More Than Wellness — Kat Novoa

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Kat Novoa founded Babes of Wellness in 2018 to provide a wellness sanctuary for the women in her community. Her sanctuary is a safe haven in South Los Angeles that offers women a chance to heal through fitness and spirituality: a chance that isn’t usually given in Compton (Calif.). Kat’s clients are more than babes, they’re warriors.

“We are LA’s first Latina-owned wellness boutique studio offering a wide range of coaching sessions from our individual one-on-ones, small private groups, corporate wellness parties, to our most popular CBD (Cannabidiol) infused sessions,” Kat writes on her website. She offers her clients the perfect balance of physicality and mindfulness, “We merged the worlds of strength training and conditioning with mindfulness through meditation, journaling, affirmations, sound baths, and breath work. Typically in the wellness space, we see something softer paired with those practices like yoga or Pilates instead of strength training. With us, you get the best of both worlds.”

Kat started her career as a domestic violence advocate; most of the people at the shelters she worked with were women. According to the NCDV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), a nonprofit organization, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the US. 1 In one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. This can be further broken down to reveal the disparity between the genders were 76% of intimate partner physical violence victims are female and 24% are male.2 This realization and unnerving statistic drove Kat to want to help heal the women of her community. “I saw the importance of empowering them beyond just the physical training by diving deep into mindfulness, meditations and different wellness practices,” her website reads. “I was really inspired by how much it helps the women feel empowered and that they really had it within themselves to break that cycle.” As an exclusively women’s boutique, Kat wants her brand to show women that they’re seen, heard and taken care of. “I want them to know that a wellness sanctuary is accessible to them, and that they’re deserving of that,” she said. “Creating a women-only space has been a very intentional process: We believe it’s essential to invest in every area of who you are as an individual to maximize your potential, relationships and well-being.”

Aside from running a successful business, Kat keeps up on her certifications while getting new ones in the process. She’s a group instructor, certified as a personal trainer through NASM and a certified nutrition coach. She is currently training to become a Chopra certified meditation teacher.

The business’ motto is: “MORE THAN A BODY”. It came from the desire to stray away from toxic fitness industry culture and instead set out to change the game by teaching women to take back their power and own their worth. “When I mention Compton, people instantly react with fear and ask, ‘Do you feel safe opening up your business there?’” Kat explained. “It’s been such a stigmatized and underserved community, and I think that’s where the impact lies.” She wants her clients to hear, “I believe in you. I believe that you deserve wellness, that you deserve a cute space to work on yourself to heal, to get healthier, to feel better and to be led through this practice of discovery.” Kat does this by providing a unique space, “The best thing a client can say when they’re leaving the studio is, ‘I found exactly what my soul and my body needed’”. Membership growth has proven Kat’s hard work as successful. Despite a global pandemic, enrollment has grown from 40 members pre-COVID to over 300 members currently. An astounding fact considering Kat never envisioned owning a brick-and-mortar studio, “I lost my father last year to COVID, and through that whole process, [I learned] death is the greatest teacher, it taught me to take risks, because if not now, then when?” she explained. “I didn’t think it would be possible, to lose someone so close to you, and then just decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to open up a studio.’”

Kat works 14 to 16 hours, six days a week to ensure Babes of Wellness continues its mission. At the moment, she employs three, soon to be four, part-time employees. Two of them are certified holistic nutritional coaches from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as well as certified yoga teachers, Pilates, and personal trainers through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). “My lifestyle has significantly changed over the past few months, and honestly it’s been a lot, dealing with grieving and the daily duties of being a social entrepreneur,” Kat said. “There are days where it’s challenging to get out of bed. I’m working on establishing the team so that I don’t always work 16 hours every day. I know I’ll get there in time.”

Initially, Kat ran her business out of her garage, and before that, she was a mobile trainer, carrying a cartful of equipment to people’s homes, parks, etc. When she started Babes of Wellness, she had to train someone out of her home, and her father helped to renovate the space. “He really helped me clean it out and would say, ‘I know, you’re all about the environment so let’s clean this up,’” she fondly remembered. “It was a typical messy garage, but we went to work, painted it and it transformed into a beautiful space where people would say, ‘I can’t believe this is a garage.’ He was definitely part of my gym’s progress, but prior to his passing, I didn’t think it would happen this fast. It wasn’t in the works.”

Kat faced a lot of resistance when she began searching for a space in March of 2021, making it more difficult to find a location for her business. She remembers being told, “No, we don’t want that.” She explained, “Being a Latina and female, I got a lot of ‘no’s’. Being in the field of fitness, I got even more ‘no’s’ especially post-pandemic,” she said. “They would ask, ‘Why women-only?’ My business plan was questioned a lot.” Despite the challenges, there was never any hesitation on Kat’s part. She continues to help others explore what it means to build physical strength, while simultaneously healing generational emotional trauma, renewing their mindset, and connecting spiritually. She continues to focus on helping clients improve their overall wellness and give them the tools to ensure they can maintain it too. “I think being a brown person, a woman of color (WOC), I hear from clients all the time in my studio that they’ve gone to mainstream gyms but felt those places were very dismissive of their experiences. There’s a lot of toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing that is experienced with people of color. We’re told to, ‘Just breathe and let it all go,’ but there’s so much more to that. There are layers to the trauma and the experience one has as a WOC.” According to a study done by the YWCA, 60% of Black women will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18; 21-55% of Asian and Pacific Islander women report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime; and 35% of Latinas will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime.3 A major obstacle for women of color is finding support for abuse within their community and finding programs and resources that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

“There’s a huge void in support when it comes to our community,” Kat said, “When I was doing my market research in the area, I found a big box gym that’s two miles away, but no one really goes. They don’t offer that catered experience for women in this area that have faced abuse from men. Our South LA community, specifically Compton, was hit the hardest in LA with COVID. We had the highest mortality rate and it just goes to show it’s one of the underlying factors of why obesity and all these underlying conditions affect people of color more so than others. It’s definitely a void that needed to be filled.” Kat’s passion in empowering others is the guiding force towards expanding and growing with her babes. She wants to strategically place more studios in other underserved communities like East LA and across the U.S. “Most wellness boutiques or studios are in the West Hollywood/West LA area and they’re not really accessible,” she explained. “Traffic here in LA can make that drive longer than an hour. My dream scenario would be to branch out and expand our reach.”

According to a University of California, Davis, study, COVID has exacerbated the epidemic of intimate partner violence.4 Kat’s physical space is a safe haven for women searching for the strength to leave their situation and heal their trauma. “The NCDV is a great resource, it highlights the issue of how much healing, love, and support women need in general, to get well, to feel empowered, to feel sexy, to feel comfortable, and to actually break the cycle of violence,” she explained. Kat has found her “why” in life and has made it her mission to support those around her. She stresses, “I’d say, get clear on your ‘why.’ If you’re unsure, when things get hard, because they will, you’ll find yourself giving up and not following through. Your why must be bigger than any excuse or reason to call it quits.” Kat’s website states, “As you get well, so does another babe. We get well together.” This motto is indicative of Kat, her growth birthed a safe space for her community that continues to foster physical, spiritual, and mental wellness. “I can make a lot more money doing something else, but for me it’s really about the impact in the community and getting the community to a place where they won’t be at a disadvantage in the future if there ever is another pandemic,” she said. “The goal is to establish Babes of Wellness as the sanctuary where healing is cultivated and nurtured.”

Conversations with Samantha Stanich and Sarah Emory. Written by Samantha Stanich.

Cover Art by Sarah Emory. Brand Design by Meghan Hricak.