Kayla Itsines and Ashy Bines are two of Australia's biggest fitness stars. Picture: Matt Turner/Instagram
Kayla Itsines and Ashy Bines are two of Australia's biggest fitness stars. Picture: Matt Turner/Instagram

Secrets of rival fitness queens’ millions

For years on end, two names have dominated Australia's fitness scene: Kayla Itsines and Ashy Bines.

Both women are undisputed social media stars with millions of followers online - and millions of dollars in the bank.

Last year, Ms Itsines, 27, and her fiance Tobi Pearce, 26, even catapulted to equal fifth and sixth place on the coveted AFR Young Rich List with an estimated combined wealth of $486 million.

But that success has also come with its fair share of controversies, with Ms Bines in particular facing allegations of plagiarism, overcharging customers, blocking and deleting negative comments, and bitter legal feuds over the years.

In 2015, it was revealed large sections of her clean eating recipes were taken from other websites, and in a YouTube video Ms Bines claimed her books had been outsourced to a nutritionist and that she had been "too naive in not checking the origins of these recipes".

Ms Bines has been hit by allegations of plagiarism. Picture: YouTube
Ms Bines has been hit by allegations of plagiarism. Picture: YouTube

According to Aussie public relations expert Nicole Reaney, Ms Bines, 30, was one of the pioneers of fitness social influence and she managed to leverage her position as a "social media juggernaut" to establish her empire, boasting a "massive following" to this day.

She said Ms Bines had aligned herself with some positive causes and had been quick to share her side of the story when things went wrong.

But when a brand was so closely linked to a personality, she said handling negativity was even more critical.

"With Ashy a favourable aspect is that she has got in front of a camera and explained her side by creating a YouTube video. She was on the front foot in terms of the speed of response," she said.

But she said it was a mistake to react defensively instead of acknowledging opponents' perspectives.

"You need to demonstrate how you will make a change. If you've got X number of consumers complaining, you need to take steps to make things more transparent and build trust that way," she said.

Ashy Bines, pictured with husband Steven Evans, is a “social media juggernaut”. Picture: Supplied
Ashy Bines, pictured with husband Steven Evans, is a “social media juggernaut”. Picture: Supplied

"Going forward, as an incident arises there must be an immediate response and transparency, along with acknowledging responsibility where reasonable and taking any steps to repair it."

Fellow PR expert Catriona Pollard said Ms Bines' reputation had taken a serious hit from those early accusations of plagiarism, which she has denied being directly responsible for.

"When something like that happens while you are building your personal brand, if it's not dealt with effectively and taken really seriously, it can impact the brand moving forward," she said.

Ms Pollard said the best way to respond to the crisis would have been to go "above and beyond" by giving away cookbooks or holding an event so she could meet people in person to build "real relationships" with followers.

"With Ashy there's also that idea of coming from a place of humility, finding and demonstrating a purpose as well as coming back to the value you're offering people - a lot of social media influencers can be seen as coming across as being in it for the money, but people don't relate to that," she said.

"Another thing is how you deal with comments, and unfortunately Ashy had so many negative comments at times there was even the suggestion it was bordering on bullying.

Ms Itsines is Australia’s richest young woman. Picture: Tim Hunter.
Ms Itsines is Australia’s richest young woman. Picture: Tim Hunter.

"People are also saying they've been blocked from forums and had their comments deleted on Facebook which is just the worst thing to do from a reputational perspective because one, it looks like you're hiding something and two, it's an inflammatory thing to do."

Meanwhile, Ms Itsines, who owes the bulk of her fortune to the success of her fitness app Sweat, was also helped along by the brand's "interesting" origin story and the way she's harnessed social media with humility, Ms Pollard said.

Mr Pearce famously went through troubled teenage years and Ms Itsines originally studied teaching before their company changed their lives.

Ms Pollard said Ms Itsines had been able to demonstrate how she was adding value to her customers' lives by posting "interesting, relevant and on-brand content while treating people with respect" on social media.

Kayla Itsines and Tobi Pearce are expecting their first child this year. Picture: Supplied
Kayla Itsines and Tobi Pearce are expecting their first child this year. Picture: Supplied

But Ms Reaney said Ms Itsines had also copped criticism over the years - most notably her exercise techniques, and for exercising with weights while pregnant.

"Kayla too faces the media and is not afraid to share her perspective but she explains her position assertively and with compassion; she doesn't delete comments and her army of followers act as support when one person does critique her," she said.

"She's achieved multiple awards and last year appeared on the young rich list so she has become a truly global brand, but she appears humble and relatable in all her interactions."

She said Ms Itsines' decision not to accept sportswear collaborations demonstrated her commitment to "live her brand values".

ASHY BINES SPEAKS OUT:

Ms Bines told news.com.au she had "taken the time" to learn from those negative experiences and "grow as a person, wife, mother, and business owner".

"When I started out in this industry, I was quite young. So timing definitely had an impact on my success as I was early to Instagram and at that time, there wasn't a lot of competition in terms of nutrition plans," she said.

"Over the years however, I have come to realise that you can't please everyone (despite any attempt).

"To be successful in any industry, you simply have to be YOU. Your genuine and authentic self. Therefore it isn't just showing all the positive times, but keeping it real and sharing the down days as well. We're human and it's nice to be able to relate and know we're not alone. This has been my mission with Squad, to ensure the girls in my community feel safe, like they have an entire Squad of females behind them encouraging each other to reach their goals, whatever they may be."

She said she hadn't been prepared for the backlash which came her way in the past.

Gold Coast fitness guru Ashy Bines says she’s grown from the “hiccups” along the way. Photo: Instagram
Gold Coast fitness guru Ashy Bines says she’s grown from the “hiccups” along the way. Photo: Instagram

"I fell into this industry at a young age, and things took off pretty fast. At the time I wasn't at all prepared for what was to come my way and had no experience in dealing with it," she said.

"Having such mistakes broadcasted in the public eye however, whether correctly or misinformed, definitely has its challenges. In saying that, I've grown up, I have taken every roller coaster ride and learned from it.

"I have invested a lot of time and energy into self development, learning, growing, and improving. I know my intentions with everything I do and I am really proud of who I am. Who I am today wouldn't be the same person without those hiccups along the way."

She said her mission had always been to empower women and help them to "healthy from the inside out".

News.com.au also contacted Ms Itsines for comment.

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au


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