As the business of yoga expands and evolves, yoga-related businesses are calling in a supporting cast of like-minded yogic professionals to make business as effortless as your morning sun salutation.
Picture this: a yogi has a great idea for a product to enhance the yoga experience. She develops it. The product picks up a bit of a following and gains some momentum. She thinks, “Wow. This is very exciting, but where do I find support I can trust to take it to the next level? And what is the next level?” Email communications? Website? Cohesive branding? P.R. campaigns? Ohmmm my. In a rapidly growing culture that is rewriting a traditional ego-based business model, the question is how does an entrepreneurial yogi find support that shares similar values and vision in order to succeed in what is now a competitive space?
Enter a crop of bright, talented individuals who are fast becoming the yoga industry”™s supporting cast. From publicity, marketing, business strategy, production, branding, online campaigning and website design, their common goal is to support the growing business of yoga and a new way of being in business. These professionals combine their corporate expertise with a yogic consciousness, striving to find the balance between good business application and good intention.
Who Are They?
The migration of business professionals into the world of yoga is a result of hard working people wanting more satisfaction in the results of their labor. Everyone interviewed in this article had the same thought: they wanted to apply their expertise in a way that would provide a service to their clients, their community and the world. The need to look beyond the immediate gratification of wealth or recognition inspired this group to make the shift to supporting this industry. Making work an extension of what you love is the ultimate achievement in business. To do something you love ”“ regardless of whether you get paid or not ”“ is the driving force behind the motivation to work for other people”™s victories and triumphs.
Chris Roy and Hong Vo, founders of Namaste Interactive, are the embodiment of this group of “yoga professionals.” They began practicing yoga approximately ten years ago. At the time, both were employed in the fast-paced environment of entertainment marketing, designing online campaigns for large entertainment companies. “We were experiencing this kind of yogic awakening outside of the office, yet during the day we were existing in a competitive and money-focused environment,” says Roy. As the use of email communication as a marketing tool became more popular, Roy and Vo recognized a visual disconnect between the quality and content of the email newsletters they were receiving and the overall vision of the particular studio, web site, or company sending them.
Already knowing that email is one of the most responsive forms of marketing, they identified a need for a socially-conscious email marketing service that would focus on cohesive design and messaging in a beautiful, more sophisticated format. “We wanted to completely recreate the interactive experience for our clients and their customers. We knew we could help to deliver the real vision and beauty of their message,” says Roy. After departing from corporate America in 2004, they formed Namaste Interactive and haven”™t looked back. Today, their clients include Shiva Rea, Yogi Times, Gypsy Tea, Yoga Tribe and Culture, Energy Muse, Yogagurl and Natural High to name a few. The response to their email marketing service has been so positive that they are quickly expanding into web design and other online strategies.
Professionals like Roy and Vo traded big paychecks, cubicles and long commutes, opting to work from home, at their favorite wireless internet cafÃ©s or in more intimate office settings. Business meetings once held in boardrooms often take place over tea after a yoga class. But don”™t let the casual approach fool you. These guys work with dedication and focus to help the little and not-so-little yoga companies succeed.
Bridging the Gap
Yoga has crossed over into the mainstream. People from all walks of life are doing it. The yoga crowd has become quite sophisticated and the demand for quality, style and sustainability is high. The yoga business is interesting in that traditionally, yogis were not typical business people. They were devoted to their path and not necessarily business savvy. With all of the entrepreneurial growth in yoga world, this is changing every day. However, many yoga studios and yoga-oriented companies still struggle with the level of detail involved in the business of yoga.
Enter the professionals. It is their job to protect, manage, inspire, organize, nurture and direct the vision of the studio, clothing company, restaurant, etc. With their expertise, the vision stays true to the creator”™s intention while generating income to sustain and support the business.
Vanessa Lee is one of the best yoga boutique buyers in the business. She”™s the buyer and retail director of the Arizona-based At One Yoga studios. In addition, she took over as the exclusive clothing and home buyer for the Yoga Works chain of studios, which has 14 locations in California and New York. “At One Yoga has been a tremendous opportunity for me in the sense that I was able to create something incredibly unique,” says Lee. Working with the At One staff and getting input from their customer base, she created a retail environment that incorporates all of the elements that are important to them as yogis ”“ blending a sense of consciousness and awareness with beauty, style and femininity. Typically, this group of professionals practice yoga and are immersed in the lifestyle they promote on behalf of their clients. Lee is an avid practitioner and teacher, in addition to her work as a buyer and retailer. “As a retailer, I am selling this lifestyle back to my students ”“ clothing created by yogis for yogis, the music, the jewelry, the books, the art. I”™m bringing years of experience not only as a retailer but also as a yogi. Because yoga can be so life changing, so powerful, my hope is that I can offer a piece of this experience to take home with them so that every time they wear it, every time they listen to it, they are reminded of that experience and it brings a little more joy to their day,” she says.
Being able to contribute from both sides of the business with an understanding of the professional element and the yogi lifestyle is what makes Lee and her peers successful. They help yogis who might not have an innate business sense or experience find creative ways to promote their product, service or values to a fast, fickle consumer culture. Think of it as a co-op of sorts. They use their experience in web design, project/brand management, publicity, etc., and create a niche for themselves in the world of yoga. Many of them know each other and work together to offer partnerships and referrals to their clients. The client gets the benefit of the professional”™s services and also his or her networking contacts.
