It is no surprise that the Covid-19 pandemic had a large impact on the creative sector. With a 30% decline of people working in music, performing and visual arts, just in the first six months of 2020, it is clear that workers in the creative industries have been hit hard by Covid-19.
With many being isolated from their loved ones, from catch-ups with their families to weekly yoga classes, people took their day-to-day activities completely online.
Just like Hiba Binz, the founder of a personal development platform emberly, who ran a dance studio in Camden when lockdown put a halt to her dreams.
Born and raised in London with roots in the Middle East, Binz had quite a conventional start to her career. Working in marketing, her career eventually became less creative and fulfilling, so she decided to go back to university to get a master's degree in photography at Goldsmiths University.
"I'm somebody that has a lot of interests, I want to be doing multiple things, and I had been doing photography as a hobby," she says. "I was already doing some part-time work as a photographer, but I felt I was lacking a little bit of confidence and skill because I never learned it formally. So I did that course with a view to then change my career to a photographer full-time."
And similarly to photography, dance was Binz’s hobby for years. During her master's studies, she became more serious about dancing and was offered to teach it as well.
"I taught full time for many, many years. And that was, I think, the beginning of emberly, through the process of teaching dance," she says. "I saw the transformational power it had on people when they engaged in a hobby or a passion. I wanted to offer that transformation or the possibility of that transformation to more people. And dance is the right thing for some people, but it's not for others."
Early on in the pandemic, Binz realised that this "thing" is not going to go away anytime soon and "even when it eventually kind of goes away, my business as a venue that's relying on people gathering is not really going to be viable in the same way in the months that follow the pandemic. I needed that space to be full all the time. And it wasn't going to be that way, because people weren't going to be confident enough together".
Knowing she needed her dance studio to be full at all times and that it was not going to be that way, the idea for emberly came to life.
"I had always had this idea even when I was running the studio, to have an online offer for people who weren't in London, because my studio was based in Camden," she says. "We were offering so many interesting activities, but you could only attend them if you're living in London."
It was the lack of time that prevented her from making the idea a reality however in the pandemic, everyone suddenly had the time to do whatever they wanted, including Binz. She got a small business grant from the government and decided to instead of "throwing the money in the bin" by paying rent in a studio she was not allowed to operate, use it to start a new project and support people like her who were struggling at the time.
"I thought about my network from the studio and what can I do with the people I know, in a way that's collaborative and that will support me and support others. So it pivoted really fast. My idea was to get something up and running as fast as I can as good quality as I can make it."
Colomba, the first version of what is now emberly, launched in September 2020 with three on-demand online courses - Introduction to ballet, Wild art journaling and Qi gong.
Binz explains that she did not want to do the courses over Zoom like many others as it was important to her to "create something that’s good quality that somebody can watch when it’s convenient to them".
"I produced those three courses in lockdown completely remotely and that was the first version of emberly," she says. "When that was launched, I thought I need to take some time to be more intentional, more strategic, to understand how to move this business forward in a way that's viable. And then that's how emberly was born in December 2021."
The 13 courses emberly provides are split into four categories (Energise, Create, Grow and Relax), including the three new recently launched courses Pasta making, Focaccia making and Introduction to hip hop dance. Binz tries to balance out the content of each category when launching new courses and she also says: "The next thing I do is balance things people already know, like yoga.
"For example, you might know that you want to start it already, so we want to give someone that something they’re already thinking of doing and balance it out with something kind of weird and wonderful you never thought you would try to get people to try something new because emberly is a membership," which gives people unlimited access to a variety of online courses.
With the meaning behind emberly being the idea of "the glow and the power the courses have to help ignite something inside someone a make learning fun", Binz says she "would love to transform the lives of thousands of people". Her goal is to help others find what makes them passionate about life through the courses they offer and lead more fulfilled and joyful lives.
"The thing people enjoy the most is the ability to build their confidence doing something in the privacy of their own home," she says.
"We have a Ballet basics course, which is one of our best performing courses, and time and time again we get feedback like 'I was a little girl who was shy in the class and I stopped because I wasn’t confident enough. Now as I’m older I have even less confidence to try but this course has given me the opportunity to rekindle that interest again'."
While Binz is on the path to bringing the sense of fulfilment she had when she'd found her passion to others, she describes starting the business as a "quite a big challenge", going from a life where she was running a venue, surrounded by people at all times, to doing everything digitally.
"I have a varied business background, but I’ve to learn a lot of new things very quickly. I am now producing courses and the legal considerations of running an online business are completely different from running a business in one geography. So the learning curve has been quite steep."
However, she says it also brings many benefits. "I am geographically more free and can work from anywhere.
"The most exciting part is now I'm able to work both in terms of the instructors I work with, but also the membership body of people, with communities all over the world. Whatever we create has the potential to reach someone completely on the other side of the world. And that's really empowering," she says smiling.
Binz cares about creating communities and inspiring others, such as "teachers or future teachers by creating a platform where they can share their gifts with other people". This then becomes a "full circle".
"We're offering the core systems by people, but we're also offering the platform for somebody who doesn't think they may have the capacity to run their own platform to come and be part of the emberly family and offer their courses on emberly," she says. "We do a little bit of hand-holding as well, and a little bit of training.”
Binz would also like to see emberly in the workplace. "I would love for companies to offer this to their employees so they can have access to something that might bring a little bit of balance to their day."
You can explore your passions today with emberly’s variety of inspiring online courses. You can energise, create, grow and relax with a monthly membership giving unlimited access, or purchase a single course on-demand and find what makes you glow.