How Cassey Ho Became a Fitfluencer Before That Was Even a Thing

And why she attributes her accomplishments to her failures.

Casey Ho
Photo:

Casey Ho

When Cassey Ho shared her childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer with her father, she says that he told her that wasn’t going to happen. 

Ho grew up in a Chinese-Vietnamese family with parents who risked their lives immigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s and wanted to ensure a solid future for her and her younger sister. They envisioned their children pursuing careers in science, law, or an otherwise predictable industry, Ho tells Shape over a video call. However, she had other plans.

Among the first major wave of YouTube stars, Ho is the creator behind the fitness channel Blogilates, which first launched on the video platform in 2009 along with a blog by the same name. Since then, Ho has grown her YouTube community to more than seven million subscribers. She’s a best-selling author and was recognized as one of Time’s 25 most influential people on the internet in 2017. Ho now has her own fitness certification program called POP Pilates and has taken on the title of founder, CEO, and lead designer at her own activewear brand called Popflex

Ho has faced plenty of hurdles in her journey in the fitness industry and as an entrepreneur, but it’s clear she’s always had a vision for her career that’s continued to push her forward even when she’s wanted to give up. Ahead, she shares the driving question that propelled her toward her dreams and how "failure" turned out to be the gateway to her success.

Casey Ho

Casey Ho

Discovering Her Passion

Before she became the boss she is today, Ho studied biology at Whittier College in southern California, mostly to appease her parents, she admits. As a student, her heart felt "hollow," explains Ho. "I was doing something that I had no passion for, and I would just find myself doodling on the sides of my notebook all the time."

To cope, Ho found solace in Pilates, which she initially discovered through infomercials featuring Pilates expert and celebrity trainer Mari Winsor in the early 2000s. Ho loved the way the exercise practice made her feel "transported to a different place," she recalls. So, she spent her free time in between science classes giving amateur Pilates lessons to friends in their dorm rooms. 

Then one day, Ho says she was browsing Craigslist and saw an opening for a Pilates instructor at a nearby gym. She wasn’t yet certified as an instructor, but she auditioned anyway and made such an impression that the gym owner sponsored her formal Pilates education, mentoring her and even paying for her certification training.

Risking It All

Despite making moves toward following her passion for Pilates, there was still the matter of Ho’s parents, who remained invested in her future as a doctor. 

"There were so many nights I spent crying, not being sure if I should make myself happy or make them happy," says Ho. "It was very, very difficult."

Ultimately, she sabotaged her medical degree by dropping out of an organic chemistry class — the last course she needed in order to take the MCAT exam required for admission into medical school — just prior to graduation in 2009.

"I think my parents finally got the message that I didn't really want to do this, [to become a doctor], but they were still really, really upset," she says. "And from that moment on, we stopped talking [for a few years]. It was really terrible."

These days, Ho’s relationship with her parents is multi-layered, she explains. "I think they are proud of me, but it’s something we’re still trying to work through."

Casey Ho

Casey Ho

Putting It All Together

As fate would have it, Pilates was also an avenue into Ho’s other love: fashion design. While still in school, Ho was looking for a cute yoga mat bag and couldn’t find one, so she decided to make one herself. It caught the attention of her classmates, who soon asked if she could make their own. Before she knew it, Ho was starting her first fashion venture, designing her own bags (called oGorgeous at the time), and she was sending them to businesses and media outlets, including Shape magazine, in the hope of garnering attention for her up-and-coming business.

Months later, Ho was working a day job as a fashion buyer after graduating school. She got a text from her sister, with a photo pointing to a yoga bag — Ho’s yoga bag, specifically — featured in the November 2010 issue of Shape magazine.

"I just started crying," she remembers. "I'm like, 'this is a sign.' I quit my job the next week. I had nothing lined up, but I knew I had to give myself a chance to succeed out on my own, because I would rather try and fail than not know [if I could do it]."

Casey Ho

Casey Ho

Being Persistent

Around the same time, Ho also uploaded her first instructional Pilates video to YouTube. It was meant mostly for students at 24 Hour Fitness, where she taught Pilates classes to pop music, differentiating her style from other instructors who typically used slower instrumental music. At the time, it wasn’t common to find a pop Pilates class, and (slightly ahead of her time) Ho wanted her students to have access to her training format outside of physical classes. 

"I put up a 10-minute video just for like 40 people, and then I didn’t really look at the video again," she says. "But later on when I did, there were thousands of views, hundreds of comments."

It would be years until influencer brand deals and advertising revenue entered the mainstream conversation, but the internet’s initial reaction to Ho’s fitness videos instilled a sense of community that immediately appealed to her, she says. 

Seven years later, with the support of the online community she built, Ho again merged her love of fitness and fashion. In 2016, she launched an activewear brand called Popflex.

However, even once Ho found success as an entrepreneur, there were growing pains with the business. Just a few years ago, she says the stress had her ready to "throw away" Blogilates and Popflex, but her husband, Sam Livits, convinced her to hold out and commit for 30 more days.

"The crazy thing is, when you put yourself in that survival mentality, you do whatever you can to make things work, and something magic happens because you have to make it work," she says. "Literally from that moment, things did start to change." With some professional kinks worked out, the business began running more smoothly, and Ho could focus more on her designs and customers.

Today, Ho is known for her still-thriving Blogilates YouTube channel and blog, and she has a casual 2.3 million followers on Instagram. Her fitness certification program POP Pilates has partnered with 24 Hour Fitness to teach instructors at the massive gym chain as well as others around the world. And Popflex has a growing following, including celebrity fans such as Brie Larson.

Casey Ho

Casey Ho

Listening to Her Purpose

Ho credits her perseverance to her strong sense of purpose. Whether it’s doing a 5 a.m. workout or building a business, she asks herself one big question: Why?

"I always define my 'why,' whether it's with fitness, business, or anything — if you have a really strong 'why,' you need to let it guide you," she says. "I find that when I'm not motivated, it's because I don't have a purpose, or it's a weak purpose that I don't really care about."

Looking back, she has some words of advice for her younger self. "Failure is going to happen, and failure is learning."

Growing up in her Asian American household, she says she was taught to believe that failure is unacceptable, she says. "But failure is actually necessary because it is the best teacher," explains Ho. "I've learned my hardest lessons and have become a better leader, a better designer, a better creator because of my failures."

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