Shunned from dance classes because of her size, Trina Nicole opened the size-inclusive studio she dreamed of, and found herself dancing with Beyoncé and Lizzo.
As a young girl growing up in London, Trina Nicole loved to dance freely. She credits her passion for music and dance to her Caribbean heritage (her family descends from St. Lucia and Dominica). Trina remembers visiting the Notting Hill Carnival in London every year where people of all backgrounds would don sequined costumes and dance in the streets. So when Trina decided to give dancing another go as an adult, she was surprised by the judgement she felt as a plus-size woman.
“I would go into these spaces and I feel like I would completely shrink myself,” Nicole says on Linktree’s “Beyond the Feed” podcast this month. The dancer and businesswoman recently sat down with Linktree’s Marc Raco to talk about her journey from feeling excluded to launching the U.K.’s first-ever plus-size dance class, The Curve Catwalk.
This year, Nicole was shortlisted as Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and named one of the HSBC 25 Top Black Entrepreneurs to Watch. She’s danced with superstar Lizzo and Beyoncé, been written up in major publications like Forbes, and works with some of the world’s leading brands, like Sony Music and Nike. Here, Nicole shares her experience launching a business and some of the advice she’s learned along the way.
When Trina Nicole went to London dance classes in the 2010s, no one seemed to accept her because of her size. As a plus-size woman, Nicole says that she’d get backhanded comments from people in class like ‘Oh, you can really dance for a big girl.’”
Frustrated by these experiences, Nicole ditched dance class to save enough money to rent a studio of her own in August 2018; a safe space for her and her friends to strut their stuff in a room and be free. “I just wanted to dance and have fun. That was the main thing,” Nicole says. “So I created that space that didn’t exist.”
Quickly the news of her studio spread. So, after two classes, she started charging a fee and went into business, naming it “The Curve Catwalk” because of the number of plus-size women in attendance.
Now, three years later, The Curve Catwalk has become a body-positive brand and dance studio. With weekly classes, community events, retreats, and panel discussions, the community has grown to over 8,000 women. The Curve Catwalk differentiates itself from other studios because of the size-inclusive brand and class variety, offering classes like “Jiggle Your Beauty” for people to “get their freak on” and “Roll N’ Control,” focused on self-empowerment. The studio also offers on-demand classes online for people to get active at home.
Despite her success, Nicole is the first to admit that turning her side-hustle into a full-fledged business has been a learning curve, with plenty of trial-and-error.
She reached out to brands “too early” and felt scrambled when they asked her for statistics, customer information, and other intricacies about her business. “Moving on from those experiences, it really is knowing your brand inside out,” she says. “Once you know that, it’s as simple as making the first move.”
Before starting her business, Nicole worked as a TV production coordinator. When transitioning to working on The Curve Catwalk full time, Nicole says she leveraged her transferable skills: organization, communication, project management, and contracts. She also upskilled herself by taking business courses, learning about audience engagement, and holding focus groups with her customers.
Social media wasn’t new to her, either. Nicole has prior experience engaging with audiences online through Curlture U.K., a platform she launched with Jay-Ann Charles in 2014. Curlture UK celebrates Black beauty and culture, and now has more than 45,000 followers on Instagram.
When she first began marketing The Curve Catwalk, Nicole used Instagram to directly message brands asking to be put in touch with their marketing team. Similarly, she used the networking platform LinkedIn to find relevant contacts to pitch her business for potential partnerships.
Besides business opportunities, Nicole says social media is also about building community through conversations, however tough the topics may be. “Sharing relevant and empowering content has also helped grow the business as it makes people feel like it is a space for them, where you feel seen and heard, which it is.”
Nicole created a Linktree for The Curve Catwalk to make all her content more accessible to her audience. “By having it all on one link, it allows us to optimize traffic and showcases our business in the best light with the ability to highlight key moments such as PR features.”
Nicole also credits the success of the business with listening to what her community wants, and doing whatever she can to make it happen.
When Nicole started getting requests for workshops in cities like Birmingham and Manchester, she followed suit and launched pop-up classes outside of London. She also got requests to put her classes online. When the world went into lockdown, The Curve Catwalk quickly shifted platforms to record live dance classes over Zoom, and then posted them to the website so all members could access.
“I think, a lot of times we think we have to do guesswork, and if you have a strong enough connection with your community and with your customers, they will tell you.”
Since starting three years ago, Nicole estimates the business has made in total about $27,500 USD, which has been supplemented by grants, including $6,885 USD from The Prince’s Trust, and $11,016 USD from Dove.
Most recently Nicole received $4,000 USD from the Passion Fund, Linktree’s global grant program that invests in creators and entrepreneurs who want to monetize their passion.
Nicole says the Passion Fund has given her access to “incredible marketing workshops,” and she’s planning on putting the money towards venue and staff costs.
Next on her list? An official partnership with Nike, with details being announced mid-November. While many of The Curve Catwalk’s brand partnerships have come from Nicole’s hustle, it was the sportswear giant who reached out to her. “They’re really invested in just shining a light on what we’re doing and to serve the community.”
Right now, Nicole is looking forward to a future where brands like The Curve Catwalk are global and size-inclusive partnerships the norm. “Domination doesn’t now seem so far away in my mind.”