Our Homegrown Business feature this week is on Sister Fit, a women’s only fitness centre in East End Toronto that works to create a new and understanding gym culture. We spoke to founder and director, Fatima Lee Garsi, to learn about how she’s changing the fitness community!
What is your business called and what does it do?
Sister Fit is the first gym in North America to cater to Muslim women (although we welcome all women). Our gym culture has an Islamic vibe – we work with our members through cultural understanding, community engagement, and personalized support to deliver excellent results. We offer semi-private and small group training in boxing, Muay Thai, arnis, Krav Maga, bootcamps, and strength yoga. We also provide self-defense workshops.
What made you want to do this work?
I wanted an easy and meaningful way to connect with the Muslim community in Toronto when I moved here six years ago. I’ve been working full-time in the fitness industry for the past 10 years and can’t explain how much good it has done for my well-being.
I’ve worked in and had memberships in many different kinds of gyms – big box gyms, smaller boxing and martial arts gyms, as well as private studios.
Each gym had its own culture. The best gym cultures kept me very committed and excited to come back again and again. I wanted to create a new gym culture that incorporated Islamic values so that Muslim women could be re-introduced to fitness – it’s a strong part of our faith that often gets dusty and forgotten.
I knew that using health and fitness as a point of connection would be a powerful way to make a long-lasting impact on a community that often puts physical health on the backburner. Women usually put themselves last and I want them to put themselves first.
What problem does this solve?
Sister Fit solves a major problem for women (not only Muslim women), who desire professionalism in a private setting where they won’t feel shy to physically express themselves in ways that may leave them feeling too vulnerable, too exposed, or simply uncomfortable. We provide an atmosphere where women are understood, valued, and treated with professional, high-level expertise.
Integrating fitness as a long-lasting habit is more than just about exercising. It’s a lifestyle. For that reason, incorporating culture, faith, and belief into those rituals makes the experience much more meaningful. Our gym culture is affirming of women who desire something other than what mainstream fitness can offer.
Who are your clientele/demographics?
Hard working, awesome women between 20-30 years old – predominantly Muslim.
How does your business make money? How does it work?
We sell gym memberships that are three, six, or 12 months long for our small group classes. We also sell private one-on-one packages for very committed women. Outside of the gym, we set up self-defense and boxing workshops across the GTA that help generate revenue as well.
Where in Toronto can we find your profession?
After ten years as a personal trainer, I now specialize in self-defense. Though you can definitely find people who offer self defense training and similar skills in studios and gyms across Toronto, the type of weapons self-defense I specialize in (arnis, LESKAS lineage) is very hard to find!
What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.
How is your gym different than an all-women’s gym or the women’s section at GoodLife?
Not only do we offer a unique gym culture where you are treated with care and respect, our service and attention to detail gives everyone the personalization and attention that they deserve. We keep our classes small (4-8 women) so that everyone’s needs can be met. We test and graduate students to the next level of skill so that progress can be ensured. We also have our own app that allows members to stay connected with their fitness goals and commitment. Members can use the app to book their classes, update their transformation log (photos, body weight, and measurements), and see what’s happening at the gym each day.
Sister Fit prides ourselves on a one-of-a-kind mentorship program for high-level students who want to become coaches. We have mentored two home-schooling moms who have both become Certified Personal Trainers and certified boxing coaches. This provides them with income and encourages Muslim women to become fit.
What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?
The best part about what we do is changing people’s lives for the better and being part of a great community that can be very supportive. The worst part is being part of a community that can be equally unsupportive. People can easily blindly support or blindly hate. We are a niche within a niche.
What is your favourite joke about your own profession?
That I’m really thinking about food, not fitness.
PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Toronto business that you love?
I have to give a big shout out to Artistic Hair Lounge located on 1519 Bayview Ave in East York.
This hair salon is run by three Kurdish sisters from Syria who always make time to cut my hair and make sure I look extra sharp. I’m inspired by their story; they escaped war and arrived in Canada as refugees from Kurdistan. Together, they started their own business from the ground up. As someone who is Kurdish and Taiwanese, I have a great appreciation for their struggles and their success.