it ingrained. So that’s awesome. And then an organization that’s doing good work. We’ve talked a lot about nonprofits and some of the issues around that, but are there still some organizations out there that you feel like are doing really good work that are worthy of our time and donations?

 

Vivienne Miles:

So I’ll name two. One is local to Kansas City, AimWell Kids, and that is the yoga program I mentioned earlier. Debonie Lewis is a teacher at Co-Op, and she is taking yoga and meditation mindfulness practices into public schools in Kansas City. That’s my local nonprofit. My nationwide is The Loveland Foundation. Rachel Cargle started this, and it is to provide therapeutic opportunities to women and girls of color. And I’m a huge believer in therapy. I have been in therapy for most of 20-plus years. And so we make a contribution to that because I think there isn’t much better work that could be done for women of color and girls of color to have sacred space held for them and only them.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I know behind you above your shoulder with the tattoos is the artwork of Rachel Cargle. It’s it’s, it is her gorgeous photo. Absolutely love that art. So if anyone’s watching this on YouTube, you can see that and we actually bonded over that when we talked the first time because I love Rachel as well. So I will make a donation to both of those organizations as a thank you for your time and encourage our listeners to do the same. So please, if you’ve enjoyed what we’ve talked maybe recognize through this conversation your own privilege and want to think of a way to begin that process of using your privilege to make a difference, those organizations are doing the work and we can send them some finances to do that. So thank you so much, Vivienne. We’re gonna go record some bonus content. Make sure you go subscribe to Feminist Founders so that you can get that. And the links to do that are in the show notes. Thank you for your time, Vivian. It really was awesome.

 

Vivienne Miles:

Thank you, sending love to everyone.

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