Profit With Purpose
Lisa Elia provides public relations services to a client base that includes Gaiam, Urth Shoes, Shankari Jewelry and Real Food Daily, a chain of vegan restaurants that have become a Los Angeles institution. She explains, “To serve yoga and yoga-oriented clients well, it”™s important to understand your target audiences: people who practice various types of yoga with different levels of commitment, and the businesses that serve the yoga community, ranging from restaurants to clothing stores and others. People in the yoga world want to do business with companies and individuals who have integrity, and who are pleasant and honest in their dealings. Honoring other people and the earth is very important in this community.” Like many of her counterparts, Elia and her staff donate hours of their publicity services each year to various charities to raise awareness for charity events and causes. “I formed this company so that I could help individuals and organizations move forward and upward. The challenge and thrill of this work is to see how much we can help a client to grow a business, or to gain recognition for an organization or a cause,” says Elia.
Rob Kramer is on the board of the Sustainable Business Council (SBC). He is also the co-founder and chairman of Global Water Trust, an organization that strives to provide clean, safe water for school children around the world. Kramer says, “After 18 years of creating three start-up companies in the media and technology industries, my desire to march solely to the tune of a money-driven life came to a grinding halt. Over 16 years of practicing yoga and meditation had stopped me dead in my tracks. The insanity with which I pursued my desire to be rich or famous was eclipsed by the wisdom that arose from my daily yoga practice.” He credits yoga with his shift in perspective.
“Yoga has provided me with the tools to make more mindful choices in business and in life. While my desire to make money continues, I find myself opening to a path that merges profit with purpose. Because of yoga, I feel lighter and more capable of being human,” says Kramer.
The SBC was founded in 2005 with a mission to educate and serve regional businesses and individuals working with sustainable products, services and processes, in essence the path of respect to our Earth and its inhabitants. Rob and his fellow board members, Steve Glenn (Living Homes), Laura Berland-Shane (Permacity Corp.), Carrie Norton (Energy Innovations), and Lorelyn Eaves work to promote SBC”™s mission to provide events and educational opportunities, which encourage and expand sustainable practices. Through regularly scheduled events, they assist their members in improving their profits, their communities and the environment. Individuals are invited to attend these events and listen to panels of experts in their fields talk about their experiences and provide insight on topical, sustainability issues and solutions. They pool their collective knowledge of business with a lifestyle that is respectful of the space we occupy. This is a great example of taking yoga off the mat and incorporating it in business practice.
Sustainability in Business
Sustainability and fair trade practices are major factors in where and how people spend their money. As the consumer market gets more education on the topics, they demand products and packaging that are organic, biodegradable, recyclable and socially responsible. Joseph Garland is an independent public relations consultant based in New York. He specializes in promoting beauty, health, and lifestyle companies that maintain a commitment to the environment, to media outlets including magazines, television, and the internet. “It”™s important to find the balance of conducting business with conscience because everything we use, from the plastic wrap on a box of moisturizer to the fuel used to produce a bath oil, will affect the next seven generations. I try to advise my clients accordingly,” says Garland. His philosophy for his business is “keep it small, keep it simple.” Remembering that everything we do should have a unity of mind, emotion, and follow-through for truly effective relationships is the underlying theme that Garland employs when working with clients, and independently.
The Work/Life Balance
Renee Field has been on the yoga path for twenty years. Dissatisfied with her career as a highly successful, international fashion model, Field redirected her focus and went to work in the yoga lifestyle industry in 1999. At that time, the Internet offered a new portal to serve the community at large with something very personal: yoga. “Through my personal and lifestyle commitments and willingness to further educate, I am able to live the life I had once dreamed about,” says Field. Currently a sales and marketing brand manager for Acacia, a branch of Acorn Media, Field has found a kindred soul in Acacia. “The Acacia brand represents a variety of healthy lifestyle disciplines. Their beautiful DVDs offer a ”˜home life experience”™ for loyal enthusiasts and for the masses discovering these art-forms for the first time,” says Field.
Her business development work through Acacia has enabled her to promote some of the best and brightest in their practices. She has been privileged to work with teachers and experts like Shiva Rea, Dr. Andrew Weil, Duncan Wong and Elaine Petrone. She works for and on behalf of creative visionaries she”™d like to see succeed. “Maintaining a focus on building bridges and extending an arm of service to my local and global communities has been the key to my personal soul satisfaction and success,” says Field. Trading in the grind of corporate conventions, the professionals now do business at yoga conferences and events like LOHAS and the Natural Products Expo.
The hours can be grueling and the budgets for projects are often tight, but anyone would be hard pressed to find the yogi professional reverting back to their old corporate ways. Once the door to the abundance and satisfaction of being of service opens, it usually stays open. Chris Roy of Namaste International sums it up perfectly: “We really had no idea that the response was going to be so powerful. We simply followed our hearts and trusted that companies would appreciate what we had to offer. It”™s such a blessing to be sitting in a yoga studio sipping green tea with an owner or meeting with a new sustainable products company, knowing that you”™re on-purpose supporting the conscious movement. It”™s a far cry from the corporate meeting rooms.”
Kirsten Hansen is an independent consultant who provides marketing, business strategy and public relations services to a variety of clients in the yoga, health and wellness space. Referred to by her clients as a “creative director for hire”, she launches marketing campaigns, creates strategic partnerships, conceptualizes design schemes and writes copy for promotions, press releases and web content.